The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Bigfoot DNA Claims: Big Discovery or Big Bullsh*t?

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 4, 2012

Okay, no doubt by now some of you have heard all about the news that some “scientist” claims to have sequenced the DNA of Bigfoot, concluding that Bigfoot is at least partially human.  Specifically, according to the following LiveScience.com article by my skeptical colleague Benjamin Radford

‘Bigfoot’ Is Part Human, DNA Study Claims

Genetic testing confirms the legendary Bigfoot is a human relative that arose some 15,000 years ago — at least according to a press release issued by a company called DNA Diagnostics detailing supposed work by a Texas veterinarian.

The release and alleged study by Melba S. Ketchum also suggests such cryptids had sex with modern human females that resulted in hairy hominin hybrids, but the scientific community is dubious about her claim.

“A team of scientists can verify that their five-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called ‘Bigfoot’ or ‘Sasquatch,’ living in North America,” the release reads. “Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago.”…

Ooh!  Bigfoot-human hybrid freaky furry sex!  Are you interested yet? ;)

Seriously, this is just beyond stupid, folks.  And a little deeper look at the article points out exactly why this whole thing is, at best, viewed with a decidely skeptical eye and, at worst, deserves to be roundly derided in every corner of the Internet for the cryptozoological flummery it most likely is:

… So where’s the evidence? Well, there is none. Not yet, anyway: Ketchum’s research has not appeared in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, and there’s no indication when that might happen. If the data are good and the science is sound, any reputable science journal would jump at the chance to be the first to publish this groundbreaking information. Until then, Ketchum has refused to let anyone else see her evidence. … [emphasis added]

So let me get this straight: she puts together a press-release claiming that she’s made this amazing discovery that could very well change most everything we know about human/hominid anthropology and evolution, yet she is unwilling to allow her scientific peers to see the evidence and examine it for themselves?

That’s kind of the opposite of the way science is supposed to work, Dr. Ketchum.  You would think that a supposedly serious researcher would know that – that is, assuming that she’s a serious scientific researcher and not just some kind of glory-seeking pseudoscientific crypto-hack.  When making such an extraordinary claim, not allowing your scientific peers to examine your evidence is tantamount to saying “I’m right because *poof* magic!”  In other words, it is not convincing at all, and it speaks to your credibility being somewhat minimal.

Last, but certainly not least, there is a very well-worded criticism by Ben Radford about how one is, exactly, to know that the DNA sequenced is actually that of a previously uncataloged Bigfoot-ish creature (a question which I had in mind when first hearing the claim):

… How did the team definitively determine that the samples were from a Bigfoot? Did they take a blood or saliva sample from a living Bigfoot? If so, how did they get that close, and why didn’t they simply capture it or photograph it? If the samples were found in the wild, how do they know it wasn’t left by another animal — or possibly even a hunter, hiker or camper who left human genetic material?

Previous alleged Bigfoot samples subjected to DNA analysis have been deemed “unknown” or “unidentified.” However, “unknown” or “unidentified” results do not mean “Bigfoot.” There are many reasons why a DNA sample might come back unknown, including that it was contaminated or too degraded by environmental conditions. Or it could simply mean that the animal it came from was not among the reference samples that the laboratory used for comparison. There is no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it with, so by definition, there cannot be a conclusive match. …

Of course, I suppose the answers to these and similar questions will have to go unanswered because we expect Dr. Ketchum to act like a real scientist and share her samples, data, research, and methodology for actual peer review and analysis.  Hah – silly us! :)

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One Response to “Bigfoot DNA Claims: Big Discovery or Big Bullsh*t?”

  1. Woody said

    Well done mattusmaximus, you’ve screened this amazing claim through sense and science.
    I notice when the bigfoot believers run out of explanations for the natural obstacles against their belief, they will begin with the unnatural, untestable excuses. It’s a natural spirit totally at one with the mystical power of the natural environment or they are the ghosts of earlier existing hominids or similar stuff, we’ve all heard a few of them.
    DNA is science, not bendable to the whims of the believers, when done properly.
    I say, when they start endowing the supposed bigfoot species with supernatural powers, abilities that are wielded only by imaginary beings, then it can no longer fill the role as a natural biological creature. Then it’s a ghost, a phantom, a magical thing and deserving of no more logical, realistic consideration than comic-book heroes or the fantastic monsters in movies.
    Don’t get me wrong, if open, authentic results proove bigfoot (in whatever historical form they claim) it would be so exciting and amazing. Peer review and published facts from reputable sources would shut my mouth and let the believer’s glare at me in smug success as I truly eat humble pie.
    I won’t hold my breath.

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