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Feb 13 2013

Sasquatch is ill-served

zztop

Melba Ketchum issued a press release announcing that she had sequenced Sasquatch DNA. That was back in November.

It stalled out at that point. It turns out the paper couldn’t get past peer review, and no one was going to publish it. We’re all heartbroken, I know.

But now she has overcome all the obstacles, and it’s finally in print! You can read the abstract.

One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens were studied, characterized and hypothesized to be obtained from elusive hominins in North America commonly referred to as Sasquatch. DNA was extracted and purified from a subset of these samples that survived rigorous screening for wildlife species identification. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing, specific genetic loci sequencing, forensic short tandem repeat (STR) testing, whole genome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) bead array analysis, and next generation whole genome sequencing were conducted on purported Sasquatch DNA samples gathered from various locations in North America. Additionally, histopathologic and electron microscopic examination were performed on a large tissue sample. vel non-human DNA.

Umm, yeah, I know, it kind of falls apart in the last sentence, but that’s what it says.

How did she get it published?

Well, she says she bought an existing journal and renamed it (the Journal of Cosmology was on the market, and I hoped most fervently that that was it…but no, JoC is still online). So she owns the journal. It’s now called De Novo.

Then she came out with a special edition. It’s Volume 1, Issue 1. It contains precisely one paper, hers.

You should be laughing by this point.

The online journal is a mess. The layout is funky-ugly, it’s difficult to figure out how to actually get to the paper, and when you navigate to it, it’s got a wretched little “Buy Now” button imbedded in a couple of intersecting blocks of color in a hideous table-like layout. It reminds be of the esthetics of JoC.

Anyway, it’s $30 to buy a paper so bad they had to build a custom journal around it to get it published. Not interested.

66 comments

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  1. 1
    ChasCPeterson

    there’s no way ZZ Top’s feet could fit in those boots if they were that big.
    nice try though.

  2. 2
    Le Chifforobe

    I’m sure I could kick in a dime or so, just so you can improve the cold winter nights with something to mock.

  3. 3
    Angela Freeman

    I enjoy that if you try to “like” them on FB, of G+, or follow them on twitter from their journal website, you end up just linking to this:
    “Wix is a FREE publishing platform that helps you easily design and create gorgeous websites with just a few clicks.”

    Nothing says “professional science journal” like unchanged free website templates!

  4. 4
    jez

    Hastily-set up website, perhaps? Check the Contacts page – they didn’t even spell their own name properly! (DeVono)

  5. 5
    thecurmudgeon

    Funny how there’s never been a dead body of a bigfoot found. These things do die, right?

  6. 6
    sawells

    de vono is just crying out for a definition, that’s too good to pass up. It could be a mock-classicism for “pulled out of your ass”.

  7. 7
    Rey Fox

    Cargo cult science at its cultiest.

  8. 8
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Funny how there’s never been a dead body of a bigfoot found. These things do die, right?

    Doesn’t bigpoop live on the flying saucer with Elvis, Michael, and Princess Di, abducting and probing other humans every now and then?

  9. 9
    Rey Fox

    Oh hey, and all the old skeptic dudes can rejoice, we have a Bigfoot article on Pharyngula! :D

  10. 10
    Rich Woods

    One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens were studied, characterized and hypothesized to be obtained from elusive hominins in North America commonly referred to as Sasquatch.

    So did they actually trap and sample 111 known sasquatch, or simply pick a number of me and my beardy brethren and hypothesise that we are all elusive hominins? Fucking photos, please!

  11. 11
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Oh hey, and all the old skeptic dudes can rejoice, we have a Bigfoot article on Pharyngula! :D

    Reminds me, where’s AK, the bigpoop aficionado? I’m still waiting for the peer reviewed articles AK…

  12. 12
    azpaul3

    “Sasquatch is ill-served”

    Because the heat was too low, you probably used PAM instead of real butter and the Bearnaise was made with a balsamic instead of a white wine vinegar.

  13. 13
    Genius Loci

    $30/an article? Man, I have to get in on that racket! Who’s with me? I’ll comb my cat tonight for the bio samples. She could easily produce enough hair to cover a small Yeti.

  14. 14
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I think DeNovo will make one notable contribution to science: the impetus for scientists to coin the phrase, “A second-rate Journal of Cosmology“.

  15. 15
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Funny how there’s never been a dead body of a bigfoot found. These things do die, right?

    I wish I could find the source. I saw one newage seminar a couple years ago put forward the hypothesis that bigfoots are visitors from another plane of reality, so that’s why they can appear and disappear at will.

  16. 16
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    They also thought the out-of-focus blobs caused by bugs flying past a camera lens out in a field were partially materialized bigfoots.

    Arrgh, why can’t I find it??

  17. 17
    thecurmudgeon

    “bigfoots are visitors from another plane of reality, so that’s why they can appear and disappear at will.”

    Maybe bigfoots (or is it Bigfeet?) are really angels? That would explain why we can’t find any dead bodies and why they are imaginary.

  18. 18
    unbound

    In addition to Jez’s finding (#4 above), notice that the footer on each page is “2013 – All rights preserved.”

    They probably spent as much time on their research as they did setting up the site…

  19. 19
    yubal

    If anyone has the paper please check if and where they deposited the sequences and please let me know the accession number.

    Thx.

  20. 20
    yazikus

    You know, Bigfoot is actually Cain (you know, that Cain) doomed to forever wander the earth for his sins. Duh.

  21. 21
    alcari

    You know, Bigfoot is actually Cain (you know, that Cain) doomed to forever wander the earth for his sins. Duh.

    It all makes sense now. As we know, lots of walking means that an organisms feet evolve to be really big. I think we’ve just solved the mystery!

  22. 22
    yubal

    30 bucks for an open acces article ?? Is that the red standard?

  23. 23
    thisisaturingtest

    Isn’t this the same lady who got her DNA sample from a blueberry bagel left out in the open for a local tribe of Bigfoots to snack on?
    Why, I believe it is.
    (H/T Zingularity by way of Reginald Selkirk.)

  24. 24
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I wonder if she is trying to compete with PeerJ, which just published its first round of papers.

  25. 25
    Genius Loci

    Turing, wow! I had no idea science could be so easy! Or so lucrative!

  26. 26
    gillt

    Our lab does some of the same stuff as far as species descriptions and NGS based phylogenies that are hinted at in the abstract. Of course the abstract is noticeably non-specific, even cagey, which is telling. I’m trying to get donations together to buy the paper for an April 1st journal club.

    According to Ketchum:

    So, rather than spend another five years just trying to find a journal to publish and hoping that decent, open minded reviewers would be chosen, we acquired the rights to this journal and renamed it so we would not lose the passing peer reviews that are expected by the public and the scientific community. Denovo, the new journal is aimed at offering not only more choices and better service to scientists wanting to submit a manuscript, but also reviewers and editors that will be fair, unlike the treatment we have received.

  27. 27
    consciousness razor

    One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens were studied, characterized and hypothesized to be obtained from elusive hominins in North America commonly referred to as Sasquatch. DNA was extracted and purified from a subset of these samples that survived rigorous screening for wildlife species identification

    Is it typical that it would take eleventy* different samples to identify a species? All from the same site?

    Or however big the ‘subset’ is, I guess…. Did they decide it was best not to use any from their bug collection?

    *!!1!11!!!

  28. 28
    Great American Satan

    Yeah about the other dimension idea… In the mid 90s my Intro to Anthropology teacher at the community college told us squatch is a spirit creature, so… guess that idea’s been around for a bit. That class was pretty cool otherwise. OK, the textbook was. Even though it included a pointless sidebar about how naughty it was for scientists to carbon date the Shroud of Turin, it did explain beautifully just how powerful the fossil evidence of our descent really is.

  29. 29
    Nemo

    Wait, wait — The Journal of Cosmology is for sale? I wanna bid on it.

  30. 30
    Great American Satan

    I have a homey that didn’t want to hear no anti-squatch jive from me, back when we worked together. Anyhow, he’s the kind of dude who’d threaten to shank you if you laugh at a kaiju movie. Sometimes, a skeptic just has to keep their head low.

  31. 31
    Sastra

    Denovo, the new journal is aimed at offering not only more choices and better service to scientists wanting to submit a manuscript, but also reviewers and editors that will be fair, unlike the treatment we have received.

    Whoa! Finally — a science journal which will empower the Brave Mavericks of the world, the ones who refuse to be bullied by the western science hegemonic establishment unwilling to think outside the box of their closed-minded materialist paradigm. We have been waiting.

    Alternative science: embrace the freedom of choice.

  32. 32
    Lofty

    Denovo has probably been set up to be a sciencytiffic division of Faux News for when they burn their toast and it springs up jesusses.

  33. 33
    Rob Grigjanis

    Sasquatch Israel!

  34. 34
    cactusren

    From the home page, under the heading “For Referees”:

    DeNovo Publishing and Genomics Foundation primarily focuses its research efforts on biology, genetics, science and research.

    Bwahahahahaha! I often tell my students they should focus their research efforts on research.

  35. 35
    meursalt

    Finally, a topic that engages my white male skepticism! All is forgiven, PZ !

    ;)

    After seeing this post, I headed over to Cryptomundo, where I found several posts on the subject, in most of which I think I detected thinly concealed eye-rolling. See, Dr. Ketchum lost her remaining credibility among the less irrational quarters of the Bigfoot field last year due to her teaser announcements and the revelation that she claimed to be chilling on the weekends with a family of ‘squatch, but never bothered even attempting to get photo or video evidence, because, in her words, “I have nothing to prove.” (Then why should we be excited about your research paper?)

    Anyway, my point is, did anyone catch the accompanying video clip that came with this announcement? It’s about ten seconds of footage of a person in a really bad suit, shot at very close range (maybe five feet). No face is shown, and the subject is (pretending to) sleep. See, ‘squatches aren’t so elusive if you can catch them snoozing. Ketchum apparently claims the footage is “unusual” due to the breathing rate of six breaths per minute. This claim really left me scratching my head, since I just grabbed a stopwatch, and apparently 6 breaths per minute is my normal breath rate. Does this mean I have mansquatch ancestry? They also claim the subject is female, though it’s really not clear (and I’m not sure I want to know) how they reached that conclusion. Here’s the video link: http://youtu.be/KnFe-YvrS60. The commentary I referenced is from Cryptomundo referencing Ketchum’s Facebook page, which I can’t access directly.

    @Naked Bunny With a Whip, yes, the “interdimensional traveler” hypothesis is a real thing among the new-agey end of the Bigfoot believer spectrum. This annoys the more materialist, cryptozoology-oriented faction to no end, since they think it makes them look silly by association (There are jokes to be had here, but I’m not bothering with them).

    Here’s my prediction of the long-term impact of Ketchum’s “work” on the field: Some of the less skeptical posts on Cryptomundo are already suggesting that, since Ketchum is claiming human mtDNA, and since there was already disagreement among ‘squatchers among just how human Bigfoot is, perhaps we’re dealing with not one, but at least two divergent lineages of unknown primate in North America. I think moving forward we will see this idea used to explain away disparities in size, coloration, behaviour, and stance among Bigfoot sightings. Its explanative (read: weaseling) power is just too tempting not to use.

    [crossing my fingers since "preview" is broken...]

  36. 36
    meursalt

    OK, that is totally not the right YouTube link I posted, though it’s almost relevant in an odd way. The bigfoot video is http://youtu.be/khHSX3ZYaKI. Apologies to anyone who sat through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic parts of the other video hoping for some Pleistocene ‘squatch action!

  37. 37
    dlskeptic

    It looks like the footers are using this article by PZ to claim National Geographic is out to get them.

    http://bigfootevidence.blogspot.com/2013/02/nat-geo-science-blog-you-should-be.html

  38. 38
    Holms

    This isn’t really related, but the story made me think of way back when I was in uni to study biology / genetics, which I don;t remember very well because I later switched to physics. Anyway, when we were doing our PCR lab sessions, we used a substance that I don’t quite recall, and for some reason it bugs me that I don’t remember the name of it.

    This stuff was toxic, to the point that we were warned to never let it fall on our skin or clothes, never leave it uncovered, never get it on our clothes, never spill it, never even glance at it the wrong way. I think all of this stemmed from the fact that it catalysed change in genetic material, making it something of a super carcinogen.

    So anyway, what was that stuff?

  39. 39
    meursalt

    #37, to be fair, most of the comments on that post are more sympathetic to PZ’s writeup than to the faux outrage in the OP. Large swaths of the Bigfoot community have been calling bullshit on Ketchum since at least last year. I like to give credit where it is due. Right now, Dr. Ketchum should be asking herself, “Where did I go wrong?” since she’s lost credibility even among a sympathetic audience predisposed to believe her.

  40. 40
    badboybotanist

    One of the popular excuses that I’ve seen on crypto websites for the lack of bigfoot skeletons is that porcupines find their bones especially delicious/nutritious and consume them all very rapidly. Of course, they tend to get a little defensive when you point out that there are lots of bigfoot sightings in areas where porcupines don’t live…

  41. 41
    yubal

    Technically, it is impossible to prove the non-existence of “something”. Including god. You just can not hang around forever and make every observation thinkable till eternity just to show “it is not there”. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

    Although not impossible, Bigfoot is on the unlikely end of probable. If there is a Bigfoot, why are there no other African-like primates in the Americas? And why are there no fossils of his ancestors?? Where are the individuals required to maintain a population?

    Is it all just folklore? Yah, that sounds good to me.

    BTW:

    In Europe we “have” a rabbit with antlers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolpertinger

  42. 42
    birgerjohansson

    alcari,
    Part of the curse afflicting Cain is that he has to undergo Lamarckian evolution. It was a Cain sighting that made Trofim Lysenko go off his rockers.

  43. 43
    John Morales

    [OT]

    yubal:

    Technically, it is impossible to prove the non-existence of “something”.

    Bullshit.

    Leaving aside analytic cases (there can be no “married bachelor”), anything the existence of which implies it should be evident but which is not in fact evident can be proven not to exist.

    (You seriously think it’s impossible to prove there is not a star similar in size to the Sun between Earth and Mars?)

  44. 44
    Matt Penfold

    Technically, it is impossible to prove the non-existence of “something”. Including god. You just can not hang around forever and make every observation thinkable till eternity just to show “it is not there”. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

    It is also “technically” impossible to prove something exists either. What matters is the evidence. Some people, and it would seem as though you are one of them, claim that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but they are wrong. There comes a time when despite continued searching for evidence for the existence of something and failing to find any, that the only reasonable conclusion is that what you are looking for does not in fact exist.

  45. 45
    Wounded King

    Yubal, to answer your question at #22, open access articles are free (as in beer) for the reader. As I understand it the ‘De Novo’ journal offers different streams of access publication, so presumably Ketchum has decided not to put her own paper into the open access stream but rather into the subscription access stream.

    Slightly OT for Holms at #38, that sounds like you were using ethidium bromide (EtBr) to visualise your PCR products. EtBr’s habit of Intercalating into DNA is good for your gels but bad for your own personal DNA.

  46. 46
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Maybe Bigoot is blurry and we’ve got a giant, out-of-focus monster roaming the countryside?

  47. 47
    Paulino

    “histopathologic and electron microscopic examination were performed on a large tissue sample”

    I wonder if Aron Ra is alright…

  48. 48
    Ichthyic

    so we would not lose the passing peer reviews

    wtf are “passing peer reviews”?

    drive by commentaries?

  49. 49
    chrislawson

    Sadly “de vono” doesn’t seem to match any actual Latin. However, I humbly suggest…

    Journal: De Vomo
    Motto: Per obfucia ad abstracta.

  50. 50
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    What ever happened to our resident bigfoot… um

    enthusiast?

  51. 51
    chrislawson

    meursault:

    The normal human respiratory rate is about 12-20 breaths/minute. 6 is way low, probably because your self-awareness during timing changed your rate for a short time.

    (Nice nym, btw. I assume you’re a fan of Camus?)

  52. 52
    timgueguen

    It wouldn’t surprise me if well known UFOlogist Jacques Vallee came up with the idea of Bigfoot being an extradimensional traveler. He’s long argued that UFO et al probably aren’t nuts and bolts spacecraft, but teh activities of a non-human consciousness that likes to screw around with humanity.

    Perhaps Ms. Ketchum should get in touch with her nephew Ash. He does pretty well at catching unusual creatures.

  53. 53
    bortedwards

    Dollars to donuts that Ketchum’s next move is to spew out a series of commentary/letter/toilet paper articles in *real* (although not necessarily prestigious) peer reviewed journals with tangential/passing reference to this paper in order to steroid it’s citation rate and de vomotis impact factor.

  54. 54
    spamamander, internet amphibian

    @41

    Obviously shares a “kind” with the North American jackalope

  55. 55
    yubal

    Re [OT]

    You seriously think it’s impossible to prove there is not a star similar in size to the Sun between Earth and Mars?

    Nope. That would translate to “There is no Bigfoot between our house and our neighbors” Which I checked this morning. He is not there.

    “There is no star with almost identical properties as our sun within 50 Parsecs.” is roughly equal to: “There is no Bigfoot living on the North-American continent”

    It is a totally different thing to claim something does not exist at all and something does not exist in a specific place.

  56. 56
    bradleybetts

    @spamamander #54

    Here in the UK, we have a real invasive deer species the size of a dog which has both antlers and tusks. It even has an hilarious name! The Muntjack.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muntjac

  57. 57
    Sharon C

    Ars Technica got a copy! They got some sequence data too, but haven’t finished analyzing the sequences yet.

  58. 58
    Sharon C

    Oh drat, I screwed up the html for the link (or f-ed it up some other way). Let’s see if posting it as text works: http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/02/bigfoot-genome-paper-conclusively-proves-that-sasquatch-is-real/

  59. 59
    yubal

    Thanks Sharon C,

    I couldn’t find a link to their sequence data though. Apparently, they “were unable” to upload it because there was no taxon available in the gene-bank….

    oh my.

  60. 60
    sawells

    @55: Occam’s Razor is your friend. You assume there is no bigfoot at all until there’s a good reason to think there might be one. A position that “Sure, we can prove there’s no Bigfoot anywhere on earth, but there totally might be some on another planet on the far side of the galaxy” is a position that proposes an unevidenced entity for no reason.

  61. 61
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    yubal how’s your leprechaun search going?

  62. 62
    meursalt

    @chrislawson, #49:

    The normal human respiratory rate is about 12-20 breaths/minute. 6 is way low, probably because your self-awareness during timing changed your rate for a short time.

    (Nice nym, btw. I assume you’re a fan of Camus?)

    Sorry for the delayed response. It often takes me a day or two to get a chance to sit in front of a computer and write a decent post.

    True, my test wasn’t scientific. But I don’t think it was too far off from my normal rate, which tends to be on the slow side. I’ve got big lungs :). Anyway, my point was that the ‘squatchers seem to think that six breaths per minute is significant or profound in some way (though it’s not clear why), whereas I could put on a shaggy suit and fake a similar video with similar respiration without being the least bit uncomfortable.

    And yes, the ‘nym is a Camus reference, though I misspell it. It was accidental the first time I used it for a throwaway email account, but I continued the spelling when I used it for other things for simplicity’s sake. It was meant to be transitional while I thought of a better handle while transitioning from an older one, but it kind of stuck. Beware of imposters. There is another “meursalt,” strangely enough a female, that runs a blog dedicated to rape jokes. That is definitely not me.

  63. 63
    dannysichel

    The reason that no Sasquatch bodies have been found is that the SCP Foundation, has them all.

  64. 64
    meursalt

    @dannysichel

    Thanks for the link; this is a Bigfoot organization that I’ve somehow missed over the years. It’s kinda like Bigfoot hunters, the CIA, and Scientology all rolled into one. I wonder how one attains level 3 clearance? Also, has it occurred to these folks that the best way to track an SCP-1000 might be to send in an SCP-2000 after it? Or will we have to wait until the network of purposely broken and arranged sticks and branches across North America becomes self-aware?

    [skimming more] This site is really, really, effing weird. Designations SCP-001-SCP-999 appear to vaguely describe equipment and locations, then SCP-1000 is Bigfoot, and 1001-1999 is a collection of cryptids I’ve never heard of and anomolous, quasi-supernatural pornography-generating software. Sir or madam, you’ve just given me an excellent excuse to waste the entire afternoon.

  65. 65
    David Marjanović

    Oh crap, I missed all the fun.

    Fun fact: they ask for manuscript submissions, but there are no instructions to authors (just a list of publishing options) and no place to actually submit a manuscript. That’s not a scientific journal, it’s a cargo cult.

    “A second-rate Journal of Cosmology

    Day saved.

    30 bucks for an open acces article ?? Is that the red standard?

    Oh no, you misunderstand. Authors have three options, and only one or two of them are open access. The third is that the reader pays. I guess Ketchum et al. didn’t have enough money to publish their article online in their own fucking journal.

    Or perhaps they were really stupid and thought so many people would actually pay that they could use it as a source of income!

    Or perhaps I am really stupid for misundreshtmatin the amount of stupidity out there! That would be scary.

    See, Dr. Ketchum lost her remaining credibility among the less irrational quarters of the Bigfoot field last year due to her teaser announcements and the revelation that she claimed to be chilling on the weekends with a family of ‘squatch, but never bothered even attempting to get photo or video evidence, because, in her words, “I have nothing to prove.”

    I’m out of words.

    This stuff was toxic, to the point that we were warned to never let it fall on our skin or clothes, never leave it uncovered, never get it on our clothes, never spill it, never even glance at it the wrong way. I think all of this stemmed from the fact that it catalysed change in genetic material, making it something of a super carcinogen.

    So anyway, what was that stuff?

    As suggested in comment 45, ethidium bromide is used to stain DNA blue before it’s loaded onto a gel. It stains DNA by inserting itself between the base pairs. This completely throws the DNA and RNA polymerases off, so it’s a really powerful carcinogen. Is that what you mean?

    Apparently, they “were unable” to upload it because there was no taxon available in the gene-bank….

    oh my.

    Yeah, stupid.

    This site is really, really, effing weird.

    …by which you mean “fucking awesome“. Exhibit A: http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-1373

    Now excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing.

  66. 66
    stevenhamblin

    In case anyone is interested, for the Breaking Bio podcast we actually paid for the paper and took a look at it with David Winter (newly minted geneticist at the University of Otago; find him on Twitter as @TheAtavism). Spoiler alert: not good. Also, be on the alert for a weird cat-poop/panda hybrid wandering the forest with your chromosome 11. It was a lot of fun, and you can see it here on YouTube (or at our page Breaking Bio).

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