Well. That would be interesting, if it were true.
It’s not just the subject matter of the press release that is strange, though. There’s the little fact that it’s for a paper that is in review, not one that has been published. Usually, papers in review don’t get press releases, because goodness knows Reviewer Number 2 has taken a lot of manuscripts out of contention and they never see the light of day.
In fact, I have to admit: I am so pulling for Reviewer Number 2 to take this manuscript down. Preferably with sniper-style precision and finality. As Adam Goldstein indicated on Twitter, this is something that most journal editors would not even send out for review.
A quick search on Google Scholar revealed one article on animal DNA co-authored by the researcher mentioned in the press release, Melba Ketchum: Recommendations on animal DNA forensic and identity testing. This morning, I’ve found another: A low-cost, high-throughput, automated single nucleotide polymorphism assay for forensic human DNA applications.
That Ketchum is a published author on DNA techniques makes me think this is not a hoax. And I’ve smelled sasquatch hoaxes before (see related posts at bottom). This feels much more like... overly enthusiastic interpretation, if I’m being charitable about it.
More details emerged this morning courtesy of @mem_somerville.
The source of the DNA appears to have been from a woman in Michigan who claims to feed blueberry muffins and bagels to Sasquatches on her property. The researcher, Melba Ketchum, also appears to claim to have DNA from angels. This longer article has more details.
I would love some other science blogger to do a post on, “If this were true, this is what the DNA would be like, and these are the reasons someone could get mislead.” On the latter, I can say: I lived through the rush to find dinosaur-era DNA back in the 1990s. There were a lot of papers published in Glamour Mags claiming to have DNA tens of millions of years old. It didn’t replicate. Lots of cases of contamination. This taught me that DNA is much trickier to work with than you might think.
I think Neil himself has a good summary of this story so far:
I do not care if this is true or not. It makes the world a cooler place & it delights me(.)
While I am extremely skeptical of the results scientifically, this is shaping up to be one fascinating glimpse into fringe science.
Update: Apparently, this story has been bubbling in the sasquatch community for some time now. This post is interesting, is that it looks at the business that Melba Ketchum is in. The Better Business Bureau has several complaints lodged against her business for failing to deliver results.
More updates: Back in January, Melba Ketchum applied for copyright for media around “The Sasquatch Project.” (Hat tip to The OpenHelix Blog.) This is not surprising, as we have often seen people with sexy scientific projects try to make money with documentaries (e.g., the documentary on Darwinius).
Another report from back in January motes Ketchum says she has seen Sasquatch personally.
Update, 27 November 2012: I don’t like either of these two news stories. This one is two credulous (“actually proves the existence of Sasquatch”). This one is too mocking (“Like OMG!”). Hat tip to Leonid Kruglyak for spotting both.
Update, 28 November: Corrections and additional information from Robert Lindsay in the comments.
A attention-grabbing headline:
Boffin claims Bigfoot DNA reveals BESTIAL BONKING
...at odds with a nuanced final paragraph:
El Reg awaits it with interest. While it's easy to chortle at such stories, the scientific method demands that disbelief be suspended until peers have reviews and retested. Maybe it is possible that someone had the one-night stand from hell and we ended up with a near relative – but great claims demand great evidence.
Update, 29 November: Here’s an article from someone else who was responsible for testing sasquatch DNA back in 2005, which I blogged about at the time.
(W)hat exactly might Ketchum have sequenced? Coltman doesn’t know for sure, but he said that it’s easy to pick up human mitochondrial DNA because of contamination, and that the nuclear DNA could represent environmental noise, more contamination of yeast, fungi, or other microorganisms–very common occurrences with any forensic sample. “There are big piles of DNA sequence that come out of any environmental sample that don’t line up to anything,” he said.
Update, 1 December: Here’s an interview with Dr. Ketchum on Houston television.
Another cryptozoology disappointment
Smell the popcorn, carny’s coming to town
Hype, hoax, or hope?
More sasquatch honesty than expected
ABout where I expected we’d end up with sasquatch