Saturday, May 6, 2017

#1831: Melba Ketchum

A legend in crank circles, Melba Ketchum, a veterinarian by trade, is probably today’s leading, uh, expert on Bigfoot. Ketchum claims to have sequenced Bigfoot DNA and found it to be a new species of hominid that is a hybrid of Homo sapiens and some other species. Yes: Bigfoot arose some 15,000 years ago when some cryptids had sex with modern human females, resulting in hairy hominin hybrids. According to a 2012 press release, which described their five-year long DNA study “currently under peer-review”, Ketchum and her team obtained three “whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species.” Of course, the obvious conclusion to draw (further reasons here) from sequencing showing that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, is that her samples were human DNA, but “obvious” is just a repressive tactic of the establishment.

It is also unclear how they determined that the samples were really from a Bigfoot: If they took a blood or saliva sample from a living Bigfoot one may wonder why they didn’t capture or photograph it; if the samples were just found, it is a bit unclear how do they determined that they weren’t left by another animal or hiker. At least Ketchum has (on a different occasion) claimed to have obtained her DNA samples from a blueberry bagel left in the backyard of a Michigan woman who claims that 10 Sasquatch creatures visit her property on a regular basis. Here’s a video recording they made of the beast. Isn’t it unfortunate that it just happens to be so out-of-focus?

It is, however, telling that Ketchum refused to let anyone else see her evidence. She did, however, release a statement requesting that the U.S. government immediately recognize Bigfoot as “an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights.”

When the paper predictably failed to clear peer review, Ketchum responded by buying an existing journal, renaming it (De Novo) and releasing a special edition containing one paper: her own. According to Ketchum, the standard venues used peer-reviewers that were too close-minded (“I am calling it the ‘Galileo Effect’,” said Ketchum), and “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.” At least she can now claim to have the results published in a peer-reviewed journal, and that’s what matters. The paper is discussed here; some comments from geneticists are here.

Ketchum is at present still running the Sasquatch genome project, which at the very least sports an awfully formatted webpage. It should probably be a cause of some concern that Ketchum, in her bio, states that she “provides professional forensic consultation and testimony in legal cases.” It would be a pity not to use the skills and techniques acquired from sequencing a Sasquatch genome for public good, such as sending people to jail.

Her team, listed here for future reference, consists of:

-       Patrick Wojkiewicz, “Director of the Shreveport Laboratory of the North Louisiana Crime Lab System and the Technical Leader of the DNA section.”
-       Aliece Watts, “Quality Director for Integrated Forensic Laboratories, Inc.”
-       David W. Spence, “trace evidence supervisor with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, Criminal Investigations Laboratory, at Dallas County.”
-       Andreas Holzenburg, Director of the Microscopy & Imaging Center at Texas A&M University.
-       Douglas Toler, “clinical pathologist at Huguley Memorial Hospital in Fort Worth.”
-       Tom Prychitko, “laboratory director at Helix Biological Laboratory, a biological testing firm he established in 2009,” and who apparently has a long backstory of Sasquatch hunting and DNA testing.
-       Fan Zhang, “Bioinformatician at the Department of Academic and Institutional Resources and Technology, University of North Texas Health Science Center.”
-       Ray Shoulders and Ryan Smith (no biographical information given).


Diagnosis: A prime example of how cargo cult science operates, complete with vanity labs and vanity journals. Of course, Ketchum and her gang are mostly pretty harmless and fun, but other pseudoscientists in other fields using the same sorts of approaches and techniques are not.

1 comment:

  1. Her Facebook photo is hilarious. It's at least 25 years old.

    ReplyDelete