My congratulations to Sharon Hill and the folks at a skeptical forum for discovering some new problems with Dr. Melba Ketchum’s self-published paper.
Milinkovitch, M C, Caccone, A and Amato, G. Molecular phylogenetic analyses indicate extensive morphological convergence between the ‘‘yeti’’ and primates. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 31:1–3. (2004)
It appears that Ketchum or her coauthors never fully read this paper. There are quotes from TinTin, and reflective comments within that paper about Perissodactyls being located between Yetis and Primates. Even Herge seems to be off here, of course, as odd-toed ungulates include the Rhinocerotidae, Tapirus, and Equus. Most serious skeptical insights into Yeti reports have referred to even-toed ungulates, such as serows. If Ketchum thought there was some merit to this paper, she didn’t read that paper closely to see that it was a prank.
“Who is pranking whom” is a good question to start asking.
Sharon Hill writes, “HORSES! Now I’m certain that Melba has CERTAINLY pulled a funny one over on us because she MUST HAVE read this paper and since she is a veterinarian specializing in horses, she ABSOLUTELY knew what this paper said.”
Good point. Of course, I understand Hill’s tone, and I think many people are today questioning how the references were developed for Ketchum’s paper. It almost seems if a Google search was done with “DNA” and “Sasquatch” in the search window. Perhaps whatever came forth was tried out for the Ketchum paper to make it sound more “scientific.” No matter, some faults are being revealed.
Hill updated her alert to the April Fool’s citation with this:
“More hoax papers cited in Ketchum’s references-
“6. Coltman, D and Davis, C. Molecular cryptozoology meets the Sasquatch. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution 21:60–61. (2006)
“9. Lozier, J D, Aniello, P and Hickerson, M J. Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modeling. Journal of Biogeography 36:1623–1627. (2009)”
Okay, I have to agree with the Lozier, et al. paper being an exercise in determining the population density of Bigfoot in the West of the USA and Canada. In many ways, I can see how Sharon Hill would envision this as a “hoax paper,” although the database utilized was allegedly viewed as genuine.
As the authors of that 2009 paper summarized, “Specifically, we use a large database of georeferenced putative sightings and footprints for Sasquatch in western North America, demonstrating how convincing environmentally predicted distributions of a taxon’s potential range can be generated from questionable site-occurrence data. We compare the distribution of Bigfoot with an ENM for the black bear, Ursus americanus, and suggest that many sightings of this cryptozoid may be cases of mistaken identity.”
As to David Coltman’s and Corey Davis’s paper (really a journal “letter”), well, I have done a bit of work with one of the principals involved, University of Alberta professor David Coltman.
The paper is not a prank, itself, but a paper about what Coltman and Davis conclude was a hoax. Their journal contribution is neither a hoax nor a planted humor piece, on the same level as the April Fool’s example given at the beginning of Hill’s findings.
Since I was in Alberta, I revisited an alleged Sasquatch incident from 2005. I was able to reconnect with David Coltman (above) and obtain some of the Teslin “Sasquatch” hair for the International Cryptozoology Museum. (The “hair” sample and official paperwork from Coltman is now on exhibit at the museum, in our “critical thinking” display case, in Portland, Maine.)
Because Coltman’s subsequent analysis of the First Peoples collected “Sasquatch hair” resulted in non-Bigfoot (i.e. negative) result, I always thought the episode did not get enough widespread notice in hominology and cryptozoology circles. The event was actually something of a milestone, to have a scientist take to heart the full analysis of hair said to be from a “Sasquatch,” and then get his correspondence on the matter published.
I support good scientific insights being written on the search for authenticity versus fakery occurring in the collection of Bigfoot evidence. I have been an advocate for dismissing bad data from the Sasquatch and cryptozoology databases.
In July 2005, the discovery of a strand of Sasquatch hair near Teslin, Yukon, followed a series of sightings that received a good deal of press attention. The anticipation of the DNA tests on the hair became high drama in the media. David Coltman, a geneticist at the University of Alberta, finally determined that the sample was from the hair of a bison, not a higher primate, such as a Bigfoot.
Considering this was found to be bison hair from the Yukon, one might have thought it could be the (historically cryptozoologically interesting) wood bison hair. But Coltman’s analysis appears to have compared the hair to plains bison hair only.
Coltman said the hair not only came from a bison but was from a long-dead animal. He said the DNA was highly degraded and of very low quality, indicating that it had either been exposed for a long time to moisture and sunlight, or came from a hide that had been tanned.
Privately, in a 2005 interview, Coltman told me further that it appeared to be bison hair from a treated rug, and thus he felt almost certain what was happening was an attempt at hoaxing.
I have a less sinister suggestion for how this happened. The sample was found on a doorway looking out onto the yard where the Sasquatch was sighted.
Perhaps what occurred was an innocent mistake? Perhaps the sighting and the hair sample were linked, when they should have not been? Maybe the hair got attached to the door frame due to the shaking out of an old buffalo rug? It could have been a hasty coincidence that bison/buffalo rug hair was found there, which then got blown up into a “Sasquatch hair sample.”
Coltman did publish a scientific letter on the analytic episode, “Molecular cryptozoology meets the Sasquatch,” by David Coltman and Corey Davis, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21 (2006).
While Coltman does not discuss the rug theory in his formally published and cited paper or correspondence, it is good to see the methodology for the bison finding detailed.
Regarding Hill’s listing of the Coltman paper as one of the “hoax papers cited in Ketchum’s references,” a clarification needs to be made. If we specifically note that the Coltman and Davis item was a paper about a hoax, but the paper itself is not a hoax, it belongs on her list.
The Coltman-Davis citation is of an actual scientific correspondence seriously submitted detailing a “Bigfoot hair analysis,” being discovered to be bison hair. Coltman then theorized that the sample was perhaps planted as a hoax. I have an alternative theory for how the bison hair was deposited on the doorframe from an old buffalo rug. But the Coltman publication of his analysis is not a prank.
Perhaps what is more illuminating is the joking hypothesis that Sharon Hill has perhaps noted in jest, but which must be seriously explored. What if this entire Ketchum paper is an elaborate joke/hoax/prank itself? Why would remarkably dubious papers be used as references? Why would a videotape that looks like nothing more than a person in a Halloween Bigfoot costume breathing heavily on the ground be presented as “supporting evidence”? Why would the Homo floresiensis date of 13,000 years be used in this self-published paper as the event horizon for the mating between a hominid and a hominoid? Has this paper been given easily discoverable landmines that translate into the fact this paper is an experiment in gullibility? Are we in the Land of Oz here?
While I think it is only proper to not attack Dr. Melba Ketchum personally, her work is open to questions and criticisms, of course. “No data, no discovery,” are still my watchwords about this entire affair, which remains my favorite quote coming out of this phase of our examinations of the Ketchum paper. It is a comment from anthropologist John Hawks concerning his caution with Dr. Ketchum’s paper.
My thanks to Sharon Hill for spreading the word that part of what is in the Ketchum paper is not foundation references of data, but are hoaxes themselves or papers about misidentification discoveries.
From a cryptozoologically point-of-view, if you are an investigator, always be aware of the environment in which you are, be on the lookout for common sources of hoaxing as you interview eyewitnesses, especially if they give you hair samples. Try to take notice if that’s a bison rug in the front room, under that chair in which you are sitting.
Some of the more interesting hoaxed “Bigfoot hair samples” have originated from horse owners, taxidermy specimens, taxidermists, and the eyewitnesses’ camel hair brushes. Do accept samples, while remembering, that the “evidence” is only as good as the credibility of the source.