Why No One Takes Cryptozoologists Seriously
March 1, 2013
As you may have already heard, the big release of the Bigfoot DNA study happened earlier this month. I wrote about this previously, before the publication but after the scientific community already got good and skeptical over the alleged discovery. At the time, the study's lead author, Melba Ketchum, promised that the study was being peer reviewed, implying that it was, therefore, going to be published in a peer reviewed journal.
Well, the resulting report was published in a journal ... or at least on a website with "Journal" in its name. The DeNovo Scientific Journal is the name on the (not very well designed) website. It's a website selling a single issue of the DeNovo Scientific Journal, a "special issue" with one study in it: Ketchum's study.
Of course, you can't read it for free -- it's $30.00 to get a copy. What you can read on-site is a statement from Dr. David H. Swenson, a biochemist from my own neck of the woods who currently heads a sustainable resources company in Saginaw, MI. I liked this touch. At least they got someone with a degree to sign off on their study ... though his PhD is in oncology, not genetics, and he admits himself that "this collaborative venture has done a huge project that taxes me to fully grasp." But hey, an endorsement's an endorsement, right?
I tried to circumvent the $30 fee and actually get a look at the paper, but a search of multiple journal databases in two different academic libraries failed to turn up even a single one that contained the DeNovo Scientific Journal. Not terribly surprising, since Ketchum claims that the name is new; she says that they "acquired" a pre-existing publication, but since they haven't shared the journal's old name, and since the website makes no mention of it or of previous issues, there's literally no way to fact-check the claim.
So, to recap: Ketchum's paper was self-published in a previously unheard-of journal whose first issue contains only a single article (hers) fronted by a credibility statement offered by a non-geneticist who admits to having trouble understanding the study.
It's moments like this when you just have to wonder what they were thinking. I mean, is Ketchum serious here? If her research is so important, so revolutionary, is this really how she wanted it to be made public? Does she not see the problem here?
It doesn't matter if she "acquired" an existing journal (she probably hasn't) or made one up on the spot (much more likely). Either way, this is just a sad attempt to give a layer of false legitimacy to research that no legitimate scientific journal would touch. In fact, the whole fake journal angle actually hurts the credibility of Ketchum and her paper even more than the content of the paper does. If she'd just said, "No one wants to publish this, so I'm making it available on my website, please pay me if you want a copy," at least she'd be seen as being honest. But the whole DeNovo thing reeks of dishonesty and desperation.
It's not meant to fool the skeptics, of course; I can't imagine there's a skeptic out there that would fall for such a shallow ploy. But less informed readers won't make that judgement. They'll just see "Oh, this study was in a scientific journal," ans assume it's legitimate. Ketchum must know this.
This is the public face of the modern Bigfoot researcher: desperate, dishonest, creating a false sense of legitimacy for a paper that could not gain true legitimacy via peer review. And they wonder why no one takes cryptozoology seriously anymore.
Hopefully, this is the last time I'll have to write about Ketchum's study on this blog. After this hilariously epic publishing fail, I can't imagine there'd be any need to address it again.
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