What does it say?
The years in the making story concerning the collection and analysis of DNA from an unknown species of primate living in North America was dubbed the Erickson Project by someone in the cryptozoology community when word of it first popped up on the scene. The name is a misnomer. It was called that because a man by the name of Adrian Erickson started purchasing land that was said to be habituation sites for these animals and financed a study. While Erickson is an integral cog in the wheel, it turns out that he is just one of a number of researchers who have submitted DNA to Dr. Melba Ketchum, a veterinarian who owns her own DNA testing facility. She is the real owner of the findings in this case given that her name is attached to the actual paper that has reportedly been written and submitted for peer review. When I read things that are supposedly about the Erickson Project, they don’t have anything to do with Erickson’s study. I’ve even made the error on this blog. They have to do with Ketchum’s study. That’s why I’m suggesting we start referring to this as the Ketchum Report and not the Erickson Project.
The reason I think it’s important to make this distinction is because Dr. Ketchum seems to have done her due diligence to approach this from a purely scientific stand point. She is playing by the established scientific communities rules. Namely, she’s refrained from making any public claims to the specific findings of the study. She’s appeared on radio shows and a few blogs discussing the general topic, but she’s stopped short of making any overt statements as to what the study has actually revealed. Her closest revelation as to the outcome of the study so far is that she now believes that such an animal does indeed exist.
This approach is rarely taken in the world of cryptozoology simply because the majority of mainstream science habitually plays it safe by studying the known and steering clear of the unknown. A few brave souls will stick their necks out and examine the outrageous, but their heads are usually placed on pikes for all of academia to spat upon. The bulk of cryptozoological research is left to the curious every-man who takes well-meaning enthusiasm and turns it into amateur science. A few get it right. Most don’t.
The ones who get it wrong will turn personal hypotheses and stretch it out until it becomes fact. They will call press conferences and make unfounded claims. They will take to the internet and report rumor and speculation as reality. They will respond to skeptics with anger and venom. They will turn their research into material for public fodder because they jumped the gun.
Dr. Ketchum’s decision to stick to accepted scientific procedure has frustrated the crypto-fanatics to the point of madness. Messageboards and blogs are digging through hearsay and supposed inside sources to satisfy their growing anxiety. Here are samples of what you might read in various online groups.
- Why must it take so long?
- Why is Ketchum dragging her feet?
- What is she trying to hide?
- If she had something, it would be front page news by now.
The list goes on. Patience has worn thin among these otherwise reasonable people. They’re not bad people. They just want the ridicule to end. Like it or not, the Ketchum Report has become a beacon of hope for many eyewitnesses, researchers, and believers. They’ve made the assumption that she’s proven what they already know to be true, there is undeniably a bipedal North American Ape out there, even though Dr. Ketchum hasn’t openly said that. She’s hinted that good news is coming and that people will be pleased with her findings, but those statements are open to a wide variety of interpretations.
I came across of a Facebook group administered by Rhettman A Mullis Jr. called Bigfootology. Mullis wrote a reasoned piece about the insanity surrounding the pending release of the Ketchum Report. He quoted a Sally Ramey about the scientific procedure that Ketchum is following. Ramey has experience in the world of academia with the peer-review process and she shared it with Mullis’ group. I post it here in its entirety, but I urge you to read the entire piece by clicking here: Clarifying the insanity of rumor and false information.
Summary: Peer-review process
by Sally Ramey on Saturday, July 16, 2011 at 4:58pm
Lots of people have recently been wondering about the process of publishing scientific papers. Here is the basic process, based on my experience doing PR in higher ed:
The researcher prepares a paper about their findings and submits it to a scientific journal for peer-review, which can take MONTHS. The paper is reviewed by a team of scientists with expertise in the discipline(s) involved in the researcher’s work. They decide if the research was conducted according to standards and practices accepted by the scientific community, and review the findings to see if they pass muster. It’s like a professor checking your work in college. If the review team has questions, they can ask the researcher to provide more info, run more tests, get someone else to run tests that replicate the work, etc. This can delay publication but it is sometimes necessary. ONLY after the review team is satisfied is the paper accepted for publication. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the scientific community’s “stamp of approval” that the work is valid.
The journal must then figure out when to publish the paper. Some journals work weeks/months in advance, adding further delay. Some work faster, meaning that the paper might run within a few weeks. At some point, the researcher is notified that they have a “pub date.” In my experience, you often only know about three weeks out when your paper will publish. Once there is a pub date, the researcher (typically university-based) works with their campus PR folks and the journal editorial and PR staff to be sure that images are prepared for publication, news releases are written and reviewed, and everyone is prepared for the announcement.
If the news is HUGE, the researcher will be interviewed by the science media, under a strict embargo, the week before the pub date. Most journals publish on Fridays and most embargos lift on Thursday afternoons. The science media, journal PR folks and university PR folks all post their stories and news releases upon the lifting of the embargo. This is why big science news seems to be posted everywhere at once. – it actually is.
If the story is HUGE HUGE HUGE, any news conference would be held when the embargo lifts, unless the journal allows it to happen early due to scheduling conflicts – the journal drives the schedule – no one else. And NO ONE can publicly discuss the paper, its pub date, what journal is involved, the findings or other contents in advance of the embargo or the journal will not publish the paper. This preserves the credibility and sanctity of the peer-review process. Hope this info is helpful.
The point of this post is that restraint is in order here, by all of us. We need to keep our heads and let the process play out. We are all anxious for results but we have to relax and wait. Rumors are just that. Speculate and vent if you must, but never lose sight that is what you are doing, speculating.
Update: It’s clear that some have read this post as a slight to Mr. Erickson. That’s not the case. It wasn’t my intention to denigrate his reported contribution to the DNA study. My intention here was to try to establish that these findings are more than an alleged habituation study and documentary. It is true that Erickson’s work and Ketchum’s work are linked together, but it’s clear that the DNA study is the most significant element in these developments and has a greater opportunity to change some minds.