The scientific community has been abuzz the past few days with the “publication” of the first DNA sequencing of the Sasquatch genome (more on the scare quotes later). The paper appears in Volume I, Issue I of De Novo, and I warn you: if you have any sort of reverence for good web design, prepare yourself for a series of small aneurysms. At the end of the paper, the researchers apparently claim that “The data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendant of modern humans.”
I say apparently for the sole reason that I have not read the original publication (it is behind a $30 paywall). The quote was reported by John Timmer (@j_timmer) over at Ars Technica in his column “Bigfoot genome paper “conclusively proves” that Sasquatch is real“, which I strongly suggest you take a peak at for a first hand analysis of the article. Having not read the article first hand, I will refrain from commenting further on the contents of the article itself.
But as a student of genomics, there are some worrying tidbits leaking out of this. Mr Timmer took to Twitter to request comment from anyone with relevant expertise regarding the sequence content itself. A few alarming comments cropped up:
If I didn’t have my own thesis to finish, I’d love to hole myself up and analyze the whole dang thing. Maybe the Sasquatch is more closely related to the hodge-podge that is the platypus?
I sent Mr Timmer’s article to my supervisor, joking that although I have a lot of problems with small sample size in my project (tight budget=terrible, I see the possibility of publishing anything meaningful fly farther away on the horizon every time I open my dataset), n=imaginary (n=√-1?) is a whole new level. The small sample size problem has come up several times in the last year or so, such as in the case of geneticists agreeing to analyze the DNA of Newtown, CT shooter Adam Lanza, and even in the more science-by-the-books case of sequencing ancient genomes, like sequencing the Denisovan genome.
I know the absence of something does not prove it doesn’t exist (heck, in my heart I still believe in Santa Claus). But all logical evidence points to the Sasquatch remaining in the realm of myth. Habeas corpus de sasquatchus?
Scary, huh? Which reminds me – those scare quotes around “publication”: the authors, after being rejected from many other established journals, went with De Novo. The journal is new, it’s about new things, this might be okay…except for the fact that the authors themselves acquired the rights to the journal, AND the website was only registered on Feb 4 of this year, according to this Huffington Post report. There are a lot of issues with science publication right now, including peer review, open access, reviewer selection, and the list goes on. The public reputation of science publication does not need this highly visible gash on its record – at no fault of the established scientific community, but entirely at the fault of a few renegade authors that go against any sort of conflict of interest ethics in self-publishing like this.
All is not lost! As with most notable news events that happen these days, there’s always a bright side, which usually stems from clever Netizens putting on their funnypants. And, in true memephile fashion, I present to you the newest of the geeky hashtags:
Since I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I think I’m pretty clever too (it’s Friday and I’m feeling cocky!), here are my contributions:
Perhaps J.K. Rowling should make a new entry for the Sasquatch in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She’ll have to beef up on her molecular analysis of the other creatures, though. After all, Grindylows aren’t that uncommon…