Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The truth is out there

The clearest sighting of a Yeti according to 'experts'.
I guess for regular visitors to this blog it is no secret that I am more than skeptical when it comes to the existence of creatures such as bigfoot or the yeti. Interestingly, the one post in which I expressed my doubts is the second most accessed one of all ~400 posts I published. Maybe because I simply titled it "Bigfoot doesn't exist". It certainly didn't help in making friends within the cryptozoology community but I strongly believe that there has been enough money and time wasted on the hunt for these mystical creatures. 

The more I am surprised about a new article published in the  Proceedings of the Royal Academy B which reports on a yearlong effort to bring in and analyze samples collected by cryptozoologists. The results are not surprising at all. The researchers tested a total of 30 DNA samples from different locations on the planet all connected to similar but different legends. They used 12S DNA for their test but a COI barcoding approach would have led to identical results.

The Bigfoot samples were matched to black bears, cows, a porcupine, horse, raccoon, sheep, deer, dog, coyote, wolf and one undetermined human. A number of Russian samples correlated with bears, horses, cows and a raccoon. Two of the Yeti samples matched up with that long-gone polar bear, and a third was linked to a goatlike animal called a serow. An orang pendek sample was traced to a Malaysian tapir.

Another nail in the coffin of all these legends but I wonder if it needed a full-blown scientific study to disproof all the claims. Frankly, I was surprised to see this paper published. I am not saying there is any problem with the science - quite the contrary. It is a scientifically sound study that uses state-of-the-art technology. However, all evidence provided for the existence of the Yeti or Bigfoot is either bogus or so absurd (see image above) that it usually deters any researcher. Obviously not in this case but at least it provides proof that none of the submitted and analysed hairs samples returned a sequence that could be interpreted as one belonging to an hitherto unknown primate. 

While it is important to bear in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and this survey cannot refute the existence of anomalous primates, neither has it found any evidence in support. Rather than persisting in the view that they have been ‘rejected by science’, advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so. The techniques described here put an end to decades of ambiguity about species identification of anomalous primate samples and set a rigorous standard against which to judge any future claims.

This concluding paragraph might be politically correct and scientifically consequent but to my taste it opens the door to more monster-hunting. The last I want to do is telling people what they should do in their spare time but I strongly believe that such studies are not really on top of our to-do-list when it comes to biodiversity science. Sounds more like one of the X-Files to me.  

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