Sykes paper is a clarion call for higher standards for cryptozoology

The highly anticipated paper from B. Skyes regarding DNA testing of anomalous primates has been published and is, thankfully, freely accessible.

In 2012, the team from University of Oxford and the Museum of Zoology, Lausanne, put out a call for samples of suspected anomalous primates – Yeti, Bigfoot/Sasquatch, Almasty, orang pendek. The samples, if accepted, would be genetically tested using a cleaning method previously vetted in the Journal of Forensic Science that removes all traces of surface contaminants (most likely human) to get to the original DNA sequence. A specific portion of the DNA was used – the ribosomal mitochondrial DNA 12S fragment – for comparison to sequences in the worldwide genetic database GenBank.

A total of 57 samples were received. Two samples were actually not animal hair: one was plant material, the other was glass fiber. Those not trained in biology/zoology cannot always tell the difference between organic and inorganic matter or plant vs animal fibers, as we’d also seen from hunters collecting samples on the Spike TV show Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.
37 of the sample were selected for genetic analysis. 18 were from 8 U.S. states, including pairs from AZ, CA, MN, OR, TX. The rest were from WA, what is believed to be the prime habitat of Bigfoot/Sasquatch. 8 samples were anticipated to be the almasty from Russia. Three samples were collected in the Himalayan region of Asia and one came from Sumatra supposedly representing the orang pendek.

Let’s see what the results were.

Unfortunately, there were no anomalous primates in the lot. The sequences all matched 100%, there were no “unknowns”.

One was found to be human – from Texas. That only one matched with humans is a testament to the rigorous cleaning method that removed contamination. Sykes revealed his thinking about Melba Ketchum’s paper by noting that human contamination often “confounds the analysis of old material and may lead to misinterpretation of a sample as human or even as an unlikely and unknown human x mammalian hybrid” (Ketchum, et al.). Therefore, her claim of rigorous forensic procedures is shot down, again. Incidentally, Sykes et al. does not consider Ketchum’s paper as a “scientific publication” likely because it was self-published. The Sykes et al. study is regarded as the FIRST serious study regarding anomalous primate DNA – he cites two others that were joke papers. Recall that Ketchum cited these in her paper as genuine, revealing her professional ineptness. While the Sykes, et al. paper lists Ketchum as a reference, it is only to cite it as a poor study, not within the valid body of scientific literature, with misinterpreted results. [Burn.] The quality difference between the two papers is remarkable. The Sykes paper is readable and understandable with minimal jargon and a clear presentation of the data and conclusions. Ketchum’s paper was gobbledygook and, with this new commentary on it, albeit subtle, is another death-blow to any further serious scientific consideration.

All the U.S. samples turned out to be extant (already existing in that area) animals such as cow, horse, black bear, dog/wolf, sheep, raccoon, porcupine, or deer. There very clearly was nothing anomalous at all.

All the Russian samples, at least some of which were collected by Ketchum associate Igor Burtsev, also were disappointing. There were two anomalies, however. Samples of raccoon and American black bear were among the Russian samples indicating either a mistake in the location of the samples or individuals of these animals were imported to Russia at some point and their samples left behind.

Sadly, the orang pendek sample from Sumatra turned out to be from a Malaysian Tapir. This is not the first time tapirs have faked evidence for a Bigfoot creature. But I suspect this sample was very disappointing since the orang pendek is considered to be a plausible cryptid – likely a new species of primate. However, this test failed to provide support for that idea.

The Nepal sample turned out to be a native goat, a serow. However, the other two Himalayan samples were the most interesting of all.

Not one but two samples, those from Ladakh, India and Bhutan, matched a fossilized genetic sample of Ursus martimus, a polar bear of the Pleistocene era, 40,000 years old. Note: TWO samples! There was not a match with the modern species of polar bear. Thus, the study has discovered a new anomaly! This result is a boon to bear studies. Future research will continue to look for more evidence of the representative animal, hopefully a living one. The paper is clear, as was the documentary on this discovered which aired months ago, this previously unknown hybrid bear may contribute to the yeti legend. The look and behavior are reportedly different from the other native bears. Is the Yeti a bear? Well, the yeti is a very general term and its description varies across the huge expanse of the world where it is reported to exist. Even the orang pendek, more akin to an orang utan, is sometimes referred to as a “yeti”. Therefore, the “yeti” is likely not just one animal. It is feasible that this new bear constitutes one version of the yeti. Sykes has been open in stating that it does not mean a primate Yeti is not out there. It just means this result was not supportive of that idea.

Rendition of unknown bear that may represent the Yeti
Rendition of unknown bear that may represent the Yeti

The main thrust of this paper hits the gut of cryptozoology. As it is practiced today by amateur Bigfoot hunters and monster trackers, it is not science. This paper represents science. It’s a high bar. I’ve said as much before. To do science requires very specific training. One result of the Ketchum fiasco and the Sykes “success” has been to educate cryptid hunters about genetics and reliable tests that can give them the results they desire. This project was an excellent example of amateurs working with professionals – exactly what needs to be done to make real discoveries and come up with better answers than “It’s a squatch”.


I’ve always disputed the claim from paranormal researchers (including cryptozoology enthusiasts) that science ignores their work. Scientists had previously been involved in the founding of the field of cryptozoology but also studies in the psychical research and UFOs. They looked, there was nothing there and they moved on. (See my thesis on amateur research and investigation groups, ARIGs)

Now, the modern field of cryptozoology has been put on notice. You need to raise the standards; you need to stop wasting effort. Blurry pictures or another FLIR recording of a warm blob is not going to constitute worthwhile evidence. We best learn about nature through a scientific process. That means amateurs must work WITH the experts, not rail against them.

I was very pleased with the results of the Sykes, et al. study. I look forward to his book release on this topic as well.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.

0 thoughts on “Sykes paper is a clarion call for higher standards for cryptozoology

  1. I for one am not disappointed by the results of the study at all, and there’s a part of me that’s existed since childhood that really wishes the giant ape hypothesis were true! I mean, come on, a new species of undiscovered bear IS exciting, and factual evidence to back it up is there! Being sad it isn’t a primate is silly.

  2. So Sykes has gone back to the Ketchum study samples and actually RE-ANALYZED them and found error/contamination?

    Or did he (like everyone else) simply STATE that any finding of human DNA was the result of error/contamination?

    You yourself reveal your lack of scientific rigor when you dismiss FLIR findings as “wothwhile” evidence. Just how many things do you claim there are out there that would show up as much larger than human, bipedal heat signatures?

    Skeptics need to be as rigorous about their debunking attempts as proponents need to be with their proffers of proof.

    1. Sykes is more of an expert in genetics and contamination than Melba EVER will be. She was not qualified to even run such a study. There is so much wrong with the Ketchum study that it’s hard to know where to begin.

      You are assuming that the FLIR evidence has been verified. It’s not. It comes from TV shows and you tube. Sorry, we don’t do evidence for a unknown creature that way. Absurd.

    2. > Sykes has gone back to the Ketchum study samples and actually RE-ANALYZED them?

      The paper does not state that.

  3. It really only proves that the hairs analysed were not Bigfoot hairs. Which is not the same this as proving there is no Bigfoot. I accept the results of the study, but again it doesn’t disprove anything.

      1. > it doesn’t disprove anything.

        It proves the physical evidence for Bigfoot is much weaker than proponents state. It also proves that scientific testing is more valuable than 1) telling the same stories over and over again and 2) rhetoric.

  4. One or more primate types like that may exist, indeed. New primates are still occasionally found. But if the bigfoot type doesn’t exist, how can people be asked to disprove them? How to disprove a negative? We can’t disprove that there is a naked dwarf dancing on the mountains of Mars, either.
    Maybe the excitement stirred up by stumps and blobs and specks and easily hoaxed footprints will be something that is with us forever.

    All the best,

    1. That’s not logical to say disprove them. The questions is “what is happening here?” The best answer IS NOT “a new ape that has eluded discovery by humans for over 100 years”.

      Somethings actually are impossible – like dancing dwarfs on Mars – considering that there is such thing as objective reality and laws of nature. If you are just going to not care about those, then you miss out on understanding how the world actual works.

      I prefer the best answer instead of nonsense ideas.

      1. OK, maybe the dwarf on Mars thing was a major stretch, but it illustrates my point when I am told that, “science can’t disprove … whatever”.
        It’s a shame but skeptics are pushed and piled high with such bullshit in the form of logical fallacies and completely unreasonable suggestions. When I am hit with the ‘you can’t disprove’ thing by my Mum (about reiki), or my sister (about god), or a work-mate (about psychics), I have learned through long and hard experience that they will not accept that while science may not be able to disprove something, rational discussion and examination of the facts can reveal just how incredibly unlikely if not impossible their suggestions are.
        To save time and to not have to hear all of the same kind of crap again and again, I’ve now taken (in situations like that) to simply turning on them with eyes ablaze and reminding them with hissing annoyance about ‘the naked dwarf’.

        All the best, folks!

  5. I’d like more information on the rejected samples. Of 57 collected, only 37 were analysed. You state that two were rejected because they were not animal samples (one was plant material, and one was glass fibres). What was the basis for rejecting the other 18?

    1. From what I gathered, they didn’t pass an initial examination for whatever reason. I would guess there were issues with their quality or provenance.

      1. > What was the basis for rejecting the other 18?

        The paper states selections were made “based on their provenance or historic interest.”

        I agree that the reasons for rejection should have a little more detail. Hopefully, journalists and bloggers will follow up on this.

  6. > the Russian samples indicating…

    A third option: there may be a market for Bigfoot hair, which would explain how samples get around the world.

    1. Raccoons DO live in Russia. They were introduced in the wild in the 20th century. And black bears are available in zoos and as stuffed things in collections. You don’t need a live black bear to get some of its hair, just a piece of fur.

  7. UPDATE: The Royal Society has posted a commentary on the Sykes paper:

    It gives a little more detail on why some samples were rejected, including insufficient amount of material. It looks like Sykes chose the most promising samples — and seven of those didn’t even yield DNA. The group appears to have erred on the side of including — not excluding — borderline samples.

    Still, I hope more information comes out about this. I anticipate the conspiracy blogs are setting up their smoke and mirrors of infinite regress.

  8. Good Blog Sharon!
    While it’s good to be skeptical, skeptics can often fall into a religious type fervor of denial of anything, just as some insane people out there believe EVERYTHING they read!
    The issue I have is this…….
    Not only are there thousands of eyewitnesses to bigfoot sightings, there are tons of footprint/other evidence as well.
    The most interesting and compelling to me, is the studies done by Dr Jeffrey Meldrum from Iowa state univ.
    His research, and collection of 200 bigfoot footprint casts, is unique because he has discovered the midtarsel break in all of the footprint samples he has obtained…and these samples come from throughout the USA, and are from different decades.
    So unless there are bigfoot hoaxers, with PHDs in Anatomy and Anthropology, with a focus on primate bipedal movement…..they would NOT KNOW to add an anatomically correct Bone feature to a supposed fake foot print. Would they?
    If you haven’t heard of him, I would be surprised, he is on every episode of every history channel documentary on Bigfoot.
    All of you on this blog ought to research his evidence. He believes, because of this evidence, Bigfoot exists. How many of you are tenured professors?
    Please pick his evidence apart. I have yet to hear anyone who has..

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