Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Belief has no part in this, only facts

So, here's a conundrum for you.

Let's say people have been seeing an animal for hundreds of years. Sightings go back to almost ancient times, but nobody has been able to catch one and prove the existence of the animal. But sightings continue, thousands each year. Does the animal exist?

According to science, no. It can be hypothesized that it exists, but it cannot be proven.

Ok, so people start looking for evidence of the animal. They find footprints, fur and other signs. They hear it and record the vocalizations. Sightings continue, thousands each year. Does the animal exist?

Well, if the fur can be DNA tested, maybe. But the research would have to be peer-reviewed and be published in a science journal. The rest of the evidence is apparently useless to science.

So, a researcher goes to the trouble of doing the DNA tests on samples collected across the area that have clear lines of possession (eliminating the possibility of contamination) and submits the research to scientific journals. Here's where the researcher runs into trouble. Because science has said in the past that the animal doesn't exist, none of the journals want to deal with the possibility of being embarrassed when they publish a paper about the supposedly fictional animal. So they decline to even give the research a fair hearing, and it becomes a catch-22: Science won't accept the animal as existing until research on it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but scientific journals won't accept the research because they all "know" the animal doesn't exist and would be too embarrassed to admit they are wrong.

In this particular case, a journal agreed to start the peer-review process, and then apparently got cold feet. Here's what Melba Ketchum, the DNA researcher in question, said about the process.

We encountered the worst scientific bias in the peer review process in recent history. I am calling it the "Galileo Effect". Several journals wouldn't even read our manuscript when we sent them a pre-submission inquiry. Another one leaked our peer reviews. We were even mocked by one reviewer in his peer review. We did finally pass peer review with a relatively new journal. It took a fresh outlook on the part of the editors and their careful selection of reviewers with knowledge of next generation whole genome sequencing in order to pass. I have no idea who the reviewers were though I have the reviews. That was kept confidential as is the way journals handle peer reviews. That was only part of the delay and problems associated with publication though. After this journal agreed to publish the manuscript, their legal counsel advised them not to publish a manuscript on such a controversial subject as it would destroy the editors' reputations (as it has already done to mine). I have documentation on all of this drama. So, rather than spend another five years just trying to find a journal to publish and hoping that decent, open minded reviewers would be chosen, we acquired the rights to this journal and renamed it so we would not lose the passing peer reviews that are expected by the public and the scientific community.
The author tried to give a concrete example of what the process has been like as well:
To get an idea of bias, the Lesula monkey paper in PLOS One used 6800 bases of DNA sequence to prove it was a new primate. We have aligned 2.7 million bases of nuclear DNA on two of the three Sasquatch genomes in this first manuscript and generated a phylogenetic tree to prove it. We also had 20 whole mitochondrial genomes at 16,500 bases each. That same publication wouldn't even send ours out for peer review.
All this said, the research is going to be ignored and ridiculed by many people for being 'self-published' although the peer-review process had already been finished before the rights to the journal were acquired. It's a pity, because I'd much rather have more scientists looking at the data, not just the subject matter, and drawing conclusions from solid facts. I'm fine with scientists finding flaws in the research, but I have an issue with simply ignoring a subject because it doesn't fit the prevailing viewpoint of the scientific community.

Cryptomundo has published the press release about the paper, and the project has a website as well. Without reading the actual paper, and possibly earning an advanced degree in DNA sequencing to understand it first, I can't say whether or not this is any sort of real proof. But I wish it had been given a fair shake.

Scientists can be as dogmatic as some religious folks on some topics. It's been a problem with human nature as long as there has been science, and will continue to be so into the future. Close-minded skepticism of anything out of the ordinary is as foolish as open-minded belief in everything.