Does the London Times routinely publish crackpot pseudoscience with no fact checking at all? I’ve just read their latest piece on the notorious Bryan Sykes, Bigfoot Hunter, and it’s the kind of gullible tosh I’d expect from a Murdoch tabloid. It’s got one paragraph that mentions that other scientists doubt his findings, but otherwise it’s a fluff piece for Sykes’ new book about an ape-woman…which is not only inane, but distressingly racist.
Here’s the whole article.
It’s total crap. Right from the beginning:
Now an academic geneticist claims to have found the most promising evidence yet that Homo sapiens may not be entirely alone in its genus. That sentence is a marvel. It’s literally true: Sykes is an academic geneticist, and he does make those claims, but the question we have to ask, that a journalist ought to ask, is whether those claims are valid. Our brave reporter does not. He swallows Sykes’ PR and regurgitates it in a reportedly prestigious medium.
Look at what he’s claiming. An African woman was enslaved by 19th century racists, and she left some descendants. Sykes has analyzed DNA from people in that region and found evidence of an infusion of West African DNA into the population: you should be feeling zero surprise. A person lived, had children, died, and her descendants carry traces of her genome. That’s basic biology.
But then it goes off the rails. Sykes unquestioningly accepts the accounts of 19th century racists who regarded this woman as an animal to say that the evidence of West African ancestry somehow supports his contention that she was an ‘ape woman’ who was descended from some relic population of a Homo sub-species that had been hiding in the Caucasus Mountains for millennia, giving rise to legends of yetis and bigfoot and other beast-men in the wilderness.
That makes no sense. His own DNA analysis says she was
100 per cent African. You know “African” is not a synonym for “pre-human”, right? But he has written a whole book titled The Nature of the Beast (horrid title that also manages to suggest that an enslaved African woman was less than human), in which he advances this ludicrous theory, and the Times has obligingly fluffed it for him. At least it’ll appeal to all the UKIP voters.
I’m not even going to accept his genetic analysis. Here are a couple of papers by Gutiérrez and Pine and Edwards and Barnett that show that Sykes can’t do molecular genetics at all — his analysis of a purported Himalayan yeti hair that claimed it was a Himalayan polar bear wasn’t competently done, and is almost certainly a hair from a more reasonable species of bear.
But then, what else can you expect from someone who deplores…math? Take a look at the prominent pull quote.
Professor Sykes criticized modern genetics for its lack of ambition and its fixation on mathematics.I’m afraid the golden years are over,he said.It is a field now dominated by the arrogance of bioinformatics and, as such, has lost it’s way.
That is utterly baffling. He doesn’t like that genetics is fixated on mathematics? But genetics has relied heavily on math since Mendel! If he actually analyzed Zana’s descendants and compared them to extant human populations, he was using the principles of bioinformatics! What he seems to be saying is that he wants to ignore the data to give greater credence to the bigoted legends of Zana, the Russian ape-woman.
It is also dismaying that the London Times and their reporter, Oliver Moody, have given this garbage so much space and so little critical analysis — it’s looking a lot like The Daily Mail. Is this the state of science reporting in the south of England nowadays?