Debunking pseudogenetics at Skepticon

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at Skepticon 9 about pseudoscience, specifically the use of genetics to promote ideas like genetic astrology, “Nephilim DNA” from the Paracas skulls, and genetic determinism (with a special emphasis on “Rutherford’s law”). The conference organizers filmed it and uploaded it to Youtube, and so I’ve embedded it below if you’d like to see it.

Sorry for the scarce posting over the last few months! I’ve been incredibly busy this semester: adjusting to teaching my full course load (last year I had a release from half my courses), trying to get the first batch of my students trained in the lab, and pulling together some publications and grant proposals. I have a lot of new things to write about as soon as my grades are entered on Monday, so stay tuned!

ETA: Since I didn’t give it in my talk, I want to be sure to link here to the fabulous “Debunking Genetic Astrology” site, which is written and hosted by Mark Thomas (who first coined the term “genetic astrology”,  Debbie Kennett, and Adrian Timpson.

8 thoughts on “Debunking pseudogenetics at Skepticon

  1. Davis December 19, 2016 / 8:47 am

    I wonder if there is ever a point where skepticism becomes the very thing that it seeks to debunk. A belief executed with a dogmatic zeal. When a cause starts having “-cons” is it not time for it to look at itself?

    • Drew Smith December 19, 2016 / 4:32 pm

      Skepticism is about not accepting conclusions without sufficient objective, unambiguous evidence. Why would that need to be debunked?

  2. Randy Wright December 20, 2016 / 4:08 am

    Thanks, Jennifer, as always. I’m grappling with a slew of tangential old memories you raised with your presentation. I was a teenager–and a top science student–in the 1960’s when Argosy magazine ignited the “Bigfoot Frenzy” with the sensationalized movie clip taken by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. Unfortunately, one of the victims of that proven fraud was the school’s biology teacher, and just last week I was talking with a friend, an actual retired scientist, about the “mutual scars” he left us with. BTW, anyone doubting my analysis should Google “Bob Heironimus Bigfoot,” seriously. Of course disabusing true believers of their cherished delusions is particularly problematic. They’re apt to get nasty, and I’ve concluded when they do, there’s no “unwritten Internet Rule” that says I have to mind my manners when they don’t.

    In the half century since, the crapola has multiplied exponentially, and I’ll plead guilty to being a “slow learner” as far as Sasquatch is concerned. I was a fence sitter–never much of a believer–but it took ten or twenty years before I was confident I’d learned enough about anthropology, primates, and human migrations as well as human nature to holler “nonsense” with the confidence gained from realizing I’d considered all the evidence objectively.

    These days as a former school teacher–I wound up in the humanities in self defense but never lost my interest in science–I consider it a duty to pass on the insights acquired and lessons learned. I think Bigfoot “defenders” are worthy targets of our scorn and ridicule, period.

    Here are two links to Melba S. Ketchum’s presentations, and additionally, one of her “followers,” David Paulides. The simple truth is, “They lie,” period. Unfortunately, for unfathomable reasons, they find a ready market for their dissembling. Doubtless they even make money to boot.

    Oh my, Bigfoot must be real! I mean this is Fox News, right?

    Paulides is utterly shameless with this claim, “”They couldn’t get down to the nuclear level to really find what the genetic base was on those. The reason being is that there are some hoops you have to jump through with Bigfoot DNA. It’s like no other DNA in the world. It really took Dr. Ketchum 2 1/3 years to figure out. It was not easy.”


    And then of course, there’s Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum. Even “legitimate” academics aren’t immune, unfortunately. But even Meldrum isn’t buying what Ketchum is peddling.

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