Geneticists to Study DNA for Signs of Yeti

When I saw the headline Wanted: Bigfoot hair samples for European study,” I assumed that this was either a wild distortion of an actually serious study or the goal of some fringe professor.

Both kinds of stories regularly find themselves in the “Science” section of mainstream news sites far more often than they should. As I researched further, however, I found myself in the odd situation of being slightly alarmed that the various sources echoing the news had not distorted a thing and this wasn’t coming out of a fringe center. It was coming out of Oxford University:

The Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project invites institutions and individuals with collections of cryptozoological material (cryptozoology: the search for animals whose existence is not proven) to submit details of the samples they hold, and then on request submit the samples themselves, particularly hair shafts, for rigorous genetic analysis. The results will then be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Professor Bryan Sykes, who is leading the effort, explains that modern techniques of DNA analysis offer an opportunity to test samples for their species of origin that was previously unavailable to those collecting “Yeti samples”… and this is where I become torn.

Bigfoot. Or a guy in a gorilla suit. Whatever is more plausible. (Via: Wikipedia)

On the one hand, I think that real science has a necessary role in keeping pseudoscience and general insanity at bay. If testable evidence is being offered in favor of a claim that seems ridiculous, it would be irresponsible to not take the chance to disprove it — or, in a much less likely turn of events, accept it. This sort of testing is what lets us say without wavering that there is no link between autism and vaccinations, and that homeopathic medicine is ultra-diluted snake oil.

Some people will never be convinced, of course, but we owe it to those who can be convinced to put claims to the test and not give ammunition to conspiracy theorists who will take a refusal to test as a “sign that the mainstream scientific establishment is afraid of this.”

On the other hand, the mere sight of a press-release by the excellent Oxford University making serious reference to “cryptozoology” makes me cringe.

Yeti sightings belong in the realm of crackpottery. I wonder about the wisdom of wasting limited research funds on extremely unpromising research and whether putting the weight of a world-class university behind the Yeti myth — even if only to finally disprove it — will only contribute to its credibility.

When all the tests come back negative, I doubt a single believer will be convinced. But they will be able to add “Oxford has taken this seriously!” to their list of arguments in favor of this silliness.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • AshtaraSilunar

    I think getting the samples tested and having them proved to be dog, bear, human, etc. would be a good thing in the long run.  There are some really wacky stories out there.

  • Bill Haines

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saola 
    Discovered only 20 years ago.
    You never know.  ;)

  • http://mysecretatheistblog.blogspot.com/ GodlessPoutine

    This is so awesome on so many levels.  Where can I get tested to see if I’m actually a Yeti?  People have called me abominable and I live in Canada. 

  • 0xabad1dea

    Well, it IS good practice for any student geneticists involved in the project: here is an unknown mammal sample from someone who didn’t give a very good description. Figure it out.

  • Ndonnan

    Could be a good thing for evolutionist still looking for that missing link

    • CanadianNihilist

       What missing link? we have a pretty conclusive line in the fossil record that leads up to us. a few gaps here and there but the One Missing Link between humans and apes is pure fiction.
      Evolution just doesn’t work that fast.

      • Ndonnan

        It certainly doesnt,like moths and mosquitoes preserved in amber 12million yo are identical to moths and mosquitoes of today 

        • CanadianNihilist

          Just out of curiosity do you have any evidence to back that claim up?

          • Reginald Selkirk

             Probably he’s seen Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, and it convinced him that fish hooks have not changed in 50 million years.

          • Ndonnan

            Carnt this minute but this might help.A165million yo golden-orb spider.www.wired.com 9th feb 2010.Another is http://www.livescience.com or creation.com/living-fossils-enigma. Or the horseshoe crab,208million yo in Dr. Carl Werners book, living fossils[p51]

            • http://bareatheism.blogspot.com/ Deven Kale

               The existence of “living fossils” in no way disproves evolution. It only proves that an animal has a form that is extremely well adapted to it’s environment, and that environment has not changed to the point where that form is no longer viable yet.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    I’m just not seeing the reason to get all riled up.  Do you really think this is the silliest study any big-name University has done?  Hardly.  Will it be the last?  Again, hardly.  Take a pill and chill, it’s not that big of a deal.

  • pq83

    dead yeti’s seems as elusive as alive ones… but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone :/

    • CanadianNihilist

      You know, I’ve never seen the body of a bear that’s died of natural causes either.
      But I’m pretty agnostic to the possibility that these bears people speak of exist.

      Come to think of it I’ve never seen a live bear in person either… maybe I’ll rethink my stance on bears.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I don’t see this as a bad thing. You never know, one might turn out to be from an undiscovered animal, probably not a Sasquatch though :(

    And if nothing else it will debunk a lot of cooks that claim to have “evidence” of one.  Maybe those douchebags with the Bigfoot show can pony up their supply they no doubt have.

    • Eric D Red

      “a lot of cooks that claim to have “evidence” of one.”

      Mmmm, Yeti and Yam casserole, Sasquatch Stew, my favourites.

      Sorry, not one to be a grammar Natzi, unless it’s accidently funny.

      • CanadianNihilist

         lol

  • Michael

    I am reminded of the time when biologists made an in depth study of the bones of the Krakow dragon. As far as I know they identified all the bones and they came from a lot of different animals, but they were taking the Krakow dragon seriously.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    So, when these “institutions and individuals with collections of cryptozoological material” submit their samples, and the DNA tests reveal the astonishing results that the Yeti-Sasquatch-Bigfoot-Yowie-Meh Teh-Raksha-Kikomba-MyReallyHairyUncleBrad creature has DNA that is identical to horses, and also identical to people, and also has no DNA at all but is made out of polymer, the biggest mystery will be how will Oxford and Lausanne will justify the money they wastedon this bullshit. This kind of research is not cheap, and there are some very important areas in biology that languish neglected because of lack of funding.

    • T-Rex

      Thankyou!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627228091 Alexander Ryan

    Often that which disproves empowers the beliefs of those that would be so quick to deny doubt.

  • Hibernia86

    I know that Richard Dawkins refuses to debate Creationists because it would give them some sense of credibility. Maybe that standard should hold for Yeti seekers also.

    • Ndonnan

      No Richard just gets wooped every time,like the reply to “the greatest show on earth” by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati,”the greatest hoax on earth”

  • jdm8

    Exactly how much money is spent to do a materials and genetics test?  In the grand scheme of research dollars, it probably doesn’t take much.  As far as the true believers, they’ll take any result as proof of their beliefs.

    • Reginald Selkirk

       The goal currently being strived for is $1000 for a personal genome (currently is above $10000 but dropping rapidly) But this experiment may not be doing complete genomes; it may be doing just fragment analysis or sequences of a few genes, which would be cheaper.

  • judith sanders

    Watched several episodes of “Finding Bigfoot? – what a hoot.  This critter supposedly brings down elk, but is terribly shy around humans.  ”snort”

    • Reginald Selkirk

      This critter supposedly brings down elk, but is terribly shy around humans.

      OMFSM, I may be a Yeti!

  • J_cole_25

    I’m all for it.  The beauty of science (and, in my opinion atheism) is that we don’t totally discount anything.  Show me credible evidence and I’ll take it seriously.  Finding Bigfoot and other related tv programs have made the idea of bigfoot extremely popular right now, so why not take this opportunity to say “show me the evidence”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    This seems no differest to me from the carbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin. Those are exactly the sorts of things scientists ought to occasionally do. After all, the existence of a secretive large primate is not impossible, and the hypothosis is testable through DNA analysis. Yes, some people will not be convinced. But the (I assume) negative results of this study will at least provide ammunition to those of us who are skeptics.

  • T-Rex

     C’mon, testing for bigfoot DNA? Really? Is it any wonder that Republicans hate science so much when we waste money on shit like this?.  We fund waaaaaaaay too many stupid “studies” like this. Let’s test for Chupacabra DNA and FSM DNA and unicorn DNA and leprechaun DNA too. F’in rediculous.

  • http://twitter.com/HumanistTweeter Humanist Tweeter

    It is a mistake to presume that it is completely inconceivable that a species exists in a remote area simply because it has not yet been discovered and researched. Insisting that such claims ought not to be investigated when it becomes possible to do so smacks of the sort of censoring that religious zealots have attempted to force upon science throughout our history.

    If (as I suspect will be the case) the samples are proven to be from existing species that we know about, then science will have debunked the myth of the yeti. And presumably some other cryptozoological theories. But if on the other hand one or more of the samples could not be matched to existing species of which we have knowledge… what then? My thought is, and I would imagine the thought of most scientists should be – “How very exciting!”

    Non-scientific concerns (in this case the credence that might be offered to the theory itself purely because an academic institution has decided to investigate its merits) have NO place in science whatsoever. In the words of Richard Feynman: “Shut up and calculate.”

    • Reginald Selkirk

      If (as I suspect will be the case) the samples are proven to be from
      existing species that we know about, then science will have debunked the
      myth of the yeti.

      It would be just one more negative data point. We all know the “can’t prove a negative” argument, and we know the complete lack of credible evidence at present hasn’t convinced everybody. And Americans get out and hike their wilderness, there is not that much forest in the U.S. that is truly “remote.”

      • http://twitter.com/HumanistTweeter Humanist Tweeter

        Right. That’s what I meant by ‘debunked’ – an extra negative, credible data point. My bad.

        I stand by my point that science should not be driven by non-scientific concerns. Regardless of which ideology espouses said concern. :)

        Thanks for the reply.


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