A paper on the genetics of mythical creatures — yeti and bigfoot — is being corrected after the journal discovered the first author, Bryan Sykes, listed a mythical institution.
The Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper, “Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti, bigfoot and other anomalous primates,” examined 30 samples from “museum and individual collections” that had been labeled as the North American bigfoot, Tibetan yeti, Mongolian almasty, and Sumatran orang pendek. The analysis showed the samples actually came from a variety of species, such as bears, horses, and cows. Perhaps the most striking is the paper’s claim that two samples match with a prehistoric polar bear, “but not to modern examples of the species.”
According to a spokesperson for the journal, “The correction is being made because the institution the author Brian Sykes gave as part of his affiliation does not exist.” The exact wording of the notice has yet to be decided.
According to Jonathan Leake at the Sunday Times:
The paper gave Skyke’s affiliation as the Institute of Human Genetics at Wolfson College, Oxford. Sykes is a fellow of Wolfson but he admitted the institute was mythical. “The journal required some sort of additional address in the college and, hey presto, I became an institute!”
Here’s some text from the introduction to Sykes et al:
Despite several decades of research, mystery still surrounds the species identity of so-called anomalous primates such as the yeti in the Himalaya, almasty in central Asia and sasquatch/bigfoot in North America. On the one hand, numerous reports including eye-witness and footprint evidence, point to the existence of large unidentified primates in many regions of the world. On the other hand, no bodies or recent fossils of such creatures have ever been authenticated. There is no shortage of theories about what these animals may be, ranging from surviving populations of collateral hominids such as Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis  or Denisovans , extinct apes such as Gigantopithecus  or even unlikely hybrids between Homo sapiens and other mammals . Modern science has largely avoided this field and advocates frequently complain that they have been ‘rejected by science’ . This conflicts with the basic tenet that science neither rejects nor accepts anything without examining the evidence. To apply this philosophy to the study of anomalous primates and to introduce some clarity into this often murky field, we have carried out a systematic genetic survey of hair samples attributed to these creatures.
The paper’s claim to have matched two samples with prehistoric polar bears has been disputed, most notably in another paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, “Himalayan ‘yeti’ DNA: polar bear or DNA degradation? A comment on ‘Genetic analysis of hair samples attributed to yeti.‘” That comment involved a reanalysis of the two “polar bear” samples, which concluded the hair was probably from a Himalayan bear, which is native to the location the samples were found.
The authors of the yeti paper responded to the criticism with a statement, which read, in part:
Importantly, for the thrust of the paper as a whole, the conclusion that these Himalayan ‘yeti’ samples were certainly not from a hitherto unknown primate is unaffected.
We’ve contacted Sykes, and will update if we hear back.
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