The Myth of the Smithsonian Archaeological Conspiracy

I’ve directed readers to Jason Colavito’s blog many times before, but I don’t believe I’ve included this specific essay: How David Childress Created the Myth of a Smithsonian Archaeological Conspiracy.

Jason makes a good case for the modern origin of this oft-repeated point of conspiracist dogma. I’m not claiming (and neither would Jason, I presume) that Childress is the explanation for every thread along these lines, but it seems pretty clear he’s a major fountainhead.

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The Paracas Elongated Skulls: More Boneheaded Nephilim Claims

If you’re interested in phony DNA research to prop up ancient alien hybrids and alleged nephilim skulls, you’re in luck. Two recent posts came to my attention today. They’re both long, but well worth the time.

First, there’s the essay by Frank Johnson at the Ancient Aliens Debunked blog: “Another Bone to Pick…With Peruvian Nephilim/Alien Hybrids.” It’s a good survey/refutation of the alleged evidence. It’ll get you up to speed on the claims and personalities involved.

Next we have (drum roll, please) a real archaeologist weigh in on the skulls – Keith Fitzpatrick Matthews on the Bad Archaeology blog. Keith’s essay, “The Paracas skulls: aliens, an unknown hominid species or cranial deformation?” is nothing short of devastating. In particular, pretend anthropologist Brien Foerster, a participant in the upcoming “Nephilim Skull Tour” comes out looking very bad, even dumb. (Just read it). This essay deals a bit with the DNA issue, but focuses more on the forensics of the skulls themselves.

Where’s the verse in the Bible again about nephilim having elongated skulls? (crickets chirping)

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The Starchild Skull and Its DNA Testing: No Proof of an Alien Hybrid

Frank Johnson of the Ancient Aliens Debunked (AAD) blog recently posted this lengthy essay concerning alleged DNA evidence that the Starchild Skull was that of a human0alien hybrid child: “A Bone to Pick with the Starchild Skull.”

It’s well worth the read, and you should follow the links that relate to the testing itself. The post not only goes into the selective use (and discarding) of DNA evidence, but also its misinterpretation. The post features comments (which have been public for some time) by Dr. Robert Carter. Carter’s PhD is in marine biology, but he’s knowledgeable about the interpretation of DNA evidence.

I’ve been holding some email comments for years from my own go-to expert in genetics (PhD in biology whose doctoral work was DNA-related) about the Starchild skull’s DNA testing and Carter’s own comments. I was waiting for the Starchild’s keeper, Lloyd Pye, to go through with his promise of further DNA testing. In the wake of Pye’s recent passing, I doubt that will happen.

I’ve decided to post excerpts of the comments below, without identifying the geneticist. There’s no point unless we get further testing. My resource thinks the alien claims for the skull and its DNA defense are bunk. Interestingly, he has bones to pick with Carter’s analysis (my guy is a real geneticist, so he’s bound to see flaws in Carter’s analysis). He also knows Carter. I’ve taken the liberty of inserting a few editorial remarks of my own (MSH) that have a bearing on what my guy says and what the AAD essay says.

Mike,

I skimmed over the links you sent, and here are my thoughts for what they’re worth:

1.  Based on the description of the mtDNA results, the normal skull is not the mother or sibling of the abnormal one.  They have different mtDNA types, and mtDNA is (nearly) always maternally inherited.  So they cannot be maternally related.  Could be father/son though.

[MSH: This strikes me as important since, as the AAD post points out, initial Starchild DNA tests had the child as a male. These results were set aside by Pye because of "contamination" - more likely, because they didn't support his ideas; see the AAD post for that discussion.]

2.  The description of the “shotgun” sequencing [in the Starchild report - MSH] is very crude, obviously written by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Assuming that they’re describing real sequences from the abnormal skull, the conclusions they reach do not follow.  In particular, this statement is totally false: “To have recovered a string of base pairs 342 nucleotides long with NO reference in the NIH database is astounding because it means there is NO known earthly corollary for what has been analyzed!”

All it means is that we haven’t encountered that particular nucleotide sequence yet.  It happens all the time.  Usually, with every genome of a new genus or species that we sequence, some measurable fraction (10-30%) is DNA sequence we’ve never seen before (i.e., has no match in the public database).  In the case of the skull, the novel DNA is probably just contamination from bacteria or fungi or some other critter that
participated in the decomposition of the body.

[MSH: Note the contamination issue again - and make sure to zero in on that in the AAD post.  Pye's claims of contamination were self-serving. He used that as an excuse when something didn't suit his alien hybrid view, but ignore that possibility in other contexts.]

3. … Yes, the description of the shotgun sequencing is incompetent (for the reasons [Carter] cites), but I see no reason to suspect that the description is intentionally deceptive.  Not only that, but from my perusal it looks like Carter entirely missed the issue of contamination, which is the probable source of the novel DNA sequence.

[MSH: In other words, my source chalks this up to incompetence, not deliberate deception. Who knows?]

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Graham Hancock and Bad Archaeology

Professional archaeologist Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, the force behind the Bad Archaeology blog, recently posted a series of articles detailing the (poor) research techniques and (flawed) argumentation of Graham Hancock. Here are the links to the series:

Some of the posts are lengthy — Hancock’s archaeology is, well, bad.

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Giant Skeleton Hoaxes and Mis-Identifications

I’ve blogged several times about the pictures of giant human skeletons on the web that aren’t what they seem to be. They fall into two categories: hoaxes and mis-identification of the remains of either dinosaurs or (more often) mastodons or mammoths.

I recently came across this site, which conveniently displays several of the most widely circulated phony giant photos. If you go there, please click on the link mentioned in the article that is the source of most of these hoaxed photos: Worth1000.com. The site runs contests for image fakery. Here is the archaeology archive where you’ll find most of the fake giant photos out there on the web.

I also recently came across a good scholarly article on the other category — mis-identification. It’s by James Howard and entitled, “Fossil Proboscidians and Myths of Giant Men.” It can be downloaded for free.

On the term “proboscidian” (in the context of this post, an animal with a large trunk), here is the entry from dictionary.com:

pro·bos·cid·e·an

1. pertaining to or resembling a proboscis.

2. having a proboscis.
3. belonging or pertaining to the mammals of the order Proboscidea, characterized by a flexible trunk formed of the nostrils and upper lip, large tusks, a massive body, and columnar legs, comprising the elephant and the now-extinct mammoth and mastodon.

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PaleoBabble Logic: A Fun Non Sequitur Illustration

A non sequitur is a conclusion that does not follow from the data considered. PaleoBabble research is riddled with them. One of the more frequent flaws in thinking that produce non sequiturs is the confusion of correlation and causation: just because two things “relate” doesn’t mean one is the cause of the other, or produced the other, or even “leads to” the other.

Here’s a fun illustration of this flawed thinking process, ubiquitous in PaleoBabble pablum, written up by biblical scholar Pete Enns. It’s about how baseball proves evolution. Enjoy!

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Ancient Astronauts and Comic Books

Jason Colavito has an informative post on the “big-business-factual-data-be-damned” approach of Ancient Aliens. The early section of his post notes connections between ancient astronaut theory and pop-culture, specifically with respect to Marvel comics.

The connections between ancient astronaut worldview and the sort of science fiction of comic books are deep. The comic book worlds pre-date the work of Sitchin and von Daniken. As Jason notes, there are secure roots in the writings of Lovecraft and others, but the more “vulgar” genre of the comic book also plays a significant role in where ancient astronaut theory really gets its “data”.

I recommend to readers two works in this regard. The first is a popular work of non-fiction. The second is a scholarly work (Univ of Chicago Press). Both are fascinating. The second, naturally, is dense and a harder read.

Christopher Knowles, Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes

Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction. Superhero Comics. and the Paranormal

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Ancient Aliens Malpractice

Jason Colavito just posted a review of the Ancient Aliens episode “Alien Operations.” As usual, the review is informed and insightful, while the episode was disturbingly dumb –another ode to incoherence. My favorite paragraph:

Tsoukalos adopts Thomas Aquinas’s argument from first cause to argue that human medical knowledge could not have developed spontaneously because every surgeon alive today learns from previous surgeons who learned from previous surgeons; therefore, invention is impossible and only aliens could have been the first cause. The idea of gradual evolution is for him inconceivable; a discipline must exist as an unchanging, complete whole or it cannot exist at all. This is the cultural version of the creationist staple about what good half an eye is. How then does he explain the fact that treatments exist today that did not exist ten years ago, like, say the 3D printing that the show discussed only minutes earlier?

 

 

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PaleoBabble BS Detector

What sifts the chaff of paleobabble from the wheat of coherent writing on the ancient world more readily than anything else? That would be peer review.

I’ve blogged before here about the importance of peer review. Tom Verenna (yes, he’s published under peer review) recently wrote a piece related to that very subject entitled, “On Scholars and Kooks: A Few Simple Guidelines for Journalists in Popular Media.” It’s well worth the time. Here’s a taste:

. . . [A] layperson who self-publishes a book on something isn’t an ‘expert’.  They may be considered an enthusiast, an amateur, a hobbyist, a thrill-seeker.  These are polite titles.  More often than not, however, people who only self-publish do so because they do not want to have their ideas vetted by pesky things like editors, peers, or actual experts. . . .

. . . The purpose of peer review, of academic vetting, is to determine how well an argument or hypothesis can withstand criticism.  If the author of this book does not bother to go through this process, even unofficially, by having his book examined by experts prior to publication, then s/he does not have any grounds to claim that it is anything spectacular. That isn’t to say that an uncredentialed person cannot produce a solid book on a subject.  It may actually be ground-breaking, it may be earth-shattering, but if it hasn’t been vetted by other people with credentials then there is no means by which one can claim that it is.

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