IN THE DARKENED elegance of La Scala restaurant, one of the most exhilarating — and chilling — conversations of my entire life spilled across the table. It happened more than two and a half years ago but is burned into my brain as if it transpired yesterday.
To my left sat a distinguished microbiologist, a scientist whose name is known all over the world but who keeps a low profile in his adopted town of Las Vegas. Two seats to my left was a former cop turned author and Bigfoot researcher named David Paulides. And to my right was Dr. Melba Ketchum, a DNA researcher who found herself in the middle of an unexpected but career-threatening controversy. It involves the hairy gent with Size 18, triple-wide feet, who is known by many names all over the world, but answers most often to his iconic nickname: Bigfoot.
Before I was allowed to see any of the key research material, I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. I was thrilled to be among the first to see the information, but it has driven me crazy ever since. The only public utterance I’ve made is a prediction two years ago during a taping of the KLVX public affairs program Nevada Week in Review. Because of what I learned that fateful night, I made what seemed at the time to be a wacky, off-the-wall prediction during the program — that dramatic news would surface sometime in 2011 about the enigmatic beast known as Bigfoot.
Since then, I have been needled relentlessly by my journalism colleagues, including veteran TV host Mitch Fox and fellow panelists Steve Sebelius and Jon Ralston. Oh, the humanity. So where’s the Bigfoot news, they repeatedly asked. I have been unable to answer, and it has been tough.
The well-meaning Dr. Ketchum naively assumed that the world of science would welcome her data with open arms and open minds. Her initial draft of a scientific paper unwisely referred to the existence of a Bigfoot-like creature, and she was certain the information from her study would receive a fair hearing from the scientific world. My friend the microbiologist gave her the sad-but-true news that no mainstream science journal in the world would ever publish a paper, or allow for an honest peer review, of any paper that mentioned Bigfoot or Sasquatch by name. Unlike my TV prediction, that one proved prescient in the extreme.
In the ensuing years, there have been numerous attempts to sabotage and backstab Ketchum’s project. Leaks appeared in scientific forums online in an apparent attempt to torpedo her credibility even before the study’s findings were made public. The Bigfoot community has been even more vicious, mostly because so many of the true believers have staked out their own turf and do not want to see a scientific interloper like Ketchum upstage their often ridiculous assertions or to undercut public interest in the 800 or so cable TV shows about the search for Bigfoot.
The only reason I am able to say anything about the study is that Dr. Ketchum unwisely responded a few weeks ago to a spurious report from a Russian scientist about the findings. Ketchum confirmed that she has overseen the analysis of dozens of hair samples collected at the sites of alleged Bigfoot sightings. Those people who do not want the study to be true and don’t want to wait for results to be verified have teed off on Ketchum, have carved up her study, and have made it almost impossible for anyone to take the results seriously, even though not one of the critics have seen the actual data. Dr. Ketchum insists that a major science journal is concluding a rigorous review of her work and will publish the paper once the process is completed. I am not holding my breath.
Here is what I can say legally, now that Ketchum has lifted the cone of silence: Scores of hair samples were sent to a dozen well-respected DNA labs across the country. The people at the labs weren’t told anything about the samples. They performed DNA analysis in the blind, then sent the remarkable findings back to Ketchum. I’ll put it this way — this is spooky stuff. The results are unequivocal: The hairs are not only from an unknown species, but they show a common link to humans. In other words, whatever these creatures are, they share a common ancestry with humans dating back about 15,000 years. Half of the DNA in the samples is simply unknown. The blind tests conducted by various labs weeded out known species such as bears or wolves. And in the end, they were left with the completely uncomfortable conclusion that the hairs came from a primate species previously unknown to science.
Since Dr. Ketchum made her premature defense of the study, responding to unfortunate leaks, an army of armchair critics have already dismissed the results without waiting to see the actual data. That’s not the way science is supposed to work, but it is exactly how modern science operates. It’s as much a religion as Catholicism or Mormonism, and anything that falls outside the accepted scriptures must be ridiculed.
All I can say is, why not wait until the raw information and DNA test results are made public before making pronouncements or reaching conclusions? I have been dying to say something about the study, especially because of the cruel taunting of Fox, Sebelius and Ralston, and because — you know — the world might end on December 21. (Nevada has had a smattering of Bigfoot sightings over the years, including a dramatic episode in January 1980 at the Nevada Test Site, of all places.) I am well aware of how goofy this must sound, but there is some compelling physical evidence to consider. Maybe it will receive a fair and open peer review, and maybe it won’t. Until we know, why not keep our minds open? It is exciting stuff to consider. If confirmed, it changes everything.
It should surprise no one that our little town played its own role in this weird, unfolding drama.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org