Ketchum’s Galileo Gambit
One of my essential reading blogs, Respectful Insolence, has resurrected an older post on The Galileo Gambit. It was timely. It was in reference mainly to the day to day parade of quackery that passes by in the media. Orac coined the term “Galileo gambit” to describe a very common ploy used by quacks – they compare their persecution and non-acceptance to that of Galileo.
At least, I think I was the first to coin this term. I haven’t been able to find a reference to the “Galileo Gambit” dating before I wrote the original version of this post way back in 2005.”
Immediately, I thought of Dr. Melba Ketchum who recently pulled the Galileo Gambit when she announced the publication of her Sasquatch DNA paper.
We encountered the worst scientific bias in the peer review process in recent history. I am calling it the “Galileo Effect”. Several journals wouldn’t even read our manuscript when we sent them a pre-submission inquiry. Another one leaked our peer reviews. We were even mocked by one reviewer in his peer review.
Sorry, a lame excuse. It’s special pleading for why she had such trouble with her paper.
It couldn’t be that the paper STARTED with the premise that Sasquatch is real and the data she collected now PROVES that. There are lines of evidence that show she had already come up with her hypothesis long before she was able to “confirm” it through these nuDNA results. That would be sham inquiry to me – when you already have the answer in mind and work backwards. It’s not good science.
Orac’s piece starts out with a long list of tropes used by non-skeptics to mock science and how it’s always WRONG. Quotes like these two:
…so many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value. – Committee advising Ferdinand and Isabella regarding Columbus’ proposal, 1486
I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied, than that stones fell from the sky. – Thomas Jefferson, 1807 on hearing an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.
Cryptozoologists LOVE to do this too. They frequently cite red herrings like the finding of the coelacanth. And, they cite Cuvier’s rash dictum – in 1812, Georges Cuvier, a naturalist and zoologist remarked that it was unlikely that any large animal remained undiscovered. He was naive.
Yes, science gets things wrong and individual PEOPLE are wrong all the time, scientists or not. But since science is a collective effort and builds on what we already know, it does get closer and closer to a more true explanation or one that at least works better for a time.
The Galileo affair was a complicated play of politics and religion, so the comparison is not a good one. It makes Melba sound whiney. If she has the goods, there is no need to resort to special pleading.
Appealing to the Galileo gambit to justify why she could not go a traditional route sounds like a fine justification to her and her supporters but to scientists who publish, it’s a cheap excuse. There are thousands of paper that get submitted and rejected every month, on very normal, non-controversial subjects. According to one of my sources who referees geology papers, most of what he has seen in the past few years has been abysmal science and not fit to publish. Ketchum was naive to think that she could just march in and declare protection of the new Sasquatch people based on her paper. The more professional and rational route would have been to check with various experts AHEAD of time and share her data to make sure it was sound. The way in which this was done instead smacks of a closed-minded approach to be the “first”, a very serious problem with Bigfootery that results in the plethora of hoaxes for money grabs. I’m not saying Melba is hoaxing. In fact, I’m convinced she truly believes what she has is groundbreaking. But I doubt that two new unknown hominins (one existing now and one 15,000 years ago who was the father) are the valid conclusion for her results.
Science is a tough gauntlet to run. She complained about the time it took, how picky everyone was, the skepticism she got. I don’t have much sympathy. That’s how it goes. It’s not the best system but it’s the best one we have right now to weed out all the trash. If you want the respect from the scientific community, you must do these annoying and tedious things. And squarely face your critics. Instead, Melba has chosen to plead her case to the sympathetic pro-Bigfoot audience, like the audience of Coast to Coast AM. Twice. Some advice: that is exactly the LAST thing you should be doing to gain credibility. Science isn’t done on late night radio and Facebook. It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that. But many Bigfooters can see that this is certainly NOT what they hoped from the promises of this DNA study.
Here is what Melba’s paper SHOULD have looked like. Oh wait, there were actual BODIES to go with that official description of a new monkey. (She complains about how she had more data than this study, but she didn’t have the critter itself.)
Also, accusations about her integrity are being thrown around. It’s a very large mess, indeed.
I’d suggest that Ketchum supporters who believe she has been treated unfairly read Orac’s post. But I suspect they won’t. Because this excuse is proving to be a feel-good one for these rough times.
For more of the Ketchum project, see these pieces: