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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ketchum Koolaid I, Please Drink Responsibly: The Lesula Monkey Discovery

A recent discovery of a new monkey species, Cercopithecus lomamiensis  [1], the Lesula, published in PLOS ONE ( ), one of the journals which refused to publish Melba Ketchum's "Novel North American Hominins.....", [2] has evoked her ire (see on her Facebook page).  How could they possibly publish this and reject her twice previously rejected paper, she asks?  She challenges: "Then I dare ANYONE to compare our paper and the Lesula monkey paper that was PASSED and PUBLISHED by PLOS One....Read it, it's short and then go to and read our paper. You will be astounded!"  I accept the dare, and I am astounded - that anybody would buy her argument.  Here's why.

Just to show the lack of serious review on Ketchum's part, see on her FB page: first, "It is a travesty, especially the lack of genetics."  Then shortly thereafter, "Read the PLOS One letter and ask yourself, why is DNA used for species ID? It was used in the Lesula paper."   DNA = genetics.

She goes on to insinuate that her reviewers were sexist in rejecting her paper, "It boiled down to stigma and disbelief and also I do believe now that my sex probably had something to do with it since I was the first author." 

The following are comparisons of the two papers, both claiming to have discovered a new species, in five key areas:  1.  holotype specimen, 2.  provenance and documentation, 3. genetics, 4. taxonomy, and 5. behavior.

1.  The Lesula paper has a holotype specimen.  The Ketchum paper does not.  A holotype is required for a new species discovery.  Furthermore, Lesula monkeys were studied in captivity and in the wild, where they were photographed and positively identified.  Other than the questionable Matilda sample (costume experts call it a "Chewbacca" costume), no other Ketchum sample of 111 could be positively connected with a field observation of a real animal with photographic or video documentation. 

2.  All Lesula samples for taxonomy and genetics studies were taken from positively identified individuals, which were photographed and documented.  Ketchum samples were "grab" samples of unknown provenance.  The PLOS ONE editor described them as "the samples used could have come from many different types of animals, and therefore are not sufficiently internally consistent to support the manuscripts conclusions."  We couldn't agree more, we found bear, human, and dog nDNA, even in the same sample (Sample 26). [3, 4]

3.  There IS ample genetics in the Lesula paper, including six figures and one table (Who could miss them?).  The new species was very carefully compared genetically to it's relatives using currently accepted statistical techniques (Bayesian and maximum likelihood) before concluding that it was new.  The Lesula phylotrees make much more sense than Melba Ketchum's fish - chicken - mouse - human trees.   Compare Fig. 1 from [1] to Fig. 2 from [2].   Fig. 2 is a not correct (architecture and distances are wrong)  or informative (the species are too distantly related).   Our own phylotrees based on Ketchum data showed bear and dog for Sample 26 and Sample 140, respectively. [5]  They also showed other species in correct relative positions.   

4.  The Lesula paper contains detailed taxonomy from multiple measurements on multiple individual monkeys.  Ketchum had no taxonomy because there was no body, just hair, blood, saliva, and nail samples.  These are not definitive.  For example, the toe nail sample, Sample 35, matched the dimensions (taken from the submitters' website) of my big toe nail.

5.  The Lesula monkey's behavior, including vocalizations,  was studied in the field and in captivity and compared to its nearest relative, C. hamlyni.  Ketchum had no behavioral data, because only one sleeping individual was observed (if you believe it - the Chewbacca).

Sip the Koolaid if you must, but please bring an informed designated driver. 


[1]  Hart JA, Detwiler KM, Gilbert CC, Burrell AS, Fuller JL, Emetshu M, et al. (2012) Lesula: A New Species of Cercopithecus Monkey Endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Implications for Conservation of Congo’s Central Basin. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044271

[2]  See Sasquatch Genome Project link at right.

[3]  See link to Paper 1 at right.

[4]  See link to Paper 3 at right.

[5]  See on this blog, December 30, 2014,  "Melba Ketchum’s Experts and Their Mistakes: What’s in a Phylotree. "

Fig. 1.  Taken from Ref. [1].
Fig. 1.  Taken directly from [1] without changes.  Correctly shows phylogenetic relationships among the monkeys closest to the new species (C. lomaniensis), has a caption, and is discussed in the text.

Fig. 2. Taken from [5], Redrawn from [2]. 

Fig. 2.  Original [2] had no caption, was unreadable without zooming and panning (which looses overall perspective), and was not discussed in the text.  Hence it was redrawn and discussed in [5], as appropriate for such an unusual phylogram.