|The Atacama specimen|
In an effort to keep up with the ongoing saga, I recently emailed Dr. Nolan and asked if he would field a few questions for a blog post. He agreed.
According to his Stanford profile, Dr. Nolan earned a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford and a B.S. in genetics from Cornell. He is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Baxter Laboratory and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute. He was appointed to the Board of External Experts of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and the director of the Stanford NHLBI of the NIH. His honors include an Outstanding Research Achievement from Nature Publishing Group, a Burrough's Wellcome Investigator's Award in Pharmacology and multiple awards from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
The gist of our email exchanges follow. I wrote:
How did you become involved with Dr. Greer and the examination of the Atacama specimen? Please describe the circumstances and arrangements.
I interpret from your published statements concerning Ata that you find the specimen somewhat curiously interesting from a variety of perspectives, but at this point you are convinced it was human and have no reason to suspect it represents anything of extraterrestrial origin. Is that correct?
Could you please describe where you go from here? How do you see genetic research shaping and contributing to investigation of alleged extraterrestrials, Bigfoot and related circumstances?
We are writing for publication now on ATA. I have brought in some very high level experts to help me assemble and mine the genome for results that might explain the morphology of the specimen. The specimen has interesting mutations, but all mainstream genetics. Nothing more can be said at this point as we are going to let the academic review take its course.
Origin of my interest: When a friend of mine let me know about Greer’s specimen I thought "well, I can analyze that — if there’s DNA I can work on it". So, literally on a whim I emailed Greer and offered my help, and he answered very shortly thereafter. We met when he was out here in California and I learned about his movie Sirius (for which I agreed to be filmed). I was honored he trusted me to help. I arranged to have a dissecting microscope delivered to the site in Barcelona where the specimen resided along with instructions from Dr. Lachman (pediatric bone specialist here at Stanford who "wrote the book" on bone growth disorders in neonates and young children) on what angles he would need for the Xrays to best diagnose the condition of the specimen. The rest is part of the movie.
As to the utility of DNA I am ambivalent. It’s so easy to contaminate DNA or misinterpret the results. I worry about this being done in the hands of other people who start out with a conclusion and interpret everything in the context of that conclusion. What do we learn then? You can’t be "just a skeptic", but you also can’t start with a predetermined belief.
As to the general application of how to use DNA forensic evidence for exploration of claimed sightings, skeletons, or interactions – buyer beware. It is so easy to be tricked by DNA analysis that it does need the hands of people with the right experience to get it technically correct. And the computation required is not "desktop" — you have to be able to access databases of human allelic variants, ethnic variation in DNA, etc. to be able to put results in context.
Inquiring about circumstances surrounding the Starchild Skull, I wrote:
Would you please describe how you first came in contact with Lloyd Pye and subsequently involved with the Starchild Project?
|Lloyd Pye and the Starchild Skull|
If I understand your previous comments correctly, you are extremely confident that suppositions are premature that suggest the Starchild Skull to be somehow linked to extraterrestrials. You did find aspects of the skull somewhat interesting, however, and informed Starchild Project researchers that protein sequence testing would potentially be a much more practical pursuit (than DNA sequencing) for several reasons. Those reasons included a higher likelihood of correctly establishing provenance and avoiding issues of sample contamination. Is that correct, and would you please comment on such circumstances?
I reached out to Dr. Pye originally, and subsequently met him in Manchester, UK, around my offer to examine the skull (after looking online at his evidence). He was very forthcoming and brought the specimen here to Stanford (I paid for the cost of his visit). We had it examined with two high end instruments and by a noted bone specialist. While the skull is certainly unusual (no one can deny that), it also did not fall under the provenance of any known genetic syndromes (despite the skeptics online) according to local experts. So I think the Starchild group’s statements about that latter point are credible.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a NEW, purely human, syndrome that affected the skull structure of the deceased. According to the bone specialist he still felt it fell within the realm of "unusual, but still human". He didn’t rule anything out, but he also didn’t suggest "not human". Interpret that last statement with all due care.
Your summary of my online statements about the Starchild Skull (so far) is fair. Their (paraphrased) reply to points were essentially "We thank Dr. Nolan, but respectfully disagree" – which I feel is sidestepping the key issue. The facts are not open to interpretation unless they want to rewrite the rules of genetics. There is no analysis available by which they can take the data they have provided me, or on the web, to make the claims they do about FoxP2. I can only guess at the reasons they want to keep up such an obviously incorrect claim.
Happy to give them room to prove their point as I am more than willing to consider alternative interpretations (I am probably more open to this than most mainstream biomedical scientists). There is no outcome I would enjoy more than the Starchild Team proving me wrong on the larger point of what they think they have. They just are not there yet — not even close with the genetics.
The problem with the Starchild claims are they are too easy with even a college class in evolutionary genetics to dismiss as overstated. Their current claims, using the available evidence, undermine their goals. And (frankly) allows less open-minded skeptics to paint reasonable scientists interested in the area with the "enthusiast" brush. That discredits the larger goal of understanding exactly what is going on with the Skull and other phenomenon. Only good science, credibly applied (and not as wishful thinking) is going to help understand putative evidence in the form of bodily remains. The Starchild team should stick to verifiable claims, and move forward with good science. As I noted, there are more nuanced ways to look at the Starchild skull that cannot be easily disputed (protein). It appears the team has accepted to investigating that suggested avenue. I am hopeful they have other orthogonal verifications planned as well. I hope the protein works out for them because any DNA result first has to pass many credibility tests regarding the huge potential for contamination the remains encountered over the years.
To be clear — I am not looking to "debunk" anyone. I am looking to get the more "incredible" claims off the table, if scientifically disproven, so the nuanced interpretations and more subtle evidence can be better examined. The answer to the whole problem of "are they here" I doubt is going to be found in the most obvious and sensational cases.
So, I wish them luck. Truly.