Richard III discovery spurs excitement, skepticism (+video)
Richard III's remains have been identified 'beyond reasonable doubt,' say researchers, but others are skeptical of the type of DNA match the team used to confirm his identity.
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Avila also warned that people could share mitochondrial DNA even if they didn't share a family tree. To be confident that Ibsen is related to the owner of the disinterred skeleton, the researchers must present statistics showing how common the DNA profile is in the United Kingdom, she said. Otherwise, the similarities between Ibsen's mitochondrial DNA and the skeleton's could be coincidental.Skip to next paragraph
Avila noted that she doesn't necessarily disbelieve the team's conclusion that the skeleton is Richard III's, just that the DNA evidence isn't the strongest piece of the puzzle.
"It seems to me that osteological as well as archaeological evidence is stronger, however 'DNA evidence' sounds fancier so it looks like they used it as the hook to capture the attention of media," she said.
Announcing a discovery
Those caveats had some scientists wishing the Richard III team had published a peer-reviewed scientific paper (a process that can take months or more) before announcing their identification to the public. The Richard III team said today that they would submit their findings for peer-review and publication, though not before more media exposure. [Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt & Beyond]
"I love the fact that there is so much excitement over Richard III discovery, but I'm also not keen on press-conferences for science," paleobiologist Victoria Herridge of the Natural History Museum London wrote on Twitter.
Without detailed methods and statistics, Herridge and other scientists complained, it's difficult to judge the veracity of the findings.
Not everyone criticized the University of Leicester's immediate announcement. The team avoided sensationalism, said Central Michigan University's Dobson.
"I think they went about it in probably the most rigorous way," Dobson told LiveScience. Criticisms of the press conference are "missing the point of this kind of discovery," he said, because public interest is huge.
"Whether there's a press conference or not, it's going to be covered by the media, because that character occupies a place in our cultural psyche," Dobson said. "In one sense, they are giving the public what the public demands, which is access to knowledge that would typically be restricted."
The responsibility of archaeologists, Dobson said, is to present that knowledge without cutting corners on scientific rigor.
Nor did the DNA results trigger universal skepticism, given the multiple clues consistent with the body being Richard III.
"It's an impressive undertaking that the University of Leicester has pulled off: Not only did they find the cemetery and the body, they confirmed through numerous lines of evidence that the body was likely that of Richard III," anthropologist Kristina Killgrove, a professor at the University of West Florida who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience.
Based on the research done in this case, Killgrove said, "I trust that they know what they're talking about and that it will stand up to peer review."
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