Bones of Contention

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 16, 2010 6:28 PM


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Last year, evidence from a DNA test was thought to have solved one of Utah's oldest cold cases: the 1934 disappearance of Everett Ruess. National Geographic Adventure published a big, splashy exclusive on the 75-year old mystery. But some observers, most notably Kevin Jones, Utah's state archaeologist, had reason to question the findings in the story, including the genetic analysis that seemed to confirm the identity of the discovered bones. In this Salt Lake Tribune story last summer, Jones continued to air his doubts:

A lot of people threw aside their skepticism with the announcement of the DNA tests. They don't realize that DNA is just another line of evidence, and can yield mistakes as well.

That infuriated the scientists at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, who did the DNA analysis. One of them, Dennis Van Gerven shot back:

Genetic evidence is not just another kind of evidence. This is the kind of evidence that puts people on death row and takes people off death row.

That quote is going to haunt Van Gerven for some time. Kevin Jones turned out to be right. Here's my short profile of him in the current issue of High Country News.

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