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i don't want to believe

since it achieved the status of "trending" on facebook and twitter [maybe just for me, but i think not], there has been a great kerfuffle in the last couple of days about the identity of jack the ripper being established. for realsies this time, not just some theory made of spun sugar and bullshit, like all the ones about the royal family being involved, or basically all the ones that have come before. this theory is different. it has science.

in this case it's science from a hundred and thirty year old shawl supposedly found near the body of victim kate eddowes and bearing stains of blood and semen. the stains were tested and found to be consistent with eddowes [the blood] and longtime ripper suspect aaron kosminsky [the spooge]. the story was broken by the uk daily mail and now the world of rippery is on its ear, trying to figure out what it all means.

coming from a solid background of watching the first seven seasons of csi, i'm well aware that dna evidence is a big deal. once your dna has greased the surface of a crime scene, there is pretty much nothing that you can do other than try to convince people you have a heretofore unknown identical twin. but that's only the case when you're dealing with crimes where you can test a specific sample against a specific person. since neither eddowes nor kosminski was available for a cheek swab, the enterprising amateur sleuth who claims to have cracked the case had to rely on descendents of both families. so in truth, it is not been confirmed that the dna is definitely that of catherine eddowes and aaron kosminski, merely that the samples come from their extended families.

it's still interesting; since eddowes didn't have any relatives running around and bleeding on things that didn't belong to them [the scarf is thought to be too fine to have been in the possession of an indigent drunk and is believed to have been brought to the scene by the killer] and kosminski hopefully didn't have anyone in his mother's family whacking off on bloody garments in the cool of a september evening. so while we can't say categorically that the dna belongs to those two people, it would be a pretty freakish coincidence if it didn't. or not.

already, the objections to the work done have started to rain down from those who have followed the mystery. here's some of them. here's some more. leaving aside the arguments about the source of the information being known as less than thorough in their investigative journalism. in fact, it's known for being kind of a piece of shit masquerading as a newspaper.

but skipping over that, how solid is this dna evidence?

in fact, narrowing the dna types to a matrilineal group may not be as specific as it might look. the type of dna testing that's referred to here is commonly done to build dna databases and to show the preponderance of certain bloodlines in certain areas. you can have it done yourself from a variety of organisations for about $200. the thing is, it doesn't tell you that you're descended from marie antoinette. it tells you that you're descended from a certain bloodline that may include marie antoinette, but that also includes a lot of other people. the further back in time you go and the more distant the relationship, the wider the gap between you and marie. this form of dna typing is more about racial/ cultural history than it is about establishing direct lines. so when we're talking about having identified the family dna, it's important to keep in mind that it's a very broad interpretation of family.

then, of course, there's the problem of the scarf itself. many people would be surprised to learn how advanced the investigative techniques of the late nineteenth century were. they weren't just stumbling around in the dark and fog, blaming satan. they had very specific protocols that they followed and one of those was the careful logging of evidence. no one has ever reported a shawl like the one that has been produced being found at the scene. there are many, many items that were entered into evidence, some of them as small as pieces of string, so missing something as large as this shawl seems like a pretty colossal "oops". because of that, we have no idea where this shawl actually came from. if it was collected from the scene, somehow it got spirited out of the evidence box and into the public sphere. if it wasn't collected, it might have come from anywhere. and all we know is that some time between when it was made and a few months ago, it was bled on by someone in the same extended family of catherine eddowes and used to wipe up the dick drippings of someone in the same broad genetic grouping as aaron kosminski.

the more it's scrutinized, the less persuasive it gets. there's precious little established about the methodology with which the dna was collected, or even the method of verifying the claims of the individuals that they are relatives of eddowes and kosminiski. let's assume for the moment that they are. as i said above, it's not a smoking gun, even though it is worth a look. more specifically, it's worth a look from qualified scientists who work in the field and who are capable of evaluating whether or not the results stand up to scrutiny. that's actually standard protocol in the scientific world: for a study to be published in a quality journal, it usually has to be reviewed by two independent peers who can vouch for the work that's gone into it. to date, nothing of the sort has been done.

i'll admit my bias: i don't want to let go. i've been so fascinated with this case for so many years that having it solved would be a bit of a letdown. it's the problem all ripperologists have: if someone solves the case, it robs us of the opportunity to do so. although kosminski was a identified as a suspect by some of the highest profile police involved with the case, his actual history indicates he was a schizophrenic who was excitable but generally non-violent and that he was deemed not to be a threat to others. although the actual killer could never live up to the myth, aaron kosminski just feels wrong.

that said, i know that if it turns out this science is as solid as it claims to be, i'll be forced to admit i was wrong. however, until that occurs, i'm going to cling valiantly to my skepticism and belief that the mystery is still just as mysterious as it ever was.


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