The Science of Identifying Jack the Ripper!

Maybe you heard that researchers claimed (in a Daily Mail exclusive) to have discovered the true identity of Jack the Ripper? Well, I decided to ask Skepchick forensic scientists Amanda and Dr. Rubidium!

If you’d like to see our full, uncut discussion, become a patron at! It will be going up there soon.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Being published in the Daily Mail is a problem. But it is hard to see how the problem can be avoided. It is rather unlikely that there would be government funding for this type of investigation. So that leaves it to amateurs. And the Mail is sitting there dangling a $500,000 check in front of their faces for a story.

    The Mail is not going to discriminate between good science and bad any better than the Sunday Times was able to distinguish real Hitler diaries from fake.

    Fortunately the Mail story is a leader for a book due out shortly. And that should have a lot more description and much fuller explanation than the UK version of the New York Post.

    I don’t find publication or non-publication in academic journals dispositive AFAIAC because I work in a field where the majority of researchers active in the field are not academics and the only use for academic publications is to gain tenure.

    1. “…I work in a field where the majority of researchers active in the field are not academics…”

      The same is NOT true for historical DNA analysis. This absolutely should’ve been published in a journal, and there would be no obstacles to doing so if the analysis was done correctly. You don’t make claims like this without peer review. Period.

      “Fortunately the Mail story is a leader for a book due out shortly.”

      I see this as very unfortunate. The Mail is essentially advertising someone’s book. Neither the journalist nor the researcher did anything to verify that the story was true. This is an ethical lapse on both of their parts.

      1. You have it the wrong way round, the Mail and the researcher did everything they could to verify the story as true.

        The problem is that neither shows evidence of making effort to find out if it was false.

        1. Peer review is the place to go for that. You don’t publish a story like this before experts give the subject a critical examination.

          1. Well yes, I get rather annoyed about my computer security/crypto colleagues announcing stuff in the press rather than a peer reviewed forum. But they still do it and most of the stuff they release that way is good.

            I remember Flieschman and Pons cold fusion so I think we could see some spectacular problem arising. But only a small number of the top researchers in my field are academics and their tenure track concerns are not my concern. Last time I wrote a paper for a journal I was describing the then rare phenomenon of ‘phishing’ targeting bank accounts rather than AOL log ins. Took the journal 12 months to respond and they would have taken another 12 months to print the article had I not pulled it because by then we had gone from isolated reports to a million attacks a day.

            What I am objecting to is the assertion that nothing that everything published in the Daily Mail must be false. The correct approach would be that there is no reason to believe what the Daily Mail publishes is true.

            Rather more important than being published in the right place is making the raw data available for others to examine.

          2. “What I am objecting to is the assertion that nothing that everything published in the Daily Mail must be false.”

            Another Skeptic impersonates Drax the Destroyer.

          3. Aww crap. Thats what happens when you try to remove a double negative having spent the night before drinking scotch while watching the referendum results come in.

            The point is that deciding to take $500K from the Daily Mail instead of publishing in an academic journal is not evidence that the study is bogus. All that we have is a lack of evidence that the study is well founded.

  2. Rebecca Watson,

    Sadly even if we find definitive evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt, who Jack the Ripper really was, its too late for the victims, and authorities won’t be able to make him pay for what did. The best we would be able to do would be to desecrate the monster’s grave.

    Hopefully science will continue to make it harder and harder for psychopaths like him not to get caught.

  3. Best part of the entire segment:



    “I’m going to disagree and say probably not”

    My grinning muscles got stretched…

  4. Wow this was great!. More interviews with women doing the ‘thinky’ thing

    So then the National Geographic genome test might actually be giving interesting data. I understood they were using the mitochondrial DNA and able to tell you the region of your mothers ancestors. That seems to be the kind of data that mDNA can give you? My sister and I were going to do a test with NG but we were skeptical about their sample size.

  5. Still, what we can conclusively say is, that Aaron Kosminski definitely possibly may or may not have been Jack the Ripper or in some way connected with the murders or one of the victims and that’s almost more than nothing!

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