“Sasquashed” (Bigfoot hunters)

BIGFOOTCITY

Those who think Bigfoot is a myth could someday be proven wrong, while this could never happen to those who think he’s real. That’s why there will continue to be the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, and other likeminded groups. These organizations are dedicated to the proposition that a sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has clandestinely lived within 50 miles of Seattle for over a century.

There has been nary a capture, roadkill victim, or hunter’s trophy in this time. No hikers or campers have stumbled upon their remains. They are lumbering yet stealthy and so socially conscious that they clean up every drop of excrement they produce.

There are two primary camps among Bigfoot enthusiasts. The first bunch fiercely insists he is real and are hostile to the insinuation they have an imaginary friend. These types hang out at sites like cryptomundo.com. When Skeptical Inquirer deputy editor Benjamin Radford documented 10 scientific reasons Bigfoot is unlikely, believers pounced.

A poster named Bukwasboo expressed his displeasure thusly: “UGGGGGH! Please stop giving this guy the attention he wants. Every one of his tired old skeptical talking points can be resoundingly refuted with logical and informed answers. We’ve heard all this before a million times. UGGGGGH!!!!!!”

At first, I wasn’t too impressed with Bukwasboo’s response. But then I noticed he added a sixth exclamation point and he won me over.

His cohort Opalman added, “I could easily pick this specious, almost emotionally defensive catalog of illogical, unscientific palaver apart nine different ways on each point. But it’s a waste of time. They wouldn’t consider the possible existence of Sasquatch even if they were tripped by one.”

Both claim they could take apart his points, yet conspicuously fail to even attempt it. They respond with no science or evidence, just anger, personal attacks, and lies. They point out they’ve heard the arguments before as if that somehow renders them invalid. Their responses, however, do lend credence to the notion that North America is home to bipedal hominids with subhuman intelligence.

Others on the site point to tales of giant apes existing in many ancient North American cultures, and count this as evidence. By this logic, white Anglo males have magic powers, as demonstrated by Harry Potter, Prince Caspian, and Merlin.

While close-minded on this topic, proponents nevertheless demonstrate mental agility through swift ad hoc reasoning. Why don’t we find their remains? Because they bury their dead. Why is there no roadkill? Because they look before they cross the road. So a species advanced enough to have funerals and traffic safety plans roam about without leaving a trace of its civilization or culture.

Now onto camp two, those who think Bigfoot exists, but withhold definitive statements since no living or dead creature has been found. The BFRO says this about Bigfoot sightings, tracks, and yelps:

“To many, these suggest the presence of an animal, probably a primate, that exists today in very low population densities. If true, this species, having likely evolved alongside humans, became astonishingly adept at avoiding human contact through a process of natural selection.

“To others, these same facts point to a cultural phenomenon kept alive today through a combination of the misidentification of known animals, wishful thinking, and the deliberate fabrication of evidence.”

This is downright reasonable compared to the stances of Opalman and Bukwasboo, but we will see that this optimism if unfounded.

My main beef is with these organizations purporting to do science. The preceding paragraphs reference population densities, species, and natural selection, giving them a veneer of scientific legitimacy. But the tactics and techniques of its “researchers” fail to follow the Scientific Method, and includes a Bigfoot Report Form. Since I saw Shaquille O’Neal at the 1991 Final Four in Indianapolis, I filed a report that I had observed a dark seven-foot bipedal creature in Indiana, and this was added to the evidence file. No one doing legitimate science is going to put stock in unverifiable reports like these.

There have been at least two anthropologists who decided chasing Bigfoot was a résumé booster: The late Grover Krantz and Jeffrey Meldrum, who works with the BFRO. It requires a little accommodation, but Meldrum can probably be credited with applying the Scientific Method at the beginning of his monster quests. He defines the question, develops a hypothesis, makes a prediction, and then tests it. But that’s where the science ends. Since repeated forays into the woods turn up nothing definitive, there’s nothing to analyze, nothing to replicate, nothing to submit for peer review, and no data to share. Of crucial importance, the existence of Bigfoot is unfalsifiable. The BFRO defines itself as “The only scientific research organization exploring the Bigfoot mystery.” Yet the site is primarily eyewitness accounts, shaky videos, and out of focus photos. That probably doesn’t qualify as research, and certainly isn’t science.

Meldrum, who works in the department of biological sciences at Idaho State University, has a large collection of footprints, which fails to impress his colleagues. For instance, anthropologist David Daegling of the University of Florida insists that quality trumps quantity. He said, “Even if you have a million pieces of evidence, if all the evidence is inconclusive, you can’t count it all up to make something conclusive.”

Ascribing to Bigfoot a footprint or hair of unknown origin is the appeal to ignorance. Because we can’t prove what animal it came from or that it’s fake, proponents count this as evidence he’s real. This highlights a major issue with chasing Bigfoot. We’ve never found one, so we don’t know what kind of impression it would leave. This is a micro example of the lack of falsifiability that encompasses the entire field.

While Bigfoot is primarily associated with the Pacific northwest, there are Texans who aren’t about to let something that big be claimed by someone else. Woodape.org focuses its attentions on a southern Sasquatch, mostly residing in Texas, but also in Louisiana, Arkansas, and elsewhere. Woodape attempts a benevolent spin by announcing they are here to save the beasts. While Woodape never expressly states Bigfoot is real, its mission to save it necessitates there be at least one male and one female to rescue. Also, it offers a physical description and habitat for Bigfoot, treating it as real and not speculative. As an aside, if they want the animal to avoid extinction, it is best they ensure that man NOT find it.

 Woodape.org also tries the appeal to science: “Much remains to be learned about Earth and the many species that inhabit it.” This is true, and we should continue the search for undiscovered animals and the expansion of zoology. But there are far better ways to do this than scampering after a giant ape. Places like Borneo, Brazil’s southern Atlantic Coast, and Papua New Guinea are teeming with undiscovered creatures, with hundreds being found every year.

OK, not everyone has the time and resources for these journeys. But every U.S. region likely features undiscovered critters. But finding one requires learning the anatomical features, breeding habits, diet, camouflage, habitats, mating calls, and place in the food chain of existing animals. If truly wanting to add to the discovery of new creatures, this is the way to go. By contrast, those desperately seeking Sasquatch praise science while failing to honor its Method and tactics.

For instance, Woodape puts heavy emphasis on eyewitness reports, citing 3,000 sightings of the animal or its tracks. A live creature or complete carcass would be proof. A substantial patch of fur or bones would be strong evidence. Eyewitnesses and reports of shrieks are weak evidence. And these 3,000 pieces of weak evidence do not add up to one strong piece. Until 2014, there had been no reported sightings, sounds, disturbed vegetation, tracks, or other evidence that the ampulex dementor cockroach wasp existed. Then it was found in the Mekong Delta, and this one piece of evidence outweighed the thousands of pieces of evidence that Bigfoot exists.

Woodape.org further claims there are “remarkably consistent physical descriptions of these creatures.” In truth, there is quite a bit of variety in terms of its alleged size, footprints, body covering, gait, sounds, and color. But even 500 precise accounts would still fall into the weak evidence category. Just like the plural of anecdote is not data, the plural of eyewitnesses is not captured specimen. Furthermore Ben Roesch of the Cryptozoological Review has noted anecdotes are not reproducible, testable, or falsifiable, and are therefore outside the scientific process. There’s also the matter of eyewitness unreliability, which is addressed in depth here: http://tinyurl.com/3ca9a2

There is a good chance many of the sightings were of a black bear. An ecological niche model was produced using nine climate variables in areas where Bigfoot reports were most common, and they corresponded to where black bears are most concentrated.

Woodape also finds relevance in the “sincerity and credibility of eyewitnesses, some of whom are law enforcement officers and experienced outdoor workers, such as wildlife and fisheries officials.” No amount of belief makes anything true and the appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. Sincerity and career choice are not proof of Bigfoot and have no place on a site that purports to be executing a scientific study of the subject.

Nor would a serious scientific undertaking put relevance in the 1967 film shot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, especially with this logic: “No one has demonstrated convincing arguments or recreations that begin to cast serious doubt on the validity of the animal shown in the film.” That’s a dubious claim, as there have been arguments made that the movement is humanlike and that there seems to be a zipper on the creature. The larger point, however, is that the onus remains on the person making the claim.

If the animal was real, he would have had to make it to California from Asia or Africa because he has no ancestors here. There has never been a fossil found of a North American primate. This is not just one type of animal, but an entire order. Woodape dismisses this for the same reason it discounts the lack of live captures:  There are so few of them. But this rarity would make it even less likely that an entire species has been maintained for hundreds of years, managing to roam safely from Vancouver to the Bayou. Imagine the sustenance a creature this size would need for such a journey. Then multiply that by the number in the pack. That’s why anthropologist Nina Jablonski insists there are insufficient food resources to support such a large mammal. Woodape’s retort is that Native American tribes once lived in these areas. That’s solid thinking, once they find Sasquatch in a tepee with a bow and arrow.

Bigfoot enthusiasts will point out that a skin of the Giant Panda was not produced until 1869 and a skin attached to a living one was not found until 1927. They are also fond of referencing the lowland gorilla, okapi, and Komodo dragon. This allows them to couch their hide-and-seek game as one of discovery. But to insist or strongly insinuate a beast exists, then seek supporting evidence is not scientific. New species are discovered all the time, using solid predictive science, not wishful thinking and overexcited forest treks prompted by a stranger’s e-mail. Another reason the comparison falls flat is because the other animals were found without cell phone cameras, night vision devices, reality shows, and organizations specifically set up to catch them.

Every animal was a cryptid at one time, so looking for new creatures is legitimate. But anthropologists don’t use report forms, they learn taxonomy and anatomy, publish their findings and welcome tough questions. Except for Meldrum, Bigfoot hunters are not well-versed in anthropology and they do not submit their findings for peer review, though this is somewhat excused by them having no findings. As to their response to tough questions, I’ll let Bukwasboo handle this one: “UGGGGHH!!!!!”

And unlike those undertaking serious scientific pursuits, Bigfoot hunters are unable to point to an example of what they are studying. Most tellingly, scientists continually try to prove themselves wrong, while those pursuing Bigfoot continually try to prove themselves right.

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