Bigfoot of the Gaps

I’m sure that you have all heard about the Royal Society paper dismissing alleged bigfoot and yeti DNA evidence as being from common animals, right? If not, NatGeo has a pretty good write-up about it. Or, you could go read the paper in its entirety here. Or, heck, just look at this nifty chart from the study:

bigfoot chart

Serows and tapirs and bears, oh my! But no bigfoots, no yetis, and no almasties among them. For skeptics, of course, this is both not surprising and a small victory for science over pseudoscience. I suspected, however, that this study would do nothing to silence the faithful.

I decided to go straight to the top: Matt Moneymaker, head of the Bigfoot Research Organization (BFRO) and star of Finding Bigfoot. Not surprisingly, he’s not fond of these results. Here is a link to a response Moneymaker posted to the BFRO forums, prompted by journalist Jennifer Viegas, who requested a comment on the study for Discovery News. The response begins as such:

Here’s my opinion about the “Royal Society Papers on Bigfoot” which I shall refer to as “the Sykes study”:

The Sykes study is meaningless scientifically.

Right away he moves to diminish the paper by stripping it of some of its authority. It isn’t “The Royal Society Papers on Bigfoot,” which sounds very credible and indicates (rightly) that the paper was approved by peer review and published in a respected journal. It’s “The Sykes study,” which is vage and less authoritative. No doubt he’s hoping the journalist will pick up on the language for her article (she didn’t).

Next, Moneymaker is sure to distance his own organization from the paper, informing her that “The BFRO did not provide any of the North American samples,” and that “None of the ‘bigfoot’ samples that came from the US had a strong *credible* connection to a bigfoot sighting.” He later reinforces the point, noting that “none of the samples examined by Sykes came from the BFRO, nor did he ask for any from us.” One wonders, if the BFRO did have what they considered credible samples, why didn’t they offer them to Sykes? After all, the researchers put out an open invitation for submission of samples.

Now we come to what he calls “the flimflam in the Royal Society paper attempting to whitewash the corruption at the sample inclusion stage.” Again, note the careful use of language here. Flimflam? That’s a word more likely to be applied to a Bigfoot hunter, not applied by them. Whitewash? That implies intent. So at this point, he’s basically saying that the study is not only scientifically meaningless but that it’s also intentionally covering something up. Specifically, Moneymaker’s argument is that the study authors did not test every sample; that they did not use ethical procedures for selecting which samples to exclude; and that some of the samples they excluded are the ones most likely to be from a bigfoot. The undertone here is that they did this intentionally so that they could garner sensational headlines and sell books.

I cannot entirely dismiss his criticism of sample selection here, as I am not a geneticist. Of course, neither is Moneymaker. Todd Disotell is, however, and he told Science that “This study did it right, reducing contamination and following all the standard protocols.”

Not good enough for Moneymaker, of course, who is hanging his hat on those untested samples:

The other factor is the nearly non-existent medulla structure (the core of the hair that holds most of the DNA) in samples that have long been thought to be authentic bigfoot hair samples (none of which were included in the study).

If hairs of bigfoots have almost no medulla structure it will be much more difficult, and more time consuming, and thus more expensive, to extract sufficient DNA … unless there are hair follicles (roots) still attached that are relatively fresh.

For those reasons, any authentic bigfoot samples that might have been part of the original 57 samples available to Sykes … had a higher probability of being excluded.

In other words, Bigfoot samples aren’t like other samples and thus cannot be detected in the usual way, and in fact bigfoot samples look an awful lot like the kind of samples that would be excluded due to lack of DNA. Not sure how he can claim to know this, unless he knows of a successful extraction of identified bigfoot DNA that we don’t. He’s relying on special pleading to dismiss the study results.

The major takeaway is that, of course, no amount of science will stand in the way of a good pseudoscience. Of course Moneymaker was going to dismiss this study. Both his professional reputation and his popular television program require this study to be flawed.

He finishes his statement with the following:

The important conclusion that SHOULD emphasized in the media right now:

NEARLY HALF OF THE SAMPLES IN THE SYKES STUDY COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED.

Let’s call this one the “bigfoot of the gaps” argument, shall we? Because really, it’s the only argument the Squatching community has left. Every time a DNA test comes back negative; every time a blobsquatch turns out to be a tree stump; every time Finding Bigfoot goes into another forest and finds nothing, this is the excuse. “It’s still out there in the places we didn’t look! It’s in the evidence we didn’t collect! It’s in the DNA we didn’t sequence!” Like God and Jell-O, it appears there’s always room for Bigfoot in the world.

About Alison Hudson

Alison is a writer and educator living near Ann Arbor, MI. She blogs regularly about skepticism, games, and the transgender experience.
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16 Responses to Bigfoot of the Gaps

  1. Jon Richfield says:

    Depressing Alli, but well composed. Well done. One comfort is that it must be still more depressing to the fringists. Thanks.

  2. bengrimm says:

    Matt Moneymaker. The name says it all.

  3. idoubtit says:

    “He finishes his statement with the following:

    The important conclusion that SHOULD emphasized in the media right now:

    NEARLY HALF OF THE SAMPLES IN THE SYKES STUDY COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED.”

    I don’t see that in the paper. All the samples were identified 100%. The others were not subjected to the testing because there appeared to be some sort of problem. It is not specified what that is (other than two were not animal hair).

    From the journal paper: “Of the screened samples, 37 were selected for genetic analysis based on their provenance or historic interest”.

    So, I have no idea where MM gets this claim from. He’s also a doofus for thinking people will take his word over those of the researchers. He’s rather pathological; I don’t believe a word he says. He makes up stuff all the time (Bigfoot likes watermelon, likes when you whistle, can stun people feet away with a special skill, etc.)

    For what this study means to cryptozoology in general, See this: http://idoubtit.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/sykes-paper-is-a-clarion-call-for-higher-standards-for-cryptozoology/

    • Alison Edwards says:

      Thanks for the link. You’re absolutely right of course; like a good woo peddler, he’s misrepresenting the facts to frame his narrative. Technically, they “could not be identified” in that, for example, the researchers “could not” get enough DNA from them. But he’s hoping to imply that the lack of identification is somehow an inherently mysterious quality of the samples, and Therefore Bigfoot, as opposed to the simple scientific process of selecting the most appropriate and testable samples from a collection.

      The one part of his point I can kind of grant him is the one about some specimens being selected over others “based on their provenance or historic interest.” If there’s a flaw in the study, it’s that one, in that it gives the Squatchers a chance to to exactly what MM is doing: claim they simply chose the wrong ones. I’m certain that the authors tried to choose the *most likely* candidate samples, but a few overlooked but testable samples is all MM needs to make that Bigfoot of the Gaps argument.

    • Chris Jones says:

      These “unidentified” samples — meaning, those which could not be tested for some reason — will provide a basis for a remark such as this to be made on “Finding Bigfoot”: “Half of the DNA tests on samples of bigfoot hair sent off for testing came back as unidentified”. They will certainly not clarify what “unidentified” meant. Moneymaker will resort to lack of definition in order to mislead the viewer into believing that this meant “DNA was examined and didn’t match any known species”. I’ve heard this sort of remark made on the show several times and it SOUNDED as if they were saying that there was a proper fully completed test which simply didn’t match up with anything known. Previously I had assumed that contamination was responsible, but now we know of another avenue for BFRO to make this claim.

  4. freke1 says:

    I guess people will stop seeing giant bipedal monsters in the woods now. They should just stop. Even when the 8 feet 500 pound hairy human is chasing Your sorry hunting butt through the woods You should just stop and whisper: serenity now…
    We’ll see.

    Funny how so many people see things I never see: UFOs, Bigfoots, ghosts, Gods will, boom sounds etc.
    and can’t see the things I see: police state, corruption, bankruptcies, revolving doors, history distortion, climate chaos, interesting brain/paranormal powers etc.
    I would be happy to switch 😉

    • Alison Edwards says:

      “Funny how so many people CLAIM TO see things I never see”

      Fixed it for you.

      • freke1 says:

        Yes but can You explain the difference between people who claim there is a god or that they have seen the spirit of Mary and people who think there is a bigfoot and have seen them. Why is the first good citizens and the latter certainly is not when there are probably 100’s of thousands who think they have seen a UFO, thousands who think they have seen a bigfoot and (give and take) zero who have seen a god.

        Bashing a bigfoot eyewitness if You are a christian skeptoid is kinda hmm OH REALLY? Now You or any of the skeptoids may not be religious but You probably have christians friends that You put in high regards.

        There are billions of people who “claim” there is a god. Easy targets as are bigfoot believers. All though the latter have a bit more evidence if You ask me.

        • I have Christian friends and I hold some of them personally in high regard, but I put their belief in invisible sky daddy in the same place of skeptical doubt as Bigfoot and UFOs. It’s one of the reasons I never talk religion with my kith and kin.

          • freke1 says:

            One thing I’ve noticed as I get older is how much modern western life is full of absurd traditions (or way of doing things) like monarchy (we have a queen here), religion, fiat money, mortgages, processed unhealthy food, over-medication (Prozac, Ritalin) etc.
            We are killing 200 species a day, the planet is going to get 10 degrees C warmer by 2040 and nobody is in control. The politicians have a 4 year time horizon and the invisible sky daddy’s followers have a lot more Powah! than scientists and their supporters.
            You never notice these things when You are young.

  5. JH Bernard says:

    Enjoyed the article!! I do have one question (perhaps a silly one) on the first two samples alleged to be from a yeti but actually from a polar bear. Were these samples verified to have been from the actual location (Ladakh and Bhutan) or is that just what was claimed by the person submitting the sample? Just think it’s odd for a polar bear to be in South Asia.

  6. Torchwood says:

    I personally *like* Bigfoot. Listening to coast2coast am with Art Bell was my favorite way to spend The Hour of the Wolf when I was working a 12 hour midnight shift. And I believed almost every guest, every ghost, every story: after you’ve spend the hours 19:00 to 01:00 completing data entry on a stack of reports knee high on a Bigfoot, all of that makes perfect sense and I loved every last minute of every last phone call.

    I look forward to many years wasted by MM denying his cause is unfounded. I work a day shift now and I am one with all those who want facts that can be verified by an independent study. But where’s the fun in that?

  7. busterggi says:

    I have it on authority that specimen # 25072 was FERAL human.

    Maybe not good authority but…

  8. Daniel Perez says:

    A very nice write up on the matter. Daniel Perez, editor and publisher of the Bigfoot Times newsletter.

  9. Patrick says:

    would anyone know what percentage of DNA test come back with results? non-questionable results I guess I should ask. If I were to go out to a park and get 60 different hair samples how many would actually provide results? It seems to me due to the difficulty of testing 30 out of 57 might be a good percentage…. but I’m just guessing.

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