Killing Bigfoot with Bad Science

Is anyone doing any justice to the Bigfoot claim?

Filed under Cryptozoology

Skeptoid #11
December 3, 2006
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Today, we're going down a dark forest path on the trail of Gigantopithecus Americanus: the North American Sasquatch.

I see many cases on both sides of the Bigfoot debate where bad arguments, bad science, and just plain weirdness is being put forth, doing great disservice to their own side of the argument. There are intelligent and productive ways to explore a subject and present a case, but I don't see it being done very often on either side of the Bigfoot debate. I'm going to present what I consider the top three ways that each side of the Bigfoot claim is shooting themselves in the foot, beginning with the skeptics.

1. Saying that the guy who confessed to making tracks disproves the entire thing.

In 2002, a Washington logger named Ray Wallace died, and his family produced the carved wooden feet that he used to make Bigfoot footprints all over the Pacific Northwest, beginning in 1958. The newspapers and TV tabloids lapped it up, reporting that the entire Bigfoot phenomenon was now proven to be a hoax perpetrated by Wallace. Well, I feel the time has come for me to come clean about something that I've wanted to get off my chest for decades. When I was a kid, I once made some fake Bigfoot footprints too. The cat's out of the bag. Bigfoot is now doubly proven to be a hoax.

Obviously, anyone who has any kind of basic understanding of research methodology can't accept Ray Wallace's story as proof that Bigfoot is a hoax. Sure, he made fake prints. So have a thousand other guys. They were doing it before Ray Wallace was born, and they're still doing it today. Anyone can be making those tracks. Anyone...

2. Saying the Patterson-Gimlin film is "the worst fake ever."

I'm not a Bigfoot believer but I will give credit where credit is due. The Patterson-Gimlin film looked like a real animal to me. The Discovery Channel's "duplication" of it looked ridiculous. It looked nothing like a real animal, and certainly didn't remotely resemble the subject shown in the Patterson-Gimlin film. Chewbacca looked more real than the Discovery Channel's Bigfoot suit. Hollywood's state of the art in gorilla suits in 1967 were Planet of the Apes and The Galileo Seven episode of Star Trek. Two loggers with no previous gorilla suit experience made a suit that was better than today's state of the art, and certainly light years ahead of the 1967 state of the art. I'm not saying the film's real, I'm saying give credit where credit is due, and admit that if it is a fake, it's astounding. If you disagree then go through a stabilized version frame-by-frame as I have.

The half dozen or so Hollywood special effects artists who have since "come forward" to claim that they were responsible for the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot suit, and the dozens of guys who have "come forward" to claim that they were the guy wearing the suit, are no more evidence against the film than Ray Wallace's wooden feet are evidence that no real Bigfoot footprints exist.

Critics of the film also say that the creature's behavior is unrealistic. I have no knowledge of what a real Bigfoot's behavior might be, but I have encountered bears half a dozen times, and they acted exactly like the Patterson-Gimlin creature: just walked away, unconcerned, with maybe only a look or two back.

3. Criticizing good scientists like Jeff Meldrum.

I've read old and new criticism of Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University, and I'm only mentioning his name in particular as one example. There are several prominent tenured professors at legitimate accredited universities who have done Bigfoot research. They are probably far, far outnumbered by professors who have done psychic or other paranormal research, but let's stick to the subject.

Dr. Meldrum is not the obsessed Bigfoot guy who lives and breathes it 24 hours a day, and exhorts his students to become believers. Rather, he has a long list of publications and edited volumes, none of which pertain to Bigfoot; he teaches six courses, none of which pertain to Bigfoot; he's an Associate Professor of Anatomy & Anthropology; he's an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Occupational and Physical Therapy; and he's the Affiliate Curator at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. He's not the Professor of Bigfoot. He carries as great a load of academic work in non-Bigfoot related studies as any professor. He's a real scientist doing real work. On top of all of this, he studies casts of Bigfoot footprints.

Dr. Meldrum is responsible for drumming up his own grant money from private donors to fund any Bigfoot research that he chooses to do. In some cases, he has received small amounts of matching funds from the university. If you feel this was a bad expenditure, then criticize the university regents who decided to write the check, don't criticize the person they gave the funds to. The work of responsible scientists like Dr. Meldrum is exactly what true skeptics should be asking the Bigfoot community for, not criticizing him for it.

Here is the way for a responsible skeptic to handle the Bigfoot claim. It's to say "You're making an extraordinary claim. Show me extraordinary evidence, and I'll believe it. Until then, I'm not convinced." Occasionally candidate evidence has come forward, like hair and stool samples, or the skull cap from Tibet. This evidence has been properly tested, and so far no new great ape species has been proven (and if I'm wrong about that, I invite your comments on the web site). A responsible skeptic's obligations do not extend to poking fun at the people who are looking for evidence, considering the lack of evidence to be proof of no evidence, or making personal comments about people. That's not good science. In some cases, Dr. Meldrum, and other scientists like him, are being better skeptics than the skeptics.

And now, I'd like to say a few words to those who mean to support Bigfoot but do themselves more harm than good with bad arguments. The wrong ways to support Bigfoot:

1. Stating that Bigfoot is an extraterrestrial, or comes to us from another dimension.

If Bigfoot claims are going to make any headway into mainstream science, it will be through zoological channels, not supernatural channels. Such claims are the most extreme form of counterproductivity, setting Bigfoot claims backwards all the way into the Dark Ages.

2. Being delusional: Seeing detailed Bigfoots in a blurry photograph that shows no such thing.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Half the Bigfoot web sites out there show numerous photographs of bushes and wooded areas, with certain areas circled. There's nothing within the circled area except other bushes; maybe a shadow, or a dark branch. But wait! Here's a detailed sketch of what's hiding inside that shadow. I'm not a psychologist so I won't presume to affix a label to this phenomenon; but seeing things in pictures that aren't there, and then obsessing over it, does not strike me as healthy. It's certainly more effective at raising concern for the claimant, than it is at convincing anyone that Bigfoot exists. If all you have is bad evidence, you're better off not presenting it.

3. Doing bad science: Seeking to support a preconceived conclusion.

Science doesn't work by starting with the goal of proving something and then assembling whatever evidence you can find that supports it. That's doing propaganda, not science. Start with a testable hypothesis, and then form a theory based on the evidence revealed by the data. Of course, following this method is going to make it pretty hard to come up with a theory that's supportive of Bigfoot, but that's what it's going to take if Bigfoot supporters hope to prove their point.

I know you're going to listen to all of this and conclude that I'm the pro-Bigfoot guy. I'll admit to being a Bigfoot hopeful (a hope based more on emotion than on any actual likelihood), but certainly not a believer. My point is simply that both sides of every debate contain a lot chaff along with the wheat. Both sides of every skeptical issue believe that they're right, but even those on the side that is right (and by that, I mean whichever side you're on) can probably stand to clean up their act a little, no matter what the issue is.

Brian Dunning

© 2006 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Alderman ,Jesse Harlan. "Bigfoot studies render academic an outcast." MSNBC. MSNBC.COM, 3 Nov. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2009. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15548356/>

Autumn Williams. "Bigfoot Photo and Picture Gallery." OregonBigfoot.com, The Legend Lives. Autumn Williams, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 18 Nov. 2009. <http://www.oregonbigfoot.com/gallery.php>

Daegling, David J., and Schmitt, Daniel O. "Bigfoot's Screen Test." The Skeptical Inquirer. 1 May 1999, Volume 23.3: 3.

Davis, Marlon K. "M.K. Davis' frame by frame rendition of the Patterson Film." Bigfoot Encounters. Bobbie Short, 1 Dec. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. <http://www.bigfootencounters.com/files/mk_davis_pgf.gif>

Eagan, Timothy. "Search for Bigfoot Outlives The Man Who Created Him." The New York Times. 3 Jan. 2003, New York Edition: Section A, page 1.

Meldrum, Jeff. Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. New York: Forge Books, 2006.

Napier, John Russel. Bigfoot: The Sasquatch and Yeti in Myth and Reality. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Killing Bigfoot with Bad Science." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 3 Dec 2006. Web. 2 Aug 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4011>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 74 comments

I will admit that I would prefer the existence of bigfoot.. and wether such a creature exists my preference doesnt make it so..Though mr horne your statement that ALL THE EVIDENCE is against such a creature ecxisting is absurd....and your believing that bigfoot doesn't excist has no more impact on this creature not excisting than my preference of liking it to .... though your math on what it would take to suppport a population is unfounded..there are currently primates surviving that have less than at last count less than 75 individuals left..also your knowledge of thinking that its history started only after 1951 is also the sighns of your lack of knowledge on the subject.. though whether or not such a creature once or still does excists ..you have at least a 50% chance of being right by flipping a coin...heads it has...tails it hasn't. Hey windigo ,that hernia buldge must keep you up at night thinking about it....still you haven't said anything that would indicate why your so mesmerized by something in your mind that doesn't exist. ..the passion you have for the lack of bigfoot very impressive ..how do you study things that dont exist? You know I can wrap my mind on studing things that a person thinks exists or to study the subject to conclude whether it does or doesnt exist objectively.though how much time do you spend thinking about something you dont believe in?

dave festa, florida
March 19, 2014 12:26pm

dave festa, florida, well, there is no proof it does exist, just anecdotes, and, if I recall some alleged scientist with findings that they want people to pay for in order to read...not good science.

We can no more say that it does't exist, than we can say unicorns do not exist, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but with thousands of people actively looking for it over the years and with a growing human population not one hair, tooth or even turd has been identified.

Also, if it is as ancient a megafauna as all the other extinct species in America, why doesn't it exist anywhere in the fossil record? We have found sloths as high as buildings, extinct horses, and all kinds of other beast that are no longer about...why magically is Bigfoot the only beast avoiding detection in both the fossil record and also today as an extant species?

The thing is, the fervent believers in Bigfoot seem to think that sceptics are just naysaying its existence, but to what purpose?

Don't you think that scientists and the general public alike want this beast to be real?

I can't think of any reason why anyone wouldn't want this piece of folklore to be true, wouldn't be world changing but it would be amazing to think that perhaps another hominoid species still existed in this world.

What amuses me is that if it were discovered as 'real' a century or so ago, no one today would be interested in the beast, but it is the lack of its existence that is actually fuelling the belief.

Pete Edwards, Rhyl, Wales
March 19, 2014 3:22pm

Whether it exists or not,has no bearing on your logic..your saying is if bigfoot was discovered a century ago no one today would be interested in it .seriously ,its hard not to respond to that statement in a negative fashion..for instance the mountain gorilla discovered about a century ago..its one of the most studied and interesting of animals .its highly protected and certainly not forgot about..how about an elephant,people line up to see them. If big foot was discovered to be a real bi-pedal living creature, it would have more rights than me..probably..and considering it walks upright it would be the greatest new species discovered since the gorilla,and probably even a more important species than the gorilla. I dont think im going to far out on a limb
though ( if they do for example exist) to capture one would be the greatest discover or addition to the advancement of natural history to date. .people would be lining up to see one.Though please dont get this scenario confused with rick dyers current hoax of claiming he killed one ..if you don't know this fool he has a stuffed something hoax type whatever gimmick in a glass coffin and he's parading around the country side for people to veiw at 10.00 dollars a pop. Die hard bigfooters that live to see proof a real bigfoot(Though shooting one is defiantly a tabu) think this guy is a complete sociopath. ..and give him less than zero credibility. .of course hes not sharing the proof he claims exists that its real.

dave festa, florida
March 24, 2014 12:05pm

"Hey windigo ,that hernia buldge must keep you up at night thinking about it...still you haven't said anything that would indicate why your so mesmerized by something in your mind that doesn't exist."
---

Dave,

1) Some people BELIEVE in that leg bulge. BECAUSE there's a bulge, it's THEREFORE real, since a hoaxer wouldn't think to make it up. Well, it's a film artifact from multiple copying, so it makes them look silly for their shoddy "logic." Occam's razor slices through it.

2) I'm not so "mesmerized" by BF himself (as I don't believe he exists). Here's what DOES "mesmerize" me. The enduring culture - eyewitnesses, hoaxers, pseudoscientists, believers, all feeding each other's appetites. The neverending back & forth of rabid pseudoskeptics & defensive Bigfooters on message boards - a Jerry Springeresque sideshow where no one EVER persuades the other. The TV commercials (Jack Link's, Wheat Thins), movies (Harry & Hendersons), cable TV series (several), books (scores), websites (hundreds), experts (too many), coffee mugs, T-shirts, condoms. And so on, & on, & on.

BF makes $$ for those who provide a product for those who believe. Without the believers, you have no demand & no market.

Remember, we still don't have even a toe bone. Yet we've had 1000's of sightings across all 50 states (yes, in Hawaii, too) - with more to come this summer.

All this is what "mesmerizes" me. It's bloody astonishing.

Patterson had no idea what he started with that film footage.

Windigo, The Rocky Mountains, America
April 8, 2014 9:59am

The buldge doesn't necessarily prove big foot exists, though your claim that the buldge is an artifact from degradation of multiple film copies is 100% incorrect. .though evidence that shows flexing of the fingers is indeed a result of motion blur and indeed has been introduced even more likely as a true artifact from multiple coping of the film..also the movement if the mouth may be indeed a problem with film emulsion and motion blur...

The buldge on the thigh...definatly part of the anatomy of Patty......

Sorry. I didn't invent the media. Nor did i put the buldge on Patty's thigh. ..

Also im not a footer...

Though i have yet heard any reasonable explanation on how such a realistic image came to be filmed by a couple of cowboys with limited means.. and no explination on why it hasnt been able to.be duplicated in such as a convincing fashion as seen in the P/G film..

Though im quite certain its not B.H. in a costume..

dave festa, florida
April 9, 2014 1:48pm

It doesn't matter even if the bulge exists as filmed since it doesn't prove Patty is Bigfoot. She could still be a guy in a shag rug leotard.

PGF is only *scientifically* useful if Munns (or someone) can PROVE that Patty cannot possibly be human. Munns must publish/submit his data + conclusions for rigorous peer review. Which can be confirmed or falsified by experts in image analysis, biometrics, human/nonhuman physiology, etc.

Regardless, PGF will always remain *culturally* important - precisely because BF can't be proven NOT to exist. So the door to reason stays open for some people to believe. Which is fine.
---

"i have[n't] yet heard any reasonable explanation on how such a realistic image came to be filmed by a couple of cowboys with limited means [&] why it hasnt been able to.be duplicated in such as a convincing fashion . . ."
---

PGF will NEVER be satisfactorily duplicated since ALL the conditions of that occasion cannot possibly be replicated in a single episode. You can't perfectly re-create the weather, lighting, time of day, position/gait of Patty, the suit itself(!), the film, camera operation, the shooter's random idiosyncratic movements, plus the thousand other more subtle variables of the scene & filming of it. Thus any replica will always seem "off" to some degree.

The argument is a red herring anyway because the fact of PGF's non-duplicability does not lead to a conclusion of BF's existence. It's only a body that can't be disputed as proof.

Windigo, The Rocky Mountains, America
April 10, 2014 12:00pm

Off to some degree.?..nobody has even got close...plus the head to height proportion ,with the head of a costume on has proven to be close to being quite difficult to maintain. .and that hasnt been duplicated with the most sophisticated modern costumes

Conditions such as sunlight ,weather, idiosyncratic movement of the shooter. ....get real...

Not being able to reproduce Patty certainly doesn't prove the existence of Patty..and of course one needs to understand the limits of what the PG film can tell us..

Please provide reference to a attempt of duplicating Patty that is just off to SOME DEGREE..

Cant wait to see it..ill take in consideration the idiosyncratic movement of the shooter. .?

Seriously, cant wait to see this...though really i dont think you can reference to any attempt of getting even remotely close to any film that tries to duplicate the proportions and anatomy of Patty..it hasnt.been done not even close....regardless of new stretch materials and considerable budget...

Try it someday. ..Bob H.said it was some skinned out dead horse....stich one together sometime and put it on let me know how it works out..hell im sure your as smart as a couple of guys that some have described as not to clever...just be careful of the idiosyncratic movements of the shooter..

dave festa, florida
April 10, 2014 1:08pm

@dave festa, florida

I imagine you sitting at your keyboard, rubbing your hands gleefully, awaiting a response & mumbling, "Gotcha! GOTCHA! Ha!"

But there's a slight problem: 1) You misinterpreted me, then 2) built a complete straw man on your own mistake, then 3) tore it down in a repetitive, chest-beating rant.

My use of "some" in stating that PGF copies "will seem off to some degree" was quite wrongly construed by you to mean "small" or "tiny" or "insignificant."

Dictionary.com defines "some" as "UNSPECIFIED but CONSIDERABLE in number, degree, amount."

Which is precisely how I meant it.

Such as when bank robbers make off with "some cash" the UNSPECIFIED amount could be a million bucks, which is CONSIDERABLE.

Oops! Time to retake Basic Vocabulary 101.

Your personal insult of me as being "not to clever" boomeranged on you somewhat.

You want a "reasonable explanation" for why PGF hasn't been convincingly copied. I said why IMO it can't be. No matter how anal a film producer is, there'll be things that seem "staged" because they ARE staged, a result of trying to exactly re-create all the details of the original (e.g., the idiosyncratic movements of the shooter, ha ha), which is impossible.

Various aspects of the Bigfoot phenomenon are well worth discussing. Certain analyses are worth debating. Interpret me correctly before you go off next time. When you disagree, do it civilly, if you can. If not, save your insults & snarky tone for other forums.

Windigo, The Rocky Mountains, America
April 12, 2014 10:00am

No not trying to get you or bigfoot..

Actually im alittle tied up with business right now. if i remember ill get back to you somday..

dave festa, florida
April 12, 2014 11:29am

Reading this has really made me realize how much of an ass I am when it comes to people who believe in different things than I do. Nice job, Brian. You have legitimately made someone be more open minded. Thanks.

Alan Gross, Brownsburg, Indiana
May 24, 2014 8:31pm

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