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Bigfoot of the Gaps

by Alison Hudson

July 7, 2014

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Donate 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:

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:

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.

by Alison Hudson

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