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Abominable Science! Authors Interviewed

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on August 10th, 2013

abom_science

The following is an interview with Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, authors of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. In the interview, Loxton and Prothero consider, among other things, the phenomenon of cryptozoology and its relationship to science, and reveal their favorite cryptids!

For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt from the chapter on Bigfoot or view Daniel Loxton’s amazing images from the book:

Question: Let’s get this out of the way, right now: Does Bigfoot exist?

Donald R. Prothero: I would say that the odds are 99.999% against it. Not only are all the supposed “evidences” of Bigfoot either hoaxes, fakes, blurry photographs, or questionable movie footage, with not a single piece of hard evidence (e.g., bones, fur, carcasses), but there is LOTS of scientific evidence against their existence. The most important is that they would have to have a large population with huge home ranges, not just a single individual. Yet the more people look, the less they find. Even rare animals like bears eventually leave bones and carcasses behind. Their habitat is not the pristine “forest primeval” that most people imagine, but heavily modified and largely cut down by loggers over the years. It is traversed by lots of real biologists who never find evidence of Bigfoot—but plenty of animals that could be mistaken for Bigfoot, or animals that make sounds that non-biologists don’t recognize and attribute to Bigfoot. Another important factor: we have literally thousands to tens of thousands of fossils of Ice Age mammals in North America, including some extremely rare creatures—but not a single primate fossil, let alone remains of Bigfoot.

Q: How widespread is the belief in cryptids such as Bigfoot or the Yeti?

Daniel Loxton: Much more widespread than the fringe reputation of the topic suggests. For example, when asked “Do you think Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is real?” in a 2012 Angus-Reid poll, 7 percent of American respondents affirmed the belief that Bigfoot “Definitely is real,” and 22% said Bigfoot “Probably is real.” That’s a more-or-less typical response to polls about cryptid beliefs. And that adds up to an awful lot of people.

Q: How do these legends begin?

DL: Well, we’ve just jotted down a quick 400 pages on that topic for anyone interested in some detailed exploration of that question! But the short answer is that it’s a snowball effect. An initial crystal from pop culture or regional folklore is set in motion by media, and that hype generates reports—some sincere and some hoaxed—which fuels further interest by a sensation-seeking media and entices serious proponents and scoundrels alike into the pursuit. And all that attention generates new sightings, which generate new media and inspire new popular culture…

Q: What explains the persistence in believing in the existence of such creatures?

DRP: There is lots of speculation, but the main factor seems to be that belief in monsters is universal among nearly all human cultures. In our scientific culture, where monsters have been banished to mythology, there still seems to be a deep-seated psychological need to believe in the unexplained and the mysterious, and accept the more supernatural explanation over the more mundane but scientific one. In addition, chasing monsters (especially Bigfoot) gives a lot of amateurs a sense of excitement and purpose, and a hobby they share with others of the same belief system. We found that a lot of “Bigfoot researchers” just like to use it as an excuse to get out in the woods and test their mettle against Mother Nature, but instead of birdwatching or hunting or camping, they search for Bigfoot.

Q: How do you discount the fact that people have provided eye-witness accounts of seeing these animals and in some cases, even DNA evidence?

DRP: Recent research has shown that human “eyewitness” testimony is extremely unreliable, and almost as likely to be wrong as to be right. As researchers have shown (and courts of law are now admitting), humans often misremember what they see, or color what they see with their expectations, or often “recover memories” of things that never happened. Humans are capable of hallucinating in broad daylight, or seeing a glimpse of something and then filling in all the details with things they’ve seen on TV or other media. Thus, for a scientific claim as incredible as Bigfoot or Nessie, “eyewitness” testimony is worthless, the worst possible kind of evidence.

All of the “Bigfoot DNA” cases have been debunked. The latest one, from a lab in Texas, proved to be incompetently done by someone who is not a top-notch molecular biologist. When her results were re-analyzed by a neutral lab, the samples all turned out to be normal human with a mixture of other common American mammals, including the opossum.

DL: Going to the eye-witness cases, I don’t discount them. My parents were cryptid witnesses—that’s what got me into this topic in the first place. An eye-witness occupies a privileged vantage point. Say you come to me and say you saw Bigfoot. Well, maybe you did. I don’t know what you saw. I wasn’t there. But because I don’t know what you saw, there’s only so much I can do with your story. I can’t take it away from you, but it’s just a story. We can talk about some of the possibilities and try to figure it out, though, if you’re willing.

Read the rest of the interview here: INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL LOXTON AND DONALD R. PROTHERO, AUTHORS OF ABOMINABLE SCIENCE!

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster.


12 Responses to “Abominable Science! Authors Interviewed”

  1. norman-uk responds:

    There is a vast amount of evidence for bigfoot being real and from it is difficult to imagine how anyone could come to a conclusion that there is a 999.999% chance that it is not! Whoever, must be seriously in thrall to the blight of unbridled scepticism and ‘not finding bigfoot’. At the very least surely the evidence would give it a 30% chance. it must be difficult to have a rational discussion with such a point of view where the evidence must be misunderstood misquoted and selected to comfirm such a belief and set it in concrete.

    I must admit I have not read the book and probably will not as I do not think it will further my knowledge. Its not a book for an open minded believer!

    I QUOTE
    DRP: Recent research has shown that human “eyewitness” testimony is extremely unreliable, and almost as likely to be wrong as to be right. As researchers have shown (and courts of law are now admitting), humans often misremember what they see, or color what they see with their expectations, or often “recover memories” of things that never happened. Humans are capable of hallucinating in broad daylight, or seeing a glimpse of something and then filling in all the details with things they’ve seen on TV or other media. Thus, for a scientific claim as incredible as Bigfoot or Nessie, “eyewitness” testimony is worthless, the worst possible kind of evidence
    UN QUOTE

    The only recent research I have seen about eyewitness reliabily in fact proved that it is more often than not reliable and I am sure if someone had a clear view of an 8 foot hairy apelike creature they would have a good memory of it and normaly should be believed or at least mean there is a case to answer.

    Looks like this book ought to be refuted piece by piece honestly and logically as it is likely to do unwarrented harm to the bigfoot case. I do hope others will come in on this because at the moment it seems to be getting the thumbs up, especially from sceptics and those who would run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

    DWA where are you ?

  2. corrick responds:

    Unlike norman-uk I’ve read the book. Simply put its the best cryptozoology bang for your buck since Huevelmans’ “On the Track…” The depth of research, information, rigorous scholarship, illustrations, photographs is like nothing else published in decades. In hardback and for about $25!

    But don’t lose any sleep norman-uk, because this book won’t do one iota of harm to “open minded” bigfoot believers like yourself. There will always be a place for bigfoot outside of human minds or any recognized scientific evidence. Maybe the names change but there will always be more Rick Dyers, Melba Ketchums every year. And of course there’s always “reality” T.V. proof. So rest easy.

    However, for anyone interested in an exhaustive examination of the non-speculative facts concerning Bigfoot, Yeti, Nessie, Mokele, and sea serpents it just doesn’t get any better than this book.

  3. norman-uk responds:

    The purpose of the book, despite appearances, seems to be to thoroughly debunk out of existence the favorite cryptids, and rigerous scholarship etc etc has been employed to that end. I suspect Heuvelmans would have been rather upset to have been compared to it. He was doubtless an open minded believer also.This did not prevent him being intelligent and sensible nor scientific, and which would have have been an aid to him in cornering the truth not an impediment !

    Personally I have no rapport with disreputable individuals who meddle with cryptozoology, particularly bigfoot and give the subject a bad name and it is not difficult to find what is of interest and value in tv shows etc. without swallowing it all. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing where one sits at the feet of those who serve a scientific establishment rather than the truth. Because they have failed and are failing in establishing the truth in that amazing quest, the search for bigfoot.

    Unfortunately the book seems to be a book written by sceptics for sceptics and getting the respect it does will make it easy for media outlets to shallowly refer to it as an authority and particularly with regard to bigfoot, prevent it getting the respect and assistance it should.

  4. corrick responds:

    norman-uk

    If what your responses have both been in sarcasm I give you credit. Amusing. Humor, especially droll sarcasm does not translate well over the internet.

    If you are actually in earnest?

    Hey, why let documented physical world information get in the way of what we wish were true?

  5. DWA responds:

    “Donald R. Prothero: I would say that the odds are 99.999% against it. Not only are all the supposed “evidences” of Bigfoot either hoaxes, fakes, blurry photographs, or questionable movie footage, with not a single piece of hard evidence (e.g., bones, fur, carcasses), but there is LOTS of scientific evidence against their existence. The most important is that they would have to have a large population with huge home ranges, not just a single individual. Yet the more people look, the less they find. ”

    That entire paragraph is an execrable misrepresentation of the evidence. It likely gets worse. But I wouldn’t know; that was enough reading for me.

    Skip.this.book.

  6. DWA responds:

    “DWA where are you ?”

    Well, dangit, now you’re gonna make me deconstruct that whole paragraph of Swiss cheese I skimmed over in my last post, aren’t you. [sigh] OK….

    “I would say that the odds are 99.999% against it.”

    Whenever I see a sentence like that, the person employing it, in order to be justly accused of scientific method, better tell me where that number came from. And it came from…???

    “Not only are all the supposed “evidences” of Bigfoot either hoaxes, fakes, blurry photographs, or questionable movie footage, with not a single piece of hard evidence (e.g., bones, fur, carcasses),…”

    OK, two unforgivable scientific sins being committed here. First is the wholesale omission of classes of evidence; second is the constant bigfoot-skeptic Achilles’ heel: the confusion of evidence and proof.

    Anecdotal evidence is first, voluminous, and second, extremely consistent. These are the only necessary earmarks to command serious scientific attention. Footprints aren’t anecdotal; they are hard forensic evidence, present on the ground. Experts in analyzing them vouch for the authenticity of sasquatch tracks and trackways. They show clear signs that a living foot, not an artificial stomper or shoe, made them. And the full range of evidence has been found, from prints and poop to hair and blood and anomalous bones (and skeletons) to nest-like structures identified to no known animal to vocalizations that have yet to be classified.

    When it is not classified it is INCONCLUSIVE. The scientific thing to do is CONCLUDE what is causing it. Tossing off pet causes for which one can marshal no evidence cuts no ice. That canard “not a single piece of hard evidence” is not only contradicted by the evidence but a non sequitur; it simply says “not proven yet.” Proving? That is science’s job.

    “…but there is LOTS of scientific evidence against their existence.”

    No, actually, there is no such thing as scientific evidence against the existence of something. What “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” very precisely means. Never mind that there is loads of evidence of all kinds to be assessed.

    “The most important is that they would have to have a large population with huge home ranges, not just a single individual. Yet the more people look, the less they find. ”

    Well, flat wrong. But some people refuse to read about this or think about it properly.

    And, as I said, it doubtless gets worse from there.

  7. maslo63 responds:

    Norman-UK and DWA…what do you have to lose from reading this book? If you’re so both convinced by the evidence why not just check it out, just to see what it is all about? DWA won’t be surprised by this but I bought the book immediately when it was published, I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. I have not finished it but I have read the sasquatch portion and am now halfway through the yeti portion.

    DWA, I’m sad that you’ll dismiss this entire book based on one interview quote. Donald Prothero is as much a top mind in his field as Jeff Meldrum is in his own, it would only serve you to read his take on this subject. Donald Prothero is not a knee-jerk skeptic. He is a man with a background in mammalian paleontology who’s lifelong interest in cryptozoology has led to a healthy skepticism. I’m perfectly willing to read both the pro and con position of the sasquatch argument. That is why I have a copy of Meldrum’s book as well as many of Loren Coleman’s. But I want to know the whole story and to do that you need to get a picture from both sides. I can’t take anyone seriously who won’t.

    As for the bigfoot distribution issue that I have addressed myself. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book itself that borrows quotes from bigfoot hero Grover Krantz.

    “Grozer Krantz staked his scientific career on the belief that Sasquatches exist, but the planetary extant of reports of Bigfoot-like creatures was a problem that gave him pause. He warned that “when it is suggested that a wild primate is found native to all continents, including Australia, then credibility drops sharply.” Even if we were to leave aside the plausibility of a global primate remaining undiscovered, Krantz knew that few animal species have anywhere near as wide a distribution: “Beyond a certain point, it can be argued that the more widespread a cryptozoological species is reported to be, the less likely it is that the creature exists at all.”

    How could you not want to read that stuff? As I said, if your belief in bigfoot is as grounded as you say it is than what harm can come from reading it and maybe trashing it on an Amazon review? There are a lot of books on cryptids, few from skeptics. This is one worth reading.

  8. maslo63 responds:

    Also while reading the interview I came across this…

    “Cryptozoology author Loren Coleman tweeted that the book is “scholarly and balanced,” and said that cryptozoologists are treated fairly.”

    So perhaps now the book is worth the serious attention of our members?

  9. DWA responds:

    maslo63:

    As I said, my problem is with what I quoted, which just isn’t a fair representation of what’s going on but a rehash of skeptical shibboleths. When that’s the sample I’m getting…

    Now as to Krantz:

    Scientists are all human and they all make mistakes. Napier badly misjudged the Patterson film, in my opinion; but he considered the other evidence compelling. Krantz made his famous “no man built that broadly” comment, which Daegling used to make an unwarranted reference to one measurement of “broad.” (Daegling of course also missed a central point: it isn’t any one measurement that makes Patty anomalous, but where she would sit on the human spectrum on all of them.) He also didn’t seem to consider this animal as competent on two feet as humans are; the encounter literature would make one question that assessment. But his mistakes don’t render everything else he said, including his expert opinion on the animal’s existence, tossable.

    And there is nothing in that paragraph you quoted that would give me pause, either. That’s just what I thought when I first heard that all 49 continental states recorded bigfoot sightings: oh great, UFOs. Kooks everywhere are seeing them. Wonderful. In fact, I forget why the hell I even decided to start reading them, that was such a turnoff. But for whatever reason, I did; and when I did I found out that, wherever one would consider habitat potentially great for a large omnivore with a similar diet, there were reports. Kooks don’t tend to have savant-level talent in wildlife biology. Then I started thinking about successful species, either because of omnivory or hunting strategy: bears, wolves, lions. Huge intercontinental ranges (the latter historically, if not presently). Krantz could be wrong on his take here, too, his mistake here being “Primates Are Tropical [maybe expressed as Primates Don't Have Big Ranges], so when you postulate a range like this…” There are species of the same type of animal with big, and small, ranges everywhere one looks in the animal kingdom.

    So my problem isn’t with what they bring to the table. My disappointment is that the paragraph from Prothero that got quoted sounds like…well, like they didn’t apply their credentials to the evidence.

    My problem with the bigfoot-skeptic take is that everyone says the same thing, and that same thing can be easily brushed aside, as I did, with no impact whatsoever on what one thinks. I am still waiting for the first skeptic with a take on this that makes me doubt the evidence; and no amount of “somebody would have -x- by now” trumps evidence.

    And it’s-all-fake is that’s-so-wrong.

    I hope this is one of the few such books that makes it into the public library system. I’d like to read it; but I don’t want to invest good money in the same old skeptical (it isn’t) take any more than I want to buy a book written by a “habituator” who won’t give me any evidence for that money.

  10. DWA responds:

    …and it’s in the public library system, mine in fact; and I just requested it.

    Huzzah for 21st-Century library tech.

    (How I got where I am: curiosity, and willingness to consider any viewpoint. Up to the point where evidence contradicts it.)

  11. maslo63 responds:

    I found it quite an interesting read, mostly for the history of the bigfoot phenomena. I should note that the bigfoot chapter is only one of several. There are others on the yeti, Nessie, Mokele-Mbembe and sea serpents so even if the sasquatch chapter turns you off you might find something else worthwhile in the book. That said I have not finished it myself so am hesitant to give it a glowing review. I just know that from what I read, I like it so far. I must say if I didn’t have doubt in the existence of bigfoot before, I do now. A lot of my problems with the bigfoot controversy were addressed in this book.

  12. DWA responds:

    I am going to be interested in seeing how in that many pages they come to the conclusion that a large number of eyewitnesses with no discernible reason to lie and with no significant indication that they were mistaken, in the end, don’t count for anything. I do have a significant problem with that.



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