Sasquatch Coffee


Michael Dennett Reviews Meldrum

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 21st, 2007

In the May-June 2007 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, a cadre of skeptics review Jeff Meldrum’s book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.

The list includes Ben Radford, Michael R. Dennett, Matt Crowley, and David J. Daegling.

Ben Radford shared the review with me to share with the readers of Cryptomundo.

As there were four separate reviews, I will share them individually over the next few days here at Cryptomundo.

This is the second part of the review, Michael Dennett’s review of the book.

The Nonsense and Non-Science of Sasquatch

Benjamin Radford, Michael R. Dennett, Matt Crowley, and David J. Daegling

Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. By Jeff Meldrum.
Forge Books, New York, 2006. ISBN 0-765-31216-6.
Hardcover, $27.95.

Sasquatch Legend Meets Science

Psst, you can purchase the book at Amazon.com for only $18.45. Click on the book cover to be whisked away to Amazon.com to purchase the book.

(SI) Editor’s note: This review is comprised of analyses by four noted researchers of Bigfoot claims, each of whom was asked to briefly critique the book on their areas of expertise.

Michael Dennett, a longtime observer of the Bigfoot phenomena, has investigated and written about the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, lake monsters, and so-called psychic sleuths.

Sasquatch Hoaxing

Jeff Meldrum accepts “evidence” produced by Paul Freeman, an admitted hoaxer of Bigfoot footprints, as a basis for proof of Bigfoot. Recounting the fact that some of Freeman’s Sasquatch “hair” samples turned out to be manmade fibers, he says

On the surface, this appears to be a clear-cut case of hoaxing. However, others, including a retired game warden, have also discovered suspicious hair that likewise turned out to be similar synthetic fibers. It has been suggested that these resilient fibers have something of a pervasive environmental contaminant, although the extent of this has not been determined. It should be noted that Freeman has collected several samples of true hair that number among Fahrenbach’s collection of possible Sasquatch hair, including samples from which degraded DNA was extracted by researchers at Ohio State University. It seems unjustified to throw out all the evidence as a result of a case of misidentification.” (p. 267)

This is not the only mention of Freeman evidence in the book. On Meldrum’s first unannounced meeting with Freeman, he says he tried to “size up the person, his reliability and motivations.” Then (even to Meldrum’s surprise) Freeman said, “Would you like to see some fresh tracks? I just found the first tracks of the spring earlier this morning.” Meldrum went for the bait and was shown a series of many tracks that he determined could not be faked (p. 23-24). By the date of this incident (ca. 1996), Freeman had been associated with many items of hoaxed or suspect Bigfoot evidence extending over a decade, and in fact many Bigfoot researchers independently regarded Freeman as a hoaxer based on nearly identical encounters.

As a “credentialed scientist” Meldrum implies that he cannot be fooled. So when Paul Freeman produced an eight-inch-wide Sasquatch handprint showing a creature with a “non-opposable thumb” (p. 110) he did not see this as evidence of a hoax. Instead, Meldrum states that the human opposable thumbs permit a “precision grip” that appears to have been refined “relatively late in human evolution.” a fact that is correlated with the progressive sophistication of tool manufacture,” and therefore Sasquatch branched from the primate line before this adaptation.

Michael Dennett was struck by the similarity between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his commitment to spiritualism and Meldrum’s handling of Bigfoot “evidence.” Even when mediums were caught faking spirit manifestations, Doyle would not acknowledge this and persisted in his belief despite clear and contrary evidence.

Just as Doyle found evidence for ghosts, Meldrum finds evidence of Sasquatch almost everywhere. On a Bigfoot expedition in 1997, he recounts, “As I slung my pack off, a softball-sized rock sailed onto the trail a mere few feet away. There was no high point nearby from which a rock might have been dislodged by a rainstorm. Nor did it simply roll onto the trail from uphill. It had been airborne; it had been lobbed. For the first time on this excursion the hair on my neck stood on end; there was that subjective, but inescapable sense of being watched” (p. 31). For Doyle, this tale would have been proof of spirit manifestations. A more contemporary view would have identified the rock toss as a classic poltergeist event, not evidence for Sasquatch.

Meldrum’s book raises the art of omission and cherry-picking data selection to great heights. One example is his reference to dermal ridges and valleys (fingerprints) found on a footprint cast. Fingerprint examiner Edward Palma is quoted as saying dermals couldn’t be faked, and furthermore, “Palma was able to trace the ridge pattern over the entire breadth of the forefoot” (p. 252). Meldrum does not tell the reader the cast is yet another Paul Freeman “find,” nor does he mention that even some Bigfoot proponents believe it fake. Significantly, he fails to tell his readers that, according to the late Grover Krantz in his 1992 book Big Footprints, Ed Palma examined a Bigfoot cast from Bloomington, Indiana, and he “pronounced the several patches of ridge detail as consistent with a real primate foot,” (Krantz p. 84). Furthermore, the Bloomington print was “examined by the tracker Bob Titmus, and fingerprinter Ed Palma, the two best experts available, and they both thought it looked genuine” (Krantz p. 200). The Bloomington track was later revealed as a fake intended to demonstrate how Krantz and his “experts” could be fooled.

But perhaps the most deliberate example of omission is the findings of another Bigfoot proponent, fingerprint expert Jimmy Chilcutt. Chilcutt had also examined this freeman cast and dismissed it as evidence for Sasquatch commenting the “casting had been enhanced manually with a human fingerprint.” Some might excuse this omission if Meldrum disagreed with Chilcutt, but less than two pages later he presents Chilcutt as an expert on Sasquatch dermal ridges! – Michael R. Dennett

You can read Benjamin Radford’s review of the book, the first part of the review here at Cryptomundo at Radford Reviews Meldrum.

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.


19 Responses to “Michael Dennett Reviews Meldrum”

  1. DWA responds:

    Well, this “review” doesn’t seem to get any closer to the mark than Radford’s.

    1. So, Freeman’s an admitted hoaxer. Does this mean that everything he submits is a hoax? I understand Freeman to be a submitter of both never-debunked evidence AND hoaxes (sadly, in this field he does not appear to be alone). I might be hesitant to look at that guy’s evidence too. But if he submits something that appears to be legitimate, how to square that with the obvious hoaxes? What, did he suddenly get way better? Enter The Omnipotent Hoaxer, the scoftic’s favorite deus ex machina.

    2. Dennett offers no alternative explanation for the rock toss incident (which certainly doesn’t to me seem to justify a “Meldrum thinks Bigfoot is everywhere” line). So what tossed that sucker? An elk? As a backpacker, I can tell you that if the tosser had been a human, you’d know. There would be much context to draw from. But if you don’t get outside much you wouldn’t know that. So. What else out there tossed it? A bear? Dennett doesn’t say. Serious misstep there for an alleged scientist.

    3. What is this about the Royal Dennett and the Royal Radford referring to themselves in the third person?

    4. Of course if Dennett reviewed evidence he’d know that the sensation of being watched is pervasive in encounter reports, indicating a source of the feeling – a pheromone? – external to the observer.

    5. And those two sentences about Doyle at the end of the rock-toss discussion are, well, unbecoming an alleged scientist reviewing a real scientist’s work.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say that this “review” is yet another obvious case of pandering to one’s audience. Which, in this case, is an audience badly in need of something other than pablum to chew on.

  2. elsanto responds:

    DWA is absolutely correct on the Freeman score. People who have proven themselves hoaxers in the past need be taken with anything from a grain to a barrel of salt, granted; but it would be close-minded to then assume that they will always produce hoaxed evidence.

    I have to say that I found Dennett’s choice of citing the rock-toss incident rather peculiar. Perhaps it’s just born of his love of the Doyle allusion. Still, it strikes me as an odd comparison. Given “poltergeist-in-the-woods” vs. “sasquatch”, which is a more logical conclusion? After all, don’t poltergeists manifest where there are human energies? (Of course, Dennett’s example ignores the most the most likely and contemporary possibility: “those meddling kids.”)

    In general, the scope of Dennett’s criticism is far too narrow and limited. He is as guilty here of “cherry picking data selection,” as he implies Dr. Meldrum is. One or two omissions, given the vast amount of data that Meldrum is attempting to condense into a book is, to my mind, forgivable. Were Dennett able to cite several more such omissions within the book, there’s no question that he would be making a valid point — as it is, he brings too little to substantiate his view.

    Is it just me, or are these “reviews” spectacularly lacking in their written execution? Dennett’s love of the Conan Doyle allusion ultimately results in his shooting himself in the foot. As Radford does, he attempts to insert an ad hominen attack in a book review under the guise of literary allusion. Less clumsy than Radford, perhaps, but it comes off as poorly.

    Psychology degrees, etc., they may have… but they paid no attention whatsoever to the basics of writing.

    Just my two cents.

    NEXT!

  3. DavidFredSneakers responds:

    At least these reviews are shaking things up a bit, generating discussion, and helping all of us solidify our ideas or discard them.

    I think that’s about the only positive thing I can comment on right now.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    I agree that just because someone has hoaxed something does not mean that everything is hoaxed, but it is a possibility to keep in mind. Unfortunately, I think that such evidence should be taken with a grain of salt since if you consider how rare it is to come across evidence of Bigfoot, what are the odds that the same person who has been hoaxing so much stuff is going to be the one to stumble across the genuine evidence? Granted, it is not impossible, but surely it is something to seriously consider when analyzing such evidence. The responsible thing to do would be to ackknowledge that the evidence is quite possibly unreliable and that dermal ridges were at least in the case mentioned here, able to fool experts. I mean, seriously, how much weight should be given to evidence given by a known hoaxer? Yes, the evidence should be considered, but I don’t feel it is anything to base too many assumptions on, especially when an undisputed holotype is lacking. I think it is not something to pin too much hope on.

    As for the rock throwing thing, I tend to agree that too much should not be read into it. I personally do not find it to be very scientific when broken branches or indentations in the ground are attributed to sasquatch without any consideration of other possible factors. Only a believer in Bigfoot is going to consider that it MIGHT have been thrown by one, whereas others are going to look at other possible explainations. I would like to know more about the circumstances surrounding the rock throwing, but are we to believe that “It was thrown by a sasquatch” is the only feasible explaination here? I am not saying that it definately wasn’t thrown by a Bigfoot, but it could have been thrown by another human and it seems that jumping to conclusions without considering other options is not furthering the search for what really happened. Even if it was thrown by a Bigfoot, it is not any sort of evidence that is indisputable and is an interesting antecdote at best. Let’s keep an open mind, but not let our brains fall out here.

    I think Meldrum has for the most part done a fantastic job, but I am not going to fully deny any input that may go against his findings. If his findings are airtight, then they will stand up to the peer review.

  5. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- “The Omnipotent Hoaxer”. Great word! :)

  6. fuzzy responds:

    Wasn’t this s’posed to be a BOOK REVIEW?

    Appears to me that Dennett was just looking for a couple of rocks to throw at Meldrum, not to provide a perceptive Report on the Book itself.

    But let’s be careful here: such an empty Article generates little grist for the mill, leaving us little choice but to review the Reviewer!

    But Dennett is not the subject here.

  7. Ceroill responds:

    Well said, all. Not much for me to say here.

  8. The_Carrot responds:

    Look, part of science involves examining things that may not fit one’s particular belief system. If Dennett is saying things about Meldrum’s work that we don’t *like* or that don’t fit into our belief systems, we still need to examine the facts behind what he’s saying.

    Yes, it’s possible that Freeman found some genuine tracks after he’d been shown to be a hoaxer, but it’s difficult enough to determine whether or not a set of Sasquatch tracks are ‘real’ even when the discoverer is know to NOT be a hoaxer. Meldrum’s acceptance of Freeman’s tracks, while not discounting Meldrum’s work, should give us all pause, no matter how disturbing we find it.

    [To me this illustrates the perils of the lone scientist; two or more scientists working together tend to double-check/sanity-check each other's work]

  9. Kathy Strain responds:

    That’s it? Hardly comprehensive or stinging.

  10. things-in-the-woods responds:

    Is this the review as it was actually published? Or is this some kind of edited/selective version?

    If its the first, then it is terribly written (whatever you might think of position it argues for)- i certainly won’t bother subscribing to the SI. It reads like it was cobbled together for some high-school magazine (or like it’s someone’s off-the-top-of-my-head ramble on a message board…).

    Still, it is hard to argue with the (one) substantive point made- that Meldrum is selective in his approach to the data. That is a problem.

    (But then again, show me a scientist who isn’t selective. They are pretty rare. I can think of few works in my field in which people don’t have at least some tendency to cherrypick those bits of data that support their theory, and forget to mention- or at least downplay- those inconvenient bits that contradict it in some way.

    That is no defense of Meldrum- and maybe he’s worse at it than others- but it seems to me that Radford et al have rather a habit of criticising BF researchers against a pure ideal of how science should be done, without acknowledging that really no science as actually carried out manages to live up to that pure ideal).

    As regards evidence claimed by known hoaxers, well, I’ve argued before that we should put all claimed evidence out there and let it stand or fall on its merits, so I can’t rightly say we should ignore such data.

    However, I agree with mystery_man that we have every reason to be extremely wary of it. So let’s file it, but let’s file it with a big red stamp on it that says ‘CAUTION- CONVICTED HOAXER’.

  11. DWA responds:

    things-in-the-woods: what you said.

    One of the glaring weaknesses of the scoftic – I really can’t bring myself to call it skeptic, and may never – position is the unseemly readiness to drop data from the database at the drop of a hat. CONVICTED HOAXER? Don’t even label it; drop it, it can’t be real. You know, The Boy Who Cried Wolf did eventually encounter a wolf.

    As to science: What Ben and Den seem to be practicing – and what they seem to think is the only science anyone ever practices – is what I call Fourth Grade Science Fair Science. You mix known ingredients A and B and you get known reaction C. Um, hey, good there, Junior! Write it up. But, er, what happens when an unknown ingredient enters the picture? Hmmmm? Ben and Den say, ignore it, it can’t be real. Twist our knowledge of human nature to explain it away. Even clearly seen critters on film become no more than moving Rorschach tests. Say that everybody is, basically, hallucinating and can’t be trusted, and that when you’re in the woods and see a woodchuck your initial reaction will be: SASQUATCH!?!?!?! I was in the backcountry yesterday, attentive as I always am lately to the potential shadows of eight-foot apes among the trees, when I heard a titanic bouldery racket around the bend of the stream. My instant reaction: BEAR? Many many of them where I was. Sas did enter my mind. Wouldn’t it be cool. Don’t hold yer breath there, sailor. (The culprit? Three riders on horseback.)

    It’s now only mildly annoying to watch such as Ben and Den do the same cherrypicking and exclusion of alternative explanations of which they accuse sasquatch researchers. But it’s far less annoying now that I realize I’m just better informed than they are.

  12. DavidFredSneakers responds:

    The rock was thrown while he was observing sasquatch tracks, after a series of events that seemed to indicative a large primate. This is all in the first chapter of his book.

  13. Craig Woolheater responds:

    things-in-the-woods,

    I can’t promise that this is as it is published in Skeptical Inquirer. I don’t have the issue, and it’s not available on their website.

    On April 24th, Ben Radford emailed me, informing me of the review, and that if I was interested in posting it for Cryptomundo, he would have it emailed to me.

    Two days later, I received a pdf file in an email from an employee of the Center for Inquiry per Ben’s request of the four pages from the magazine that comprise the review.

    I typed it up, as is, and posted it here on Cryptomundo. I assume that the pages they sent me are as they were published in the magazine.

  14. Benjamin Radford responds:

    ” it is hard to argue with the (one) substantive point made- that Meldrum is selective in his approach to the data. That is a problem. But then again, show me a scientist who isn’t selective.”

    I’m pleased that ThingintheWoods acknowledges this fact. And he is correct that Meldrum is far from the only scientist who does it, but that’s no excuse, in fact it’s a logical fallacy called “tu quoque” (roughly, “you’re another!”) Just because one person does something wrong or makes an error does not mean it’s okay for others to do the same. Jeff holds himself up as the most scientific BF researcher, and he should do his best to actually be that!

    “it seems to me that Radford et al have rather a habit of criticising BF researchers against a pure ideal of how science should be done, without acknowledging that really no science as actually carried out manages to live up to that pure ideal)”

    This is an interesting criticism, but it is at its heart the same fallacy. He seems to be saying that it’s okay that a lot of the “science” in BF research is biased or bogus, because science is hard to do, and there are few wholly perfect studies. But it’s NOT okay; in fact, it has failed. All the research so far on Bigfoot has failed to provide concrete evidence. I suggest the solution is better science, not accepting a lower standard!

  15. things-in-the-woods responds:

    Ben, how do you do it?

    Every time I post something you manage to completely miss either the point of the argument (quite possibly my fault for not writing clearly enough- although no-one else seems to have quite the same problem understanding what I am saying), or to miss whole sentences that I have written (which I can only attribute to the fact that you are terribly busy and necessarily skim over what is written here..)

    In response to my earlier post you write:

    “he is correct that Meldrum is far from the only scientist who does it [selectively uses data], but that’s no excuse, in fact it’s a logical fallacy called “tu quoque” (roughly, “you’re another!”)”.

    My raising of the point about selective use of data in the practice of science was followed specifically by the phrase;
    “That is no defense of Meldrum”.

    Therefore, as I was not using this point to defend or excuse Meldrum, there was clearly no logical fallacy (if meldrum himself had raised that argument then it might aplly, but he didn’t- I did).

    In response to my wider point about the fact that you seem sometimes to judge BF research against a pure (and never actually attained) ideal of the scientific method, you wrote;

    “it is at its heart the same fallacy. He seems to be saying that it’s okay that a lot of the “science” in BF research is biased or bogus, because science is hard to do, and there are few wholly perfect studies. But it’s NOT okay; in fact, it has failed. All the research so far on Bigfoot has failed to provide concrete evidence. I suggest the solution is better science, not accepting a lower standard!”.

    Nowhere did I write (or even suggest) that flawed science was acceptable. If I suggested anything it was that by your own idealized criteria a great deal of what you undoubtedly consider legitimate scientific reasearch would fall down, and that you fail to acknowledge that fact. I guess it was an implicit accusation of double-standards, but in no way was it a call for lower standards.

    And, incidentally, I somewhat regret the vehemence of my earlier comment about the writing quality of the article- I think I went a bit over the top. However, I still maintain it really could have done with being given to an editor; it has no discernable overall structure or flow, and several points seem to be raised to no particular end. (This is now offered by way of friendly and constructive- if subjective- criticism, rather than as the slightly low and nasty blow it might seem to have been originally).

  16. DWA responds:

    things-in-the-woods:

    Um, yeah. This happens all the time with Ben.

    I’m starting to develop a theory about all this. Because he’s from all I’ve read too smart to actually be missing our points so execrably badly – and trust me you express yourself as clearly as anyone on this board – I think he was once a rabid True Bigfoot Believer, and he got so tired of being constantly disappointed that he’s now trying the exact opposite tack – ultra-negative wishful thinking.

    I think he envies those of us who just keep an open mind, think the subject’s cool, critter or not, and just want to know more about it. He’s too emotionally invested to be that way about it.

    Just a theory. But I’ve seen behavior that could be explained this way before.

    And am I the only one who notices that according to Ben the only relevant discipline in sas research is cognitive psychology?

  17. Benjamin Radford responds:

    “writing quality of the article: it really could have done with being given to an editor; it has no discernable overall structure or flow, and several points seem to be raised to no particular end.”

    If the article seems choppy, that’s because it is. The entire review (available in the current issue of the magazine) was composed of four separate sections, each written by a different person within their expertise. It was never meant to be cut up into separate parts. Each contributor only had a limited amount of space to cover a lot of material, and the review was already about twice as long as usual.

  18. Rick Noll responds:

    Read all four pieces of the Vol. 13, No. 3 May/June SI article. It is horrendous. The only one who made any sense was Michael Dennett. Ben’s was a gloss over with no substance. Matt’s was convoluted and very hard to follow and Daegling’s came out as bitter and defensive. Ben’s piece is the only one really about the book while the others seem to just pick on what they think is their expertise.

    The original thought behind this book was as a companion piece for the DVD of the same name. If Dr. Meldrum was going to do a book on just his work I think it would have been to a much greater depth and not have covered as many topics as did the TV special for Discovery. As it is I think it is fine for its intended purpose, the book that is.

    Of course Ben did mention that Jeff left out “a thorough and devastating analysis by Anton Wroblewski…” (). I was not aware of this analysis. I had heard that he was planning on publishing something but haven’t seen anything since. All I know is that the man declined to go on national TV being interviewed on his interpretation of the Skookum Cast. Ben did fail to mention that Jeff also did not include all the material that Owen Caddy produced from first hand experience with the original cast and not just an art piece depicting it. Remember that this was planned as a companion piece and that material wasn’t existing then.

    Anton, if people would care to look for his postings on Bigfoot Forums, claimed that the cast was made undoubtedly by an elk. He failed to produce any original information proving this assertion except for some pictures of elk that he obtained from the internet. Apparently he has not seen an elk in the flesh. Anton is a scientist who looks at animal tracings and determines things from them, what I don’t really know since most of his work as really been about worms and he currently works in the oil industry.

    He was offered an all-expense paid trip to the Seattle area to view the original cast in person and interview myself but declined stating he had seen enough with the art piece shown at a Texas museum recently. Art really is in the eye of the beholder.

  19. seesdifferent responds:

    The Freeman case is very important. Amongst serious scientists, the faking of data is a “cardinal sin.” You don’t get a “second bite at the apple.” It’s not like “take it with a grain of salt.” It’s like, “NOT!” It’s sort of like that NY Times writer who was making up sources…he’ll never get another job with a serious news organization.
    Science is about successively more accurate approximations to “the truth.” Scientists don’t get it EXACTLY right, but as long as there is good faith, and it makes reasonable sense to a jury of scientific peers, well, that’s all ok. But faked data is absolutely not allowed, and people who fake data, or use data that may well be faked, are just scorned. Trying to explain the REAL data in the world is hard enough.
    Rene Dahinden provided this sort of “feedback” to BF’ers; he is sorely missed.



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