David Daegling Reviews Meldrum

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 24th, 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 third part of the review, Matt Crowley’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.

David J. Daegling is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. He is the author of Bigfoot Exposed (2004, AltaMira Press).

Not only that, but Meldrum and Daegling were college roommates! Oh, the irony…

The Fossil Record

In Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, Jeff Meldrum suggests that Bigfoot arrived in the New World via the Bering land bridge. His hypothesis that Bigfoot represents the descendants of the Asian Gigantopithecus has the veneer of plausibility, until one remembers that there is material evidence of a parallel migration by humans all over the North American continent, where we have not a single Gigantopithecus fossil.

Meldrum is committed to the idea that the absence of Bigfoot fossils is not only problematic, but actually unsurprising, given the geographic circumstances of the giant’s migration route and habitat. The reason we have no bones, he explains, is that many if not most Bigfoot fossils are now buried at sea due to recent rises is sea level, and those bones remaining on dry land have been destroyed by the acidic soils of the Pacific Northwest (p. 103). These speculations might be persuasive except for the small detail that we have plenty of fossils preserved in sediments of the Pacific Northwest that postdate Bigfoot’s arrival.

The 1967 film of Bigfoot is defended by several assertions that are impossible to evaluate based on material in the book itself. Most incredible is the application of “reverse kinematics” to the film in which the three-dimensional movements of the film subject’s skeleton are reconstructed from the film’s two-dimensional images. How this is even theoretically – let alone methodologically – possible is never explained, but the reconstruction Meldrum champions is more clearly the result of imagination than credible forensic analysis. Meldrum recycles the argument that the film subject is too large to be a human in a costume, alternatively asserting and denying that it is possible to extract accurate absolute dimensions from the film. This might explain why he insists there is a reliable way to estimate subject height from the film, yet never manages to settle on a specific figure for stature. Some of the arguments become fantastically convoluted: to demonstrate that the filmed Bigfoot has a bulkier thorax than any living human (p. 163-164), Meldrum argues – based on concern over the instruments used to take measurements – that one must compare width of the back of the film subjectwith standardized measures of human chest width from the front at a different location. Doing this, Bigfoot indeed appears superhuman, an unsurprising result since thorax dimensions at these two locations differ with individuals! (See Anthropometry and Mass Distribution for Human Analogues, 1988, currently archived here.)

Other claims, such as the exposure of muscular herniations or the dynamics of the Achilles tendon, are made without serious consideration of alternative interpretations involving film artifacts or expected costume effects. Meldrum claims that one sequence in the film shows midfoot flexibility in the film subject – considered a hallmark Bigfoot trait. The image recruited to support this claim is too blurred and critical parts of the foot are actually obscured, but what would it mean if one could see this trait? A foot placed in an oversized, flexible furry shoe might show exactly the same thing. Pareidolia – the viewing of a vague stimulus yet seeing something distinct within it – is as likely an explanation for these intricate anatomical observations.

Meldrum’s most original contribution to Bigfoot research is his claim that footprints (and the 1967 film) provide evidence that Bigfoot possesses a flexible tranverse tarsal joint, a condition strikingly distinct from the fixed arch pattern of modern human feet. The evidence for this is that some Bigfoot tracks display pressure ridges along the middle of footprints that betray this joint’s position. If this trait is to be considered diagnostic, it follows that (1) other nonhuman primates having this feature can produce similar tracks; and (2) neither human feet nor phony Bigfoot feet have this ability. Meldrum explores neither premise. In fact, some human prints mimic this condition (a trip to a crowded beach confirms this), and bogus Sasquatch feet can produce this effect as well.

In sum, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science desperately needed a logician and a psychologist. Among Meldrum’s parade of PhD experts we find few with any real expertise in the issues at hand, nor even a scientific approach. Meldrum is an anatomy expert, but his analysis of a forty-year-old Bigfoot film, as detailed and superficially impressive as it is, has little to do with real anatomy.

As the examples show, there is precious little science in the search for Bigfoot, and even less in Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. The top scientist searching for Bigfoot is unable or unwilling to distinguish good research from bad, science from pseudoscience. If Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science is in fact the best, most credible, and most scientific book to date on Bigfoot, the evidence is weaker than we imagined. The book’s copious photos, diagrams, and charts will likely impress lay readers with little understanding of the issues or the scientific methods, but those looking for a thorough, scientific analysis will be disappointed.-David J. Daegling

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

You can read Michaels Dennett’s review of the book, the second part of the review here at Cryptomundo at Michael Dennett Reviews Meldrum.

You can read Matt Crowley’s review of the book, the third part of the review here at Cryptomundo at Matt Crowley 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, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

109 Responses to “David Daegling Reviews Meldrum”

  1. DWA responds:

    “Daniel…I am not disagreeing that looking at info from a database and deciding what is a “good” sighting and what is not is all based on assumption. I agree completely.”

    I do too. And I think scientists make assumptions like that, all the time.

    It’s tricky when to say “this is unknown, so we can’t just go presuming about it” and when to say “we need to extrapolate from what is known.” But again this is a call scientists make routinely.

    It seems reasonable to assume that

    (1) this is an animal;

    (2) its behavior seems to place it with the apes; and

    (3) drawing the great middle of what people are encountering, and using the center of the bell curve as your general search parameters, is the way to go.

    I guess the three-toed, shy, vegetarian, swamp-dwelling Bigfoot will have to wait until we get to him. But unless we look for the seven-to-eight-foot, five-toed guy that many many people seem to be seeing, our eyes will never be opened enough to even consider the other one. Which might not only be out there, but might be found in the search for the one clustering around that mean.

    That’s my point. At some juncture, science has to either fish or cut bait. And the best way to proceed in that instance is to work from what seem to be the best assumptions.

    Which are extrapolated from what you know. Which in this case is: find the mean, and search around it. That gives you the best chance of finding what you’re looking for.

    And as to the statement that “parapsychologists consider all arguments against the existence of paranormal phenomena to be just so much posturing by ideologically-motivated scoftics (if I may coin a term),” I have only this to say to them: science doesn’t have the tools to confirm yet (unless you have some ideas for them). It might be best to wait until it does. And in the meantime confirm what science can.

  2. Daniel Loxton responds:

    I had an experience once… While we stood talking, a guy walked by, passed my place and through a nearby lot and kept going… minutes later a police car approached us and asked us if we had seen anyone wandering around…and it amazed me how different and at times contrasting the descriptions were. … I have always looked at eye witness accounts for sea critters and BF in the same light.

    Springheeledjack, I think this is an exceptionally important point which people often do not fully appreciate. An especially striking aspect of your story is that there was such a high degree of distortion even though the sighting was made in essentially optimal viewing conditions, and even though the sighting was reported almost immediately, while your memories were fresh…

  3. Daniel Loxton responds:

    At some juncture, science has to either fish or cut bait. And the best way to proceed in that instance is to work from what seem to be the best assumptions.

    Which are extrapolated from what you know. Which in this case is: find the mean, and search around it. That gives you the best chance of finding what you’re looking for.

    I’d buy that, as a best odds strategy. It is a gamble—in my view, a very long shot indeed—but long shots pay off from time to time.

    (The true mean can be a bit elusive in this field, however, because of the sampling problems touched on in this thread.)

    Scientists might argue that there isn’t enough to search on FOR THEM. But I think they’d have to concede that a sense of priorities or individual risk aversion are the main factors in the decision – not a total lack of intriguing, searchable data.

    I think this is right. Working scientists are busy with their own professional commitments within their own fields, and they’re averse to dabbling in outside research projects that seem unlikely pay off. (Napier still put this best in his observation, “it is hardly unsurprising that scientists prefer to investigate the probable rather than beat their heads against the wall of the faintly possible.”) And, there is the additional serious risk of appearing ridiculous in the eyes of your colleagues.

    But, you’re right that there is no shortage of intriguing data, some of which can (and has) led to practical search strategies.

  4. DWA responds:

    Daniel: points taken.

    I mean, science isn’t perfect. It’s scientists. And sooner or later all scientific discovery turns on the willingness to look – and frequently to trust a hunch. I’d have to agree that a mean is only “true” when you’re talking about something known. What those of us who advocate a look are saying is, there’s enough to trust a solid hunch that it may be. But you’re right; it’s an investment, a big one at that, and it would be very hard for me to fault any scientist who showed me what he had on his plate and said, I’m rooting for the sas but this is more important.

    And “more probable” would be an acceptable alternative, because there are good reasons to see what you’re working on as precisely that. I’d argue that those reasons cut to things we’ve been taught to think, rather than things the evidence is telling us. But as we’ve said – and you’ve said it again – about ridicule, the mere feeling that it’s likely can be sufficient deterrent. I knock Science for lassitude and cowardice on this question. But when I’m feeling fair I have to admit: a PERSON needs to stand up first. A few have, and some are cautiously joining them. But we’re a ways short of critical mass.

    And as to springheeledjack’s example: it’s food for thought. But he and his buddies see tons of people, daily, most of them barely registering. Most sas encounters involve witnesses just a weetad more focused on what they’re seeing.

  5. Ceroill responds:

    Discussions like this has been recently is one of the reasons I love this site. DWA, Mr. Loxton, I’d like to thank you especially , but also all the others who’ve been keeping this patient, thorough, and civil. All making excellent points, too. Thanks, folks.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    This debate has pretty much been passing me by but it’s interesting reading the posts here. I’m feeling out of the loop on this one, but I have a few more random thoughts and comments about things.

    First of all, I don’t completely blame science on the lack of willingness to go out and explore these subjects. DWA says that there is “cowardice and lassitude” happening and that may be true to some extant but I don’t buy that as any definitive reason why science doesn’t spend more time on this. I feel it is not “cowardice” so much as lack of any real interest on the parts of many scientists. As was said before, they have been trained in their own fields and prefer to do research and work within the fields they are involved with, so they are unlikely to drop their own work to go off on a side project to search for Bigfoot. The unwillingness to search is not because they are cowards, but rather that they are scientists involved with other work. As far as i know, there are no degrees given out for cryptozoology, so I can’t fault these scientists for wanting to pursue their own areas of interest and expertise. Even someone like Jane Goodall, who openly supports the idea of Bigfoot, may not be willing to drop her work with chimps to go out and search for Bigfoot.

    I also don’t think it’s all about risk aversion either. I agree that there is enough data to act on and lead to search strategies, and I think the evidence we do have is very worthwhile to me personally, but I feel that in total there possibly just isn’t enough to make most scientists that are caught up in their own work sit up and take notice. I can sort of see why alot of mainstream scientists might shy away from Bigfoot studies and it might not necesarily be because of risk aversion. Let’s face it, if the evidence was undeniable and concrete, there wouldn’t be any reason to fear ridicule on the part of the scientists because it would be seen based on the strong evidence as a legitimate pursuit. Searching for the sasquatch would then be seen as a potentially career making research opportunity. As far as risk aversion goes, I say what scientist wouldn’t be interested in the find of the century? Why would scientists knowingly avoid such a groundbreaking potential find? They are not all rushing to drop what they are doing because the evidence may not be perhaps as solid as we would like and maybe in their eyes not worth pursuing at this time. I don’t like it, but I can see the mentality they have.

    I personally think we should not blame science for cryptozoology’s woes. Instead of complaining about mainstream science not looking at the evidence, maybe it is time to just present stronger evidence, stuff that is more solid and irrefutable that can be proudly held up to a critical eye. This is what needs to be done in any field, so let’s get to it. I think this evidence is very likely out there, so let’s make sure it is collected and analyzed according to scientific methods. Instead of waiting for mainstream science to go out and search for the creatures, we have to think more along the lines of those interested in Bigfoot getting the knowledge or degrees they need and starting their own research. It may be hard because cryptozoology doesn’t pay the bills (science in general doesn’t!), but maybe cryptozoologists need to take things into their own hands rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

    I do hope that more people take to this area of study and do that field research because the more evidence we show science, the more people will be inclined to help out and the faster we will reach the “critical mass” DWA mentioned.

  7. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: fair enough.

    And I did mention that I don’t do the cowardice/lassitude thing when I’m being fair. 😉

    To me, not wanting to rush in because one doesn’t see the evidence as compelling is a form of risk aversion. You’re putting your research where you see the greatest likelihood of return. And as I said, when I’m feeling fair, I can’t fault scientists for that.

    Actually, most feelings you see about this topic are perfectly understandable. I believe that anyone, at least any scientist, who doesn’t see the evidence as meriting further review and field searching isn’t properly acquainted with the evidence. But then, I’m not particularly well acquainted with quantum physics. So that, by itself, isn’t a knock. I’m sure that the closest many scientists want to get to science after a long day in the lab or in the field is an evening of CSI. 😀 This is one reason – and only one – why Meldrums, Krantzes and Bindernagels are so rare.

    The high dudgeon into which some particularly intractable people launch about Science’s unconscionable lassitude on this subject is also understandable. 😀 I am not sure how the Todd Neisses and the Multiple Encounters(es?) and the Sergios even keep it in sometimes. I’d be even worse than I am if I’d ever seen one. Or maybe not; after all, I’d probably feel privileged more than anything else. But still.

    And those who haven’t seen one and who have been coached their whole lives to believe that it’s either impossible or way unlikely are going to have a hard time simply becoming proponents, even if they find what sure look like tracks to them. (Can’t say they were but boy did they look like them.)

    And those who desperately want to believe, one way or the other…well, look at the world and you can come up with many of their reasons why.

    So. We look or we don’t. Either way, it is, or it isn’t, whatever we do.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Ok, I see what you meant about risk aversion. I was looking at it from a different angle. I agree it certainly makes more financial sense for a scientist to play it safe and work within the framework of known animals than go out and spend a lot of money on new equipment to hunt sasquatch without any promise of success or monetary stability, not to mention all of the extra hours on top of another job. I do not underestimate the impact that money can have on this. I am sure there are a lot of scientists (and I suppose I could be put into this category) that would go off and look into this phenomena if they didn’t have wives, children, and bills to pay. Heck, I had to resort to teaching science and translating scientific papers because field work just doesn’t pay all that well no matter how interested I am in it.

    I am sure there are scientists who feel the same way as I do and have an open mind to the evidence for sasquatch but simply do not have the time or money to afford to look. I also agree that after all their duties are done, they just might not have the energy. It is frustrating because it is an area where I feel there is a lot of potential and a lot of leads that could be followed up on, but alas I live in Japan, I do not have the funds, and being a skeptic, I feel that there is the chance that I could go through all of that for nothing. I think this could be a big sticking point with some scientists, the chance that there is nothing. With your example of quantum physics, at least if a physicist’s theory is proven wrong, they can come up with another since the laws of physics are known to exist and physics is an established science. Same with any hypothesis about known animals that turns out to be wrong. At least they know the animal they are studying is real. If Bigfoot doesn’t exist, what is the scientist who dropped the research they were doing and invested the time and energy to do? This could be a very persuasive deterrent to some. Increase the available concrete evidence and I think this attitude will change.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    What a lot of it comes down to is how feasible the research seems to scientists. Within any field, the majority of scientists usually follow the leader and work within established principles and ideas. Many scientists are not always the adventurous revolutionaries we may imagine them to be who are boldly breaking through the barriers of what we know. That is a very romantic view of science but unfortunately with the exeption of a few brave souls, not always true. There can be a real aversion to trying to break new ground and delve into things that may be against the norm, which I think we can all agree the idea of a large bipedal primate inhabiting North America is. Without any peer support, it is hard to shed light on new mysteries and ironically this becomes counterproductive to what science should be all about, which is discovering how our universe works.

    So even in mainstream science, it is only a few that will put forth bold or fantastic new theories, and only when it is seen to be plausible and supported by enough evidence do others follow and accept these ideas. This has been true throughout history in science, and what it takes is for someone to break out of the mold and show that this research is viable and can produce results. This is why i agree with DWA when he says a PERSON needs to step up and bring cryptozoology to the forefront. If there was a scientists such as Godall, and she embraced Bigfoot studies and showed some compelling findings, I am sure that other scientists would jump on the band wagon. As it is, I feel there just isn’t enough to really convince most to drop what they are doing and take that plunge. I think you will find that as soon as undeniable evidence supporting Bigfoot is presented, you will see a big surge in scientists researching within this field and the funding will come in as well.

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