Science and the Sasquatch

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on January 26th, 2007

The First Perspective, a First Nation newspaper out of Manitoba published a nice bi-monthly Bigfoot article series entitled Bigfoot Buzz.

Go here to read the article archives on their website.

This month’s article is a timely one, entitled Science’s Attitude Towards the Sasquatch.

January 24, 2007 – with Terence Sakohianisaks Douglas
The First Perspective (National Aboriginal News)
Brokenhead First Nation, Scanterbury, Manitoba.Bigfoot Buzz

Recently in the media, a particular academic at a university in the United States has been called to task by many of his peers for his support of a Sasquatch event that was held at the university. Indeed, many of the comments from his peers were pretty disparaging to sat the least. The gist of their comments was that the investigation of the Sasquatch was not a topic for “serious” science, and any scientist who did such an activity was not a scientist at all but a quack. I have always been bothered by this attitude of most academics and scientists, as from my point of view, it seems to be in opposition to what their professions are all about, namely the searching for facts within the natural world to produce useful models of reality.

Briefly Speaking, How Science Works

At its core, science refers to any system of objective knowledge, yet in a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research. The scientific method is a unified process used by scientists to find solutions to problems. The main characteristic of the scientific method is that it attempts to minimize the influence of a scientist’s bias on the outcome of an experiment. Such unbiased experiments can be achieved by correct experimental design, and thorough peer review of experimental design as well as conclusions of a study.

It must be noted that scientists never claim absolute knowledge. Unlike in say mathematics, a proven scientific theory is always open to falsification, if new evidence is presented. This is an important characteristic of science; even the most basic and fundamental theories can turn out to be imperfect if new observations are inconsistent with them. Accordingly, it is critical that every relevant aspect of research be made publicly available. Such availability permits peer review of published results, and allows ongoing review and repeating of experiments and observations by other researchers operating independently of one another. By following these procedures it is possible to determine how reliable the experimental results are for potential use by others. This is, briefly speaking, how science works.

Science and the Sasquatch

To say that science has not been kind to the Sasquatch is an understatement. Generally, most evidence of the existence of the Sasquatch that has been presented to various universities, colleges and other similar institutions for scientific examination has been scoffed at when initially presented. Such reaction most certainly presents evidence for a bias towards such evidence, which in my opinion, contaminates the whole scientific method as described above.

However, when a scientist that is open to the possibility of the Sasquatch, they are ridiculed to the point where their “fitness” to be in the “scientific club” is questioned. It is odd that those scientists and academics who theoretically should be standing by the principles of science, particularly that of unbiased investigation, would deride a colleague for exercising such unbiased investigation into a possible phenomena within the natural world.

If the attitude of those scientists and academics noted above towards the Sasquatch were applied to other areas, then there would be not addition to the knowledge we have of the natural world. Indeed such an attitude has affected the addition of knowledge in the acceptance of other animals within the natural world. The mountain gorilla? It cannot exist, said the scientific community at the turn of the last century, so it does not exist. The duck-billed platypus? Totally preposterous, scientists had said in the 1700’s, that is ridiculous. The coelacanth? Extinct for millions of years, it cannot possible exist in the present. However, all of the naysayers in the scientific community were proven wrong in the end.

Of course it can be argued that he acceptance of these animals was a result of a specimen of each being brought in to be examined by scientists. Touché. However, in order for a Sasquatch specimen to be brought in for examination, I believe there must be within the scientific community a general acceptance of the possibility that the Sasquatch may exist. A first step must be made some scientists to accept as real the possibility of these creatures. Thankfully there are a few scientists that have taken this bold step and kept true to the principles of science to entertain the possibility of the Sasquatch. Hopefully in the years to come this will translate into more a general acceptance of the Sasquatch within the generally population, and an increase of reports and evidence that will aid in the Sasquatch being accepted as an animal within the natural world.Terence Sakohianisaks Douglas

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.


82 Responses to “Science and the Sasquatch”

  1. DWA responds:

    Re: This exchange between mystery_man and Ben Radford:

    —————

    there simply isn’t the funding going into this field that is going to produce great science or great results.

    I don’t buy this line of argument. There have been well-organized, financed searches for cryptids (Tom Slick is just one example). Furthermore, anyone can go look for Bigfoot at no cost… It might be as simple as a hiker finding a body somewhere on a trail.

    ————–

    I buy that line of argument, for sure.

    If we’re waiting for a hiker to find a body on a trail, we might as well wait for a hiker to find a new planet. Hiking is not searching. I’ve hiked my whole life in country packed to the gills with white-tail deer and black bear. I’ve found, between the two species, one intact carcass, and one other that someone as knowledgeable as me might ID as a deer. (Not a scrap of bear evidence.) For perspective, one-half of Prince George’s County, MD, has more whitetails than there are considered, by the most optimistic estimates, to be sas on the entire North American continent. And the places I actually hike may have more than that. And that’s one carcass and a smattering of remains a KNOWLEDGEABLE hiker might identify. Lifetime.

    Now, I’ve had many sightings of both. Which, if either were an unknown species, wouldn’t count for squat as proof.

    (But they would as evidence. 😉 )

    Only one sustained effort has been made to find the animal the only way acceptable evidence for science will be found: by scouring the field for an actual animal, and bringing back visual evidence of that animal, if not a body.

    Patterson-Gimlin.

    Translation: Bingo.

  2. DWA responds:

    Re: the exchange between Ben Radford and I:

    ————–

    The proof of the sasquatch, if such exists, is really no more extraordinary than the proof of the Norway rat. We follow the evidence, as we do any evidence, and we find the animal.

    Finally something the anonymous critic DWA and I agree on! The standards of evidence for proving the existence for the rat should be the same as for Bigfoot.

    ————–

    Then we must agree that the evidence for Bigfoot includes visual evidence. (Which was available for rats long before science gathered data on them.) Rats were confirmed, on the basis of visual evidence alone, long before humans had science.

    I’ll keep saying it because it needs saying. The footprint-go-round will never get us beyond: unknown/could have been faked.

    We need to go further than that.

  3. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Rats were confirmed, on the basis of visual evidence alone, long before humans had science.

    This is such a silly statement I don’t know if I should bother to respond…

    But I guess I will. Of course knowledge of rats preceded the development of scientific methodologies. That’s like saying, “People knew about the Sun long before humans had science.”

    The difference is, of course, that we have physical evidence of rats. We have physical evidence of the Sun. We have no physical evidence of Bigfoot.

  4. DWA responds:

    OK, I just wanted to see if you could recognize a silly statement if I made one.

    And of course you have to respond. I’m responding to all of yours!

    (Oh. What do you mean by “physical evidence of the Sun?” You ever touched it, Ben? A scientist would know that that’s NOT a silly question.)

    Here’s your latest. Oh, actually, it’s silly statements, plus you agreeing with me on something ELSE. Hope, springing eternal!

    You say:
    “Now i know that by ‘good evidence’ you mean scientifically admissible such that it would weigh in scientific theory building.”

    Well, Ben, I could not agree more. Let’s go on.

    You say:
    “That is partly what I mean by good evidence, but we can go to an even more fundamental definition of “good evidence” that images and eyewitness reports fail to meet: Good evidence leads to conclusions, it leads to other evidence.”

    Ben, I could not agree with you less. OK, wait. You have it right. Except you put that part about images and eyewitnesses failing in there. WHOOPS! But you tried.

    There is one reason why the four most exciting words in jurisprudence are: “We have an eyewitness.” It’s because eyewitness testimony, like all GOOD evidence, LEADS (as you so correctly say) to conclusions, it LEADS (as you so correctly say) to other evidence. Eyewitness testimony CAN be bad, which is why, ALL BY ITSELF, it is unreliable. But (didn’t things-in-the-woods explain this to you?) when it’s good, it leads to more evidence, which backs it up. Without eyewitness testimony, science would not have the basic building blocks of theories.

    You say:
    “As you and others have more or less admitted, [images and eyewitness evidence] are dead-ends. They go nowhere, build to nothing. One eyewitness report is as good as a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand.”

    You must not be reading my posts. I’ve gone over this again and again and again. One may or may not be good. A dozen should raise eyebrows, particularly in a very restricted geographic area over a relatively short time. A thousand tells science: LOOK HERE, DUMMIES! THERE’S MORE EVIDENCE IF YOU JUST LOOK HERE!

    But not being dummies, scientists know this. So they tend to do that. Except in the case of the sasquatch, where blind belief that the animal can’t exist blinds most scientists to what their science tells them they should be doing: looking.

    You say:

    “If you just look for the results, you find that all the time and effort spent on eyewitness accounts and Bigfoot images has been wasted.”

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve never seen so much opportunity to learn something wasted, for so long, since the first evidence that the earth might not be flat. BTW, Bigfoot researchers, who spend much of their time following up sightings, would be pleased to hear you contradict what you so often tell them: that you don’t denigrate their hard work.

    You say:
    “That’s not to say that tomorrow we might not get something better, but Bigfooters have been doing the same thing over and over again, apparently expecting a different result.”

    Yeah, they keep expecting people to get interested and help them out. Silly of them. When it comes to Bigfoot, science takes huh? pills.

    And finally, the silliest statement:
    “The only conclusive answers about Bigfoot have been negative or ambiguous, and come from real science (e.g. DNA analysis).”

    Come again? This is conclusive how? Does the animal certainly exist, or certainly not? Negative means “this sample isn’t.” Ambiguous means “this sample might be.” Which means, basically, that all this “real science” amounts to a dead end, and one that I can confidently predict will spiral on forever, because there is no animal (as far as science and the public are cooncerned) without a body. How can you come up with DNA results that confirm an animal for which there is no documented DNA evidence? (The explanation for this one should be exciting.)

    But there we are, as you say, doing the same thing over and over again, apparently expecting a different result. And never having a chance to get one.

    Unless we follow good sighting evidence to places where we might have a chance of getting something conclusive.

    Ben. Do you want to find this animal, or not? I’m suspecting, not!

  5. DWA responds:

    I forgot to say that when Ben Radford sees a sasquatch, I would LOVE to be inside his head. 😀

  6. DWA responds:

    Oh. Had to comment on this.

    “The difference is, of course, that we have physical evidence of rats. We have physical evidence of the Sun. We have no physical evidence of Bigfoot.”

    I’m sure that the physical evidence of rats and the physical evidence of the Sun began with SEEING them. (Which is physical evidence, the entry of light rays through the retina, followed by interpretation, then action.) All science starts with people seeing something. If visual evidence were basically bad, science basically wouldn’t exist. (We basically would not be ALIVE.)

    Reiteration number 1002…

    But at least you agree with me that footprints, hair, et al. are dead ends. Whew! THAT took a while! 😀

  7. mystery_man responds:

    -“there simply isn’t the funding going into this field that is going to produce great science or great results.”

    Ben Radford says- “I don’t buy this line of argument. There have been well-organized, financed searches for cryptids (Tom Slick is just one example). Furthermore, anyone can go look for Bigfoot at no cost… It might be as simple as a hiker finding a body somewhere on a trail.”

    I think funding has a lot to do with it. An enormous amount to do with it and it is a legitimate argument. Hoping a hiker comes across a body is not a very scientific way to approach this is it? If you follow this kind of thinking through to other sciences, it just doesn’t make sense. Going camping to try and find Bigfoot with no money is not the answer here I think. A zoologist goes into the field with funding and resources. By the rationale here, you could say that anyone could go out and study, say, gorillas with no funding at all. Do you really buy that? Sure it is a known animal, but you said yourself that Bigfoot should get no special treatment or be held to any less of a standard for evidence, so it should get the funding needed to study it like other animals, right? Yes, there have been well financed expeditions, such as Tom Slick, but these are few and far between compared with mainstream contemporaries. I doubt that amount of searching could provide much data on a known species let alone an unknown species.

    DWA- yes, Bigfoot is just an animal but one that science considers unlikely. That peeves me too, but it is true. So in order to make them listen, we need better evidence than what we have so far. If I say there are dragons living around here, that is also just an animal, right? But it is one that is going to require me to back up these claims more so than if I said there was a new type of rat perhaps living in the forest. True, the evidence is there or it is not, but the claim itself is going to affect how mainstream science approaches the topic. A rat is going to be seen as more feasible and therefore I think there is going to be more of a willingness to investigate.

  8. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: right, the “unlikelieness” of Bigfoot pretty much demands a body, forget anything in between.

    One reason why we can be done with footprints, which cannot be proven to be anything. The only thing, now, to do with footprints is to go where we’ve seen lots of them recently and try to come up with video/photo evidence. We have already proven what we can with footprints – that the sas is a plausible cause. We can go no further.

    I’m just saying that the body – the holotype – is what you’d need for anything else. Even a Peruvian cloud rat demands a body before science puts it in. A holotype for a dragon or a centaur would for sure command attention. The animal might be unusual – OK, fantastical – with regard to our expectations. But the body would be standard scientific we-need. And in that sense, you’re not really backing up your claim any more so than you are with the rat. You’re just getting, in each case, what you need to convince people. The body.

    That’s my point.

    But as to the willingness to investigate, well, yeah, that’s the rub, ain’t it? I just don’t think it’s so much the animal’s implausibility as scientists’ belief – with no particularly good reason, really, in my opionion – that the animal is implausible.

  9. DWA responds:

    But there is one more thing I did want to point out to everyone here, in case the visual evidence is confusing you.

    Ben and I actually agree. on EVERYTHING.

    Never trust visual evidence! 😉

  10. things-in-the-woods responds:

    go away to do frivolous things like sleep and eat, and you find yourself way behind the conversation..

    DWA says, perhaps rather tongue-in-cheek “Ben and I actually agree. on EVERYTHING.”

    In fact, i think this is pretty much the case.

    It seems to me that we all agree (at least those of us who who have engaged in this particular debate) that we don’t have evidence that proves the existence of sas (none of us would be here if we did). It seems that we also agree that the only evidence that could count as proof is something on the level of a body.
    All well and good.

    The disagreement between ben and the rest of us seems to come in relation to non-conclusive evidence. Ben it seems, holds that this is worthless, whereas most of the rest of us seem to think that it is useful (at least potentially) to some extent.

    Now i think that the source of this disagreement could be because ben fails to appreciate that we accept that it isn’t evidential PROOF (the problem is perhaps that he confuses those of us who hold this position, with those cryptos who do think it constitutes proof). Thus, he thinks it is essentially worthless because it doesn’t prove anything. But, of course, i for one don’t think it does prove anything. At best it suggests something, and at worst it is data that has to be accounted for somehow.

    In holding his position (if, indeed, this is his position), it seems to me that ben is just obviously wrong. As DWA has just discussed, non-conclusive evidence has an essential place (indeed, is the point of origin) in scientific enquiry. Equally obviously, it does not have a place in scientific proof. But proving something and investigating something are distinct phenomena (indeed, as concepts, they are categorically distinct).

    I also have to agree with DWA that ben’s position specifically on eyewitness reports is flawed. Sure eyewitness reports are inherantly unreliable. But that does not mean they carry no weight (again, as regards to an scientific investigation, if not a scientific proof). Indeed, we conduct a reductio ad absurdam argument with regards to a position that does dismiss eyewitness reports as having any weight in science, then we get to the point where there can never be scientific proof of anything. (Indeed, ben would seem to be thorough-going solipsist, which makes his bothering to argue with us somewhat unaccountable).

    If eyewitness reports are inherantly unreliable, and thus worthless, why are we to accept that when a scientist says he saw a particular result of his experiment he wasn’t in fact mistaken,and it was something else?

    Of course, the claim would be that we can get other people to witness his experiments, or look at his results. But if each individual eyewitness report is intrinsically suspect then even getting any number of other eyewitnesses to witness the experiment or look at the results can be of no help.

    If, however, it is allowed (as of course it must be) that such multiplication of unreliable evidence does hold more weight than a single piece of such evidence then eyewiness reports cannot be dismissed as useless.

    Of course, they could still be wrong- but then, that is just what i said earlier; “The fact is that what makes these accounts good or bad evidence (in the sense of being true or false) is whether or not these people actually did see sasquatch- the quality of this evidence is conceptually tied to the existence or nonexistence of sasquatch. If sasquatch does exist and has been seen by these people then clearly these accounts constitute very good evidence, if it doesn’t these accounts are no evidence at all”.

    One final point regarding ben’s claim that the other charcteristic of ‘good evidence’ is that ‘it leads to something’. I am quite happy to accept this, as long as ben is willing to accept that the question of whether or not some piece of evidence leads to further evidence or proof has no particular time restraint on it. That is, we can’t call evidence bad evidence just because it hasn’t YET led to something else. In such a case, all evidence would be bad evidence until it led to something else, and then it would become good evidence. And that is just silly.

    That the evidence for bigfoot that we have at present (such as it is) hasn’t led to the discovery of better evidence or proof of bigfoot is therefore fundamentaly irrelevant. Is there some limit on how long evidence can count as evidence? If so, what is it? People have claimed evidence of bigfoot for perhaps a hundred years (yes, i know that doesn’t count indigenous american accounts). Does ben mean to suggest that we have reached some evidential ‘consume by date’? Lets hope not- there was evidence that the earth went round the sun for thousands of years before anyone produced conclusive evidence that this was the case.

    Equally (and this just to bait the creationists out there.. ;>), there was evidence for evolution by natural selection way before Darwin, and later scientists, proved the existence of the process (incidently, i read a piece about pete seeger in todays Guardian newspaper, about how he sends bumper stickers to creationist that read ‘Gravity- it’s just a theory’. Brilliant!).

    time to eat again…

  11. things-in-the-woods responds:

    oh, and DWA, just to even up my comments (and just because we don’t want too much consensus here..);

    you talk about “scientists’ belief – with no particularly good reason, really, in my opionion – that the animal is implausible.”

    1) On the evidence we have, and on the the justified expectations (about how such a being might manage subsist, about how there should be at least some fossil evidence, or at least evidence of some primate having existed in north america within the last few million years, etc), that scientists find sas ‘implausible’ is not for ‘no good reason’.

    2) that they find it implausible is not really the problem. It is those who hold that it is impossible that pose the real problem. And this because they are obviously wrong. On no meaning of the term ‘impossible’, is it impossible that sas exists. Highly unlikely perhaps, but impossible no.

    3) As i said right at the beginning of all this- given that scientists do generally find the idea implausible (and, as i suggest, justifiably so), means that they are also justified in being reluctant to follow it up. Real world pressures of time and money mean that they, of course, are happier pursuing those things that they do not find implausible, and thus believe have a greater chance of producing results.

  12. Benjamin Radford responds:

    >>ben’s position specifically on eyewitness reports is flawed.

    Since nearly everyone else here chooses to hide behind anonymity, I have no way of knowing whom I’m addressing. However, from the comments, I can surmise that few if any have any background or training in psychology, the field of experitise dealing with eyewitness testimony. I happen to have a degree in the subject, and have read up the mountains of evidence about eyewitness accounts. I think I have a better grasp of the topic than most do.

    >>Sure eyewitness reports are inherantly unreliable. But that does not mean they carry no weight

    I agree. I have never said eyewitness reports are worthless, all I said is that 1) they are essentially psychological phenomena, and therefore very subject to error and bias; 2) they have been proven to be often wrong; and 3) have not yielded a shred of actual evidence to date.

    >>If eyewitness reports are inherantly unreliable, and thus worthless, why are we to accept that when a scientist says he saw a particular result of his experiment he wasn’t in fact mistaken,and it was something else?

    This is actually a good example of why scientists do not accept eyewitness reports! The scenario you describe has never happened: when a scientist reports the results of a study, there is actual, measurable, hard data to look at. Other people can replicate the experiment, test it–unlike a Bigfoot eyewitness report. No real scientists has ever asked others to accept the results of an experiment based on something he or she “saw.”

    This is really an apples-and-oranges analogy, and doesn’t work at all.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    I think I should clear up what I meant by “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” just because I want everyone to know what my opinion on this phrase is without it being taken out of context in the future. If someone makes a claim, such as “the ivory billed woodpecker still exists”, then there is more of a willingness to go on relatively little evidence and there are those in the scientific community willing to give it serious consideration. Really what evidence is there that they still exist? Some sightings, some other circumnstantial evidence, but no body. Correct me if I’m wrong. This is because it is a species known to have existed and the claim that it is still out there is not so farfetched. So as a result, you get its acceptance as still around based on little actual hard evidence. I have seen animals that were given serious scientific consideration based on little more than camera trap photos and footprints(the new type of civit they discovered is one) simply because they were animals considered to be not entirely implausible animals. There are animals that have less evidence than Bigfoot has, yet they are embraced as being worthy of further study. Why? Because the claim of their existence is not completely “extraordinary”.
    Then you have the sasquatch. It is a creature that science sees as very unlikely and as a result, any evidence eyewitness account or otherwise is going to be taken with a grain of salt or completely discounted. Anything brought to light is going to be held to very stringent standards to even be considered as a possibility. You get the PG footage and immediately it is examined inside and out for being a possible hoax. I bet if there was comparatible footage of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, or even a Bili ape, we would not have the same dillema with it. Someone says they saw a Thylacine and you may get forestry people to go check it out. It is not a ludicrous claim to most and as such is more within the realm of possibility, acceptable as possibly real. Someone sees Bigfoot and they are the butt of jokes and their sighting is often given short shrift. The reason? I think it is because the claim of a large hairy hominid is an extraordinary one. There is almost an immediate bias against it and all evidence is scrutinized and debunked where possible.
    So what I am trying to say is that if you claim to have found a new rat, there is relatively speaking less that you have to provide for your claim to be given consideration simply because it is not an outlandish idea in the minds of mainstream science. A bigfoot on the other hand, well, you had better have a body or else.

  14. Benjamin Radford responds:

    TITW said: As i said right at the beginning of all this- given that scientists do generally find the idea implausible (and, as i suggest, justifiably so), means that they are also justified in being reluctant to follow it up. Real world pressures of time and money mean that they, of course, are happier pursuing those things that they do not find implausible, and thus believe have a greater chance of producing results.

    This is an excellent point, and should be read and understood by all those who whine about how scientists aren’t lining up to do Bigfoot research. Interest will follow good evidence, not the other way around.

  15. things-in-the-woods responds:

    Hi ben.
    if it really makes that much of a difference to you, my name is also ben (but that might get confusing- best to just keep to the monikers dontcha think?), and you are quite right- i don’t have a degree in psychology. I do have a degree in archaeology, a masters degree in cognitive science, and am just writing up my PhD on the conceptual issues involved in the evolution of mind.
    Quite what difference that makes i don’t know. I was rather hoping that people had got past the ‘argument from authority’ manouver.

    Anyway, on to the actual arguments.

    You say, “I have never said eyewitness reports are worthless, all I said is that 1) they are essentially psychological phenomena, and therefore very subject to error and bias; 2) they have been proven to be often wrong; and 3) have not yielded a shred of actual evidence to date.”

    I completely agree with points 1 and 2. I also agree with point 3, but only as much as this refers to ‘further’ evidence (such sightings are, of course, evidence in their own right- whether particularly reliable or not). And, as i say, we cannot know whether this is because there is no further evidence to be found, or simply that, as yet, no more evidence has been produced. I also agree with this only as far as it refers to ‘better’ evidence. It is arguable that this evidence has led to more of the same kind of evidence, in just the way DWA suggests (i.e., sightings have led to further investigation that produced more sightings).

    With regards to your second argument, you state that my analogy of a scientist reporting on an experiment, and witnesses reporting on sas sightings “is really an apples-and-oranges analogy, and doesn’t work at all.”

    However, as i wasn’t drawing an analogy , this is of no consequence (if there is an analogy in there it is only that the both involve visual experience- and, as such, it would not be an apples-and-oranges analogy at all). All i was doing was elucidating (alright, trying to elucidate) the fact that if we are to distrust a priori EVERY first-person report of visual experience then we cannot make special pleading for certain cases, and the implications of accepting this. And to suggest that such reports play no place in scientific procedure is patently false (given that they just are at the base of all interpersonal communication). If science is anything other than a completely individual endeavour (which it could not be) then we simply could not doubt all such reports. A scientific report is at base a report of visual (and perhaps other) experience. In a psychological report, for instance, the scientist reports his visual experience of the subjects behaviour in response to stimuli (or, perhaps, his visual experience of the ECG reading on his computer screen, or perhaps of the printout of the figures that he has before him).

    Of course, this argument is irrelevant as you have made it claer that you allow that we should not, in fact, dismiss every such eyewitness report.

    And finally, you write;
    “This is actually a good example of why scientists do not accept eyewitness reports! The scenario you describe has never happened: when a scientist reports the results of a study, there is actual, measurable, hard data to look at. Other people can replicate the experiment, test it–unlike a Bigfoot eyewitness report. No real scientists has ever asked others to accept the results of an experiment based on something he or she “saw.””

    Well, firstly, scientists do accept eyewitness accounts (and not just in the most essential way that i have just described). They might not accept them as conclusive evidence (but they might), but they do not ignore them. When Jane Goodall first described chimpanzees as using tools Louis Leakey did not refuse to accept those reports until he himself had seen them doing so.

    And secondly, it amounts to spectacular naivety, or self-deception, to claim that scientists never ask others to accept, and nor do other scientists accept, eyewitness reports from others. Scientist routinely accept the word of others. I would extremely surprised if, during your study for your degree, you went back and studied the raw data, or replicated the data yourself, for every reported experiment you accepted (and you can’t appeal to others having replicated it- because you are only then accepting their eyewitness reports).

    If you did, you were a damn sight more commited than any other scientist i have ever met.
    In which case, I salute you 🙂

  16. DWA responds:

    Mystery_man and things-in-the-woods: VERY good posts.

    MM’s is part of the reason, Ben, that almost all of us here choose anonymity. It might affect our current careers or job prospects if the extremely reasonable positions we take on this subject were known to our employers.

    Whereby the utterly irrational position that the sasquatch doesn’t exist (yes it is, because it’s based on ignorance of the scope and depth of the evidence) doesn’t cause a ripple. In fact, it makes you part of the club of people who all know for a fact that the earth is flat. Everyone else gets burned at the stake.

    Whoops, wrong century. 😀

  17. mystery_man responds:

    Well, I feel a little out of my depth here having only a degree in Biology and Zoology but none in psychology or cognitive science but here’s my two cents for what it’s worth. One of the things that keeps me interested in the possibility of Bigfoot is precisely that so many people from all walks of life, living in vastly different areas have essentially reported similar creatures and I hesitate to assume that they all must be liars, seeing things, or misidentifying known species. Is it some sort of mass hallucination? Not being versed in these things, I don’t know, but I sure would like to find out what the root cause of the large amount of reports is. Something strange is going on and whether it constitutes evidence or not, I am curious.

    That being said, I think eyewitness reports are a tricky thing. Sure, a lot of people claim to see Bigfoot but then again, a lot of people all over the world claim to see aliens coming out of UFOs, ghosts, and all manner of paranormal phenomena. A feel a lot of people who embrace Bigfoot sightings might scoff at alien sightings so there can be a little bit of a double standard going on. I think the first thing that has to be ascertained is how reliable the witness is. I am admittedly no expert on this matter but I feel the quality of the witness and the sighting is key. Is this not important in all areas where witness testimony is used? Is the witness some guy out drinking moonshine, or is it an “expert witness” such as Jane Goodall? In the latter case, of course her testimony is going to carry more weight than if, say, my little cousin claimed to see Chimps using tools. Can we really equally consider a detailed report by a law enforcement officer versus someone claiming Bigfoot got out of a spaceship? In my opinion, witness reliability is immensely important. In science, whether an eyewitness report is ignored or given heavy consideration is going to depend largely on this factor.

    Also, although I think that sightings are never going to amount to conclusive evidence in of of themselves, they have the potential to lead us to possible new evidence. If there is a sighting and someone follows up on it and through this they find a hair sample that can be DNA tested, then this sighting is a huge help by facilitating the collection of evidence. Ideally, I think we should follow these eyewitness reports to possible conclusive evidence. I also think there has to be a file of these sightings kept, that can be cross checked and given comparative analysis. In the end, although sightings may never be what is needed to prove one thing or the other, they can be a valuable tool and I don’t think they should be discarded out of hand.

  18. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Hi Ben

    I was rather hoping that people had got past the ‘argument from authority’ manouver.

    I wasn’t making an argument from authority, which is a logical fallacy basically saying “believe me because I’m an authority.” I was asking people to believe the hundreds of psychologists, police, and others who have studied the topic say.

    In the same way, if I had a question about archaeology, I’d put more stock in an answer coming from you than a random person on the street. That’s not an argument from authority, is it?

    scientists do accept eyewitness accounts…Scientist routinely accept the word of others. I would extremely surprised if, during your study for your degree, you went back and studied the raw data, or replicated the data yourself, for every reported experiment you accepted (and you can’t appeal to others having replicated it- because you are only then accepting their eyewitness reports).

    Are you really reducing the results of scientific experiments to merely “eyewitness reports”? As if the results of a scientific study have no more weight than a person’s impressions?

    Scientists rarely just accept the word of others, they test for themselves. They examine each other’s methods and protocols, they peer-review.

    I really have a hard time believeing you are comparing a non-testable, non-replicable, eyewitness sighting to a empirical, scientific study whose data and methods can be examined by anyone….

  19. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I was rather hoping that people had got past the ‘argument from authority’ manouver.

    Oh, and by the way, Ben, if you have a problem with the argument from authority, you’ll really hate Jeff Meldrum’s book on Sasquatch. That’s Meldrum’s whole calling card: that he’s a scientist, so you should listen to him. That Fahrenbach is a scientist (he’s a microscopist), so we should believe him. I hear this all the time from DWA and many others here. It’s funny how they pick and choose which experts and authorities they listen to.

    That’s most of what the book is, arguments from authority. I agree with you, and suggest that people ignore ALL of the arguments from authority in Bigfoot research, and instead look closely for themselves at the flawed science and methodologies.

  20. DWA responds:

    Actually, Ben (we both know which Ben I mean), I never said anything that could ever be construed as advocating the argument from authority.

    I look at Meldrum’s science, not his business card.

    You discount everything he does because the animal hasn’t been confirmed yet.

    You’ve never pointed out one clear example of “bad science.” We’ve pointed out many.

    Your turn.

  21. DWA responds:

    BTW, Ben, I’d put more stock in an answer coming from Jeff Meldrum than a random Radford on the street.

    That’s not an argument from authority, is it?

    (Using someone’s quotes against him: GOOD science.)

    😀

  22. Benjamin Radford responds:

    DWA writes, “You’ve never pointed out one clear example of “bad science.”

    I have in fact pointed out several examples of poor science and methodologies, including the most obvious, Fahrenbach’s analysis, which as I stated is based on reports that Meldrum himself admits are “unreliable.” Bad science, there you go.

    This is exactly why this is a waste of my time.
    “To argue with a fool makes two fools.”

  23. things-in-the-woods responds:

    hi ben,

    I didn’t really think you could have been making such a sneaky move; just wanted to make sure ;). But having said that, i don’t think you even need to appeal to the knowledge psychologists and policemen and so on, to get us to accept that eyewitness reports are potentially dubious. We all know that, and, indeed, I think all of us have stated it here.

    So anyway, specifically;

    I wasn’t reducing scientific experiment merely to reports of visual experience; what I was saying is that science intrinsically involves, and relies on, such reports (it is also much else besides).

    Furthermore, I would like to suggest that while it is true that scientists do engage in peer-review, and do critique each other’s methodology (and jolly useful that is too), that doesn’t really engage with the point I was making- they still typically take the scientists word that the results he said he produced (and ‘saw’ for himself) just were those that actually transpired (that when he says the subject reacted in a particular way, that is what the subject did). Relatively rarely are experiments replicated (at least, not every scientist who accepts the truth of such reports replicates those experiments).

    But, anyway, I think we are in danger of getting a bit sidetracked here- the arguments I have been making have generally been with regards to the fact that I took you to be arguing that, essentially, as eyewitness reports are inherently problematic (i.e. they can be mistaken) we cannot put any credence in them, and that, therefore they count for nothing in the search for sasquatch.

    As you have explained that you do not dismiss the relevance of such evidence in an a priori manner, then I don’t think we have a disagreement (at least on points of principle). I think we can both accept that such reports carry different amounts of weight depending on the context of the report (e.g. the report of a well informed individuals under controlled conditions- i.e. a scientist in a lab- carries more weight than an ignorant individual under confounding conditions- a scared city kid lost in the woods in the middle of the night). As such we should also be able to agree that such reports should be assessed on a case-by-case basis (and that some bigfoot eyewitness reports constitute better- in the sense of more reliable, even if not more true- evidence than others e.g. the scared kid versus the independently confirmatory reports of several individuals who claimed to see sas in broad daylight).

    In fact, I do not even think that we fundamentally disagree over where we should draw lines across this continuum. The evidence that proves sasquatch is, as i have said, going to be a body.

    Eyewitness accounts are never going to prove anything, but they might point us in a certain direction (they are useful, therefore, as i have been trying to articulate, in the scientific investigation of the question of the existence of sas, even if they cannot count as evidence that answers this question- one way or the other).

    If we could agree on these I think that would a good, constructive first step. I’d be interested to hear if you do have a problem with any of them.

  24. things-in-the-woods responds:

    Hi ben,
    we’re all posting much faster than i can keep up with. However, with regards to bigfoot researchers using the argument from authority, you may be right.

    If so, we shouldn’t pay any heed to such an argument- however, it doesn’t follow that we should therefore reject all their arguments. Whether they back an argument with a call to accept their authority or not, doesn’t affect the validity of that argument itself- it just means we should assess that argument itself (If they argue that claimed dermal ridges on footprints suggest sas is real- or whatever it is they argue- but then say at the end ‘and you should believe me i’m a scientist’, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage with the argument about dermal ridges).

    Such an argument is as invalid as the argument from authority.

  25. DWA responds:

    True.

    And to refuse to argue on the grounds that you don’t have a common-sense proposition makes an ignoramus.

    I made the point-blank assertion that you consider NO research into this animal to be good science, on the precise grounds that the animal is unconfirmed.

    And you, well, just confirmed it. In the face of history’s very stacked deck proving the opposite.

    Um hum. A true “Professional.” The research can be considered done. “Professionals,” as Mr. Krantz advised us all, carefully channel the horse down the avenue of continuing to chase its tail.

    Exactly why THIS is a waste of MY time. But thanks for sharing.

  26. things-in-the-woods responds:

    oh, and really this is a waste of all our times-

    believers- get out there and find the evidence
    unbelievers- go and do some science that you feel is valuable
    me- go and write your thesis before your supervisor kicks your arse.

    goodnight. sleep tight. hope the things-in-the-woods don’t bite.

  27. Benjamin Radford responds:

    TITW: Whether they back an argument with a call to accept their authority or not, doesn’t affect the validity of that argument itself- it just means we should assess that argument itself

    THANK YOU! This is the point I have been trying to make! This is exactly why it’s important for people to look closely at the arguments that Meldrum, Fahrenbach, and others make about Bigfoot– as well as those by skeptics such as myself, Dennett, Daegling, and Crowley.

    I ask all interested researchers to learn about what good science is, then see how well most Bigfoot research stacks up.

    Sadly, this is rarely done. Instead, many posters here jump to the defense of Meldrum et al. without looking closely at their methodologies, and often without really reading the skeptical analyses and critics.

  28. DWA responds:

    Things-in-the-woods: I’d rephrase.

    Believers and Unbelievers: cut that out! This isn’t about belief. It’s about EVIDENCE.

    Skeptics: evaluate the evidence.

    Biscardi and Radford: birds of a feather.

    Say hi to your supervisor for me. 😉

  29. DWA responds:

    Since a bottom line on this topic would be nice, here’s mine.

    ———————————————————

    1. There seems to be a significant body of evidence for a large, bipedal North American primate, the validity of much of which has not been assessed.

    2. Such scientific tests as have been conducted on evidence presented have proven inconclusive. The significant possibility exists either (1) that all the evidence presented is the result of either fakery or mis-identification of known animals or (2) that the evidence points to the existence of the as-yet uncatalogued primate species.

    3. More than one mainstream scientist has expressed the clear opinion that fakery and mis-identification cannot be considered reasonable explanations of all the evidence presented.

    4. Assessment of the provenance of evidence such as footprints and hair of the alleged primate is necessarily limited by the absence of a type specimen for comparison.

    5. A reasonable case therefore exists for the mounting of a significant field effort to capture more compelling evidence of the animal, such as bones, a body, or significant photographic and video documentation, such as to pave the way for further research eventually documenting the species’ existence if such evidence is found.

    ——————————-

    I think this is reasonable. Because it is. Whether science can see its way clear to devote the time and effort (and money) is, of course, an entirely different matter.

    But that doesn’t lessen the reasonableness of the case.

    I don’t think it’s overreaching a bit to say that anyone who considers this bottom line unreasonable really, REALLY doesn’t want proof of the sasquatch’s existence to ever be found.

    Why? Well I can think of some reasons. But for most of us, they aren’t reasonable.

  30. mystery_man responds:

    I don’t know about you all, but I don’t think this has been a waste of time at all. Some really good posts here, lots of good debate and sharing of ideas. I think these kinds of discussions are not only informative, but something that should happen more often. As Ben said before, it is good to have in-depth, genuine discussions like this. Great ideas and good point everyone. Totally NOT a waste of time in my eyes.

  31. mystery_man responds:

    By the way, did my post about eyewitness sightings get up in time? Everyone was posting so fast and my post was awaiting moderation that you might not have seen it. It’s just some of my thoughts on eyewitness testimony. I can’t believe this discussion made it to the third page! Good stuff.

  32. Buzzardeater responds:

    I am not very educated, but is it not true that the initial premise, if flawed will foul even careful, well-funded research? Everyone on this thread is debating whether or not an ape can live on the outskirts of our modern society. This dismisses the anecdotal evidence of interbreeding. More learned men than I have stated that interbreeding with animals is not possible. Therefore it didn’t happen? No.Therefore they are not animals! To breed with humans they must BE humans. That they are unusual humans is incontestable, but to imagine that they are a type of ape is unworkable. If one begins with the presumption of humanity things begin to make more sense. Add the known element of mischief (yes, people are helping them, directly and indirectly) and you begin to see the possibility of the data making some sense.




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