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Skeptics and Bigfoot

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on March 28th, 2006

The Spectrum, the University at Buffalo campus newspaper, reported on a lecture titled "Applying Science to the Paranormal" that Benjamin Radford gave last Friday night there.

The next target for Radford’s objective and critical approach was Bigfoot. He had molds of footprints and lots of popular pictures, such as the Bigfoot who sells Spam, as examples of how the legend exists in the media and in peoples’ minds. Radford then took the time to go through all of the well-known eyewitness testimonials and the few pictures and tangible evidence that exist.

Many were proved at some point or another to be a hoax, but most are at the very least highly suspect. His biggest point of proof was that there has never been any Bigfoot hair, bones, teeth, blood or bodies found, ever. No Bigfoot has ever been hit by a car, no body found in the woods or a river, and nobody has accidentally shot one either.

"There is no lack of evidence, just a lack of good evidence," Radford said.

There was a here on Cryptomundo titled Answering the Bigfoot Skeptics addressing these issues. Mr. Radford weighed in with his opinions in the comments section of that blog entry.

Ben Radford

The photo that was included with the article shows Mr. Radford and one of the photos used in the lecture. The photo used was one of the Wild Creek Bigfoot photos. This is one of a series of 14 photos supposedly taken by an off-duty forest patrol officer near Mt. Ranier on July 11, 1995. They were purchased by Cliff Crook. They are generally thought to have been made using a small model posed in a watery setting.

Wild Creek Bigfoot

Having not seen Mr. Radford’s presentation yet, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on the evidence he presents. I will agree with his quote "There is no lack of evidence, just a lack of good evidence" if what he is presenting the Wild Creek photos as evidence. The majority of the "Bigfoot believers" have no problem with these photos being presented as bad evidence. What else does he purport is bad evidence?

Is he showing the very worst evidence and most obvious hoaxes and painting the rest of the evidence for Bigfoot with weakest case. Detailed in the information following, we will get a chance to see his arguments and judge their validity.

Last year, Mr. Radford and I exchanged emails concerning the annual Texas Bigfoot Conference that I host. He sent me an email stating:

I saw your notices about the upcoming TBC. I noticed there is a distinct lack of noted Bigfoot skeptics in the speakers and panelists. You have the usual suspects: Jeff, Loren, Rick Noll, etc. But Dave Daegling isn’t there, nor is Mike Dennett, nor myself. This can lead to a case of "preaching to the choir," and a lack of meaningful exchange between the skeptics and the believers. It seems to me that it is exactly these two groups that need more communication between them.

It appears that the schedule has already been set for this year, but if you are interested, I would be willing to speak at the conference. The Texas Bigfoot Conference could be the first major Bigfoot event to bring skeptical researchers to the table, let the diversity of ideas and positions be heard. I think both the audience and the panelists would find the exchange of ideas instructive and refreshing. I could give a talk such as "The Role of Skeptics in Cryptozoology" or "Bigfoot: The Skeptical Position." (If people assume that they already know the skeptics’ position, I assure you they are wrong.) The addition of a well-known Bigfoot skeptic into the mix would almost certainly increase interest in the event.

I have long pointed out to Bigfoot proponents that they have more in common with us skeptics than most realize. Unlike many in the public, we take Bigfoot seriously; we don’t dismiss Bigfoot as a waste of time. As you may know, I have been involved in cryptozoology for many years, and worked closely with people such as John Kirk to find cryptids.

I had invited Mr. Radford’s colleague, Dr. David Daegling, on March 19, 2005 by email, but had gotten no response from him at the time that Mr. Radford and I corresponded on July 20, 2005. Mr. Radford said that he would try to contact Dr. Daegling to let him know of the invitation. On July 24th, Dr. Daegling contacted me by email to inform that his Fall schedule would not allow him to participate.

While we were not able to accomodate him at the 2005 Texas Bigfoot Conference,Mr. Radford will get his chance twice this year. The Bigfoot in Texas? museum exhibit and lecture series apparently, according to Mr. Radford, will have the honor of being the first major Bigfoot event to bring skeptical researchers to the table, let the diversity of ideas and positions be heard.

Mr. Radford will be speaking in San Antonio on June 3, 2006 at the Bigfoot in Texas? lecture series. 2 weeks later he will be speaking in Pocatello, ID at the Bigfoot Rendezvous.

In my discussions with Mr. Radford concerning our Bigfoot conference last year, I brought up the fact that the CSICOP events appeared to be just as one-sided as he accused the "believer" events to be. Mr. Radford responded with:

You are only partially correct about the CSICOP events. In fact, we have often hosted well-known and well-regarded speakers on the opposite sides of the coin, and invited them to share their views. A few examples: John Mack (Harvard psychiatrist / alien abductee researcher); Gary Schwartz (psychical researcher who has worked with John Edward, Allison DuBois, and many others), author of The Afterlife Experiments); and near-death researcher Kenneth Ring (author of Life at Death). We’ve also had The X-Files’ Chris Carter and others. So it’s simply not true that "believers" are excluded, though they are not included as much as I would like.

I personally would like to see far more interaction and "meeting of the minds" of different views at these conferences, but unfortunately I do not choose which speakers are invited. We haven’t really done anything on Bigfoot for years (conference-wise), but the next time we do I will suggest that we get Loren or Jeff or Rick Noll to give a talk. It’s also true that, to my knowledge, very rarely do those on the other side of the issue contact us to express their interest in participating in events (as I have to you). Perhaps they assume (incorrectly) that they would not be welcome, but all of our "believer" speakers have commented that they were pleasantly surprised and felt like they were treated respectfully and allowed to make their case.

So now the ball is in the skeptics court. Will they invite the "believers"? 

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.


18 Responses to “Skeptics and Bigfoot”

  1. Autumnbelle responds:

    It’s good to read how you both have been very diplomatic and civil to one another. Hope it doesn’t break down into a pie fight, but if it does, odds are in your favour!

    Seriously, hope things stay civil and calm, and hopefully that’s the continuing trend of discussions to come.

  2. shovethenos responds:

    Maybe things would be more civil if some of the skeptics didn’t make flat-out false statements, like this, from above:

    “His biggest point of proof was that there has never been any Bigfoot hair, bones, teeth, blood or bodies found, ever.”

    That’s blatantly false. I just watched a show on the Yeti this afternoon on the History Channel and they talked about (a) microscopic parasites from an unknown primate found in the scat gathered on one of the yeti expeditions; and (b) Chinese scientists concluding they had a hair sample from an unknown primate species after the analyzed the copper and iron content. (I realize the Yeti and Yeren aren’t “Bigfoot”, but they are still alleged cryptid primates, part of the same worldwide phenomenon.)

    And that picture is a joke, I’ll bet 8 out of 10 “believers”, or more accurately people that tend to believe cryptid primates exist, would say that picture is definitely a hoax.

    If the skeptics wouldn’t make false statements and use some of the most questionable “evidence” to set up easily knocked down strawmen it is likely that civility levels would increase. But it seems they’re more intent on creating a literary and media niche for themselves than objectively arguing on all of the evidence.

  3. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Shovethenos states that, “Maybe things would be more civil if some of the skeptics didn’t make flat-out false statements, like this, from above: ‘His biggest point of proof was that there has never been any Bigfoot hair, bones, teeth, blood or bodies found, ever.’ That’s blatantly false.”

    Shovethenos needs to be a little more, um, skeptical of media reports in general, and college newspaper writers specifically. What is quoted is not my words, but that of the reporter, who apparently either mis-wrote (as I showed samples of Bigfoot hair in my talk), or meant “proven, authenticated Bigfoot samples,” which is correct.

    From this misunderstanding, Shovethenos then states, “If the skeptics wouldn’t make false statements and use some of the most questionable “evidence” to set up easily knocked down strawmen it is likely that civility levels would increase. But it seems they’re more intent on creating a literary and media niche for themselves than objectively arguing on all of the evidence.” A remarkable statement, since he seems to know what I spoke about from simply reading a story in the newspaper. I should point out that the reporter who attended my talk called it “objective.”

  4. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I appreciate Craig Woolheater’s comments, and hopefully I can clarify my talk. First, the context: It was one-third of an hour-long talk, so I only had about 20 minutes to introduce the subject to a lay audience and quickly cover the highlights of types of Bigfoot evidence. The Wild Creek photos were included, and while many dismiss them as bad evidence, they have never been “disproven” and are still cited (by some) as bigfoot photos.

    As to the charge that I selectively chose the worst evidence, here are other images I showed and topics I discussed. Cryptomundo readers can decide for themselves if I only highlighted the weakest evidence: The P/G film and a Bluff Creek track; the Skookum cast, Wooldridge’s 1987 Yeti photo, Blue Mountain Bigfoot hair samples, Bigfoot vocalizations from the Sierra Madre, Mill Creek and Bossburg tracks, and others. Much of this has been touted not as weak evidence but quite the opposite.

    Because I believe that we need more interaction between “skeptics” and “believers,” I have slashed my usual speaker fee and accepted invitations to speak at two Bigfoot conferences in June. Different audiences and different topics, and I hope to generate some real discussion and dialogue, to better understand the arguments for Bigfoot and hopefully learn something from other peoples’ point of view.

    I am interested in honest debate and discussion, not personal attacks or straw man arguments. Pie fights are okay, I like lemon merengue, if that can be arranged.

  5. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Oh, and I’ll add one more thing: I appreciate Autmnbelles’ comments. Mr. Woolheater has been very fair, respectful, and honest in our dealings. I am eager to meet him and others like him to try and understand why we can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. I have no vested interest or axe to grind in “debunking” Bigfoot or any cryptid; it is not a passionate issue for me, because it is (or should be) one of evidence, not belief.

  6. shovethenos responds:

    Mr. Radford-

    Perhaps you could be more vigilant in making sure you aren’t misquoted or misrepresented. I’m not familiar with journalistic protocols – can one require review of a draft of an article before final permission to quote is granted?

    “What is quoted is not my words, but that of the reporter, who apparently either mis-wrote (as I showed samples of Bigfoot hair in my talk), or meant “proven, authenticated Bigfoot samples,” which is correct.”

    Actually that may be incorrect. In addition to the physical evidence of cryptid primates that I mentioned off-hand above, I believe one or more DNA samples collected in North America have been determined to be from an unknown species, which is as “proven” and “authenticated” as one can get with an undocumented species. Unless you want to get into the circular logic that DNA determined to be from an unknown species isn’t proof of an unknown species’ existence. See this link mentioning a North American unidentified DNA sample, though I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

    How are you defining “proven” and “authenticated”? To be “proven” does a cryptid primate have to appear with an organ grinder selling roasted nuts in Times Square? (kidding)

  7. Benjamin Radford responds:

    “Perhaps you could be more vigilant in making sure you aren’t misquoted or misrepresented. I’m not familiar with journalistic protocols – can one require review of a draft of an article before final permission to quote is granted?”

    No journalist, not even for a college paper, allows interviewees to vet articles before being published, though rarely they will double-check the quotes. Anyone who deals with the media is misquoted now and then. At any rate, the issue is irrelevant, because it was not a quote from me. When the writer quoted me directly, he was accurate.

    Your point about Bigfoot evidence is a good one, which prompts me to ask: How do you know that “unidentified” hair came from a Bigfoot, and not a chupacabra, or a dragon?

  8. YarriWarrior responds:

    I like butterscotch pie! This is all interesting. About the hairs that turn up from time to time; the ones that turn out to be from unidentified subjects, they are shown by analysis to be from primates in the range of gorillas and humans, but neither. Depends on the metal content, but that’s how you can say bigfoot and not dragon. I used to be caught up in trying to prove the bigfoot case to skeptics and debunkers, but after much thought I came to this finality. I have the burden of convincing myself. Life is too short. If I feel convinced(and I do)then my job is to press forward and do what I can to add to the knowledge database. Not to spend so much time trying to convince those who will never look with unshaded eyes at the evidence. Skeptics that will take the time to look, and fairly access evidence are worth their salt. Those we call debunkers are not. The test to being a real scientist is keeping a open mind, and the willingness to look hard,and then even harder. Try seeing our current knowledge about everything scientific from another time, fifty years from now, a hundred, ect. Looking back to this time we would say “we didn’t know much back then”. Never say never in my book. Does anyone have all the photos that Cliff purchased? I have only seen 2. I would love to see them all. For my own conclusions. Yarri

  9. shovethenos responds:

    “Your point about Bigfoot evidence is a good one, which prompts me to ask: How do you know that “unidentified” hair came from a Bigfoot, and not a chupacabra, or a dragon?”

    Usually the phrase I’ve heard used is “unidentified primate” which sort of narrows it down. DNA allows for these distinctions sometimes.

    From a cryptozoological or scientific perspective having a sample indicate any unidentified animal of significant size of any type would be of interest. As I’ve said before chupacabras are a phenomenon I’m pretty skeptical about. I’m not sure what you mean by “dragons” – are you referring to a specific cryptozoological phenomenon?

  10. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Shovethenos states: “Usually the phrase I’ve heard used is “unidentified primate” which sort of narrows it down.”

    Oh, okay. And how do you know for certain that a Bigfoot is a primate? Is that an assumption or a fact? Or that a dragon or chupacabra hair might not also be deemed “unidentified primate” or have “metal content”?

    And I’m not being sarcastic about the dragons: in the latest issue of Fortean Times there’s a review of a new book about whether dragons really exist.

  11. Loren Coleman responds:

    Have to partially agree with someone, I’m really not sure whom, here.

    First, the objective and subjective conclusion, of course, weighs in favor of Bigfoot, seemingly a biped unknown hominoid, being a primate.

    Chupacabras, which if they exist, I would have to tentatively classify as unknown primates, appear to have hair, in various sightings, and thus fur and hair samples from them could be found to be “unidentified primate,” until we have a type specimen.

    As to Ben’s presentation, I am sure he is fair but bluntly skeptical in his approach. However, because I will be speaking before or after him at both of those forthcoming Bigfoot conferences he mentions, I’ll correctly wait until I can see his talk.

    I have had my own bad experiences with too many sloppy, shaky, and sensational media accounts, that for now, the benefit of doubt goes to Ben, as far as being somewhat misrepresented in this media account.

  12. YarriWarrior responds:

    I could be wrong on this, but when hair is tested, the process looks for levels of metal such as copper, ect. All specimens in the database are consistent. Humans always have this level, chimps that level, ect. So when a unknown is found, it can be placed close to a catagory that already exists. So we know where it belongs in the overview, but not the exact species. Bigfoot hairs that pass the test are from an unknown primate, but closely related to humans and gorillas. That alone is enough reason to press forward with investigation and serious study. About dragons, one of the things that got me into the subject of cryptozoology was a science reader that we got in the sixth grade. It was on the very subject of dragons, and the possiblity that the legend of dragons came from people seeing living dinosaurs. Ah, they don’t write them like they used to! Yarri

  13. Benjamin Radford responds:

    Loren is right that I am “fair but bluntly skeptical” in my approach. I make no apologies for requesting scientifically valid evidence and logical arguments, whether the topic is Bigfoot, a new “wonder drug,” or claims about weapons of mass destruction. To me, the same standard of evidence should be applied to all claims.

    I look forward to seeing Loren and everyone else at the Bigfoot conferences, but I won’t be giving the same talk. It was really just an intro and quick survey and would bore anyone already in the field!

    As for Bigfoot hair, I agree it would probably have primate characteristics; my point is that we can only ASSUME that is the case, not PROVE it is the case. If cryptozoology is to improve its evidence and methodology, it needs to begin drawing much clearer distinctions between facts and assumptions.

  14. shovethenos responds:

    “As for Bigfoot hair, I agree it would probably have primate characteristics; my point is that we can only ASSUME that is the case, not PROVE it is the case. If cryptozoology is to improve its evidence and methodology, it needs to begin drawing much clearer distinctions between facts and assumptions.”

    But the thing is in the case of the metal levels analysis they are not assuming – they are following scientific protocols that allow them to determine what kind of animal a hair came from. Following these protocols brings them to the conclusion that the hair is likely from an unknown primate species. It’s not their assumptions telling them that – it’s their scientific analysis of the evidence. This does approach proof, depending on how reliable and accurate the metals level tests are.

  15. Grendel responds:

    When a purported bigfoot hair is presented for testing, it begins the process as a “well, maybe..”

    If bigfoot advocates would take the time to review their own words, we find those testing the hairs were unable to identify it and consider it ‘likely’ to have come from an unknown primate, we read that bigfoot is ‘probably’ a primate, that the testing processes ‘approach’ proof, etc., etc.

    In others words, testing that begins with “well, maybe…” so far has always ended up in the exact same spot:

    “well, maybe…”

    That nail is much too thin to hang your hat upon. Placing undue value on never-ending inconclusive findings is essentially an argument from ignorance.

  16. Grendel responds:

    As a footnote, when a testing lab says a hair is ‘likely’ to be from a primate, there is another side to that coin. They are also saying it may not be from an unknown primate, but that, in their opinion, it is more likely from an unknown primate. Scientifically speaking, this is very thin gruel indeed. The proper assessment is to accept that it may or may not be from a unknown primate, rather than cherry-picking out the ‘likely’ qualifier.

    Also, I had a question: when these hair tests are conducted, do they compare them to hairs from known species from the area in question, or against every known species with hair on the planet?

    The reason I ask is because, as an avid outdoorsman, I own numerous pieces of winter weather gear, purchased from an online source because it’s cheap and decently made. This is achieved by importing the gear in bulk from other countries. Long story short, because of my near daily traipses through the woods and fields of North Carolina, there are an uncountable number of hairs in those fields, fallen from my fur-lined hats, coats, gloves, etc.

    Were someone to turn in one of those hairs, hoping it was a bigfoot hair, any hair analysis that only screened out fauna local to NC would fail to identify these hairs, most of which are from mammals native to Russia, China, Indonesia, and Korea.

  17. shovethenos responds:

    Grendel-

    I disagree that supporters are “arguing from a position of ingorance”. There seem to be several instances of physical evidence being analyzed and concluding that there are more likely than not unidentified species out there. This evidence and the rate at which it is being collected also seem to be accelerating or building up, largely due to technology. For example when I first read about cryptid primates as a kid there were no DNA samples coming back classified as “unidentified primate.”

    As far as whether or not they test against all other animals, I don’t know. From the wording I have a feeling that results were compared to all of the other known primates, but I haven’t thoroughly researched the issue myself.

  18. Grendel responds:

    Bigfoot advocates in particular want to be very careful about accepting the qualifier “likely” as indicative of or evidence for anything. You can’t cherry pick only those ‘likely’s that support the existence of bigfoot. You gotta take all of ‘em or none of ‘em.

    The list of ‘likely’s that work against the existence of bigfoot is unfortunately about 5 miles longer than the list in support of the existence of bigfoot.

    It remains, as ever, about conclusive evidence, nothing less. This is true no matter what the scientific question at hand may be. ‘Likely’ doesn’t cut it any more than ‘unlikely’ does -it’s all a wash.

    As ever, we need physical evidence to the degree that it would be unreasonable NOT to accept it as proof of the existence of bigfoot.



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