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Bigfoot Lunch Club Asks Skeptic to Weigh-in on Finding Bigfoot‘s Ranae Holland

Posted by: Guy Edwards on January 9th, 2012

Bigfoot Lunch Club

Hello fans. At Bigfoot Lunch Club we believe that good skeptics can actually help us get closer to understanding the phenomena of Bigfoot. Through various posts we have hinted at this, but never felt we were the best ones to define a skeptic, let alone pontificate the value of skeptics.

Fortunately, we recently have become friends with Sharon Hill, a great skeptic. Sharon Hill is the editor of the  Doubtful Newsblog, a must read website. Below is a large portion of the article we asked her to write from her perspective.

Is Ranae just a token skeptic? What it means to be truly skeptical about Finding Bigfoot

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Hello from your friendly neighborhood skeptic. Guy asked me to contribute my thoughts about portraying skepticism on TV, specifically about Ranae Holland’s role on Finding Bigfoot. While here, I thought I might shoe-horn in some comments about the myth and reality of skepticism, sort of as an outreach activity to help understand this point of view that some find, well, irritating.

There is quite a bit of common ground that Bigfoot skeptics and believers leap over in order to get to the arguing phase. That’s a mistake. It sure would be more productive if we could start from an agreed upon place and move forward, not push against each other. Perhaps then we can actually make some progress in coming to terms with one of America’s most fascinating mysteries. So, indulge me while I explain how the critical eye views Finding Bigfoot and why it’s important to be skeptical, that is, if you want to get closer to the truth.

The Mythical Iconic Skeptic

The myth of the cynical, debunking skeptic is as pervasive and ingrained in our modern culture as the myth of the hairy wildman. Both Bigfoot and “the skeptic” are iconic in their own ways.

The idea of a skeptic in society is that of the doubter, the nonbeliever, the cynic or the debunker. I’m going to describe a skeptic in terms of scientific skepticism – that which is attempted by the community of critical thinkers led by the likes of James Randi, Ben Radford, Michael Shermer and Joe Nickell, among others.

My skepticism is an application of a method meant to sort out the likely true from the likely false. To do this, one looks at the evidence obtained in a valid, reliable, hopefully reproducible, objective way. Skepticism is about not being easily swayed by what people just tell you, what you wish were true, or what the rest of the crowd believes. Those means are weak to no support for a claim. Instead, I use established knowledge about the subject, typically from the literature of science (as opposed to religion, for example, because science is the most reliable means we know of to find out about nature). From this careful evaluation of the evidence, we can get to an answer that fits best. Or, if there is not enough worthwhile evidence, the conclusion is left open.

“Skeptic” is so often overused and misused:

The person on a forum that immediately defaults to “It’s a hoax” is not a skeptic.

The person in your family who says, “Aaah, you just saw a bear crossing the road” is not a skeptic.

The person at your workplace who says, “What silly nonsense!” is not a skeptic.

The person who says, “Hmm, what’s the evidence you have for that?” is probably a fair skeptic.

Is Ranae a true skeptic?

So, is Ranae Holland a true skeptic (in the specific, critical thinking sense I laid out above)? Or, is she just the token “skeptic” thrown in there for false balance? Here are aspects to consider when evaluating just how credible you can look as a skeptic on TV.

Ranae has some scientific training – a huge plus! Science is WAY more than the cookbook, generalized “scientific method” that many investigation groups say they use. It’s an entire process of collecting the information and synthesizing it into reliable knowledge. It’s not done by one person; it’s a community effort. There are rules and protocols. It’s REALLY HARD and takes A LONG TIME. That’s why we respect it so much. I think she understands that. I would argue the rest of the BRFO does not and there is no way I would consider what BRFO does to be scientific. I think they misuse the term to mean “careful” and “systematic” but, for many reasons, they fail at achieving the high bar of “scientific”. I see Ranae’s mind working, trying to run through possibilities. Unfortunately, she is not able to really act on those questions, as I’ll mention further along.

Second, look at the framework in which Ranae is working. The premise of Finding Bigfoot hits you in the face – they are out to find evidence of a creature they presume already exists. This is the major flaw of the show and is what infuriates me about paranormal research in general: It’s a show about Finding Bigfoot, not finding whatever the right answer is. Because of that, Ranae is hamstrung. Any skepticism is impotent. It’s not about getting to the best answer for what people experienced, it’s about contriving evidence to support the idea of Bigfoot. When the answer precludes what the evidence says it’s a sham investigation.

She is surrounded by others that truly believe. Every sound and knock and shadow is a Bigfoot to people like Matt who are so invested in this belief that it will NOT be relinquished. Ranae is put out in the dark woods with a suggestion that a Sasquatch is watching – a situation that would turn anyone hypervigilant and edgy. Viewers are rooting for the team to find the thing. She has little chance to put on a defense argument and is overwhelmed.

Incredible leaps of logic are made on the show. The men on the team have a model of what Bigfoot is, how it acts and what it’s doing next Saturday night when the moon is full… OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. They have had experiences that they have resolved in terms of encountering Bigfoot. Everything they subjectively judge as an anomaly is attributed to a Squatch. So, Ranae, who was quite familiar with the idea of Bigfoot beforehand, has this feedback loop drawing her into this view as well. This may be part of the editing of the show or it may be genuine, I can’t really tell from just what airs.

When even the pro-Bigfoot cast members complain about the editing of the show, one has to suspect there is a goal to be achieved here which is out of their control.

Being the skeptic on TV is tough. To truly fulfill this role, you must present your side to the others. You can’t just make stuff up out of whole cloth (like much of what is presented on Finding Bigfoot). Yet, no one on a TV show is going to be allowed to present literature reviews and experimental results. You don’t have the opportunity to carefully and exhaustively question all witnesses and recreate their encounters. All the background science, necessary to bolster your position, is NOT exciting. It’s not good entertainment. Yelling “What was THAT?” and running away, presumably for self-preservation, is way more dramatic. Therefore, that’s what you see portrayed. Disadvantage: Ranae, the skeptic scientist.

Being the skeptic is hard

While it’s nice that this skeptical portrayal is not a curmudgeonly guy, as is the image the public typically conjures up, Ranae doesn’t want to be one who busts the balloon. I like Ranae. She is likeable, smart and personable. Plus, she looks like she is enjoying this job. I’m sympathetic towards her because I have ALWAYS been easily swayed by others around me, conforming to their views. If one is naturally not inclined to have a critical eye it takes a LOT of practice to learn new habits of careful observation and questioning.

Ranae drops the ball by failing to ask probing questions and digging deep; she appears to have fallen into step with Team Squatch. Except for the occasional eye roll and comment, she goes along with the ridiculous, illogical antics on the show. Once again, this may not be her fault, I don’t know.

A true scientific skeptic on the show would make the others look utterly foolish. That’s obviously not what the producers want. The purpose of Finding Bigfoot (for entertainment) would be compromised were someone to scrutinize everything carefully and consider all possibilities. Besides, time schedules simply don’t permit it. That’s one reason why science is incredibly challenging to portray on TV.

In this article, Ranae notes her reservations about being on the show. Oh, have I heard this beforeincluding in my own head! We know what a warping of reality TV can achieve and if given the chance, we are confronted with uneasiness about editors and non-disclosure agreements.

Please read the rest at Bigfoot Lunch Club.

Guy Edwards About Guy Edwards
Psychology reduces to biology, all biology to chemistry, chemistry to physics, and finally physics to mathematical logic. Guy Edwards is host of the Portland, OR event HopsSquatch.com.


14 Responses to “Bigfoot Lunch Club Asks Skeptic to Weigh-in on Finding Bigfoot‘s Ranae Holland”

  1. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Very well written. I am impressed with this person’s mastery of rhetoric; thanks for posting it.

  2. DWA responds:

    Once again it’s two lunatic fringes talking to one another, one on each side of the question.

    There are no true skeptics on this bus.

    A true scientific skeptic would take the arugument directly to Jeff Meldrum and John Bindernagel and their ilk; address the breadth and depth of the evidence; and score points. Or (and this is what any true scientific skeptic should do, because I have done it) accept the validity of the evidence as more than testable, and start prodding the scientific mainstream to actually test it.

    Still waiting.

    I have seen not trace one of evidence of “scientific skeptics” on this site. Oh, wait. There’s me. There’s springheeledjack. There’s mystery_man. Read us and you are starting to get it.

    Obviously we aren’t all. But when you read us, you will know what it sounds like. Hint: NOT like Ben Radford.

  3. Autumnforest responds:

    Very well written and thought out. I am skeptical in my own field. I never accept the pat explanations for what ghosts are and how they work. I seek to find ways to test the paranormal and especially to get repeatable results. I appreciate Ranae and the fact that in any given episode, she says “squatch” about 1/4 of the amount as the boys do.

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    To be a good cryptozoologist is to be a good critical thinker, while employing a skeptical but open-minded approach. As I often say to the media, my associates, and our museum visitors, I find the most dangerous people to bring along on an investigation are the “true believers” and the “closed minded debunkers.”

    Both parties come to the table with misconceptions that do not assist the scientific method, cryptozoologically and in general.

    One caution regarding Ms. Holland’s appearance on Finding Bigfoot might be added to this specific sentence written by Ms. Hill: “Ranae drops the ball by failing to ask probing questions and digging deep; she appears to have fallen into step with Team Squatch.”

    Having been involved in many of these reality television programs, I guess I would add this cautionary footnote: “as she appears in the post-edited broadcast episodes.”

    Finding Bigfoot appears to be remarkably produced to edit out most hints from Ms. Holland and the other three team members of any skeptical, critical-thinking, and cautionary thoughts they might have had about any encounter and evidence confronted. It is as if, for entertainment reasons, this show is only shown as a “true believer” festival. Yet we have now all heard from producers, crew members, and others that lots of skepticism does happen during the process of this show being made.

    We have learned from these side interviews that each investigation unfolds with more skeptical moments occurring, despite how we see it being portrayed on Animal Planet.

    But then, Ms. Hill understands that, I know, and says so subtly. I just wanted to shout it a bit louder for those reading this who don’t get that: What you see on television is only a projected reality of what really happened. More skepticism occurs in the field, and I would propose much more of it issues from Ms. Holland. Most of it ends up “on the cutting room floor,” as is said in the business.

  5. Loren Coleman responds:

    BTW, as I say to all who visit the International Cryptozoology Museum, we are “open-minded but skeptical” in here. The two definitely go hand-in-hand.

  6. DWA responds:

    Loren: I’d agree.

    Finding Bigfoot is Bigfoot TV. It’s not interested in a scientific approach as much as in being good red-meat Bigfoot TV. It’s no fun to say that’s wind; that was a guy having fun with ya; or um, cow is another possibility for those sounds. What’s fun is: the Big Guy could be anywhere, and probably is.

    I think, personally but I’ve seen considerable agreement here, that Finding Bigfoot is proponent fringe. It doesn’t take a scientific approach. And for the skeptics to gang up on this, and not address the scientific proponents is…well, it’s not doing one’s job.

    Not one I’m convinced they could do, mind. I’m still waiting for a truly skeptical approach to Meldrum’s work. And I and others here have shredded Radford and the like, so don’t bring that around me.

    This is fish in a barrel. Who couldn’t?

    For all the fun Bigfoot TV may be to many, and I am quite OK with it getting the play it gets here because I understand why that is, there are places where it needs to be properly sized up. This thread looks to be one of those places.

    But if you want to seriously discuss skepticism with me, let’s talk Meldrum. As Sharon herself says: Hmm, skeptics, what’s the evidence you have for that? So far, nada.

    And criminal jurisprudence – to say nothing of those who have discovered new species – can tell you about the value of eyewitness testimony. So let’s not go beating that dead horse again.

  7. airforce47 responds:

    Greetings,

    I agree with Loren and DWA. I’ve seen all the episodes of Finding Bigfoot but I’m watching it for entertainment value as well as to see what equipment the team uses and what techniques. One can always pick up something new.

    I enjoyed Sharon Hill’s assessment of the show and she does make some good points.

    However, Team Squatch is having a ball especially Matt Moneymaker. When you can do something like this and get paid for life is really good.

    My best to all and let’s make this the year that Bigfoot appears.

  8. airgunner responds:

    “Finding Bigfoot” would not work as a show if not for Ranae.

    Who would want to watch three “true believers” stumbling around in the woods trying to find something they are sure is there?

    A lot of her skepticism probably does wind up on the cutting room floor, but enough remains to keep things interesting. If she was not in the show, I probably wouldn’t watch it.

    She seems to be “coming around” to the idea of there being Bigfoot, but this may well be more do to editing.

    Without her, the show would be just another of the “Ghost Hunter” variety. Dull and predictable.

  9. Massachusetts responds:

    Well said Sharon. We should all endeavor to learn more about the process of science.

    @DWA: The point of this thread is not to debate Jeff Meldrum’s contributions to physical anthropology and cryptozoology. It’s focused specifically on assessing Ranae’s role as a skeptic on the program.

  10. Opalman responds:

    Again; my problem with “Finding Bigfoot” is that it misrepresents the serious work and field studies being carried out by honest and serious investigators throughout the Northern Hemisphere. I know of no one; not one individual that has been swayed by the antics of MM and his crew. I do though know folks (including family) that have been so utterly turned off by “Finding Bigfoot” that a stigma has developed around the show’s premises. “I doubt it’s” post very succinctly and thoroughly addresses the many questions and issues that “Finding Bigfoot” raises; unfortunately none of these issues does any service to the big picture of documenting reliable evidence. Sadly all but the very informed will further conclude the sasquatch phenomenon so much hype and sensationalism all in order to bring audiences in front of advertisers.

    Is Ranae a true skeptic? Of course not—otherwise she would be blowing the horn on the off camera shenanigans and fabricated evidence items employed with each taping. True skeptics are scientists by definition and they can’t be so easily bought out. The production could not develop any sort of half-believable storyline should there be any sort of true skeptic onboard.

    In my opinion the show: “Finding Bigfoot” is a serious detriment to any and all meaningful sasquatch investigations. It certainly helps to validate the academic status quo—smirkfully whispering behind the back of excellent scientists with a genuine interest in the subject.

    I swore off watching any episodes last season after just a few airings. Last night though; I decided to check out the new seasons production efforts. Three times while the program went to commercial break I got up to visit the refrigerator. Arriving back in my media room; only a few minutes after the program had resumed. Each time they were hearing (definite) “Squatch vocalizations or wood-knocking or finding irrefutable footprints. All separate incidents within a relatively small area of upstate New York.

    I needn’t go on and on about the Finding Bigfoot. I feel I’m preaching to the choir.

    Hopefully sooner than later the program will get old (they all do) and no longer find a lucrative audience for its advertisers. Hopefully.

  11. DWA responds:

    Massachusetts: that’s what I was doing.

    If you can’t do a proper critique of Meldrum, you can’t do a proper critique of the topic. Period. Although as I pointed out, when it’s fringe vs. fringe, That’s Entertainment, and no harm done.

    (Except to the seriousness with which the field in general is viewed by the mainstream. Significant harm there, but oh well.)

    You’re right, we all need to understand science better. When more of us do, we’ll understand two things:

    1) that TV programs like this set the field back (with some possible compensation in attracting folks who might take a serious interest, and hopefully learn exactly what that is).

    2) that institutional skepticism – never mind the proponent fringe – approaches it from the wrong angle. The folks Sharon lists as “scientific skeptics” have repeatedly shown themselves, right here, to be, well, not.

  12. Massachusetts responds:

    I’m not sure what we mean by “fringe” here. Are we talking about skeptics vs. true believers or what?

    I don’t think that skeptics, who don’t believe there’s enough evidence yet to support claims that bigfoot exists, are on the “fringe.” They are the mainstream by definition. The fringe, if we must use that word, comprises people who believe bigfoot exists without much concrete evidence. “Fringe” though is a loaded term that sounds pretty negative. Any new idea is always going to have a small number of proponents at first. Then evidence is gathered and evaluated and, if their assertions are proven, they become part of the mainstream. Skeptics who don’t change their minds at this point become the fringe (like the flat earth society, I suppose). In other words, the fringe can flip flop. Darwin was on the fringe when he first proposed the theory of evolution, but very quickly his ideas were vetted by the scientific community and gained acceptance. Now intelligent design proponents are on the fringe. I suspect they will remain at the extreme fringe among trained biologists, what ever governors of great states, like Texas and Alaska, might say, but time will tell.

  13. DWA responds:

    I actually posted what I intended to be the response to this on another thread. (Lot going on here today.)

    it’s the RAW-skeptic thread. So I’ll be brief here:

    Fringe skeptics are like true believers only the other way around. And what makes them fringe is this: They only assault the true believers. They don’t, for example, debate Meldrum. They take “Finding Bigfoot” as a serious bastion to assault, which it isn’t.

    Scientific skepticism is actually only much in evidence among the proponents (and not the fringe ones, obviously).

  14. flame821 responds:

    DWA I think I might have a different explanation as to why the ‘hard-core skeptic’ only seems to challenge the ‘true believer’, it is for the same reason a ‘militant atheist’ only seems to challenge a ‘true believer’. ‘True believers’ by definition cannot see any side but their own. No matter what you say, show or do they will plug their ears and do the nyah nyah dance. This gets aggravating quickly and people on the other side will often go to extremes and lash out. This behavior is pointless on both sides and gets us nowhere.

    YET, those same ‘hard-core/militant’ types, when confronted with someone who is more moderate, more reasonable; someone who is actually able to carry on a civilized conversation and see more than one point of view as well as offer up evidence or theories that don’t come from anecdotes or other unproven sources you don’t normally see the ‘fringe behavior’ that you are lamenting.

    I suppose in many ways it is like exes meeting up. Both on their own can be completely reasonable but put them in a room together and suddenly no one is listening to the other. It’s all gnashing of teeth and nyah-nyah-nyah.



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