Skeptics Support Meldrum

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 9th, 2006

Daniel Loxton

Daniel Loxton behind the scenes of a complex Junior Skeptic illustration, with his hand-made and painted Yeti head.

The following is a guest editorial blog from Daniel Loxton. Daniel Loxton is Editor of Junior Skeptic magazine. He writes and illustrates most of the Junior Skeptic issues. He has also authored a number of articles and reviews for Skeptic magazine. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

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When this news story about Dr. Meldrum’s tenure appeared, the Skeptics Society soon got an email about it from a noted skeptic from another organization. He wanted to bring the story to our attention, saying, "I’d love to see a word of support for this guy from a prominent skeptic. There shouldn’t be controversial areas of science — just controversial ways of doing science. If the guy is doing good research on a lost cause on someone else’s dime, then all the power to him."

His note got passed to me, as most crypto-stuff sent to Skeptic magazine does. I replied that I haven’t yet looked at Meldrum’s work closely enough to have any particular opinion about its quality. (I have a basic acquaintance with some of the details, of course.) Nor do I have any idea what may be involved with his tenure or any institutional disputes he might be involved in, so I can’t comment on that matter either. (Thankfully, according to Loren, there is no actual problem there.)

But my friend was entirely correct that skeptics should support and encourage responsible research on any and all topics. I sketched out a few informal thoughts about this, and thought I might pass them on here.

Bottom line: no responsible, honest researcher should ever be run out of town merely for looking into weird stuff (and "stuff" comes a lot weirder than Bigfoot, I gotta say). I can think of several reasons why skeptics should support the research of guys like Dr. Meldrum in principle (or at least the freedom to pursue such research), even as we strenuously critique it in particulars:

1) There’s the off chance they could be right. After all, you don’t have to alter physics in order for the Bigfoot hypothesis to be true — you just have to find Bigfoot. It’s plausible on the face of it, though in my view exceedingly unlikely. (I’d be delighted to be wrong about that last. As I’ve promised John Kirk, the day a Sasquatch shows up, I’ll buy the champagne. My passion for cryptozoology was my entrance point into the skeptics literature in the first place, and my heart is frankly still with it.)

(Incidentally, this "they could be right" point is just as important in regards to the kind of paranormal stuff that makes many cryptozoologists roll their eyes and groan and edge away from awkward conversations. If it surprisingly happened to be the case that aliens were invading, or that people could get reliable information about the future just by thinking, or that nice folks sometimes burst into flames for no reason, any of those things would be items of uncommon importance of which to become aware.)

2) Research into popular topics such as Bigfoot satisfies a public good: the desire to have topics of wide interest and curiosity probed and examined. In regards to Bigfoot, the crypto people are part of the equation, and skeptics are the essential other half. Looked at this way, we’re all just colleagues serving the public interest by probing issues otherwise likely to be ignored. We may play roles as adversarial advocates, but we’re all officers of the court, so to speak.

Now, skeptics hear a lot of legitimately crazy-sounding stuff (and also some stuff that’s truly, visciously criminal, I kid you not), so it’s hard sometimes for us not to lapse into testiness. Yet, we should always strive to be collegial, cooperative, and friendly toward any researcher who proceeds in good faith. (Of course.)

On the other hand, I’d add that crypto people are also sometimes less than conciliatory towards skeptics, which is really too bad all round. Ad hominem arguments are not unheard of on either side of the fence; skeptics are sometimes treated poorly for offering their own good-faith conclusions to the public record. And yet, after all, attracting a thorough, strenuously critical look at our data should be the cherished goal of anyone making a scientific claim of any stripe, including cryptozoological claims. That’s at least one very important sense in which skeptics are friends to the crypto project, and to unconventional claimants in general: we’re committed to at least look at the data no one else in academia seems all that interested in examining. (Heck, I’ve said before that cryptozoologists should themselves contribute to the skeptical press, especially when they wish to argue for the removal of a bad apple from their own data set.)

3) Research into unconventional topics such as Bigfoot provides a valuable barometer of the health of academic freedom. As long as the quality and integrity of their work is strong, we’re all better served when scientists and other academics have the freedom to re-examine existing consensus views, dig deeper into unresolved mysteries, pursue long-shots, or even waste their time flailing around on the fringes of science. (I leave it to your judgment which popular topics go under each heading.)

So, there you go. Even if there’s no real threat to his tenure, and consequently no need for anyone to rush to his defense, allow me to take this opportunity to extend my very best wishes to Dr. Meldrum — and all his colleagues — for great success in their research.

And, a toast to all those who back a dark horse!

Warmest regards, Daniel Loxton

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.


14 Responses to “Skeptics Support Meldrum”

  1. MountDesertIslander responds:

    In this modern era, I find it ironic that the new home of intolerance, adherence to strict dogma, and derision has become institutional academia.

    The scientific method was the tool that fueled the resurgence of free thought during the Renaissance. Skeptical inquiry was key to conquering the Inquisition and its enforcement of superstition and obligation to an unaccountable institution. The university was the home for free thought and discourse. Seems that the roles have become reversed.

    Anyone who hasn’t been on a major college campus recently would not comprehend the intolerance directed toward unconventional thought. Political Correctness and Secular Scientific Doctrine have become sacred. Woe to the person who dares challenge the accepted modern scripture as set out by insulated professors beholden to the preservation of their positions.

    Just as the Medieval Bishops and Cardinals were insulated from the progress of science because of their willful blindness, modern academia seems determined to make the same blunder. In order to survive into the modern era, the church had to abandon indefensible positions and adopt a less strident interpretation of doctrine. The modern university is rapidly approaching that same predicament.

  2. fuzzy responds:

    Well said ~ nice article.

  3. dharkheart responds:

    Thank you.

    Personally, I believe in many things paranormal or cryptozoological, but my first inclination is one of skepticism. I don’t accept a piece of evidence or an oral/written report simply because I have beliefs in certain areas.

    You’re correct: investigation carefully and scientifically conducted should be made into areas regardless of how outlandish or silly the stoics in academia think it may be.

  4. cabochris responds:

    Daniel made some good points! I would like to point out something to all Skeptics though. It is much easier to call yourselves Skeptics and actually be Skeptics than to be researchers of the unknown. After all, anyone can be a Skeptic! It is the safe and easy path.

    But perhaps in a strange kind of way, Skeptics help to fuel the fire of researchers? I know if I were a researcher of the unknown, Skeptics would partly drive me to discovery. Then I would take delight in rubbing Bigfoot in their faces again and again!

    Yes it is a good thing for Skeptics to approve research into the unknown. That way we all learn more and there is much to learn.

  5. DWA responds:

    These are the kinds of guys (and gals) who need to be convinced.

    And this is all to the good.

    Mr. Loxton sounds like the kind of skeptic all of us could use more of. What tips them is what should tip anybody: evidence.

    My Great Reservation on Bigfoot: how could there be all this evidence and no scientists on the bandwagon? (Although of course there are some, see Meldrum and Krantz, and some who desperately want to be, see Schaller and Goodall.)

    I’m hoping skeptics like Loxton get science to hunt down this dark horse.

    Um, ape.

  6. WVBIG_2006 responds:

    MountainDesertIslander says:”In this modern era, I find it ironic that the new home of intolerance, adherence to strict dogma, and derision has become institutional academia.

    The scientific method was the tool that fueled the resurgence of free thought during the Renaissance. Skeptical inquiry was key to conquering the Inquisition and its enforcement of superstition and obligation to an unaccountable institution. The university was the home for free thought and discourse. Seems that the roles have become reversed.

    Anyone who hasn’t been on a major college campus recently would not comprehend the intolerance directed toward unconventional thought. Political Correctness and Secular Scientific Doctrine have become sacred. Woe to the person who dares challenge the accepted modern scripture as set out by insulated professors beholden to the preservation of their positions.

    Just as the Medieval Bishops and Cardinals were insulated from the progress of science because of their willful blindness, modern academia seems determined to make the same blunder. In order to survive into the modern era, the church had to abandon indefensible positions and adopt a less strident interpretation of doctrine. The modern university is rapidly approaching that same predicament” I wonder if all of the scientists who claim not to believe in Bigfoot are truly skeptical or are just afraid of repercussions from their colleagues and/or the institutions they work for.

  7. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I agree with much of Daniel’s comments, and I have always supported the scientific pursuit of Bigfoot. It’s a shame that so little of it actually IS scientific…

    Cabochris noted that, “After all, anyone can be a Skeptic! It is the safe and easy path.” I have to wonder what s/he is talking about… that statement could not be further from the truth, and could only have come from someone unfamiliar with real skepticism.

    Skepticism and critically evaluating evidence is hard, laborious work! It is blind faith and belief that is safe and easy, such as, “I know for a fact Bigfoot exists because I saw one.”

    Effectively critiquing your (and others’) evidence and arguments is hard work!

  8. Benjamin Radford responds:

    I should add that the “martyr, maverick scientist” spiel starts to wear thin after a while. I’ve seen and heard dozens of scientists in many areas claim that mainstream science is ignoring their discoveries. Instead of admitting that there’s little good evidence to go on, these scientists blame their lack of progress and proof on lack of support from “the scientific establishment,” whatever that is.

    True, scientists may have ideological biases, but ultimately science, scientists, and research money follow where the RESULTS are. What, exactly, are scientists (real, working scientists) supposed to do with the hundreds of sighting reports, inconclusive photos, hair, and tracks, and an acclaimed Bigfoot body print later revealed to be an impression of an elk?

    For example, Meldrum spends much of his new “scientific” book, Sasquatch, examining the Patterson/Gimlin film. This is not science, this is not testable, this is historical analysis. No hard evidence can come from re-examining a film from 40 years ago. Surely Jeff must know that.

    The simple fact is that reputable scientists HAVE examined Bigfoot evidence (the Manitoba Bigfoot hair analysis last year jumps to mind). The problem is that the evidence doesn’t lead anywhere, so of course scientists aren’t eager to pursue what has historically been a clear dead end.

  9. WVBIG_2006 responds:

    Ben Radford says: “an acclaimed Bigfoot body print later revealed to be an impression of an elk?”

    If Mr. Radford is referring to the “Initial” analysis of a “Copy” of the Skookum cast reported about on “Bigfoot Forums” I’d hardly consider that case closed.

  10. DWA responds:

    “In this modern era, I find it ironic that the new home of intolerance, adherence to strict dogma, and derision has become institutional academia.”

    That, MDI, is on.

    ” …I have always supported the scientific pursuit of Bigfoot. It’s a shame that so little of it actually IS scientific…”

    That, Ben, is on. And way off.

    If there’s one thing that is really NOT scientific, and so NOT like science, it’s the arrogant (or we’re-too-busy, take yer pick) dismissal of the multi-metric-tons of evidence — much if not most of it quite susceptible to scientific analysis — for the existence of nonhuman upright hominoids. (The sheer quantity, quality and range of sightings alone — with the police-lineup consistency they display across distance and time — counts, most definitely, as evidence.) Yet there are STILL scientists saying there is virtually no evidence. Maybe if they’d lift their gaze from their obsession with the latest micro-subspecies of mouse lemur, they might change their minds.

    Sas (and kin) have indeed been done a grave disservice by the pyramid-power Newage (rhymes with Sewage) tabloid cabals that put him skating between dimensions or riding the Mother Ship in the company of Elvis. But there’s tons of other stuff to analyze fer the existence of a simple ol’ APE, ferpetesake.

    Like, for instance, the Patterson film, evidence if ever such has been seen.

    I understand why Meldrum spends so much time on it. (Haven’t bought the book, although tempted.) IT’S NEVER BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY DEBUNKED, yet the story is continually out there that it long-ago has been. No it hasn’t; Meldrum’s (and Krantz’s, among others using the scientific method) analysis indicates that

    (a) there’s no zipper and

    (b) this thing ain’t human. It’s not “grainy.”

    If a spotted skunk were in that video, you’d know what subspecies; if a species of bear no one had seen before…well, it would long since be in the scientific inventory. It’s worth reminding people that this is a clear piece of evidence, and that no one applying true scientific analysis to it has yet said otherwise. (If so, Ben, enlighten us; for such is your task, if you choose to dismiss it. Roll those sleeves up and let us see some hard work.)

    I agree with you, Ben. Skepticism is hard work.

    Debunking the Skookum cast? Exposing as fakes numerous track casts that are most definitely not fakes, so far as anyone applying the scientific method has been able to determine? Deep-sixing the P-G film?

    That, Ben, is REALLY, REALLY hard work.

    Apparently, although please do steer us straight if we’re wrong. For such is the task of the true skeptic. As you so rightly point out.

  11. DWA responds:

    I need to keep going, Ben. So many holes, one hardly knows where to start.

    “For example, Meldrum spends much of his new “scientific” book, Sasquatch, examining the Patterson/Gimlin film. This is not science, this is not testable, this is historical analysis. No hard evidence can come from re-examining a film from 40 years ago. Surely Jeff must know that.”

    Well, um, hey, Ben. What you are saying here — no, you are — is that any scientific evidence over 40 years old is no longer any good! That would mine away all the bedrock on which, well, science is pretty much based. What I said is what we want to focus on here. P-G has never, ever, been debunked. And scientists have tried. It is evidence, until the learned analyses that pronounce it genuine scientific evidence — or those that hedge, as one individual does, because although the evidence should convince him (he says), he just can’t believe something like this exists — have been counter-argued away. They have not been. The P-G film is most certainly “testable,” over and over and over again. It’s right there, man. Tell me it’s not an unknown species of primate, or tell me you can’t tell. But don’t tell me the film isn’t more than clear enough to allow the analysis to be made.

    “…an acclaimed Bigfoot body print later revealed to be an impression of an elk…”

    I presume you mean the Skookum cast, which was conclusively determined, very early on, NOT to be just that. Two tenured university-style physical anthropologists — one professor emeritus, University of Washington — have said, straight out, that it was made by a large unknown primate. No qualifier. Unless you’re in possession of evidence to the contrary.

    “The simple fact is that reputable scientists HAVE examined Bigfoot evidence (the Manitoba Bigfoot hair analysis last year jumps to mind). The problem is that the evidence doesn’t lead anywhere, so of course scientists aren’t eager to pursue what has historically been a clear dead end.”

    Right. For SOME of the evidence. As long as there’s any for which no conclusion can be made, or that hasn’t been analyzed (and there are, as I’ve said, metric tons of that), then…well, somebody needs to get off his/her duff and analyze it.

    So say George Schaller and Jane Goodall, two names before which scientists everywhere genuflect. Two scientists as scientific as scientists get.

    Skeptical? Fine. ANALYZE THE EVIDENCE. Refute the analyses that have already pronounced some of it genuine. Then rejoin our program, which will be, as always, in progress.

    Of course the pursuit of the sas isn’t as scientific as any of us would like. The reason? Too few scientists, chasing way too much evidence.

    If science has the gall to take credit for its eventual “discovery” of sas and his kin, you will be able to tell, just by smelling it, the evidence I leave. “Hmmmm. This smells like lunch, plus two fingers.”

  12. DWA responds:

    Oh heck, let’s keep going.

    MDI/WVBIG: Yup. And ain’t it a shame. Of course the behavior of few of our species is more predictable than that of the run of scientists and academicians. They just run in cycles of sitting on their haunches and proclaiming the world, finally, FLAT. Then, ROUND. Maybe we’re coming back to a FLAT cycle here.

    The only thing that leads to good science is questing. And questing some more. The sas is worth a quest, I think, even if the run of scientists don’t.

    “The simple fact is that reputable scientists HAVE examined Bigfoot evidence…”

    Well, yes, Ben. And you’ll want to mention, as I do, the ones that have found it conclusive that yep, we have an unknown ape here.

    Look, I’m not saying we do. Just that I am absolutely unaware of anything unknown that seems to be better known, is all.

    “True, scientists may have ideological biases, but ultimately science, scientists, and research money follow where the RESULTS are.”

    Hmmm. Well, then, Ben, considering all the evidence (I didn’t say scientific, can’t be scientific without scientists, can it?), I’d say that the RESULTS from sas research could be earth-shattering. (Imagine, say, the protected lands of the US and Canada, and oh what the hey, Central Asia too, being, say, tripled, quadrupled, even quintupled, based on fuller knowledge of the habits of one or more species of huge, nomadic, near-human primates, to name just one RESULT.) Compared to what could result from the discovery of these animals, one might say that most of the academic moolah being spent on primatology now is being tragically MISspent. As in, sure not directed toward RESULTS.

    Nope, we have something here that any sane scientist would want to be pursuing. And some may be champing at the bit too, but for the consequences they fear from the Sciensish Inquisition.

    Now for some sane scientists. Some sane science. Dare we hold our breath? (In a world where people still think global warming a controversial theory….? Um, maybe not, eh?)

  13. Daniel Loxton responds:

    I’m gratified by the positive response my comments have solicited. Nice to see.

    By way of clarifying postscript, I’d perhaps add that I quite agree with Ben about the current state of the Bigfoot evidence: in my considered, good-faith view, it is not at all compelling. The star cases are generally poisoned by the likelihood of hoaxing, and the mountains of secondary evidence are far, far less consistent or impressive than many people hope. In my view, there are much better explanations available.

    Now, I could be wrong — but there’s only one way to find out:

    After all these decades, the search for a body (or major part of one) seems to me the only game in town. It should be clear to everybody that the secondary evidence (films, footprints, eyewitnesses) is getting us nowhere in terms of establishing a consensus (or rather, challenging the existing mainstream consensus).

    My points in my note were about academic freedom (I’m for it), rigorous investigation of unusual claims (for that too), and respect (ditto).

    That last point is the take-home message. I quite agree that skeptics are occasionally dismissive or rude. That’s too bad — we shouldn’t be. But it is also the case that crypto folks are often only too happy to smear skeptics. That’s too bad, too. It doesn’t help.

    (Incidentally, there are very few people alive today who have done more actual cryptozoological fieldwork, on-site investigation, or honest-ta-gosh experimentation than Ben Radford and his co-author Joe Nickell — to say nothing of the kind of academic and historical sleuthing, of the type I do, that they’ve also contributed to the record.)

    Anyway, thanks again for the warm response. I appreciate it.

  14. DWA responds:

    Heck, I’m just a sucker for a good quote.

    “Either the most complex and sophisticated hoax in the history of anthropology has continued for centuries without being exposed, or the most manlike (and largest) non-human primate on earth has managed to survive in parts of North America and remains undiscovered by modern science.” – Forensic anthropologist George W. Gill, Former Director of the American Board of Forensic Anthropologists

    If I had to say: Bigfoot, yes or no? the thing that might tip me is embodied in the above paragraph. There is too much similarity among too many reports over too much time and too much space with too too many people who have never heard of each other. Nor have the vast majority of them believed it before they saw it.

    Hoax?

    That’s Incredible!




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