January 9, 2012

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

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.

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