Cryptozoology,  Paranormal Culture,  Science and Nature,  Woo

Science and cryptozoology: The taboo subject of Bigfoot doesn’t add up

Episode 7 of Laura Krantz’ Wild Thing podcast on Bigfoot, science and society explores the contentious relationship between the orthodox scientific community and those scientists who choose to seriously explore fringe topics like this one. Several science-minded Bigfoot advocates are profiled who lament the way society and the “Ivory Tower” of science (a monolithic metaphorical straw man) treats the topic of Bigfoot as a joke or a career taboo. Why, she asks, does other “fantastical”-sounding research, like looking for life on other planets or showing that the universe may be a hologram, not receive the negative rep that Bigfoot study does? [Edit: I originally thought she mentioned wormholes and quantum mechanics so the first version of this post was different.] Well, I’m not sure that talking about a hologram universe is taken to be legit and goes unquestioned, but it’s not equivalent to the well-marketed claim of a huge human-like ape supposedly hiding behind a tree watching our forays into the woods. There is a significant difference between science on the edge and fringe ideas that purport to be scientific.

Listen to the episode here

Those who ask the question of why Bigfoot isn’t taken seriously, even those who are working as scientists, reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works and also show that they are perhaps too enamored of their own ideas, which is dangerous for anyone who should be objective and critical on a search for the best answer. This was evident in the interviews provided. 

Let’s compare a legitimately weird subject like quantum physics [note: this was not quite what she was suggesting in the podcast] and the Bigfoot hypothesis (BFH). The differences are profound and obvious:

Quantum physics is weird and hijacked by “woo” practitioners to sound sciencey. But physics research is buttressed by math, not stories. It does make sense, even if you or I can’t grasp it. BFH fails to make biological sense. The BFH actually goes against what we know about wildlife biology, ecology, and zoology. And, there is no support from the fields of evolution or paleontology. No other animal has been found to fit the pattern of the description of a bigfoot – claimed to exist around people for decades but never leaving a body part behind, not able to be clearly observed with modern technology, remained unresolved despite decades of pursuit by diligent seekers. Actively sought by hundreds of people at any time who claim to know how it lives and what it looks like, we still can not pinpoint details on its existence that are publicly accepted. The evidence is no better than it was decades ago yet more people claim to have encountered it. Something is wrong with that picture. 

In a physics experiment, you predict what will happen and you run the test to see if your prediction comes true. If we are looking for life on other planets, we can expect to find certain things that suggest life is there or used to be there. A test like this with Bigfoot – a presumed intelligent organism, should follow principles of ecology and environmental biology – that is, an animal needs a certain key number of individuals to live, eat, poop, and move around in their habitat. We should find this evidence as we do with other organisms. We know how animals manage to keep away from the human gaze yet Bigfoot apparently exceeds that capacity. It must be smarter than us in several ways to have eluded capture. Though we’ve tried to account for that by using stealth technology, Bigfoot is said to have super senses that detect sounds, odors or light that we can’t perceive. One could say it has abilities beyond what we know. This is why I refer to Bigfoot as paranormal because, if it does exist, it is beyond our current ideas of normal right here on earth. That would be VERY weird.

The cutting edge of physics or a quest to find life on other planets is still rooted in what we know to be true. These theories are supported by careful research, with the ideas tested and debated. It does not appear to break rules but to stretch those rules and suggest expansive new ideas that are logically connected to past ideas. The body of knowledge expands and spurs additional research ideas. It moves forward. It’s spooky but not supernatural. As a quantum physicist, you can always “Shut up and calculate” when your theories aren’t good enough. A zoological Bigfoot requires physical evidence to be taken seriously. Cryptozoological handwaving works on many but not on the larger scientific community.

The idea held by Bigfoot advocates that science rejects the BFH out of hand is demonstrably false. There have been several legitimate attempts to study tracks and DNA samples that have resulted in inconclusive results that have alternative explanations. Several reasonable attempts have been made to capture better evidence but have not succeeded. Had these efforts resulted in sound conclusions that formed a foundation for zoological acceptance of an unknown creature, I would not be writing this post right now. [Refer to Loxton & Prothero’s Abominable Science, Regal’s Searching for Sasquatch, and my own book Scientifical Americans for how science has examined cryptozoological questions repeatedly but found the evidence lacking to make stupendous conclusions.]

The major mischaracterization that muddles the subject of this entire Wild Thing episode is the assumption, blatantly stated by many interviewees, that the Bigfoot experience is to be explained best as an encounter with an as-yet-undocumented large, bipedal ape of flesh/blood or fur/bone. That assumption diminishes or ignores real-world conditions that make people believe they saw something they didn’t, where they make a misinterpretation or mistake either immediately or as the years go by. Those who claim to experience Bigfoot certainly did not all experience the same thing. Knowing what we know about people, eye-witnessing and memory, it’s reasonable to conclude that very few people have had a genuinely cryptozoological experience. For those people who might have, I can’t say what they experienced but the rest of us need more than a story or a track cast to buy into the BFH. 

Bigfoot information is derived almost entirely from personal accounts.

Science is generally conservative. As a whole, the community of scientists is resistant to accepting weak claims and poorly supported ideas because too many of these turn out to be wrong. If a positive signal is missed, however, chances are it will reveal itself again and be more convincing as we hone in on the subject and make better observations. The BFH has not become more convincing even though many more people are looking for those better observation opportunities. Bigfoot advocates will make excuses for this. Krantz uses an anonymous source in this episode she calls “DeepFoot” {Cringe!} who says the scientific community is not living up to standards by not asking the question about the reality of Bigfoot. He states that science has a “giant blind spot” in that “it” (strawman again) can’t see the large bipedal ape that is out there. Even Krantz is uncomfortable with this weak conspiratorial argument but can’t articulate why. It’s because that is pure nonsense. As I outline, the blind spot exists in those so in love with their idea that they fail to see the weakness in it. So, they create a bad guy to blame. DeepFoot, if science is his real job, does not exhibit credibility as a source on how science works. 

Assessing the big picture, we should expect to see evidence of Bigfoot like we see in other animals, especially considering its characteristics and travels through human-inhabited areas. We don’t. We also don’t see the BFH built on what we know is true about zoology, evolution and the environment. Unlike quantum weirdness that is explainable with math, the BFH doesn’t add up. Whatever the explanation for any particularly Bigfoot experience is, decades of attempts to better understand it hasn’t progressed very far, if at all.

I don’t begrudge Bigfoot scientists for their efforts. Such claims deserve attention and the public demands an explanation for them. Sometimes, however, an individual promotes the idea beyond the evidence and warp the idea of how science works. While facing ridicule from their peers, they still seem to like the attention from the tribe of Bigfooters. Maybe being a renowned name in a marginal field is better than entirely marginal in the mainstream workaday science world. It’s an exciting niche because something new and amazing might just be out there to find. I sympathize with their frustration but I can’t accept the excuses.

2 Comments

  • amirong

    Krantz seems to be all about rescuing the reputation of her cousin. Of the 50 million Americans who care about the Bigfoot phenomenon, 49,958,000 share her ideas. That is her market. As a result, her story is almost completely one-sided, subjective and extremely slanted, and couched in the conspiracy language that her audience wallows in.
    Then she tosses in the one-sided whiney audios from Grover Krantz and Jeff Meldrum about tenure. Of course, she doesn’t give us the other side or any factual information about what Grover Krantz and Jeff Meldrum had actually accomplished in terms of peer reviewed publications when they came up for tenure. If one looks at that objectively, one can easily argue they were initially denied tenure because their scholarly accomplishments were lacking.

    But “victimhood” is part the mentality of almost all cults and the Bigfoot “community” is no exception.

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