A new book is out about the study of legendary hidden animals -- Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Mokele Mbembe -- and it's getting positive attention from science outlets. Surprising? Not really. Cryptozoology is a fascinating topic that many of us can't help but enjoy. We love the ideas of monsters still out there in the shadows or deep under water. While the likelihood is that Bigfoot and his fellow cryptid creatures are not actually as they are portrayed in pop culture, cryptozoology is a social phenomenon worthy of attention.
The book, Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie and other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero is very different than other monster books. You can get an idea about the quality of the volume from the reviews by Nature, the Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, Discover magazine, etc. here. They liked the book. It's beautifully produced, level-headed, readable, and chock-full of fine scholarship with references to original sources.
Who didn't like the book? Bigfooters.
Why didn't they like it? Because it effectively poked holes in their beloved idea of Bigfoot reality. It clearly made the case that the current practice of popular cryptozoology is a cheap imitation of science. This book is a challenge to their structure. One reviewer even demanded to the publisher that the book be withdrawn! Another panned the book based on a few chapters and a few possible errors without clear indication he read the rest. Comments berating him for that were met with the response from the peanut gallery: "Why should I read this book? I know what the nonbeliever skeptics say." Talk about closed-mindedness! (I have talked about that before, this was a blatant example.) They respond with condescension and name calling as well (referring to skeptics as "scoftics") instead of pointing out the disagreements and providing counter references in defense. Maybe it's because they don't have a defense. It's been over 50 years. We still have no proof of Bigfoot in the bag. That's got to be embarrassing. But, wow, did they throw a hissy fit about it. This book hit a nerve and Loxton and Prothero should be proud.
Bigfootery these days is extremely unscientific, resembling a religion in more ways than one. There are the priests and the saints (the TV Squatchers, the authors, and few scientists and advocates who promote the cause), there are relics (footprints, hair samples, etc), there is cryptozoological canon (the Patterson-Gimlin film, certain books by experts now deceased) but most of all there are followers with faith. Bigfooters have experiences that they attribute by default to their monster of choice - they hear tree knocking and vocalizations, they have stones thrown at them, they find tree structures and broken limbs that they interpret as a form of communication. Some say there are habituation sites where Bigfoots repeatedly visit and accept food from human neighbors.
If that sounds like convincing evidence to you, pause a moment.
Those are all stories and interpretation of observations based on wishful thinking. We have never found solid evidence of a Bigfoot. Tracks, traces, anecdotes... shouldn't there be MORE than that? Individuals have different ideas about what evidence is convincing to them. My bar is set much higher in response to this particular claim due to its implausible nature. This is why scientist are not too interested in cryptid-hunting. The evidence is weak and explainable through other means. It's extreme to think that if there was a new ape out there to find in North America that, first, we would not already have found it decades ago, and, second, that scientists would not be falling over themselves trying to study it.
When critical thinkers approach the subject of Bigfoot (or cryptozoology in general) with a focus on the evidence, they are met with reproach. We are challenging much more than the claim; we challenge their belief. They will resort to what Biblical literalists will do to evolutionists - they demonize, call us names, misquote, pick at small mistakes, and take words and ideas out of context. They create an extreme position and shoot it down (called a "straw man" argument) because it's a power play to make them feel superior. (Note that some aggressive "skeptics" will do that and it's not fair play in that case either.) All the while, they skirt the MAJOR flaws in their own conclusions.
Bigfoot-themed and other cryptozoology blogs and forums are typically hostile to skeptics, even moderate ones like myself. They can't understand why we even want to participate since we are going to "deny" everything. Gee, sorry for being interested in the topic and in getting a good answer for peoples' experiences. Questioning is not denying, it's thinking.
One popular Bigfoot blog posts every crazy claim or video under the heading "Bigfoot Evidence". They get hits regardless that the content can be outwardly sexist and rude and crude comments are allowed. Those that contribute to this site are considered Bigfoot "experts" even though their qualifications are shallow and questionable. Their information comes from one side only and they won't acknowledge skeptical input unless they have an opportunity to mock it. (The exact same methods are used on other paranormal sites that refuse to acknowledge critical pieces about their pet topics. Hmm... cowardly? Yes. And, I would add, intellectually dishonest.) It's seen to be more profitable, socially and economically, to be a Bigfoot believer than a scientific skeptic. While I'd like that to change, I don't think it will.
We have every reason to question the Bigfoot evidence out there. It's not good, it's flimsy. Oh, sure, a hundred people will chime in and disagree. I expect that. Just like Loxton and Prothero expected huge pushback from the Bigfoot community. Predictably, that's what they got. These outraged commentators provide nothing new or convincing. Just like the tired old arguments in favor of Creationism, Bigfooters have their go-to tales and favorite examples. Why have these theories not been supported by stronger evidence over time? The field has not advanced, except in public popularity. Bigfoot is an icon, a commodity. But it's still not a valid animal.
Are you on the fence about Bigfoot, just curious about the topic? Want a great example of solid research written in an entertaining fashion? Pick up a copy of Abominable Science and weigh that against what you see on TV and on the pro-Bigfoot internet sites. Note the tone, language and quality of arguments of each circle. Observe the difference between examining the evidence of the subject and having faith in it. There is a HUGE and obvious gap.
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