Considering the beast’s locale is traditionally focused on the Pacific Northwest, that’s somewhat surprising, yet even more surprising is that these seventy-eight sightings have largely gone unreported in the media or scientific community. In fact, the scientific community doesn’t even consider Bigfoot research a legitimate branch of primatology, but rather pseudoscience (like Chinese medicine, chiropractic medicine, or astrology).
How can an animal pursued by thousands of researchers and followed by millions of viewers NOT be taken seriously? To uncover that, we have to answer a few shorter questions first.
What is science?
Boiling down the essence of science is simple. Once upon a time, humans insisted certain ideas were true, then looked for observations supporting those laws. This was pretty much a crap shoot.
Then someone (a dude named Galileo) decided to try something new: he gathered observations, looked at the observations, and then create ideas supported by those observations—his most popular discover being a solar system orbiting around the Sun rather than the Earth.
As most know, his peers met his insight with derision and hate.Labeled a heretic, he was placed under house arrest. His new method eventually became science as we know it, a method that has brought us everything from incubators in hospital NICUs to antibiotics to the very device you are now holding in your hand.
What the h— does this have to do with Bigfoot?
Oh boy. Everything.
Let’s take a look at the seventy-eight Indiana sightings of Bigfoot and the evidence these sightings present. The seventy-eight reports the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization contains on their site are spread over dozens of counties in Indiana, and the reports are divided into Class A, Class B, and Class C. The hefty sounding Class A report details an actual observation of a Bigfoot, and Class B seems to be an indirect sighting of the creature, such as unidentifiable grunting or moaning (“vocalizations” according to the site).
The problem with this evidence (anyone in law enforcement experiences this on a daily basis) is that these observations are all based on self-reporting, meaning it is substantiated only by the person making the report and people sometimes have motives other than the honest truth when making claims. Attention, delusion, greed, ignorance…you name it. Let’s look at an example.
In Indiana, Monroe County has the largest number of sightings, but their ambiguity makes them near useless.
November, 1979: Daytime sighting.
May, 1982: Three fishermen watched by “something”.
November, 1988: Man recalls his observation of a creature crossing a road….
October, 1989 or 1990: Two sisters observe creature cross the road.
Fall, 2006: Possible encounter while backpacking in the Hoosier National Forest.
March, 2009: Man hears multiple moans and sees a gray creature outside of Bloomington.
October, 2009: Loud, early morning vocalizations heard by duck hunters on Lake Monroe.
Folks, that is NOT how scientists make observations.
So why do networks like the Travel Channel, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel have entire series dedicated to Bigfoot? Just to waste our time and make money?
Yeah, folks, they’re simply trying to take advantage of people, and, to quote Don Draper, sleep very well “on beds made of money.”
What about all the scientists that believe Bigfoot exists?
Science is bloodthirsty and brutal, meaning that scientists compete with one another so dramatically that a symposium is more like the Thunderdome…with manners and coffee. Every minute of every day, scientists look for the errors, loopholes, and weaknesses in the arguments of their peers in order to tear down one conclusion in favor of another, and, consequentially, look for the weaknesses in their own conclusions as a defense against attack. What the average citizen scientist sees as a text-heavy academic journal is actually properly-cited gladiatorial combat. That might sound ridiculous, but the end result is that only the strongest survive.
It is this viciousness that allows Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to remain intact after a century-and-a-half or Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity to hold true even after a century of nit-picking. Be aware, theory in this sense means “a well-confirmed explanation of nature consistent with the scientific method” (Someone out there is going to chime in with distinctions between theories, Theories, and Laws. Yes, yes, but I want to keep this simple).
When the vast majority of scientists agree on something, that is called having a consensus. Scientists have formed a consensus on gravity, a spherical (-ish) Earth, bacteria, vaccines, and even climate change (sorry, folks, but yeah). A consensus is a big deal because working scientists are like chickens in a coop. If they see weakness or an injury on a fellow, they all fall on that weakness in a blue of sharp beaks and squawking, leaving nothing behind but bloodstained feathers. Conspiracy would require large groups working together, and believe me, scientists don’t work well together.
The “brave” scientists that take a stand against these theories are generally cheating in their use of the scientific method. If you want to continue the Thunderdome metaphor, imagine a fighter so overmatched that he or she digs a hole, escapes the dome and runs away in fear, then lies about how they overpowered their foes. “Brave” isn’t the right word.
Does that mean Bigfoot research is useless?
This is a tricky question, because no research is useless, if done in the right way, and it certainly doesn’t mean the existence of Bigfoot is impossible. It just means it is very, very, very unlikely. If faced with an actual piece of evidence—a body part, a living or dead specimen that’s intact, an untouched photo or video that withstands serious scrutiny, any good scientist would be more than willing to accept the possibility. That shouldn’t sound overly hopeful. In the centuries of Bigfoot myths, from the Native-American tales to today, not one piece of evidence has ever been placed at the feet of reputable primatologists which held water long.
What about [FILL IN THE BLANK] evidence?
I have seen two pieces of evidence that Bigfoot enthusiasts seem to tout as selling points for their theories.
The first: in 2013, ZooBank, the international organization that catalogs scientific names for living organisms assigned the Latin name Homo sapiens cognatus to Bigfoot, thereby labeling Bigfoot as a subspecies of modern humans. Very official sounding. But how about ZooBank’s official follow up to this classification?
“ZooBank and the ICZN (International Coalition on Zoological Nomenclature) do not review evidence for the legitimacy of organisms to which names are applied…”
Meaning they just type in the names. It’s up to us to decide if the animal is real or not.
The second piece of evidence is the peer-reviewed work of Melba Ketchum, a veterinarian that claimed to possess a human-primate crossbreed. Her work was published in the DeNovo Journal of Science. What might be left out is that only one issue of this journal was ever published, and this single volume contained only one study: Ketchum’s.
I could go on an on, but I don’t need to.
But what if I enjoy searching for Bigfoot?
Then I say more power to you.
If you enjoy climbing up and down hills and looking for evidence, then that’s your right as an American, as long as no one gets hurt. But understand that if you want research to be accepted by the scientific community, then you need to follow the rules of the scientific community, which are stringent, fair…and almost five centuries old.