Showing posts with label bigfoot skeptics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bigfoot skeptics. Show all posts

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is Ranae just a token skeptic? What it means to be truly skeptical about Finding Bigfoot

Ranae Holland keeping the rest of her cast members from Finding Bigfoot at bay (Photo: Neo Edwards)
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 before, including 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.

Skeptics outnumbered, unwanted

Should there be a real skeptic on the show? I’m not sure it’s truly possible in this case but it could be done better. A stronger skeptical voice would add more tension. But, unless the majority of the people on the show are skeptical, you will never get closer to the truth, but continue to just run round the woods scaring yourself. Ranae is outnumbered and a victim of contrived reality drama. I would have liked to see a more determined skeptic but the essence of this show did not provide a role for such a person except as a contrast to the others. Since they are so utterly invested in their view, it does not take much for the skeptic to appear contrary. I've heard some commentators remark she takes it too far. Skeptically minded people would say she does not take it nearly far enough.

Here is also a place where Ranae succeeds: she can empathize. This is a somewhat rare and occasionally dangerous skeptical trait. I don’t discount the stories people relate because I appreciate how very powerful personal experiences can be. If I were to have an experience with an unknown entity and not be able to figure out what happened, I would be strongly influenced by it as well. Ranae looks influenced. She is being drawn in; her critical faculties suppressed by those around her. Bigfoot has become the default explanation.

Ideally, a skeptic is dispassionate about the ultimate cause, wanting only to arrive at the answer no matter what it is. What a hard thing to manage, especially when you are attempting to be truthful and thorough only to have your days worth of work chopped up and jammed into a 40-some minute slot of entertainment. That's television for ya!

Whether there is a strong skeptical viewpoint portrayed on the show or not, EVERYONE should be critical of what's portrayed on TV. Programs are constructed, contrived, biased and wrapped up in a package to be fed to the masses. Understand that and train your brain to be more critical to wade through the hype.

Be your own skeptic. All the time. That is, if you want the answer instead of just reinforcement for your existing belief.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dr. Eugenie Scott Debunks Bigfoot and Wildmen

"I would like it (Bigfoot) to be real -- Dr. Eugenie Scott"

This is our third post regarding Bigfoot skeptics. Previously we had a post about Brian Dunning, who although skeptical, is quite sympathetic towards us Bigfooters, and we also had a post on Benjamin Radford's top ten reasons Bigfoot is Bogus.

It's important to us at Bigfoot Lunch Club to air all voices regarding Bigfoot, even if we disagree with them. We love intelligent Bigfoot skeptics, we really do. The really smart ones showcase what we, as Bigfooters, have to overcome. If they are really good, they do half of our work for us by defining challenges we may have overlooked. The good ones are worth listening to; enter Dr. Eugenie Scott.

Dr. Eugenie Scott is a physical anthropologist who defends the teaching of evolution in public schools through the National Center of Science Education (NCSF). The NCSF's mission is described in more detail below:

We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels.

Dr. Scott is also President of the Bay Area Skeptics. Founded in 1982, the Bay Area Skeptics encourages critical thinking and accuracy in the media and in our schools. They encourage rational thought and critical thinking through the use of scientific methods. They are particularly interested in such topics as claims of the paranormal, pseudoscience, and untested or poorly tested medical and psychotherapeutic practices.

In the video below Dr. Eugenie Scott represents the Bay Area Skeptics. She quickly identifies two camps of Bigfooters. In the first camp, as she describes them, are the paranormal, mystical Bigfooters that believe Bigfoot can shape shift, she quickly marginalizes them and says that is an argument for theologists. In the second camp are, as she defines them, cryptozoologist. She is critical of their lack of scientific process and ability to test their explanations. On this point we agree, we wish there was better evidence to test our explanations, its not for lack of trying. Dr. Scott does say Scientist like Dr. Jeff Meldrum are heading in the right direction.

The entire hour and half video is well worth watching, it gives us some insights into what our challenges our in seeking Bigfoot. The Table of Contents is below and you will have to click on the "Watch Full Program" in the embedded video to see the whole presentation.

Video Table of Contents:
01. Introduction: 00 min 56 sec
02. Bay Area Skeptics: 02 min 33 sec
03. Two Types of Wildmen of the Woods: 06 min 15 sec
04. Scientific Investigation of Bigfoot: 04 min 06 sec
05. Cryptozoology: 03 min 43 sec
06. Likelihood of Undiscovered Bigfoot Species: 04 min 18 sec
07. Where Bigfoot Lives: 03 min 04 sec
08. Remnants of Giant Asian Ape?: 04 min 36 sec
09. Bigfoot Prints: 08 min 49 sec
10. Existence of Orangutan: 05 min 02 sec
11. Habitat Encroachment: 00 min 35 sec
12. History of Bigfoot Sightings: 02 min 13 sec
13. Strength of Belief in Bigfoot: 00 min 36 sec
14. Bigfoot Books: 02 min 48 sec
15. Explanations for Sightings: 03 min 54 sec
16. Unreliability of Eyewitness Reports: 04 min 38 sec
17. Yeti Movie: 02 min 27 sec
18. Bluff Creek Sighting Video: 08 min 46 sec
19. Snow Walker Yeti: 06 min 32 sec
20. Camera Traps Fail to Spot Bigfoot: 03 min 34 sec
21. Analysis of Hair Samples: 05 min 21 sec

Don't forget to see the entire program click on ""Watch Full Program" in the bottom right of the embedded video.

External Links

Bay Area Skeptics
National Center for Science Education

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Countdown, 10 days of Appreciation: Day 07 Brian Dunning of

We want to spend the final days of 2010 appreciating those who have supported us this year. Three years ago, we could have never hoped for this much success. Our only goal was to search, dig and find the most topical Bigfoot news, and share it with anybody that listen. If we were lucky, we would make a modest contribution to the Bigfoot Community and find an audience. We have been more than lucky, thank you.

We will save the last day for our fans, without your tips comments and suggestions we wouldn't have the mass appeal we have. For now, we would like to recognize the skeptics. One of our favorites Brian Dunning.

Brian bruised us pretty bad in his post at the and maybe we threw the first punch. The truth is, we think that even-handed skeptics are a healthy part of the Bigfoot conversation. We have said as much last year when we presented Benjamin Radford's Top 10 Reason's Bigfoot is Bunk.

A self described Bigfoot hopeful (he explains this further by claiming the hope is based more on emotion than on any actual likelihood), Brian Dunning has made a great case against both sides of the Bigfoot debate at his site Thank you Mr.Dunning for keeping us on our toes and for being an even-handed skeptic.

Below is a great post where Brian shares the 3 worst skeptic arguments against Bigfoot. He, then, follows up with the three worst arguments for Bigfoot. See? Even-handed! Please also visit his site and listen to his podcasts (links provided at the bottom of this post)

Killing Bigfoot with Bad Science
Is anyone doing any justice to the Bigfoot claim?

Today, we're going down a dark forest path on the trail of Gigantopithecus Americanus: the North American Sasquatch.

I see many cases on both sides of the Bigfoot debate where bad arguments, bad science, and just plain weirdness is being put forth, doing great disservice to their own side of the argument. There are intelligent and productive ways to explore a subject and present a case, but I don't see it being done very often on either side of the Bigfoot debate. I'm going to present what I consider the top three ways that each side of the Bigfoot claim is shooting themselves in the foot, beginning with the skeptics.

1. Saying that the guy who confessed to making tracks disproves the entire thing.

In 2002, a Washington logger named Ray Wallace died, and his family produced the carved wooden feet that he used to make Bigfoot footprints all over the Pacific Northwest, beginning in 1958. The newspapers and TV tabloids lapped it up, reporting that the entire Bigfoot phenomenon was now proven to be a hoax perpetrated by Wallace. Well, I feel the time has come for me to come clean about something that I've wanted to get off my chest for decades. When I was a kid, I once made some fake Bigfoot footprints too. The cat's out of the bag. Bigfoot is now doubly proven to be a hoax.

Obviously, anyone who has any kind of basic understanding of research methodology can't accept Ray Wallace's story as proof that Bigfoot is a hoax. Sure, he made fake prints. So have a thousand other guys. They were doing it before Ray Wallace was born, and they're still doing it today. Anyone can be making those tracks. Anyone...

2. Saying the Patterson-Gimlin film is "the worst fake ever."

I'm not a Bigfoot believer but I will give credit where credit is due. The Patterson-Gimlin film looked like a real animal to me. The Discovery Channel's "duplication" of it looked ridiculous. It looked nothing like a real animal, and certainly didn't remotely resemble the subject shown in the Patterson-Gimlin film. Chewbacca looked more real than the Discovery Channel's Bigfoot suit. Hollywood's state of the art in gorilla suits in 1967 were Planet of the Apes and The Galileo Seven episode of Star Trek. Two loggers with no previous gorilla suit experience made a suit that was better than today's state of the art, and certainly light years ahead of the 1967 state of the art. I'm not saying the film's real, I'm saying give credit where credit is due, and admit that if it is a fake, it's astounding. If you disagree then go through a stabilized version frame-by-frame as I have.

The half dozen or so Hollywood special effects artists who have since "come forward" to claim that they were responsible for the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot suit, and the dozens of guys who have "come forward" to claim that they were the guy wearing the suit, are no more evidence against the film than Ray Wallace's wooden feet are evidence that no real Bigfoot footprints exist.

Critics of the film also say that the creature's behavior is unrealistic. I have no knowledge of what a real Bigfoot's behavior might be, but I have encountered bears half a dozen times, and they acted exactly like the Patterson-Gimlin creature: just walked away, unconcerned, with maybe only a look or two back.

3. Criticizing good scientists like Jeff Meldrum.

I've read old and new criticism of Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University, and I'm only mentioning his name in particular as one example. There are several prominent tenured professors at legitimate accredited universities who have done Bigfoot research. They are probably far, far outnumbered by professors who have done psychic or other paranormal research, but let's stick to the subject.

Dr. Meldrum is not the obsessed Bigfoot guy who lives and breathes it 24 hours a day, and exhorts his students to become believers. Rather, he has a long list of publications and edited volumes, none of which pertain to Bigfoot; he teaches six courses, none of which pertain to Bigfoot; he's an Associate Professor of Anatomy & Anthropology; he's an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Occupational and Physical Therapy; and he's the Affiliate Curator at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. He's not the Professor of Bigfoot. He carries as great a load of academic work in non-Bigfoot related studies as any professor. He's a real scientist doing real work. On top of all of this, he studies casts of Bigfoot footprints.

Dr. Meldrum is responsible for drumming up his own grant money from private donors to fund any Bigfoot research that he chooses to do. In some cases, he has received small amounts of matching funds from the university. If you feel this was a bad expenditure, then criticize the university regents who decided to write the check, don't criticize the person they gave the funds to. The work of responsible scientists like Dr. Meldrum is exactly what true skeptics should be asking the Bigfoot community for, not criticizing him for it.

Here is the way for a responsible skeptic to handle the Bigfoot claim. It's to say "You're making an extraordinary claim. Show me extraordinary evidence, and I'll believe it. Until then, I'm not convinced." Occasionally candidate evidence has come forward, like hair and stool samples, or the skull cap from Tibet. This evidence has been properly tested, and so far no new great ape species has been proven (and if I'm wrong about that, I invite your comments on the web site). A responsible skeptic's obligations do not extend to poking fun at the people who are looking for evidence, considering the lack of evidence to be proof of no evidence, or making personal comments about people. That's not good science. In some cases, Dr. Meldrum, and other scientists like him, are being better skeptics than the skeptics.

And now, I'd like to say a few words to those who mean to support Bigfoot but do themselves more harm than good with bad arguments. The wrong ways to support Bigfoot:

1. Stating that Bigfoot is an extraterrestrial, or comes to us from another dimension.

If Bigfoot claims are going to make any headway into mainstream science, it will be through zoological channels, not supernatural channels. Such claims are the most extreme form of counterproductivity, setting Bigfoot claims backwards all the way into the Dark Ages.

2. Being delusional: Seeing detailed Bigfoots in a blurry photograph that shows no such thing.

Half the Bigfoot web sites out there show numerous photographs of bushes and wooded areas, with certain areas circled. There's nothing within the circled area except other bushes; maybe a shadow, or a dark branch. But wait! Here's a detailed sketch of what's hiding inside that shadow. I'm not a psychologist so I won't presume to affix a label to this phenomenon; but seeing things in pictures that aren't there, and then obsessing over it, does not strike me as healthy. It's certainly more effective at raising concern for the claimant, than it is at convincing anyone that Bigfoot exists. If all you have is bad evidence, you're better off not presenting it.

3. Doing bad science: Seeking to support a preconceived conclusion.

Science doesn't work by starting with the goal of proving something and then assembling whatever evidence you can find that supports it. That's doing propaganda, not science. Start with a testable hypothesis, and then form a theory based on the evidence revealed by the data. Of course, following this method is going to make it pretty hard to come up with a theory that's supportive of Bigfoot, but that's what it's going to take if Bigfoot supporters hope to prove their point.

I know you're going to listen to all of this and conclude that I'm the pro-Bigfoot guy. I'll admit to being a Bigfoot hopeful (a hope based more on emotion than on any actual likelihood), but certainly not a believer. My point is simply that both sides of every debate contain a lot chaff along with the wheat. Both sides of every skeptical issue believe that they're right, but even those on the side that is right (and by that, I mean whichever side you're on) can probably stand to clean up their act a little, no matter what the issue is.

You should follow me on twitter here.

Brian Dunning

© 2006 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Alderman ,Jesse Harlan. "Bigfoot studies render academic an outcast." MSNBC. MSNBC.COM, 3 Nov. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2009.

Autumn Williams. "Bigfoot Photo and Picture Gallery.", The Legend Lives. Autumn Williams, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 18 Nov. 2009.

Daegling, David J., and Schmitt, Daniel O. "Bigfoot's Screen Test." The Skeptical Inquirer. 1 May 1999, Volume 23.3: 3.

Davis, Marlon K. "M.K. Davis' frame by frame rendition of the Patterson Film." Bigfoot Encounters. Bobbie Short, 1 Dec. 2005. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.

Eagan, Timothy. "Search for Bigfoot Outlives The Man Who Created Him." The New York Times. 3 Jan. 2003, New York Edition: Section A, page 1.

Meldrum, Jeff. Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. New York: Forge Books, 2006.

Napier, John Russel. Bigfoot: The Sasquatch and Yeti in Myth and Reality. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972.

Reference this article:
Dunning, Brian. "Killing Bigfoot with Bad Science." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 3 Dec 2006. Web. 27 Dec 2010.

Original Post Killing Bigfoot with Bad Science
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Skeptic gives Top 10 why Bigfoot does not exist.

Photo of Benjamin Radford has a slideshow provided by Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. The slideshow is the top 10 reasons Bigfoot is bogus.

Below I have paraphrased the top ten reasons below. You can see the the slideshow here and read in detail each of top ten reasons Benjamin Radford believes Bigfoot is bogus.

1.) The Empty Fossil Record.
2.) Forget Fossils, Where Are the Bodies?
3.) The breeding population would be tens of thousands.
4.) Most “evidence” are circumstantial eyewitness reports.
5.) Most photos are ambiguous, and even more recognizable ones can be faked.
6.) There no rigorous, documented, peer-reviewed evidence for Bigfoot.
7.) Bird researchers, rigorous observers and exhaustive note takers, have never spotted Bigfoot.
8.) Since the Panda 100 years ago, most new species discovered are microorganisms and insects.
9.) Virtually all the evidence either comes down to being inconclusive or a hoax.
10.) Without a body there is no standard to compare evidence to.

While the Bigfoot Lunch Club would not go as far as saying Bigfoot is bogus, we agree these are all valid challenges we Bigfooters face. It is important that we recognize and embrace these challenges. As steel sharpens steel, we appreciate opposition.

Thank you Mr. Radford for keeping us on our toes, while we try to keep on the heels of Bigfoot.

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