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Attacked by Bigfoot!!! (Well, by the BFRO)

by Brian Dunning, Jan 01 2009

I would like to turn the clock back, if I may, to a few years before I had ever heard of such a thing as skepticism, back to June of 2001. One of my responsibilities was as Technical Editor for the database publication FileMaker Advisor magazine, and I wrote a companion editorial column called Browse Mode. In one such column, I wrote about the exploits of one Bill McClintock (last name changed at his request), who used FileMaker Pro software to manage his own database of Bigfoot sightings – quite the colorful topic for a publication that could easily run on the dry side.

Tucked in the back corner of a woodworking shop in Portland, Oregon, Bill managed his database with great care and hunted for patterns in his database of reported sightings. One of his nuances (and I’ve since gathered that this is endemic in the Bigfoot community) was a virulent hatred of competing Bigfoot researchers. Of the best known Bigfoot organization, Bill said:

Organizations like BFRO (Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization) list anything and everything, no matter what joker reports it. So it’s impossible to glean anything statistically useful out of their databases.

Bill used a clever relational structure in his database that, rather than going for full data normalization, broke up different data types into different tables, permitting some innovative views. In plain English, he took all the Bigfoot characteristics like size, color, and weight, and cross referenced them with sighting information like the time of year, altitude, time of day, latitude and longitude, weather conditions, speed of movement, apparent demeanor, type of activity observed, a whole long list that I can’t begin to list. Bill’s passion was to arrange this data in myriad different ways, hoping to eventually find some conclusive prediction that could be testable: Something like “In a dry June, you can always find a Bigfoot on the shady side of a mountain eating blackberries.” It was a clever approach.

Now, my article was in no way critical of Bigfoot research, it was only about Bill’s use of the database. The only statement that could be called a jab at anyone or anything was Bill’s remark about the BFRO, which I merely quoted. The article sat for a couple of years, until one day, apparently, someone in the Bigfoot community came across it, reposted it, forwarded it around, and I fell under the microscope (not Bill, me).

First I received a couple of emails from Bigfoot aficionados, of the obscene and anonymous hotmail variety. Surprised, I went back to the old article, checked it over, and verified that it didn’t say anything inflammatory. It did not.

And then I got another email. This time it came from a little too close to home — about two miles away from my house, to be precise — and it said “I’m Matt Moneymaker, head of the BFRO.”

Somehow he interpreted my database article as a deliberate libelous attack against the BFRO. He told me to retract it and publish an apology (I did neither, of course). Simultaneously, and this was kind of entertaining, he kept me posted over the space of two or three days as my article was being discussed in committee. Evidently he and some of his BFRO associates were reviewing evidence in the jury room and passing judgement over me personally; whether I was an instigator, an obsessed anti-Bigfoot nut, just a crank, or what. The option of “merely a disinterested reporter in a database publication” never seemed to be on the table. It was like Scientologists debating what to do with a captured member of Anonymous. I inferred that I was meant to feel like I was in the holding cell waiting to learn my fate. Would it be the noose or the firing squad?

When the verdict came, it was — well, interesting. Moneymaker informed me that they had concluded I made the whole thing up, and was just a harmless prankster. And then — hold onto your socks — he invited me to meet him for a drink! In a move that will probably shock you, I politely declined.

So the next time you find yourself out in the murky woods of the northwest on a dark night with only a flickering flashlight, worry not so much about giant hairy monsters. Worry a little more about those who pursue them.

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22 Responses to “Attacked by Bigfoot!!! (Well, by the BFRO)”

  1. Cambias says:

    This points out one rather interesting and frequently overlooked aspect of the true crank: they seem to assume that they have authority, somehow. They’re forever issuing denunciations and excommunications and press releases solving world problems — as if anybody at all is interested. Which nobody is, because even the other people interested in the same crank topic are too busy issuing their own denunciations and press releases.

    Cranks deserve a lot more study from psychologists and neurologists. It would be interesting to compare an MRI scan of a crank’s brain with that of a control subject, or that of an avowed skeptic. (We might find the similarities between the skeptic and the crank rather unnerving.)

  2. kraut says:

    “We might find the similarities between the skeptic and the crank rather unnerving.”

    I am a cranky skeptic, admitted.

  3. TurboFool says:

    Kudos for still not resorting to defaming them in this article. Despite their inability to read and comprehend your article, and their outlandish reaction, you still haven’t said anything offensive about their search or their beliefs, just as you didn’t with the original article. I think that was very smart and very respectful on your part, and helps prevent them from following up later, believing you’ve justified their initial reaction.

    As for me, I’ll happily note that they’re clearly a bunch of nutcases. Although, again, I believe that more from a perspective of the way their community acts overall, and not due to their main topic of interest. After all, I have nothing conclusive with which to prove that there’s definitely no Bigfoot, so I can’t rule out the possibility with 100% certainty. That said, until they actually provide me any real evidence, I have no reason to entertain the possibility that they’re right.

  4. Matt Moneymaker is about as trustworthy and respected as Tom Biscardy (meaning not); even by many in the Bigfoot community. The few “researchers” of the subject who are worth having a drink with usually don’t bother reacting to such articles (or if they do, it is a much more positive reaction); and fewer still even interact with the rest of the community in general. The problem is, most see any critique towards anyone or any aspect of the “research” to be a personal attack. I’ve made mention of these to various “bigfooters” with mixed results. The group I interact with (M.A.B.R.C.) are generally honest enough to admit their mistakes and seem to do more of a service to their cause than most; still, I find myself more interested in why well-seasoned outdoors-men think they see Bigfoot rather than the likelihood of the creature itself. Like you said yourself once (forgive me if I misquote you), “I’m a Bigfoot hopeful”. On a side note, your most recent Skeptoid episode about ‘closed-minded believers and skeptics’ seemed better received by my “Bigfooters” than I expected.

  5. Jim Brock says:

    There are true believers of all stripes. Vide: Anthropogenic global warming. You contradict them at your own peril.

    I am SKEPTICAL about any “scientific” analysis that is exclusively reliant on the black box and does not accurately predict actual results. Particularly when it appears that we are now in a cooling phase due to the lack of sunspot activity.

    Are we supposed to be skeptical only about “intelligent design”?

  6. Iason Ouabache says:

    Aw, you should have gone for that drink with him. I’m sure it would have been a very interesting meeting. Could have gotten a couple of good stories out of it, I bet.

  7. Sprawn! says:

    I think Cambias brings up a fascinating point about Cranks in general. Whether their obsession is Bigfoot, 9/11 “Truth”, Chemtrails, or the MMR vaccine, cranks seem to have some common thread in the way they view authority. They despise authority, and at the same time want to be seen as authorities. Abusive and baseless authority seems to be a theme in their lives.

  8. GL says:

    I find it hysterically funny that the article in question would rile anyone up.

  9. SeanJJordan says:

    Prior to the Internet, such a thing never would have been able unlikely to happen since obscure articles from niche mags would have been extremely unlikely to show up in research. Plus, the Bigfoot nuts would have been a much smaller community, limited by geography, and less likely to sit around on message boards and in chat rooms or newsgroups and have “committee” meetings.

    I love the Internet for many reasons (including Brian’s awesome podcast!). But the drawback is that the people who would normally just sit at home and be fairly harmless to society are empowered by finding out that there are others out there with the same interests. This deludes them into thinking that almost EVERYONE thinks that way, except for their detractors.

    But hey… at least they make for a good story every now and then!

  10. JonA says:

    Why oh why did you not go for a drink with the guy? It would have been extremely educational!

  11. Bill says:

    mode=pedantic

    To be fair, the quote about the BFRO was in quotation marks, but didn’t have any other indicators that you were quoting McClintock’s opinion rather than interjecting your own. The ‘According to Bill,…’ or ‘, said McClintock’ tag would’ve probably saved you some grief.

    /mode

    Granted, the quotation marks alone should’ve been enough for any rational reader.
    :)

  12. Geis says:

    I’ve badmouthed Bigfoot claims several times on my blog. I wish I could get them mad at me for defaming their character.

    http://dergeis.livejournal.com/18071.html
    http://dergeis.livejournal.com/290304.html

  13. Yes, Bigfooters can be a volatile bunch (especially by email!) but so far I’ve never had reason to regret meeting any cryptozoologist for a beer. I say take him up on it next time.

  14. Cambias says:

    Sprawn!, I think “issues” with authority underlie the majority of cranks. Consider the fountainhead and patron saint of modern crankdom, Charles Fort. He apparently had a very turbulent relationship with his father, and in adulthood turned his dislike of authority against science.

    Robert Park’s seven signs of pseudoscience (described here: http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i21/21b02001.htm) are interesting because at least half of them indicate problems with “orthodox” authority.

  15. Richard Noll says:

    Could you post a link to the original article. I think I read it but would like to read it again.

  16. Jeff says:

    Yep. Similar experience to my own.

    I was asked whether or not I believed Bob Gimlin was lying about the Patterson-Gimlin Film being real. I said, yes, I thought the man was indeed fibbing. This prompted threats to shoot me and requests that I be struck by a baseball bat and set on fire. This due to my “insulting an American legend and a holy place” (the site of the film).

    I’m not kidding. It’s actually difficult for anyone to look into the subject of Bigfoot without riling up the clan of protectors of the legend.

    The cult surrounding the subject is often more interesting than the question of whether a kind of sub-human species could still exist in some inaccessible mountain areas. And since some (like Moneymaker) seem to make money off expeditions and the like, they take every comment to heart.

  17. Rick says:

    So you don’t believe in these creatures? I want it to be true, something very odd is going on if everyone is lying about what they report. I love nature and the out-doors, it would be so amazing if this were true.

  18. Alan Learned says:

    I completely agree with Rick. I have no reason to believe they exist other than by using my open mind. Skeptics are cynical by nature and gleefully display negative reactions and thought processes. There is no reason for the animals NOT to exist. Skeptic logic is no better than believing there is no God because ergo, only nuts believe He exists. Give me a break.

  19. Kahil says:

    hahahahaha… yeah, Matt has a long negative history with others. If you venture on over to the Cryptomundo website, you’ll find many comments made by Matt where he makes lots of personal attacks, backtracks on his own statements, etc.

    Oh, and his new show on Animal Planet….yeah, everything you see on there is faked.

  20. If these people really knew animal behavior they would know trampling through the woods trying to find an animal that eludes people, such as bigfoot will not be possable. you don’t smell like the woods and you can not hear like them. get ahold of me and i will tell you how to get the proof one way or the other and we can put this to rest once and for all. but you could be doing this research just for the funding and not to actually find the creature.

  21. Jolly says:

    I love this story and that it’s still up online. It is a nice summation of the bigfoot community: cranks.

  22. Craigger says:

    Yes, by virtue of this article alone I have determined that you are an unbiased observer of the domain, and simply looking for evidence. Why he was totally a crackpot to even email you! How dare his unsophisticated lower acumen even attempt to spin a logical construct with the high and mighty. What we can conclude here is:

    1. The data is irrelevant, as there is none. Please do not tell me there is any.
    2. We are thoroughly impressed with your 1982 understanding of database hierarchy.
    3. Anyone contending to possess data on Bigfoot is a crackpot
    4. High School clique tactics, bully ridicule, semantics and spin are the 5th step in the Scientific Method.
    5. You are not an enforcer as long as you are pretending to represent science. Anyone opposing your ideas is an enforcer. You have full license to spin, armchair pontificate, fake, enforce and ridicule.

    and of course, de riguere

    6. Your totally superior intellect, clearly wins again.

    Why, I do not ever have to consider this topic again.

    Debunked. Move on People.