I saw a tweet the other day from our compadre in skepticism who specializes in monsters, Blake Smith of Monster Talk, that alerted me to the existence of The Erickson Project. It’s a sasquatch hunting project founded by a gent by the name of Adrian Erickson. On his web site, I found an FAQ page about sasquatch. The answers to the questions irked me a bit, and I felt they needed a bit of science-based commentary.
To me, it seems like it should be hard to authoritatively answer questions about a cryptid that is only hypothesized to exist (and then only by the fringe of the fringe), and of which there are no specimens; indeed no proof that it exists at all. But The Erickson Project found it quite easy. Here are their FAQs and the answers they offer:
Q: Why have there not been sasquatch bodies or bones discovered?
A: For the same reason no one discovers the body or bones of most predators that have died of natural causes. When ill or nearing death they hole up in very secluded areas, and die there. Their carcass is eaten by other predators and the remaining bones are consumed by porcupines and other rodents.
This is not true. There is no example, that I know of, of an extant animal whose remains have not been discovered in the wild. Corpses of all large land animals in North America are found frequently. Carcasses of all North American bears, mountain lions, and wild canids are found all the time, and who met their ends without humans present. Their ancestors are also known by extensive examples in the fossil record. The true expectation is that if the animal did exist, its remains would have been found many times by humans.
Q: How many sasquatch exist in North America?
A: Extremely difficult to quantify, sightings indicate sporadic populations in nearly all heavily wooded areas of Canada and the U.S. The sasquatch is known to occupy a range larger than that of the black bear. Our estimate is a minimum of 4000, and likely many more.
I do not buy that this estimate was arrived at by actually counting sasquatch, or by any other method that might give us a good count. Instead, I believe it is the result of backwards reasoning. There are science-based estimates of how many individuals you’d need for a viable breeding population. Dr. Jeff Meldrum, the closest we have to a science-based sasquatch researcher, estimates 500-750 individuals; and according to famed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, other researchers and groups put the number somewhere in four figures. 4000 is a pretty good median of these estimates. The Erickson Project is not answering the question that was asked — how many sasquatch are there — they are answering how many they think there would have to be if it did exist. This is like me saying I would have to weigh 1 ounce in order to fly holding two eagle feathers. It doesn’t make it so.
Q: Do they have their own language?
A: Yes, we believe they do. Our own experiences and those of others suggest they have language.
Certainly not unprecedented in nature. A number of species use forms of communication. Whales vocalize, insects use scents, other animals use precocious displays of colors or feathers. We know this because it’s been observed, documented, studied, reproduced, to such a degree that it is widely considered a fact of zoology.
Sasquatch language, on the other hand, has only the “belief” of believers. What few recordings exist are poorly documented anecdotes. They are inconsistent with one another, and better represent the variances expected among unrelated recordings than they do the complexities of language.
Q: Why has no sasquatch been trapped or shot?
A: The sasquatch is an extremely cunning and elusive creature.
If the lack of evidence equals evidence that it is cunning and elusive, then Sauron is similarly cunning, elusive, and extant. Unfortunately, the scientific method does not permit us to go from “We haven’t found a sasquatch” to “Therefore they exist, and have the property of elusiveness.”
…Their senses are beyond human, especially their incredible night vision.
How was this established without a specimen to examine? This cannot be logically asserted, unless they are simply designing an imaginary creature based on their own creativity. This trait is not an observation, it is merely what seems consistent with the believers’ impression of sasquatch.
…In human populated areas they operate almost strictly nocturnally.
They do? Not a single more creature has been documented to exist at night than has been documented during the day. I do not know these researchers’ opinion on the Patterson-Gimlin film, widely considered by many Bigfoot enthusiasts to be the best evidence, but it was shot during the day. This is a poorly supported supposition.
…We know of two sasquatch that were mistakenly shot by hunters decades ago. In both cases, upon discovery, the men ran off, afraid to tell anyone until many years later.
These researchers should know better than to accept such stories as if they constitute evidence. I can only repeat the old axiom “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
Q: How tall are they?
A: Our experience and those of other reports indicate a mature male ranges from seven to over nine feet tall. Females average from six to seven and a half feet tall, however it is the muscle bulk of the sasquatch that is so impressive.
I am left to wonder what method was used to sex and measure these specimens that were neither captured nor photographed. How many specimens were needed to establish these averages? These numbers may well represent good averages of anecdotal reports, but anecdotes are not data, and responsible researchers should not present them as such.
Q: Why have they never officially been studied by scientists?
A: Scientists in general are not risk-takers. Because a sasquatch is so much like a human they can be hoaxed. Scientists are afraid to make a mistake. As a result it has been safer for most of them to steer clear of the phenomenon.
It is hardly possible to be more wrong about scientists than this. Every professional researcher I know would want nothing more than to find something new and exciting. “Steering clear” of new discoveries is a good way for a scientist to lose his job; not to keep it. Scientists are not employed in the hope that they will discover nothing. A better reason that so few scientists have dedicated time to sasquatch research is that there is no good evidence that the creature exists; thus it would be a waste of resources that could be better applied to fields more likely to produce results.
There is a lot of poor evidence that sasquatch exists; but lots of poor evidence does not aggregate into good evidence. Instead, mounds of bad evidence aggregate into a pretty strong indicator that the null hypothesis is true. As I often say: You can stack cowpies as high as you want; they won’t turn into a bar of gold.
So I say, strike 6 out of 6. I’m not hostile to sasquatch research, but I am hostile toward the use of bad science to beguile the innocent into accepting your point of view. I invite the members of The Erickson Project to take another pass at answering these questions, and this time, tell us what we actually know; or if they prefer to tell us what they believe or what their hunch is, within the context of no supporting evidence, to make that clear.