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The $10 million Bigfoot bust

by Donald Prothero, Mar 05 2014

A few months ago, there was a big buzz of publicity for a new show on Spike TV called “The $10 Million Bigfoot Bounty”. As I described in my post shortly after it began, it was a cross between a typical competitive reality show in a rugged location (like “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race”), with a veneer of cryptozoology to give it a new twist. Originally, eight teams of two people were to compete for a $10 million bounty if they found good evidence of Bigfoot, and a $100,000 “research grant” as a consolation prize for the team that did the best even if they didn’t find  Bigfoot. The series was hosted by former “Superman” actor Dean Cain, and the judges were molecular anthropologist Dr. Todd Disotell and primatologist Natalia Reagan.

Well, the show finally aired its eighth and last episode (some of which can still be watched on the show’s website). If you were watching a few episodes and want to follow it to the end, I won’t reveal everything and spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that none of the teams were very competent, so the “winner” could have been just about any of the original groups of contestants, except for those who were so completely out of shape and unfamiliar with the woods that they dropped out after a round or two. And it should come as no surprise (since it taped last summer and there were no leaks of amazing discoveries) that no evidence of Bigfoot was found—not even close! Nobody won the $10 million bounty. Instead, the final competition hiking all around the Porcupine Mountains State Park on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan hinged on whether one of the two teams didn’t bicker all the time—since the “evidence” both teams obtained was worthless. In the teaser for the episode, Disotell says they each got primate DNA! And then, after commercial, he finishes his sentence and says that it was human DNA (probably from the “hunters” themselves). Continue reading…

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Bigfoot meets “Reality” TV

by Donald Prothero, Jan 13 2014

I can just see it now: Mike Riley and his production team, veterans of previous “reality” TV  shows such as “Yukon Men,” “Cram”, “Tool Academy”, and many others, are brainstorming ideas for another new show. Several new Bigfoot shows have just aired on basic cable TV, so someone says “Why don’t we combine ‘Survivor’ with Bigfoot?”  I’m sure something along these lines occurred: take a classic “reality” TV format, the competition show between individuals or teams (such as “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race”), and give them a new pop-culture task to perform: finding Bigfoot. This, in a nutshell, is what Spike TV’s new show “The $10 Million Bigfoot Bounty” (first aired on Jan. 10) is all about.

Just like the format of other competition “reality” TV shows, they have 9 teams of 2 people told to perform a difficult task: seeking evidence of Bigfoot in the woods of Washington and California. Each week another team is eliminated for failing to come up with something, and the race gets tougher. If any contestant comes up with good evidence of Bigfoot, they win the $10 million prize. During each episode, they follow a standard format: some sort of competition to see if they have the “skills” to do the job, and then a night search for “evidence of Bigfoot”—plus the usual footage of the contestants at the beginning and end of each competition, and a final “elimination” segment when they milk the “who gets kicked out?” storyline for the maximum amount of drama. They follow all the stereotypical conventions of this genre: spooky music, lots of reaction shots of contestants under stress, big pause before they announce the loser then cut to a long commercial break before the reveal, etc. And, like any reality show, lots of footage of the contestants arguing and bickering with each other, saying stupid things, and just plain making fools of themselves in front of millions of viewers. (Word of advice: pre-record the show and watch it later with your remote control. Almost half the time is killed by obnoxious advertisements).

Continue reading…

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Hoaxed Bigfoot Bodies Floating at the Disreputable Low End of Bigfootery

by Daniel Loxton, Jan 07 2014

Have you heard that Bigfooters finally have the proof we’ve been waiting for? At long last, after half a century of hunting, they have finally gotten their hands on a really seriously genuine Bigfoot body—again! And by astonishing coincidence, this totally completely real Bigfoot body is being offered up to the media by one of the exact same guys who gave us the previous totally real “Georgia Bigfoot” body, way back in the storied yesteryear of 2008. That case was a hoax. As the hoaxers explained, the 2008 “body” was really a costume stuffed with roadkill.

“It’s just a big hoax, a big joke,” said car salesman Rick Dyer. Dyer told Channel 2 he never intended to put it across as the real deal. “It’s bigfoot. Bigfoot doesn’t exist,” he said.

Now that same hoaxer is now back, making headlines with the claim that he shot and killed another Bigfoot. “I’m going to go down in history as the best Bigfoot tracker in the world,” he boasts—and for some reason we’re talking about it.

Make no mistake, there is a disreputable basement level to Bigfootery, and this is it. I said as much when my Abominable Science! co-author Don Prothero wrote to me a couple of days ago to ask if we should put up a post about it. “It’s really the lowest end of Bigfoot beeswax,” I replied. “I kinda hate to publicize it. I don’t think I’ll bother writing it up at this point.”

Thing is, I’m fond of cryptozoology. I’m really only interested in dealing with the better cases and the more serious practitioners. I think cryptozoologists are mistaken, but that does not mean that I want cryptozoology presented as a complete circus. To that end, for example, I made a conscious choice years ago not to record and use the many interpersonal feuds and slurs that Bigfooters hurl at each other, even though they’ve cooked up some real humdingers. It’s not my job to make monster-hunters appear ridiculous, but to attempt in good faith to find out what’s true. Continue reading…

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The Paranormal is Normal

by Donald Prothero, Nov 27 2013

For our new book on cryptozoology, Daniel Loxton and I delved deeply into the psychology of those who believe in Bigfoot and Nessie and the rest. What about these people who believe in cryptids? What can we say beyond the anecdotal descriptions of the Bigfoot subculture that I discussed in my August 28 post? There are actually large-scale rigorous studies that have been done to see what the population as a whole, and what kinds of people in particular, think about paranormal topics. The most famous is the Baylor Religious Survey, a huge data set of multiple choice questions collected almost each year since 2005, which looks not only at beliefs, but also at the demographic data behind them. If you look for the questions that mention cryptids like Nessie and Bigfoot, you can get a sense of how widely these ideas are held in the sample of hundreds of people included in the survey. For example, about 17% of the people in the sample agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster will one day be discovered by science,” while about 56% disagreed or strongly disagreed (27% were undecided). About 20% said “yes” to the question: Have you ever read a book, consulted a Web site, or researched the following topics: Mysterious animals, such as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster? The highest percentage of those people who agreed with cryptozoological ideas were young (18-30) single white males with only a high-school education or less, lower incomes, but who do not tend to be very religious, either.

In their book Paranormal America, Bader et al. (2011) point out that belief in the paranormal is held by about two-thirds of Americans, and the average American holds at least two paranormal ideas to be true. In other words, most Americans believe in the paranormal, making it the norm in our culture. The skeptics and non-believers are the minority, the “abnormal ones”.

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Sham Science

by Donald Prothero, Oct 30 2013

In a previous post, I discussed the saga of the infamous “Bigfoot DNA” study by Melba Ketchum, a Texas veterinarian and staunch believer in Bigfoot. There was lots of gossip about it in the cryptozoology community for several years, then it was officially announced to the press (long before any supporting evidence was published) last fall. When it was finally “published” last spring, it was raised all sorts of red flags with the absurd claims that her Bigfoot samples were uncontaminated (yet all the evidence showed that it was), the lack of evidence that the hairs and tissues truly could be proven to come from Bigfoot, and the claim that Bigfoot was some sort of weird hybrid between modern humans and prehistoric populations. The study was highly suspect, because Ketchum self-published it in an online journal that she secretly owned, and there was no peer review. Her samples were finally analyzed by an independent genetics lab last summer, and the results were clear: her original analysis was completely incompetent, and she made all sorts of fundamental mistakes and false assumptions that no well-trained geneticist would make. After all that fanfare, her specimens  only showed a mix of  modern human hairs and tissues, along with those of other North American mammals, especially opossums.

Sharon Hill has pointed out that lots of pseudoscientists and followers of the paranormal try to act “sciencey”, or practice what she called “sham science”: they mimic the trappings of science (white lab coats, fancy lab equipment and glassware, exotic toys like night-vision goggles and camera traps), yet the fail to follow the basic methods of science. They are akin to the “cargo cults” in Polynesia at the end of World War II, whose islands became military bases and airstrips in service of the war effort. When the war ended and the military left, the islanders built imitation wooden  “airplanes”, “control towers” and even “radio masts”, thinking that if they reproduced the shape of these objects, they would magically bring back the military planes and all their cargo full of goodies. In the case of cryptozoology, there are many instances where these pseudoscientists fail to follow the basic methods of science, but the most obvious is that if an object is not yet explained, it is not necessarily paranormal!  The basic assumption in science is that the unexplained is not unexplainable, just not yet fully explained—but eventually these unexplained phenomena are explained by natural processes. We see this every time another object is claimed to be “Bigfoot hair” (rather than just hair that is not yet identified) or an image is touted as “an unexplained black shape that may be Bigfoot” (rather than “an unexplained black shape whose identity cannot be determined”). They jump to the conclusion and assume what is to be proved, rather than following the scientific method and reserving judgment until something is fully investigated. When they hear a strange sight or sound, they say “It’s Bigfoot!”, when the scientist would say “What is it? Let’s investigate all the possibilities.”

The same is true of creationists, who argue that if science hasn’t explained something yet (at least to their satisfaction), then it can’t be explained, and therefore God did it (the “God of the gaps” argument). They never seem to realize that as science explains more and more, their God becomes less and less useful, and the argument is ultimately a loser–as well as being unscientific. Continue reading…

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Abominable Science! Prompts Bigfooters to Begin Homework They Should Have Done More Than 50 Years Ago

by Daniel Loxton, Oct 28 2013
Cryptomundo-screencap

Cryptomundo reveals first known photograph of pivotal early Sasquatch witness William Roe—a face never before published in the Bigfoot literature

Bigfoot Times newsletter editor Daniel Perez has embraced Abominable Science!, my cryptozoology book with Don Prothero, as a welcome corrective—a useful opportunity for the community of interested scholars to critically reevaluate the conceptual underpinnings, methodological challenges, and case studies of the cryptozoological field, and to make the improvements to cryptozoology’s rigor and responsibility needed to bring it closer to its scientific aspirations.

No, just kidding. Perez hates, hates, hates Abominable Science!, commenting at Amazon.com, “my review was one star…. Had there been an option for NO stars, Loxton and Prothero would have surely gotten nothing for stars.” (See his full review here, and my response here.)

Continue reading…

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Cryptozoologists: just like creationists

by Donald Prothero, Oct 02 2013

When our new book, Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids, came out at TAM last July, Daniel and I were both wondering what kind of response we would get from the cryptozoology community. Daniel is always more optimistic about people than I am. He felt that at least some cryptozoologists attempt to follow the scientific method and want to be taken seriously as scientists, and they would give the book a fair hearing despite the mountains of evidence we compiled that demolishes their ideas. My expectation was a bit different. My hide is scarred by 40 years of battling creationists, and I’ve seen how facts and evidence and logic don’t matter to people when a skeptic challenges a belief that they hold deeply and which gives them meaning in their lives. We never made a formal bet on the outcome, but it’s been interesting now in the three months since the book has been out what kind of response it has received.

As expected, we got great reviews from the mainstream media and even from some high-profile scientific journals, like Nature, so we knew the book was properly focused and was effective for the general audience. (So far, we have 23 five-star and four-star reviews on its Amazon.com site, and only 5 one-star reviews from cryptozoologists). We even got a couple of half-decent or at least non-condemning reviews from some prominent cryptozoologists, and it was publicized on their websites such as www.cryptomundo.com, giving the cryptozoology community plenty of chance to notice it. But as I expected, more of the reviews from the cryptozoologists have been nasty, unfair, and full of venom, some of which Daniel has addressed in posts about Daniel Perez’s and Bill Munn’s attack on our treatment of Bigfoot, and Roland Watson’s attack on our demolition of the Loch Ness monster myth. Continue reading…

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Bigfoot Times Denounces Abominable Science

by Daniel Loxton, Sep 05 2013

Bigfoot Times coverAbominable Science! was the work of several intense years, so you won’t be surprised to hear that its warm reception by media from The Wall Street Journal to Nature is very exciting to me. It may surprise you slightly more to hear that I looked forward with particular interest to the review of Abominable Science! in an altogether smaller, niche publication: the Bigfoot Times newsletter.

It’s appropriate and welcome that the Bigfoot Times should take a crack at a critical review of the book; after all, Don Prothero and I offer a fairly robust critique of cryptozoology (certainly a critique offered in good faith). I was hopeful that they and other cryptozoology proponents would weigh in with substantial contributions about what they see as the merits and roadmap for future development for cryptozoology, while also giving serious, honest consideration of some of the deep problems with the field.
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Bigfoot DNA? It’s Playing Possum!

by Donald Prothero, Jul 10 2013

I’m on my way to The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas as this posts, but I wanted to write this as an addendum to our just-published book on cryptozoology, Abominable Science! (available at TAM this weekend, and on Amazon.com). Daniel Loxton and I will both be at TAM if you want to get a copy autographed by both authors.

Last February, the news and blogosphere was buzzing with excitement. Someone had claimed that they had sequenced the DNA of Bigfoot! Naturally, such a sensational story was reported all over the internet and even the mainstream media as if it were solid, confirmed research. If there was any skepticism displayed, it was at the very end of a story that mostly gave the claim uncritical coverage. A number of mainstream scientists and skeptics wrote critical blogs and articles about the way the discovery was announced and the fact that it was announced without a publication backing it up, but everyone had to reserve judgment until the paper was actually published—and even more importantly, when the results were double-checked by an independent lab.

There were lots of reason for doubting the reality of the report. To start with, the researcher, Dr. Melba Ketchum (a long-term Bigfoot advocate, so she is no neutral  party) did one of the worst possible things to convince scientists: she put out a press release before any peer-reviewed scientific publication of results. This always makes scientists suspicious, because it is a common strategy among less reputable researchers to get the press to cover substandard or even ridiculous research before scientists could weigh in.

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Quick Bigfoot DNA Update

by Daniel Loxton, Feb 14 2013

The internet was buzzing yesterday with the long-anticipated1 release of a paper purporting to present DNA evidence that “conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendent of modern humans.”2 With DNA sourced, according to the paper, from among “One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens,” this is the most prominent Sasquatch DNA case to date.

Full expert review of the team’s data and methods should emerge in the coming days. In the meantime, science writers identified several serious red flags within hours of the paper’s release.

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