Here’s why, part 3: Bigfoot and related

I haven’t followed through on this category of posts for a while, and now is as good a time as any, so let’s delve into why science doesn’t take Bigfoot/Yeti/Skunk Ape et al seriously. And while I focused on the giant humanoid accounts here, a lot of this will be equally applicable to other cryptids such as the Loch Ness Monster and Chupacabra and so on. So let’s see, where to begin?

Basic biology. In order for any species to keep going, it needs a population, a larger number of individuals to breed with in order to prevent the genetic crashes of inbreeding; this is a constant vigil of biologists among endangered species, because once a population drops too low, it’s likely doomed without intervention. Low populations also make a species susceptible to even minor climate and environmental changes, viruses, habitat loss, and so on – it becomes a knife edge situation. There’s also the question of food sources of an appropriate type to sustain massive humanoids with, for instance, the protein demands of a large-brained species. What, exactly, is this supposed to be, especially among the Himalayan counterparts which have extremely limited plant life available for at least six months out of every year, which means the other critters that might form part of a food chain also have nothing to eat at those times (which is where the idea of hibernation came from in the first place.)

Then we have the anatomy. An upright stance evolved for active hunting purposes, running down ungulates across a prairie; compare a gorilla skeleton against a human one to see the drastic differences from a sedentary, largely herbivorous primate settled deep within an extremely lush environment. Humans maintained their active, running-hunter existence until very recently (especially in the Americas,) when farming and domestication of stock animals could fill in, something that no humanoid cryptid is claimed to be capable of, and we’ll touch on this aspect in a moment.

Traces. For all of the stories, we have shit-all in the way of evidence: no distinct remains, no shelters or sleeping areas, no paths, no tools, no feces, no evidence of food foraging (much less hunting, and forget about fire usage) – add anything you like to the list, because we don’t have that either. Game trail cameras turn up nothing. Cleared woods turn up nothing. We don’t even have a tooth, and they last an incredibly long time (as I can attest personally, having found teeth from both Native Americans and a long extinct ungulate species with only casual efforts.) Somehow, the only thing we have are sporadic eyewitness accounts and the occasional shitty pic or film clip. How can that be possible?

Except, of course, the footprints, or to be more specific, the casts thereof. And they’re all the same, aren’t they? No smaller/female/child examples, no partial prints, no running prints, no wounded prints. Next time you’re at a beach (or running around barefoot in semi-soft mud,) examine your footprints. Are they all nice and neat, full foot flat impressions? No digging, no twisting, no pronation, no toe spread, no forefoot only? You see, that’s what real footprints are like, because feet flex and twist. What we have as evidence of these giant humanoids are only what someone that hasn’t a clue about real footprints would imagine a footprint to always look like…

Folklore. We have accounts, the world over, of mysterious humanoids, and the list is remarkably long. About the only thing they have in common is two arms, two legs, and a head – all else is up for grabs, including size, hairiness, capabilities, habitat, and so on (and note how this even holds true for supposed aliens, despite the idea that they wouldn’t have the same ancestral stock that would have sparked that body plan in the first place.) Virtually all of the gods, the demons, and the spirits are humanoid. Also worth noting is that, by a wide margin, human shapes fill our nightmares more than anything else, widely reflected in the bulk of horror films and even in the creation of Slender Man (and note how very recent this is, with a firmly-documented origin, and then the disturbing number of people who consider this potentially real.) We have a tendency to not only see humanoids everywhere, but to find them the most threatening as well, a very telling trait.

One can point to the various Native American accounts/legends that supposedly give support to the North American Sasquatch, but examination shows that they differ drastically in size and appearance and locale. Moreover, Native American folklore has stories for just about everything, from the origins of landmarks to the spirits that inhabit or guide all of the animal species they encountered – and these all varied widely between tribes, as well. These can be considered ‘evidence’ only with a great deal of selectivity; no rational criteria can be applied that would not then also allow stories about pixies, dragons, giants, leprechauns, cyclops, and a few thousand other legends to be considered evidence. Not to mention that we actually have good documentation of when the Bigfoot stories began to be popular in the US.

Media. It’s surprising how few people understand that media exists to make money, and while the more reputable news sources at least try to avoid lawsuits, they still have no issues with presenting things selectively and with a bias towards what’s going to be more popular, which often is synonymous with ‘controversial.’ They’re under no obligations whatsoever, and thus have no reason to seek a consensus on whether their interview subject is a loon or not, much less that they have no clue what a mountain lion sounds like. Are they gonna diminish the impact of their story by finding a podiatrist that can ascertain quite firmly that this is not a real footprint? Why, when the lack thereof will produce more witnesses and accounts of some shadowy figure seen fifteen years ago? And the bandwagon effect is quite distinctive, both from other media outlets and from members of the public, because we adore our stories. There are times when there was an explosion of new books regarding Bigfoot, not from a huge upsurge in sightings, but because they sold well. Most of them repeated the exact same stories, often decades old. The funniest ones combined all of the most popular folklore and beliefs all together, tying humanoids into pyramids, UFOs, and the Bermuda Triangle (I’m perfectly serious.) And if you have any doubts about either media skewing perception, or our overriding desire to retain favored concepts, you should know that the Bermuda Triangle was entirely created with a handful of magazine articles, which were effectively blasted as nonsense by a book only a few years later, this being 1972. That took care of that silly idea, didn’t it?

Ancestry. While some dates remain in dispute, we still have more than adequate evidence that humans first populated the American continents between fifteen and twenty thousand years ago – and by that time, they were full, modern humans: tools and fire had been in routine use for perhaps over a million years by then, while we were still different species. And no, the various Sasquatch/Yeti descriptions don’t even come close to Neanderthals, either; in fact, they come close to no species of hominin ever found. So when did they split off, and how did they evolve so quickly? Moreover, why did they evolve into giant, slow, lumbering bipeds in an environment far more suited to agility, nomadism, and tribal cooperation? There remains a slim chance that, given a much longer history in Asia and colder conditions, that something vaguely like that kind of body plan could evolve, though our evidence and simple biology show that shorter, thicker torsos are much better at conserving heat and making the most out of available food. But there yet remains no evidence of their lineage, and/or an apparent very rapid development into the typical description. Note that in hominin history, body fur evolved away in the interests of shedding heat on the savannah, some millions of years ago, and despite the cold climate across most of Asia and the Siberian land bridge, the route that the American peoples took to populate the Western Hemisphere, this fur cover never came back; we made do with clothes instead. Except, somehow, for this one curious species…

Additionally, by the time of this migration into the western hemisphere, humans were making tools, building shelters, making fires, farming, creating artworks, and certainly had more than a rudimentary language – but all of that is supposed to have vanished for a closely-related species? How, and more importantly, why? All of these were the factors that assured our competition and survival, that catapulted us into our advancements as a species; losing any one of them could easily spell extinction, and lacking all of them would almost guarantee being wiped out (intentionally or consequentially) by the humans that still retained them.

Possibilities versus Probabilities. Most of those who favor and support the idea of the various humanoids are quick to wield that it could be possible, often followed by something like, “science doesn’t know everything.” But that’s resorting to wishful thinking, pure and simple, which is something that most scientists have steered away from. Instead, it’s the weight of the evidence (shitty pictures and plaster casts) and the probability of such a species yet remaining unknown, by example, remains, or spoor, that guide their focus. Weighing all of the factors above (and more not listed, such as the power of suggestion, the gullibility of people, the poor track record of observations, and of course the wishful thinking just mentioned,) the chances of such reports being anywhere near accurate drop abysmally low. If there’s one thing that’s almost universal in science, it’s the emphasis on reasonable expectations and the avoidance of biasing one’s certainty with emotions or, “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” ideas.

Naturalists, biologists, paleontologists, and any other professionals who might still have the faintest interest in researching a new class of hominin don’t just do whatever they want; they have bills to pay, just like everyone else, as well as research projects often well in hand. Far too many of them struggle to obtain funding for studies of known benefit and return to even consider chasing little more than rumors, out of their own pockets as well. Plus, where would any research begin? The most anyone has pinned down for a locale to start within are regions like, “the Pacific Northwest,” or, “the Himalayas.” And when was the last report of a sighting anyway?

Species research starts with gathering as much info as possible: frequency/location/currency of sightings, the collection of physical evidence, and the knowledge of habitat/habits/food. With this, researchers can then place trail cameras or mount expeditions to prime locales and see how much more evidence can be obtained. Most of these we don’t have, and what we do is so sporadic and separated by such vast distances that there’s no pattern to discern, and thus no place to begin. It’d be a fool’s errand to even propose research with that kind of background info.

Nothing is stopping the independent investigator, of course – anyone is welcome to do their own research, since it’s not like getting evidence of a land-based mammal takes special training or equipment. Maybe someday we’ll even find a witness that can follow their departing quarry, or some elaborate technique of that nature. Naturally, it would help if anyone inclined to such pursuits gained at least a little familiarity with the common species that inhabit the same region, so we don’t have screech owl calls and raccoon hair brought back triumphantly as ‘evidence,’ but since what we’d really like to see would be clear, steady, focused images or, even better, some decent remains, the bar is not set impossibly high here. By all means, go for it.

As for scientific investigation? It’s probably going to remain more focused on research that is not rife with inconsistencies, improbabilities, and a dearth of unambiguous evidence; stories are far too easy to come by and have a poor track record of reliability. That’s just the way it is.