Animal Planet’s “Monster Week” begins this Sunday, and AiPT! Science has decided to join in on the fun, with a slightly more skeptical viewpoint. Click the “MW2018” tag down below for more, all week!
We asked cryptozoological investigator Benjamin Radford for his thoughts on the big milestone that’s kicking it all off. Here’s what he had to say.
This Sunday, cable channel Animal Planet will air the 100th and final episode of Finding Bigfoot, a show documenting a group of people not finding Bigfoot. It’s not everyday that a television show whose premise and title is self-evidently flawed gets a chance to be celebrated, and I thought it was a good time to reflect on the elusive man-beast it references.
I found a relevant quote several years ago in the Mütter Museum of anatomical and physical anomalies in Philadelphia. Written by pioneering medical investigator Stubbins Ffirth in 1804 and displayed now on a pamphlet, it said, “The interests of truth have nothing to apprehend from the keenness of investigation, and the utmost severity of human judgment.”
Though the language is from 200 years ago, the message remains relevant: no theory, no bit of evidence, no argument should be immune from critical examination. Dogma hides truth, while open debate helps expose it.
I Know what I Saw!
If you’ve seen Finding Bigfoot at any point over the past nine seasons, you know that cryptozoologists and the monster-enthused public deserve better than this pseudo-investigation. They deserve a fair hearing of all the evidence and arguments. Cryptozoology should not be about advocacy or faith; it should not be about mystery-mongering nor debunking.
Cryptozoology should be about getting to the truth of what remains undiscovered. Skeptic and proponent alike need to let the mistakes, hoaxes, false theories and faulty arguments fall by the wayside, so we can get on with the real business at hand: searching for Bigfoot.
Could Bigfoot exist? Absolutely. Anything is possible. But it’s also the wrong question. The question is not what is possible, but instead what is probable — in other words, what the evidence supports. Bigfoot is a convenient, culturally-understood categorization for “an unidentified large, hairy, bipedal creature.” Bigfoot is not an identification; it’s a label for an experience.
When someone says, “I saw Bigfoot” they mean, “I saw something I couldn’t identify that seemed to fit the cultural parameters and narrative for what we call Bigfoot.” They’re describing a label for a specific experience, and experiences have many inherent sources of error.
Skeptics are often accused of being debunking know-it-alls, claiming to have all the answers. I’ve found exactly the opposite to be true. As a skeptic, I don’t know if Bigfoot exists or not. But the believers do! They know for a fact Bigfoot exists because they saw one.
Many believers on Finding Bigfoot claim an amazing certainty that can only come from faith instead of evidence. I usually assume witnesses are telling me the truth, but I have to ask the simple question: How do you know what you saw was a Bigfoot? How is it that you are so much smarter than other people, that you can’t be wrong? Your vision is perfect, you don’t make the perceptual mistakes that plague the rest of us. You don’t misunderstand things. How arrogant is that?
In many cases it is not skeptics who dismiss eyewitnesses, it is eyewitnesses who dismiss the possibility they were mistaken. I have a background in psychology, and study after study has shown that humans misunderstand, misperceive, and misremember things all the time.
Yet, remarkably, eyewitnesses are often absolutely certain. I hope that if I’m ever the victim of a crime in public, it’s at a Bigfoot convention, because Bigfoot eyewitnesses are apparently far more reliable than the average person.
Enormous time, money and energy has been spent trying to find Bigfoot. Today we have more eyewitness testimony than ever before. We have more footprints than ever before. We have more photographs and videotapes and film footage than at any other time in history.
The problem is not that we don’t have enough evidence, the problem is that the evidence is inconclusive at best. And, of course, it doesn’t help that the gold standard for Bigfoot evidence dates back to the Lyndon Johnson administration.
The More Things Change
Decades ago, the best evidence for these monsters were low quality photos. The best and most famous image of a Bigfoot is the short film taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. Shot in Bluff Creek, Calif., it shows a dark, humanlike creature striding through a clearing. Widely considered a hoax, it remains to this day the best evidence for Bigfoot.
This poses a serious blow to the film’s credibility, and to that of Bigfoot in general — if it’s real, and these creatures are really out there wandering in front of people with cameras, why haven’t better films and videos emerged in the past half-century?
Both still and video cameras have become much higher quality and much cheaper over the past two decades. It used to be that professional and semi-professional cameras were needed to take high-quality photographs. Anyone could take a blurry, Disneyland vacation photo with a pocket camera, but to get clear, sharp shots, you often needed a more expensive camera, such as an SLR (single-lens reflex).
Then came fully automated, point-and-shoot cameras introduced in the 1980s. Amateur photos suddenly looked much better, as technology allowed the camera itself to adjust the focal length, shutter speed and so on. Even the most incompetent photographer could snap decent photos.
These days almost everyone has a 5 megapixel, HD camera in their pocket (not to mention all the high-tech gear seen on Finding Bigfoot). At no time in history have so many people had high-quality cameras on them virtually all the time. Photographs of people, cars, mountains, flowers, sunsets, deer and everything else have gotten sharper and clearer over the years. If Bigfoot exist, logically, the photographic evidence for them should also improve dramatically. It hasn’t.
The obvious question is why. Maybe there’s a supernatural explanation, like Bigfoot somehow emits special, unknown light waves that inexplicably cause them to always appear out of focus in photographs, no matter how good the camera is. The more logical explanation is that these things don’t exist, and that photographs of them are merely the result of hoaxes and misidentifications.
The More They Stay the Same
I hope Bigfoot is out there, but I doubt that it is. I believe that 20 years from now, 50 years from now, a century from now, we will be in the same position — we’ll have more tracks, more sightings, more photos, but Bigfoot will continue to elude us. Just as it’s impossible to prove that Bigfoot don’t exist, it is just as impossible to disprove the claim that Bigfoot are out there somewhere.
In the past years, we’ve lost Bigfoot researchers Grover Krantz, Rene Dahinden, Richard Greenwell and others. Unlike the Finding Bigfoot team, these people made a sincere (and mostly scientific), sustained effort to search for the beast. They all died without knowing whether Bigfoot exists. Though I hope otherwise, I believe that too will be our fates.
I support the serious study of the Bigfoot phenomena. The true believers and the debunkers are wasting their time, for their minds are closed. For those who sincerely want to understand Bigfoot, I am pleased to be among you. And I’m also willing to admit I’m not finding Bigfoot.