Skepticism

Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science

Today when I was poking around in Borders because I’ve been feeling a little cabin fever after being snowed in by 2 big storms, I saw a book called Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science by Jeff Meldrum. It was in the science section, near my favorite shelf of biology books. I love this aisle of Borders but am sad to say that I might be the only one, because I’ve only seen another person looking at the science books here once.

At any rate, I picked up the Sasquatch book because of the title and it had a very nicely designed cover. (Yes, I am a sucker for judging a book by its cover.) I was tempted to buy the book on sight, but it’s $27.95US in hardcover, and I figured I’d better do a little poking around on line to see what I could find out about it before plunking down almost $30 for a book that might be boring, or worse, stupid. So here’s my report of what I’ve found online:

Amazon has a quote from Jane Goodall amongst its reviews. Sounds promising, so I read on. Goodall says, “Jeff Meldrum’s book ‘Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science’ brings a much needed level of scientific analysis to the Sasquatch – or Bigfoot – debate. Does Sasquatch exist? There are countless people – especially indigenous people – in different parts of America who claim to have seen such a creature. And in many parts of the world I meet those who, in a matter-of-fact way, tell me of their encounters with large, bipedal, tail-less hominids. I think I have read every article and every book about these creatures, and while most scientists are not satisfied with existing evidence, I have an open mind.”

OK, although this quote sounds a little wishy washy, I’ll give the book a chance because they were able to get a quote from Goodall. But now I need to look further than Amazon, so I put the book title into a google search and discover that there’s a DVD with the very same cover for sale here https://secure19.activehost.com/legendmeetsscience/ProductDetails.aspx?productID=2. The last line of the review of the video says, “If you want to stun and humble a skeptic, sit him down in front of this program.”

The DVD is for sale on the website of The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. According to their website, “The mission of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) is multifaceted, but the organization essentially seeks to resolve the mystery surrounding the bigfoot phenomenon, that is, to derive conclusive documentation of the species’ existence. This goal is pursued through the proactive collection of empirical data and physical evidence from the field and by means of activities designed to promote an awareness and understanding of the nature and origin of the evidence.”

To me, that sounds like they’ve already decided that Bigfoot exists and they just want to find evidence that supports this conclusion. OK, two strikes against the book. One for the line at the end of the DVD review and one for the mission of the BFRO.

Moving on down the list of hits on my google search, I see WikiPedia. Although I know there’s been a study that showed that wiki and the Encyclopedia Brittanica had about equal accuracy in their articles, I still don’t really trust wiki. But I do look there a lot of times just to get an idea about a topic, before moving on to more solid sources of info. Wiki confirms that the book and DVD are, indeed, the same. And they have a link to the official home page of Legend Meets Science, which redirects to, you guessed it, the BFRO page!

Just when I’m about to toss the idea of reading this book into my mental trashcan, I see a link to an NPR interview with the author. Hmm. Promising. But it’s only available for Windows Media Player and I’m on a Mac, so I have to pass it by. There’s a transcript for $3.95 but that money could go toward the book, should I decide to buy it. (Yes, even when I’m doubtful about a book, I’d rather buy it than take it out of the library. Here’s my dilemma. If I take it out of the library and like it, then I’ll want to buy it anyway. But I’ve already read it, so I’ll feel guilty about spending the money. So I’d rather just buy it first, then at least I’ll have read the copy I spent my own money on, even if it’s no good. Is that tortured logic or what?)

I read one review from The Trades, that gave Legend Meets Science a C+. The reviewer writes, “If you’re a believer in the existence of sasquatch, this book will become your new Bible. If you’re convinced the big guy only exists in the minds of kooks, you’ll probably get worked into a lather over the author’s bias toward the subject. And if you’re looking for a crash course in anthropology, you’d do well to study the chapters enclosed. If you’re a lay person, however, with a passing interest, you’ll find much of the work dry and academic, and perhaps spend most of your time looking at the more interesting pictures and reading the eyewitness accounts, while skipping the sections about how metatarsals are jointed and how hominids move and how big they can be and the precise way of measuring a thorax.”

There are some other reviews online, but there are dust bunnies in the corners of my bathroom and the needles are falling off of my Christmas tree, so I really ought to clean up a little instead of spending the rest of the afternoon reading book reviews.

So, I guess I am feeling a little disappointed. Like I was almost tricked into reading a book of Bigfoot bullshit. But I may have to read this book anyway, because I desperately WANT it to be a good book! I love Sasquatch, and the cover is so cool (reminds me a little of werewolves, which I also love). Even if the book is bunk, maybe it will be a fun read for me anyway, since I read science books as a hobby, and I don’t get bored by the technical details.

So waddya think, should I email the author and see if he’ll do an interview for SkepLit?

P.S. I still can’t figure out how to post pictures to this blog. Sorry! I used to be a geek, but maybe I’m getting too old…. so you’ll have to click on the Amazon link above to see the cool cover.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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17 Comments

  1. To answer your parenthetical question: No, that isn't tortured logic. Personally I have very few books as I'd really like to only buy books I know are good, i.e. books I've already read, but I also don't like spending money when I don't have to, e.g. on books I've already read and might never read again.

    At one time I thought it'd be cool to have a fake (preferably digital) bookshelf that I could fill with books I've read, but not bought… in fact, I still think that'd be cool, I'm just waiting for 80" screens drop down to an acceptable price.

  2. If you didn't see it, you might be interested in Darren Naish' recent post re bigfoot. http://darrennaish.blogspot.com/2006/11/frame-352

    I've always thought that the various bigfoot-type variations around the world should be studied more, but the problem is that few people, even within anthropology now, cover more than one subfield, and the bigfoot question definitely fits into at least one, but you don't know which. Either it's an unknown animal (bio anthro), or it's a psych phenomena of mistakes and wishful thinking (psych and/or anthro), or it's myth (cultural anthro), or loads of pransters working for decades (cultural anthro), or some combo of the above. So who's going to study it when you don't know going in what field it's really in? And you're going to have to spend a lot of time doing it, and may never be certain which field(s) the study goes in. That right there will keep scholars out, and couple it with some derision and it's an unattractive study for pros.

    I used to (I'm 56 and have been interested in this, along with a lot of nature stuff, since I was in my early teens — had Ivan Sanderson's book, read Huevelmans, etc.) think it was likely enough — but far from certain — that at least part of the story was some unknown primate, along with me-too stories that weren't due to an actual beast. Some of the claims as to why it couldn't be a beast were silly, even coming from pros — for instance people would say there wasn't enough food for a large primate in the western North America bigfoot/sasquatch areas, but many of those same areas had been home to large bears so the no food idea was stupid (yet still used). But we have gotten into more and more wild areas in a more intensive way over the past few decades and still no real proof — bodies, bones, accidentally, or deliberately, killed beast — and this, to me, makes it seem unlikely that an actual unknown primate is behind the stories. But there's still something there, even it's it's just a story about myth and pranksters. And maybe I'm wrong about how unlikely it is now.

  3. BFRO does do a very thurough job of investigating. They do not have proof that can 100% confirm anything. However, They do much work in the wilderness and anyone can join them in a hunt.(they actually don't let you bring any weapons.) Even if untrue, they seem to be having quite a bit of fun out in nature in the process. They have recorded many strange audio clips and members claim to have seen things they can't explain….but again this proves nothing more than humans are at the very least imaginative creatures.

  4. Ahh, Bigfoot. I live in Washington state, where many bigfoot sightings occur. I have to say that with all the campers, hikers, hunters, hippies, loggers, amateur astromomers looking for good skies, mountain bikers, skiers/snowboarders ,etc etc crawling all over the Cascades and Olympics day and night in all weather and seasons if there were any Sasquatch up there we would probably have a confirmed sighting by now. But still, whenever I'm up there I hope I get to see one. No joy yet.

  5. If you're into tabletop roleplaying, many science books, even of the woo-ish variety, can make great source books.

    I rarely buy books at all, and I actually read quite a few woo books from my local library when I was young. But a lot of them can be surprisingly inspirational for adventures taking place in an alternate, imaginary universe where magic and many other things supernatural are real, every day stuff.

    Especially if they have lots of pretty pictures, particularly artist's impressions.

  6. I saw the author on SciFi "Investigates" (the quotes are mine – they really don't investigate anything from what I can tell), and heard him on Coast to Coast AM. He sounds convincing, until you find out that some of what he says is wishful thinking or just bunk. An issue of the Skeptical Inquirer (found online at the CSICOP – or rather CSI now – site) also shows that some of what he claims (footprints having ridges like fingerprints) have been shown to be reproducable by the plaster hardening. He claims that footprints are remarkably similar, which is something that I have heard many disagreements on, from the Bigfoot believers themselves as well as skeptics. Personally, I wouldn't waste money on the book. until it goes on sale in the bargain bin. The author claims to be unbiased but from all indications, he's a believer looking for proof.

  7. Is that tortured logic or what?
    Absolutely not. I feel this way too. Although I suffer from a bit of a problem, I have never been able make that right choice of putting the book back down. If I walk into a book store I’m walking out minus 100 bucks. Libraries have always been a problem for me, as a kid in school, I would go there, read some books and they would somehow end up stolen and under my bed. After I realized that this was just a gateway to crack cocaine, and I got a job, I started buying my books. Haven’t really been back in a library since. I just can’t give books back, for some reason I have this need to always have the books I’ve read on hand, no matter how much I liked it. I can’t even borrow books from friends, I either end up buying my one version, or they never see their book again.

    On the note of the book in question, it’s not a book I would want to have. I’ve seen the Discovery Channels version of it and from what I can tell the DVD for sell is a slightly modified version of that. I wasn’t real impressed with it, as he does seem like more of a Bigfoot hunter than a real scientist. From what I can remember it seems to me that most of what he called evidence really boiled down to “because I can feel it” type evidence. Like the foot prints he says can’t be fakes, he gives some superfluous reasons about how a faker couldn’t fake this or that particular aspect, but every one he showed as proof seemed to me easy to duplicate.

    The strange thing is that if “Bigfoot” does exist, it will most likely be a guy like this that discovers it. Even though the process of assuming that something is true and searching for reaffirming evidence is bad science, if that thing is true, it’s usually the fastest and most direct way to find proof.

  8. I agree that these sort of books can be very entertaining. This one sounds better than most though from what I've read.

    I have many books on runes and ghosts and such purely for background for modern-day fantasy rpgs that I play. Heck, I even use the bible and dead sea scrolls for research for creating alternate strange worlds. Oddly the one book that I couldn't stand to read was one that was actually aimed at a role-playing auidence. Written by a guy who actually does magick (as opposed to a conjuror like Randi) it was full of "What has western science ever done for us" comments that just left me shouting about increased life expectency at the book.

    Sasquatch is a great creature to include in a fiction where you don't want to break the laws of physics.

  9. Or rather:

    Why bother inventing a whole new thing, and figure out ways to fit it into the world, when other people have already done so with remarkable ingenuity and creativity?

    The bible, and christianity, is a work of art that took 2000 years to create/mold. You can take any part of it and fit it into a made-up world without running in to too many problems. All of those have already been worked out over the years.

    In other words, why do all the work someone else has already done?

  10. I've been gaming since 78 or so, and I prefer a coherent world. It's like reading a sci fi or fantasy novel (or any fiction, really) – if something is out of place, not consistent with the world as it is presented, then it takes a bit of the fun out of it. Besides, if there are not a lot of internal consistencies, then players can easily get confused and that also takes a lot of fun out of it. People are people, and the natural tendency is to explain things and try to make a logical world – of course, many people don't care, and change things at a whim, but as we say, YMMV.

  11. Yeah this book would probably be excellent if you were playing a call of cthulhu game, especially if your players are the types that just need an explanation for everything. I’ve never quite understood that particular compulsion, players that need things in a FAKE world to make sense.

  12. Go figure, just surfing on the highway and saw a link to skepchick (remembered it from a skeptics email some time ago).. anyway, I'm in the Dallas Texas area and a co-worker sw engineer is/was the area contact for BigFoot Sightings BFRO. He had been setting up motion detector cams and stuff around Paris Texas etc… lots of stories for sure! Seems his focus has dimed over past year or so, And after I went out of my way to bring him a copy of a supermarket "national inquirer" type newspaper showing a BIG Sasquatch laid out on the highway! Seems he was hit by a state trooper's vehicle… Montana I think… Yep, I saw the photo myself! hahahaha. Since Bigfoot is intelligent enough to hide from humans and cover his tracks continuously, he probably just wears a long trenchcoat and hat he borrowed from somewhere. The one clear video must have been when he was returning from skinny dipping and got really embarrassed.

    Sweet!

    RockOn! thanks for the site

  13. Hey Skepchick,

    You can listen to a Podacast interview w/Jeff Meldrum at Earthfiles podcast URL in iTunes here:

    http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa

    Very interesting interview, this fellow is categorically not a kook (at least he sure don't sound like one). This Bigfoot phenomenon has interested me since I was a kid and no, I am not part of any biased parties. Just read the freakin' thing (I'm gonna) and then come to a conclusion.

    Lates,

    dachmuse

  14. Thanks. I'll check out that podcast. I think I am going to have to read this book even though I am suspicious. I keep looking at it on the shelf at Borders! But you can learn a lot about an author and their books by checking out their website.

  15. I hope you read this book, although I believe you will be somewhat disappointed. I think the Bigfoot phenomena is about all that has been described above, although I would add one more element to it. Bigfoot is also about the interplay between the innovative idea and the established paradigm, and the politics that surrounds that kind of conflict. Excessive skepticism has as little place in science as does true belief. Unfotunately serious inquiries into the subject are being actively prevented by a combination of social stigma and excessive skepticism, which forces any legitimate inquiry to defend its existence from the outset — thereby giving the appearance of defensiveness, or true belief. Dr. Meldrum is a legitimate scientist and academic (professor at Idaho State University) who specializes in the paleoanthropology of human bipedalism, and came into the debate from a point of skepticism. Meldrum's experience with a trackway in the Idaho forest, however, quickly aroused his interest in the subject. His subsequent inquiry led him to believe that a genuine inquiry into the subject was warranted. This opinion was quickly met with jeers from the academic world, and that is why he went forward with the book.

    The book exhaustively analyzes the existing evidence to make Meldrum's case that a genuine investigation is warranted. This is informative but perhaps not as enjoyable to the lay person as a book of extraordinary tales would be. But this case must be made, because until the academic world is open to the idea, there will be no significant funding for genuine field research on Bigfoot. Consequently, 'enthusiasts' have had to carry forward alone, which makes them an easy target for bias when they put forward their findings. But they are the only people who are even looking.

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