Skepticism

Have you seen bigfoot? Part I of my interview with Jeff Meldrum.

Here’s part 1 of my interview with Jeff Meldrum, author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.

Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, has always been one of my favorite mysterious topics. I finished reading this book a few weeks ago, and found it quite interesting. I must admit, however, that I skimmed through a few parts that were too detailed for me. I do think it’s good that the author included a thorough presentation and evaluation of the evidence that is available, but I particularly enjoyed the stories about personal experience as much, if not more, than some of the data-dense sections. Obviously stories can’t stand alone in a book that wants to take a subject seriously, and I found it refreshing to read a book that did, in fact, take a serious look at what is usually considered a frivolous topic.

An interesting exercise would be to compare the style of this book — which was information heavy — to the last book we read, The Top Ten Myths About Evolution — which was a quick read giving a brief overview of a topic. Do you find one method more effective than another? This ties into the framing discussion that’s floating around on various blogs lately, and to me it ties into the general question, “What makes good science writing?” I don’t think you can answer that question without the follow up, “Who are you writing for?”

Well enough about that, let’s talk with Jeff Meldrum and find out about his research into the possibility of the existence of a bipedal primate hiding out in North America.


Skepchick: I’ve found the idea of Sasquatch intriguing since I was a child, but I’ve never been driven to do any actual research on the topic or to delve down to find out what research may exist on the subject. What caused you to become passionate enough about this topic to devote so much of your time to researching and writing this book and the related TV documentary when so many people consider the subject to be fringe science, or even pseudo science?

Meldrum: This is what science is all about, as far as I am concerned. I am not inclined to write a grant proposal about something for which the outcome is a given, or pursue a question that everyone is basically in agreement about. Where’s the thrill in that? What is “fringe” to one, is “cutting edge” to another. I have experienced and observed some evidence — some data — that suggest a straight forward hypothesis: Is there a species of primate behind the legend of sasquatch? What an interesting question to pursue!


Skepchick: Have you found that pursuing this idea has helped or hurt your career and your reputation as a scientist?

Meldrum: That depends on whom you ask. There is always a dynamic of give and take. If you devote time, energy, and resources to one pursuit, there remains less for others. This is not all that I do by way of research, and the contributions I have made in evolutionary anthropology are respected. My investigation of the footprint evidence for sasquatch has lent some fresh ideas to the question of the nature of bipedalism in the earliest hominins that I might not otherwise have focused upon.


Skepchick: I’ve got to admit that as much as anything, the cover is what inspired me to buy this book. It kept staring at me every time I browsed the science section at my local bookstore. Who designed the cover and where did the concept come from? (The quote from Jane Goodall didn’t hurt either! Good marketing move there.)

Meldrum: Pete Travers did the cover art originally for Doug Hajicek, who produced the the Discovery Channel documentary, for which the book was intended as a companion volume. It conveys that sense of the question – is something out there in the forest? – especially for someone who has spent time in the woods. The timing of Jane’s public comment about her interest in sasquatch was fortuitous. She very graciously agreed to review the book in prepublication and provide an endorsement. Her open-mindedness concerning this issue, based on a life-time of study of great apes, is extremely valuable and has helped to deflect some of the knee-jerk criticism of this project.


Skepchick: When I searched on the internet to find out more about your book before purchasing a copy, I came upon the information on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website (www.bfro.net), which appeared to be the official website for the book. The BFRO website did not seem very objective to me. The site seems to pre-suppose the existence of Sasquatch, and to have the purpose to make the evidence
fit into a foregone conclusion. I almost didn’t buy your book because of this. Are you affiliated with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization?

Meldrum: It is a bit confusing, because the director of the BFRO has part interest in the DVD of the S:LMS documentary. However, there is no direct relationship between the book and the BFRO. I am no longer affiliated with the BFRO.


Skepchick: You discuss many different areas of evidence that you see supporting the existence of a large, bipedal hominid in North America. Can you summarize the evidence briefly for those who haven’t yet read your book?

Meldrum: It’s difficult to do justice to the complexities of the evidence, controversial as it is, in just a brief summary (so I encourage all to read the book). There is the deep cultural legacy of the indigenous peoples of this continent; contemporary eyewitnesses of various background and experience observing an upright hair-covered figure with a remarkably consistent and usually unembellished description; footprints, which are the most compelling evidence from my perspective; a handful of films and photographs, some of which are noteworthy; vocalizations that defy identification; hair and scat that defy identification.


Check back in a few days for my questions to Jeff about the specific evidence he presents in his book.

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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7 Comments

  1. He thinks there is — or was at one time — probably some bipedial hominid that is the basis for the legend. He seems more optimistic about the existence of such a creature that I am, but he is not what I would call a "believer".

  2. Still – and I think I'm not guilty of a priori skepticism here, his optimism seems irrational, raises a red flag for me. Even so, looks interesting and am looking forward to part 2 of interview :)

  3. I don't see any reason for a red flag even if someonen "believes" in bigfoot, as long as they concur that until concrete evidence is found (that means a body–dead or alive), that it's just "probable" or "possible".

    I would have been very skeptical, as you are, before reading this book. Now I would have to say that although I personally still don't think there is a bipedal hominid (other than humans) living in North America, it's plausible enough not to ridicule those who want to take the idea seriously and do actual research and investigation into the possibility.

    After all, this guy is trying to do a scientific evaluation, which is admirable if you ask me.

  4. He's been on "Is it real?" and "Sci Fi Investigates" (a laughable name, really), and he is a believer. He makes some claims regarding the footprints being so similar, and in that regard apparently ignores the countless variations in size and shape of bigfoot tracks (such as the 3-toed track from Louisiana). At least, the little I know, he has never addressed that issue. He also believes that some parts of the footprints cannot be artifacts or man-made, and a recent CSI (once CSICOP) article addressed the issue that the act of casting a footprint creates some features that he claims are authentic (you can find it from the CSI/CSICOP page). All in all, I would be extremely skeptical of anything he believes or tries to push as factual.

  5. I don't think it's bad to believe in something if you think the evidence is compelling. You may end up with a different opinion, but he didn't seem to be pushing anything as fact. It was obvious that he thinks there's probably some real basis for the legend, but I don't see what's wrong with that. I thought he was honest about his position in the book. Just because he's not a debunker, we should automatically discount him?

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