Skepticism

More bigfoot sightings? Part II of my interview with Jeff Meldrum.

Here’s part two of my interview with Jeff Meldrum, author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. In this part of the interview, I’ve asked Jeff to discuss some of the specific evidence he presents in the book. Don’t miss the last answer, where Jeff talks about how the skeptical movement may be pressuring science to be so conservative that it misses out on exploring some interesting and important fields of study. Something to think about, especially in the current climate where religion is so often blamed for squelching science. (If you want to know who the myserious “prominent skeptic” mentioned is, you’ll have to read the book. I’m not giving that away.)


Skepchick: I’d like to ask you some questions about specific areas of evidence. There are so many different topics covered in the book that I’m going to have to focus on a few items that made me curious. First, have any fossils of large, bipedal hominids ever been found in the areas where Sasquatch sightings are prevalent? If so, please tell us a bit about them.

Meldrum: Not in North America, but that is not all that surprising. If this primate exists, it likely is rare, long-lived, reproduces infrequently, is at the top of its food chain, and hence dies a natural death. Given its likely natural history a death is a relatively rare event in the environment. That environment, both biotic and physical is quite uncondusive to the preservation of bones. Take Gigantopithecus blacki for example. That giant primate species lived in China for perhaps a million and a half years and yet all we have to show for it is a pair of fragmentary jaws and some isolated teeth that happened to be dragged into caves by porcupines, where they became fossilized. Otherwise, they would have dissolved away in the forest soils.


Skepchick: You spend a lot of time in the book discussing the various footprints and casts of footprints that have been found and preserved. Have all of the footprints that have been found in the US been similar enough that it seems possible that they’ve come from the same species? Also, it seems like all of the footprints that have been found are quite large. I’d think that a variety of sizes of footprints would indicate a population that included adult males and females as well as juveniles. How do you perceive the entire collection of footprints and casts in regards to its relation to a possible population of animals, and what conclusions do you think can reasonably be drawn from evaluating this collection?

Meldrum: The null hypothesis is a single species. I haven’t encountered credible evidence to refute that yet. My collection does exhibit a far degree of variety in size, including the smallest casts of 5-inch footprints. In all the variety there seems to be a distinct yet consistent framework of functional morphology to the foot that indicates a biped well adapted to the steep irregular terrain that sasquatch are most often purported to frequent. I have recently embarked on a project to scan the casts in my collection and archive virtual models that eventually will be accessible on-line through the webpage of the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory. This will make the evidence of the footprints accessible as never before, while also permitting more quantitative analyses.


Skepchick: Although you have a chapter about photographic evidence in your book, the only photo of a possible Sasquatch you include in the chapter is a frame from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. Are any other photographs available in print or on the internet for our readers to examine? What other photos have you seen that you find compelling? With the ease of digital photo editing today, how can any new photos be determined to be authentic?

Meldrum: In addition to the Patterson-Gimlin film, I also discuss the Memorial Day footage and the Freeman footage. Your point is a good one. In the digital age any future images will be suspect unless they exceed the quality of the P-G film. For that reason our primary goal for fieldwork is to acquire DNA evidence. Even that will not necessarily be conclusive, but would tip the scales decidedly in favor of devoting further attention and efforts towards resolving the question.


Skepchick: What do you find to be the single most compelling piece of evidence for the existence of Sasquatch? What do you see as the biggest hole in the evidence (besides the fact that a specimen has never been obtained)?

Meldrum: Personally, the most compelling evidence is the combined coherent case made by the cumulative body of footprint evidence. Besides the lack of a specimen, I would have to say there are no gaping holes. There are numerous loose ends in the research that beg for attention – far more attention and expertise than any one person, or even a handful of researchers, can muster at present.


Skepchick: A few years ago I read a book about a search for grizzlies in Colorado. It’s known with certainty that these bears lived in Colorado in the past (because both living and dead animals were found), but today the evidence makes it seem appropriate to conclude that grizzlies no longer live in this state. At some point, if no living or dead Sasquatch is ever found, it will be appropriate to conclude that the animal does not exist. With the population of humans continuing to grow in North America, and with roads being built in virtually every section of the lower-48 (as anyone who flies frequently can attest), resulting in the continual shrinking of possible habitat for a sasquatch-like creature, it seems like that time is fast approaching. At what point — if any — would you think it would become proper to say, “No living or dead animal has ever been found, it is safe to assume this creature does not exist”?

Meldrum: Saying a creature no longer exists is not equivalent to saying that it never existed. In my book I cite Dr. Geoffroy Bourne, who noted, “ That the sasquatch did occur in the northwest of the USA and in British Columbia in Canada in the past is supported by the fact that the Indians of those areas have old legends which tell of creatures like the abominable snowman or sasquatch, tall hairy creatures walking in a bipedal fashion, which have been known in that part of the world for generations…but the question at issue remains – does a similar creature exist on the North American continent today?” On the other hand, it could be said that despite a growing human population, there is a decided trend in the West for movement to urban centers. Fewer people than ever are making a living in the backcountry. Most people don’t venture off the roads or narrow trails. Many roads are gated throughout much of the year. I don’t sense abatement in the reported contacts between people and sasquatch yet.


Skepchick: It seems that most of the evidence you’ve presented in your book has been collected by amateurs bigfoot enthusiasts or on accidental encounters, in large part because so few scientists are willing to conduct any serious research in this area. Why do you think scientists shy away from pursuing research to answer the question about the possible existence of a North American bipedal primate?

Meldrum: There are a number of reasons. Science is by nature conservative. The recent rise of the skeptical movement has made it fashionable to be ultra-conservative, even to the point of cynicism. Therefore, something that has been labeled as fringe, as pseudoscience is deemed unworthy of consideration. One prominent skeptic has pronounced that the “science” begins only after a body is had. Well, if science sat around on its collective hands until the proverbial “bodies” in question turned up, there would have been much less discovery made in our history.

I sense a shift in attitude on the part of some of my colleagues, near and far. We have learned a great deal about the evolutionary and natural history of the great apes. We have learned a great deal about the evolution of hominin bipedalism. There continue to be startling discoveries of new species, to the extent that the editor of Scientific American suggested perhaps it was time for cryptozoology to come in out of the cold. And we have a generation of scientists that have grown up more familiar with the possibility of sasquatch. Sometime it takes the passing of a generation before a novel proposition can sprout to serious consideration.


Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time to talk with us about your book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. It’s been an interesting discussion.

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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4 Comments

  1. I'm a layman, but I have to disagree with Meldrum saying science is conservative by nature. While that may have validity when speaking of specific individuals who have an emotional investment in their work, on the whole science is no more conservative than it is reactionary.

  2. I happen to agree that, much as is frequently the case with "living fossils", that while you can presume it is a myth, that's not the same thing as it being a myth. Sometimes a myth is something that you simply haven't run across yet.

    I don't think sasquatch exists. I also don't think that we can say that it doesn't, either. It's one of those fringe areas that will always be a little cloudy until something concrete turns up.

    Heck, I never believed dinosaurs existed outside of pure fantasy until this great fossil turned up. Now I see how a legend like that could form. What's to say that something similar isn't the basis for sasquatch?

  3. Considering my post on the last part, I think it still stands. Is he actually claiming that there is only variety within the same type?

    Is he claiming that the hoax video is some kind of evidence for Sasquatch?

    He believes that there was once a great ape (or an ancestor of) in North America? Despite the fact that there have only been monkeys found, anywhere in the Americas? Despite the problems of fossilization of forest creatures, we do have evidence for the ones cited, but he believes that an entire breeding population exists in the US, some in areas with sizeable human population, and no one has ever found more than easily-faked footprints? No remains, no scat, no fur (I doubt the yak-related fur found counts as bigfoot) – nothing but notoriously unreliable eyewitness accounts?

    I may need to waste my money on his book to see what it is he really claims.

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