Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stop The Bigfoot Madness, Please

It amazes me that TV producers can create a show about hunting for Bigfoot. It's not like Bigfoot sightings have the bulk or evidence behind them that other paranormal-type phenomena have. So I don't know why other shows about the paranormal feel they need to include Bigfoot "experts," unless it's because these guys write books and so they are willing to come on shows. We've also heard the latest twist: Bigfoot is actually an inter-dimensional being! Why? Backward logic: We've never found a shred of physical evidence that Bigfoot is real, so we're going to explain that away by saying Bigfoot comes from another dimension and therefore doesn't have to eat, leave crap lying around, or die. I can't address that one; it seems like a last-resort kind of thing. "Sure we don't have any evidence, and yeah, a real forest ape kind of creature would need a breeding population of thousands to exist and we'd find dead ones, so since we've already decided Bigfoot exists, it must be interdimensional."  Whatever. I'm only going to address Bigfoot as a real, evolved creature of *this* world...

Bigfoot sightings, at least as far as real flesh and blood (not interdimensional) creatures,  fall into two categories: Bears that are misidentified, and hoaxes. That's it. If decades of nothing but hoaxes, misidentification and no actual evidence for their existence can't convince you, I don't know what will, but we'll go over some of the facts anyway...

A) Nobody has ever found a dead Bigfoot. This is not insignificant. There is no real, living animal that hasn't had a body turn up here and there. This is often the way we find out that some obscure animal we thought was extinct is actually still around. Everything that lives, dies. If there are no dead Bigfoot creatures, it's only because there are no Bigfoot pseudo-apes that are alive, either.  It's important to note, I suppose, that basic biology requires several thousand animals to maintain a breeding population. Apparently there are Bigfoot creatures all over America - and the world - but nobody has found a dead one or a family group. It's always one-off sightings by panicky city folk who haven't spent enough time in the woods to know what they're looking at.

B) All the videos are hoaxes. All the "scientific" evidence, like claims of finding DNA or hair or feces,  are hoaxes. People have confessed to them or have been caught and exposed, and we know that's true.If Bigfoot existed, getting a clear video wouldn't be a problem. Anyone can go in the woods and get videos of bears. Heck, you can get them in most cities, or at least the suburbs. Finding Bigfoot turds (and DNA with them)  wouldn't be a problem, either. A giant animal that would have to consume tons of food and leave tons of waste behind? The forests should be covered ankle-deep in Bigfoot crap ... unless the animal doesn't really exist, of course.

C) Bigfoot sightings that aren't hoaxes, are bears. It's the illusion of high strangeness that makes Bigfoot reports seem credible to some. Think of it this way: in a county of hundreds of millions of people, some of them are going to have close encounters with bears - every single day. For almost all of them, the story will be; "I was driving down the road and a bear ran out in front of me, and I almost hit it!" ..And that's the end. You'll never hear that one on the news. But all it takes is one person ..maybe one out of a hundred thousand bear encounters, to say "Hey a Bigfoot ran across the road in front of me!" - and now we're supposed to think this is what really happened.

MOST people know a bear when they see one, and so you never hear about their encounters. The rare person who lets their imagination and predisposition construct a cryptid encounter in their minds - they are the ones you hear about.

What's wrong with these people? Nothing, basically. Some of them may have overactive imaginations. Some of them may just harbor a deep longing to see a Bigfoot, or anything that's strange. If they said they saw a leprechaun instead of a Bigfoot, they probably wouldn't have the instant support group gathering around, telling them that what they thought they saw was the real deal. If a person longs to see a fairy, they might talk themselves into seeing one but they will be more likely to (correctly) question their memories and assessment of the situation, due to the lack of a supportive network of people who will rally around them..

Beyond that: apparently some people are expecting bears to look like cartoons or what you see in the zoo. There are lots of bear encounters all over the world, so it is probably only a tiny minority of people who misread the situation. That's all it takes, though..

The diversity of wild bears is amazing. They can be tall and skinny or short and fat, and everything in between. They can have tiny ears, short muzzles. If you can think of it, there are bears that have it. In fact, we should probably break down some things most people don't know about bears:

  1. Bears in the wild are not like zoo bears. They can be fat or very thin, short or long muzzled. It's just the genetic variation that is natural in the wild.
  2. Bear coats are often uneven in color. Especially around shedding time, it's not unusual to see a bear that is brown on top and black around the waist. It makes it look like it's wearing pants. This is just a difference between top coat and undercoat color, though.
  3. Yes, bears do walk around on hind legs, and they do look ape-like when they do that. For bears, it is easier to go around on all fours most of the time, but when they have an injured front paw (common because bears fight each other ) they will spend extended periods walking and even running on two legs.
  4. Bears kill stuff. Yes, even black bears where people swear up and down they just eat berries. That's not true. Black bears like berries a lot but they will kill and eat small animals as the opportunity arises.
  5. An injured bear screams like a human being. Perhaps it's Hollywood's fault that people think bears sound like Godzilla. Their voice range is very similar to an adult human  voice range. This is very cringe-inducing if you encounter an injured bear - or you hunt them.
  6. Bears sometimes lose their ear shells in fights, or to frostbite. Bears also can go bald. The same diseases that cause racoons and coyotes to lose their hair and be mistaken for Chupacabra can give bears a bald face, head, or even whole body. There aren't a lot of bears with baldness or no ears, but they have the maximum likelihood of being misidentified. Not that you need that much: As I pointed out, of the many bear encounters every day,  it only takes a tiny percentage of panicky, crypto-minded people to keep the Bigfoot myth alive.
When you know this stuff, you can readily see how bears get mistaken for forest apes on a regular basis. I think the only reason it doesn't happen more often is because only a minority of people are of a mind to think a big hairy beast is a Bigfoot. Misidentification is just too easy, and the difference between "I saw a bear" and "I saw a Bigfoot" comes down to mindset and expectations.

SOURCE: Outdoor person, here. I grew up in the woods of the Pacific Northwest (where Bigfoot is supposed to be common), and have hunted bear for food. That was my old life. Even though I don't do it anymore, I am an expert tracker and hunter. Everyone I knew, growing up, hunted. I've seen dozens and dozens of bears in the wild, including way too up close and personal, including bears with patchwork coats and semi-bald ones - and many walking/running on two legs. But not one Bigfoot. I think Bigfoot experts are mostly armchair outdoorsmen who haven't spent enough time in the woods to know a bear from some cryptozoological character. Even when you get a story where someone is called an "experienced outdoorsman" - when you read the story you find out that the guy's vast "experience" consists of going on weekend camping adventures a couple of times a year. People who really live in the woods and have spent their lives there never see a Bigfoot. And that fact alone should convince you that Bigfoot does not exist, at least as far as it being a literal forest ape of some sort..

A bald bear - it happens
There is much more, of course, like the fact that this imaginary creature doesn't fit anywhere in the food chain. Are they predators? What do they kill? Are they herbivores?  Why aren't they seen grazing? There's just no place you can fit them that makes any sense. In the meantime, actual apes and chimps - some varieties of  which are quite endangered and have low population densities - can easily be found in their natural habitat, in part because we know what they eat so we know where to look for them. Everything has to eat. If Bigfoot existed, it would be eating something... LOTS of something, since they're supposed to be huge. Even a low population density of Bigfoot animals would be consuming tons of whatever it is that it is supposed to eat - and thus would be easy enough to find.

And finally, if you have a weird sighting, why on earth would you jump to a cryptozoological character as the explanation? It's like; all the Chupacabra sightings where there were photos or the creature was found, have turned out to be raccoons or coyotes with mange. The people who took the photos or found the creature swore up and down that it was Chupacabra, but the evidence proved them wrong. At some point you have to say, "okay, witness testimony is unreliable, and we have solid evidence that they're just plain wrong with these reports."  But no, we keep jumping to the weirdest explanation possible.

I've already pointed out the fact that these are bears. Bigfoot is never seen except in areas with bears. No bears = no Bigfoot sightings. But even if you were to insist that it wasn't a bear, but an ape-like creature, the next logical explanation would be an ape that escaped from a circus or zoo. A supernatural cryptid would be the absolute bottom of the list, yet that's where Bigfoot believers go first.

VERDICT: Debunked. Debunked over and over again. Bigfoot is a mythological creature, like the unicorn. The only differences: 1) Bears exist and people mistake them for apes when they're running around on two legs, and 2) Bigfoot hoaxers abound. People seem less interested in hoaxing unicorn sightings, but knowing human nature, I wouldn't be surprised to find that becomes a thing in the future. All that is actually needed is a supportive community of people (especially people who write books) to say that unicorns are real, and they will gain the same level of respectability as Bigfoot.

After decades of Bigfoot hunts, big rewards for evidence of Bigfoot's existence, and an almost endless parade of hoaxers, the verdict is undeniable. If you keep believing in Bigfoot, you must be getting something out of it. But there are plenty of real mysteries out there to explore and research, where your high strangeness affinity might be more productive. Or, you know, go shoot a unicorn and have your picture taken with it. Bigfoot or Unicorn: The odds of success are the same.

Bottom Line: There are many people who make a living off of promoting the existence of Bigfoot and other cryptozooids. Without the professionals hawking their books and lectures, Bigfoot would be considered as real as unicorns and leprechauns. Alas, there will always be cynical people lining up to fleece the public, and we just have to live with that.

I should also note that Bigfoot is not in the same class as other phenomena like ghosts, apparitions, and hauntings, because we know what people are seeing with Bigfoot sightings. There is a huge pool of paranormal experiences related to spirit hauntings, and their cause is hard to pin down or explain -  but the pool of Bigfoot sighters is very small[1], easy to explain, and they fall into just two categories: Hoaxers and people who don't know a bear when they see one...Unless you want to go to the latest fallback position that Bigfoot is an interdimensional being. I don't even know how to calculate the odds of that being true but if that were the case then people are wasting their time hunting for them because they would pop in and out of our reality on a random basis.

[1] How small is the pool of sightings keeping the Bigfoot myth alive? According to several sources, there have been a total of 3,313 Bigfoot "sightings" in North America in the last 92 years as of this posting. That's just 36 sightings per year, on average. To put that in perspective: The Bigfoot myth is being kept alive by just 0.000001 percent of the population. Bigfoot sighters are rarer than people who think they are in constant telepathic communication with Venusians, or people who claim they can fly using the power of their minds. In contrast there are millions of encounters with bears in North America every year.

Other sources of information:
Why Bigfoot is unlikely, if you know what unlikely means
10 Reasons why Bigfoot's a Bust

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post or blog is meant to suggest that the supernatural or paranormal does not exist. The fact is, I don't know. All I can do is look at the evidence to see if it stands up to the test of very simple scrutiny. If it passes, yay. If it fails, oh well... there's always next time. Investigators are human. I'm human. We all make mistakes. My pointing out the mistakes that others make should not be taken to imply that they are wrong in general, or that the things they investigate are only the product of imagination.