Media Skepticism

Nescio… Ergo BIGFOOT!

Translation: I don’t know… therefore BIGFOOT!

The title of this article in The Independent reads “Bigfoot: New Evidence” and the sub-title says… “Hairs found in Indian jungle are of ‘no known species’ say scientists.”

Okay, okay, okay… I’m going to take a deep breath now, allow my brain to get oxygenated, and surely this article is just a delusion. Nobody has that poor logic skills, right?

Two things before I continue:

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that there are undiscovered species on Earth. I do not deny the possibility that there is some ape-like primate we have not discovered yet roaming somewhere around the world. I am very open to the possibility that there is some truth behind the myth of Bigfoot even though it gets hyped a lot by people who are kooks.
  2. Just because you don’t know what species the hairs are from does not mean that it is a Yeti. It doesn’t even mean that it’s a primate. It could be any mammal of any order.

It is right up there with the Loch Ness monster: the subject of claimed sightings, passionately promoted by believers, dismissed by the scientific community. But now experts say they have found the best evidence to date that the yeti might – just conceivably – be real.

Oh, oh, oh… and what was that evidence again?

Tests at Oxford Brookes University on hairs which local people believe came from a yeti in an Indian jungle have failed to link them with any known species…

Okay, okay, okay… does that really say it? “Failed to link them with any known species” right? So… since we can’t figure out what it is apparently it’s safe to say it’s most likely a yeti, right?

Ape expert Ian Redmond, who is co-ordinating the research, said: “The hairs are the most positive evidence yet that a yeti might possibly exist, because they are tangible. We are very excited about the preliminary results, although more tests need to be done.”

Oh. The fact that we can’t identify them is positive evidence.

Media sensationalism does not end with The Independent. The BBC even had the good sense to do a story on it though there was a part at the end talking about “disagreement” so it wasn’t as bad… although the guy who gave them the story is… pretty special.

The BBC was given the hairs by passionate yeti believer Dipu Marak, who retrieved them from a site in dense jungle after the mande barung was allegedly seen by a forester for three days in a row in 2003.

Mr Marak says the hairs may provide compelling evidence of the existence of a black and grey ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall.

Mr Marak estimates the creature weighs about 300kg (660lb) and says it is herbivorous, surviving on fruit, roots and tree bark.

What I would be very interested to know is how he determined the size, weight, and diet of this creature by looking at a few hairs.

He could make a career out of that alone! He could get a booth at carnivals and have you bring in cat hairs and then he could guess the weight and size of your cat (and whether you feed them Friskies or Meow-Mix) and if he guesses wrong you win a stuffed animal, preferably from the superfamily Hominoidea (which just means “apes” fyi).

Preliminary test by the scientists in the UK have not so far disproved his belief.

And preliminary observations by astronomers in the US have not disproved my belief in the existence of dancing pink unicorns on Neptune.

The BBC gets a little better at the end…

Both Mr Redmond and Ms Nekaris agree there is “every chance” they could belong to an unknown species of primate.

“Only two years ago a new species of macaque was discovered in northern India. It’s perfectly possible that there are pockets of jungle there where a previously undiscovered primate could exist,” he said.

To The Independent’s credit, it gets better about not jumping to conclusions at the end as well.

If DNA analysis cannot identify the creature, it should be able to work out what it is related to, he explained. “It could easily be an unknown primate, even if it is not a yeti.”

But alas, it seems that we encounter a similar dilemma that we get when defining what “God” is. As Richard Dawkins once said, “If you say that God is energy, then you can find “God” in a lump of coal. Having done a research project on the Yeti in second grade, I know that what people mean when they say “Yeti” could mean a variety of descriptions of some ape-like creature. How do we define proof of the Yeti as opposed to proof of an undiscovered primate?

Zoologists are always looking for new species because when they do find a new species that tends to be really exciting and awesome. Unfortunately, the “cryptozoologists”, though they seem to have a scientifically legitimate search, don’t seem to go about this scientifically.

But y’know… if we find a new species that would be so very exciting to the science nerd within me that I might be able to silence the anger from the skepchick within me at dumb media sensationalism.

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3 Comments

  1. July 31, 2008 at 2:07 am —

    Oh boy, the stoopid from Main Stream Morons, it never dies. If it is a new species, though, that is cool. 🙂

  2. July 31, 2008 at 9:30 am —

    Troof in advertising: as the only piece of “evidence” so far not conclusively proven to NOT belong to a yeti (double negative intentional), it is the MOST positive evidence of the existence of a yeti by virtue of its absolute neutrality on the subject.

  3. Joy Wang
    July 31, 2008 at 10:05 am —

    Ewww…badlogic badlogic badlogic
    Rystefn: I agree. It’s true, and sad, in a very twisted sort of way. Of course, if it were a new species, that what be hyper-awesome, but as of yet, it’s sounding a lot like UFO logic. Bunch of anecdotal sightings, some circumstantial and insubstantial evidence, and voila! we have TEH PROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOF!

    As an aside, one of the most iconic images of the Loch Ness monster is actually a fake . I always get the giggles when someone pulls out that image and goes “I’SE GOT TEH PROOOOOF!!!”

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