Bigfoot and the Epic Scientific Fail

A friend of mine who’s been following this Bigfoot story sent me a link today, saying “things don’t look good for the Bigfoot people.”

No kidding.

He, like most people (I suspect), are following this for the sheer novelty of it. That’s great, and I hope that’s why it’s making news.

Key words: I hope. Because, while it’s an entertaining sideshow, this entire Bigfoot thing seems to be a case of scientific research done horribly, horribly wrong. Let’s just enumerate how they screwed this one up by reputable scientific standards:

  • The remains were immediately attached to the “Bigfoot” legend, without any testing or comparison to anecdotal accounts (Bigfoot sightings are usually in the Northwest, aren’t they? Then how is a find in Georgia connected to it?)
  • This find was immediately announced to the media, even before testing began taking place.
  • From what I understand, all we’ve heard about it is talk. The remains haven’t been shown off, nor have additional photos of the find.
  • They’ve been somewhat selective in who they allow to examine the remains and the findings.

No, no, no, for the love of everything that is good and holy, NO. Let’s assume (charitably) that the remains are real. You study the remains; you open it up to scientific inquiry from other researchers–not just those who happen to believe in Bigfoot. You come up with an understanding as to how this relates to existing species–and then you have other people in that field of expertise check your work. If it happens to explain some of the “Bigfoot” sightings, then so be it. After all that, then you have your big media press conference.

(Seriously, anyone else getting flashbacks of James Cameron’s “I found Jesus’s grave!” press conference?)

This is why I hope whatever media coverage these people have gotten is simply the sideshow effect. Because the media should have ignored them long ago if it’s a matter of real scientific inquiry. A couple of photos should not pass muster.

What’s interesting is, after following this a bit, I feel like I’m falling in with all the hand-waving about science education that goes on in this country. They might have a point, although they’re usually finger-pointing at creationism.

If that’s the case–if scientific understanding in this country really is that abysmal–then the problem isn’t creationism. And it’s not a religious problem, either–it’s an overall superstitious mindset that is corrupting religion as one of its symptoms.

You can lay the blame on fundamentalism or superstition, but healthy religion should be promoting discernment. A search for the truth rooted in the idea that what we think we know may indeed be wrong–and if so, we need to adjust our understanding. To put that another way, good science. Seriously. Pick up some C.S. Lewis and tell me that he’d be a rabid creationist if he was alive now (especially since, in some cases, he mentions evolution in a fairly neutral light–as if it’s a matter of scientific course). Read some of John Wesley’s sermons and journal entries–heck, the man recommended that the clergy be well-read in a diverse number of subjects outside of religion. His reading list would have put us to shame. And I think you could even claim that some of the New Testament writers would take issue with people who think every whim that goes through their head is the voice of God*.

The sad thing is, this thinking permeates our lives on a lot of different levels. How would things be different if we evaluated everything not on a consistent, overall track record, but on random, anecdotal evidence that stuck with us? Where does that leave our critical thinking? Our job performance? Our judgments of others?

I suppose that’s overly dire, but it is a good question. Unlike the people calling for better science education, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know that it’s merely an educational issue; it can be informed by our understanding of science, but it’s also a philosophical worldview issue. One might also argue that it’s a societal problem–I don’t know of any examples, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone could point to examples in mainstream society (other than religion, and outside of education) that would encourage this sort of thought pattern.

Actually, I’m not sure there is an answer, or whether I care.

I mainly wrote this because the whole Bigfoot thing seems like an unscientific train wreck, and that makes me want to rant.

* I John 4:1-2 is the example that popped in my head. (Yeah, I had to actually look up the chapter and verse number, so the fact that I can point to a reference doesn’t mean I’m some well-read genius.)