A Bigfoot book that is incredibly relevant 30 years later

Rendition of unknown bear that may represent the Yeti
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Once again, I’ve finally gotten around to a classic cryptozoology text. MAN! I missed out on this one for so many years. John Napier’s Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality ©1972 is one of the best Bigfoot texts I’ve read. I’m sure it’s because Napier was a scientist, a paleoanthropologist and primatologist – one of the first who paid serious attention to the idea of Bigfoot (Sasquatch and Yeti).

Bigfoot research has not progressed much. We still have no better evidence than we used to. As Napier notes, eyewitness accounts are the “lifeblood of the Bigfoot phenomenon.” Therefore, this book is TOTALLY relevant today and should be required reading for those weekend “squatchers”. The best parts of the book were the places where Napier says pretty much exactly what I’m thinking, and the parts where he nails down ideas about the creatures that have come to pass decades later.

Napier’s “Bigfoot” in the title is indicative of the defining characteristic – the big foot – and includes both the Yeti and Sasquatch. The Yeti preceded the North American Bigfoot/Sasquatch for public attention. The 1951 Shipton expedition introduced the Yeti to the public with the revelation of the clear photograph of a footprint. Napier obtained the original uncropped negative and discovers all is not as neat as it seems. The Shipton track is not human or ape and it’s not certain that the photo represents the print as it was made by whatever made it. Napier lists many options of animals that could have made the snow track only for it to be distorted by the elements and mistaken for what it is not.

Napier points out important cultural aspects of the Sherpas who tell the tale of the Yeti. He delivers some surprising conclusions such as the Sherpas are not all that great at identifying animals as people think, they aren’t particularly terrified of the Yeti as popularly depicted, and their narratives are garnished with traditional folklore themes that make it extremely difficult to discern a real animal from a legend. The stories contain popular folklore motifs such as backwards-turned feet, hair so long it impedes vision, and breasts so large they are slung over shoulders out-of-the-way. Silly stuff.

Napier refreshingly debunks several baseless ideas that mystery-mongering researchers love to use. For one, the idea of prehistoric survivors is not a good one. I agree. Though monster hunters like to say that myth has some basis in fact, that is not necessarily so, not when other evidence goes against the idea. He is blunt that scientists aren’t hiding information on Bigfoot. Scientists are not only “gossipers” (true – we love to share our discoveries) but also extremely curious. Bigfoot would be too big, wondrous and fantastic a discovery to hide. And, there is nothing threatening about the discovery of Bigfoot that would overturn biology. However, the scientific community pays little attention to ideas that have no merit. After examining what little there is on Bigfoot, science concludes there is nothing there to pursue. Bigfoot is not commonly spoken about because there is nothing scientific to talk about. Napier does note that no harm exists in looking into it, if interested, mainly because the public is interested and wants to know what experts think.

Monster worship is common across cultures. We must consider that our monster tales are a part of the evolution of our culture; it has nothing to do with intellectual ability. There will always be monsters to fear or love. That does not necessarily mean they are real animals. Bigfoot, Napier says, does not have the obvious social purpose or symbolism as some legends do. Here he means the Sherpa tales. He does not address the more current idea that Bigfoot in America is symbolic for freedom, habitat preservation, and the great American forests. The legend of Bigfoot undoubtedly exists. It’s when reality is extrapolated from the tales that we get into trouble. As we see over and over with paranormal-based TV, drawing inferences from someone’s imaginative hypothesis is really bad science. Reliable information connects to a foundation of what we already know to be true. For example, we can judge the idea of Bigfoot in terms of paleontology, physiology, evolution, ecology and psychology. (In an interesting tidbit, Napier says he rejects Ostman’s famous tale of being kidnapped by a Bigfoot family because his description of their meatless diet does not correspond to that of an animal of such proportions.)

Speaking of the Ostman story, Napier tells of an earlier Yeti version, that of Captain d’Auvergne, who was injured in the Himalayas, was rescued by a yeti, taken to a cave, and nursed back to health. He also relates the story of the Minnesota Iceman. While reading the tale of the frozen dead hairy man, I could not help but think that serial hoaxer Rick Dyer was a fan of this traveling sideshow tale as well. It’s curious how the stories seem to repeat themselves (look up Patterson and Roe).

Napier is clear that Bigfoot was big business. In America, it was a commodity to be exploited. Never so much as now, 30 years after this book came out. Napier also blatantly notes that the monks in Nepal were shrewd to capitalize on the Yeti legend to get money for facilities. Nepal government charged handsomely for Yeti hunting permits. The Yeti was exploited for tourism in Nepal just as it still is in Siberia and its relative is in the American Northwest.

For all the serious expeditions that were funded to look for the Yeti five decades ago and the money ponied up today to look for Sasquatch, NONE have been successful in bringing back a worthwhile contribution. Except one… Bryan Sykes who collected DNA in the Himalayas. I was fascinated that Napier notes the following about the description of the Yeti – the local monks called it a bear, three-quarters of the reports describe a partially quadrupedal animal, and for all intents and purposes, Yeti sounds like a bear. Indeed the Sykes results came back “bear” but a unique bear. This portion of the book feels like a prediction come true.

The core question of the book is “Is Bigfoot an idea or an animal?” The “true” answer, of course, is “both”. Many animals account for Bigfoot sightings but the idea of Bigfoot has outgrown even its huge features. Bigfoot is bigger than ever.

I did not expect such a fine treatment of this subject, so very much in tune with my own thoughts, when I decided to check out this book from my local university library. Add this book to your Bigfoot library.

Abominable Science is Cryptozoology Book of the Year

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Who am I to say that? Well, nobody special, really. “Best books” is subjective. My favorite books include National Velvet (because I read it 35 times or so), Watership Down, The Hobbit, and Jane Austin stuff but I won’t quibble if they aren’t yours too.

When it comes to nonfiction works, the criteria is slightly different. Nonfiction can contribute significantly to the body of literature in a field. A commendable piece brings something new and enlightening – a fresh view, uncovered evidence, updated imagery. My choices of best nonfiction have substance, credibilty, and are groundbreaking must-have books to those interested in a particular field.

Thus, some of my favorite books in the cryptozoology/paranormal realm are Ben Radford’s Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal and Tracking the Chupacabra. These were excellent examples of scholarship and much needed in the literature. They also were praised by many others. I also favorite must-have books such as Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World and Origin of Species because of their tremendous insight and inspiration as well as quotable and beautiful language.

You can see the Doubtful News cryptozoology section of our bookstore here.

It’s hard for me to pick favorite books since it depends on the subject area and the mood I’m in that needs to be satisfied. But there is NO DOUBT that one of the most important cryptozoology books ever is Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero. It’s impressive and important – a MUST-HAVE if you call yourself a cryptozoologist. But it was ignored by the Bigfooters (arguable not part of the field of cryptozoology because of their narrow niche) or panned by a small portion of cryptozoology believers who seemed too joyous in ripping it apart. If you haven’t gotten a copy, you are missing out.
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I am so adamant about it because it’s impressive. I had heard about the book around its inception. I caught peeks into the process here and there as Dan and Don worked diligently to produce a high quality volume. Care, scholarship and new information – that counts for a lot in nonfiction. Nature thought so. So did the Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Education. See Publisher’s Weekly, The Scientist, and other reviews here. When was the last time a crypto book got such praise and widespread notice!? Abominable Science was an outstanding accomplishment.

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Serious science talk about Bigfoot – the new Tet Zoo podcast

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Bigfoot/Sasquatch enthusiasts MUST listen to the latest episode of the Tetrapod Zoology (Tet Zoo) podcast. Episode 3 is the Bigfoot special. This podcast is by Dr. Darren Naish, PhD who writes the blog Tetrapod Zoology on the Scientific American network, and science artist John Conway.

Still of "Patty" from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film

Still of “Patty” from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film

This is a one and a half hour discussion about the best evidence known for the Bigfoot phenomenon. The three “best” pieces prior to this year are the dermal ridges confirmed by print expert Jimmy Chilcutt [Check out this interview on Monster Talk], the Skookum cast from Washington, and the Patterson Gimlin footage. Conway and Naish discuss the pros and cons of each one. The point of the discussion is that these three pieces, compelling when they appeared, have since fallen apart. The Chilcutt dermal ridges can be duplicated unintentionally through artifacts from the plaster casting process. Credit is given to the work of Matt Crowley. The Skookum cast that was interpreted by primate experts to possibly be consistent with a reclining primate, showing body and heel impressions in mud, has a far more mundane explanation as resulting from a native elk (wapiti) wallowing in the mud. Credit is given to the Chris Murphy book Meet the Sasquatch (which I have thanks to the aforementioned Matt Crowley). And finally, the Patterson Gimlin film, while certainly impressive on the surface and has not been completely debunked to my satisfaction, does suffer from some serious problems surroundings it’s documentation and history. Noted contributors for this information are Dan Loxton (of Skeptic magazine) and Dr. Don Prothero, who have a new book on cryptozoology coming out that I CAN NOT WAIT to get. Hope to see it this spring.

All the evidence, if solid, should have held up and led to ADDITIONAL finds to strengthen the case for Sasquatch, but that is not what happened.

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Mind the gap: Entering strange new territory on my Bigfoot weekend

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Are you a believer or a skeptic?

Awful categories, aren’t they? No one fits neatly into one or the other all the time. I apologize in advance for using these words as descriptors. I couldn’t think of a good way to express what we mean when applying these as processes, not a broad brush label.

Everyone is skeptical about something. Some of us apply it more evenly or have embraced it more thoroughly (as a process we use to judge claims). Even true believers harbor doubts about aspects of their subject. Sometimes, the doubts win and they drift away from their believing community.

I’m not talking about God, I’m talking about ghosts and Bigfoot.

I want to share some interesting episodes that took place in what I’m calling my Bigfoot weekend of October 21-23. I discovered many people existing in the gap between skepticism and the paranormal. They can tell us a whole lot about these topics we might otherwise miss.

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New cryptozoology: less credulous, more scientific

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There is a stereotype about Bigfoot and Nessie devotees. Typically, they are middle-aged or older men, often with facial hair. They seem obsessed and the public might see them as a bit “off”.  It’s true that there is not that much diversity in the list of monster researchers. But, cryptozoology is changing.

Today’s researchers are examining questions from a new perspective. They can organize and communicate better thanks to the internet. There are new types of books and media. I feel positive about the future of the field of cryptozoology and excited for new things to come. At The Amazing Meeting 9 (TAM 9) in Las Vegas in July, gathered together was a group of people that had everything to do with my positive attitude.

All the people in this photo contribute to moving the subject of cryptozoology away from the stereotypes and the paranormal realm and into the circle of popular cultural and scientific understanding. This group is no less excited by the idea that cryptids are real, unknown animals. It’s just that we are realistic about it. We don’t assume the stories can be taken at face value because we know mistakes are made. We do not come in with a presupposed notion about what a person saw. Our scope is larger; our conclusions are based on what we know is likely true, not what we wish to be true.

From left: S. Hill, B. Smith, B. Radford, D. Prothero, J. Nickell, M. Crowley, K. Stollznow, D. Loxton

Photo by M. Crowley

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Bigfoot “facts” for kids?

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Bigfoot Evidence has posted a link to a website called “Is Bigfoot Real” [refrain from clicking unless absolutely necessary] which contains a page called “Bigfoot Facts for Kids”.

The so called “facts” given are as follows:

  • Where Has Bigfoot Been Seen? Bigfoot has been spotted all over the world. People often see Bigfoot in wooded areas or high in the mountains.
  • What Does Bigfoot Eat? Bigfoot is an omnivore. This means he eats both plants and animals. Researchers say Bigfoot eats nuts, berries, fish and deer.
  • How Does Bigfoot Act? Bigfoot is shy. He likes to live with others of his own kind but doesn’t like being around people. He doesn’t like to have his picture taken so it’s hard to get him on film. Bigfoot talks to each other by making loud calls across long distances.
  • Does Bigfoot Hurt People? No, Bigfoot doesn’t try to hurt people on purpose. Sometimes though, when people accidentally wander into his territory, he’s been known to throw rocks at them to frighten them away. Bigfoot isn’t trying to be mean. He’s just trying to protect his home and family. Continue reading

Your friendly neighborhood mon$ter

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In a recent post on Skeptoid blog, I suggest that paranormal-based tourism, such as ghost tours and monster festivals, which are growing in popularity, border on fraud.

“Even if there are long-standing legends of strange events occurring at some location, to suggest that a place is haunted just to freak people out is contemptible.”

“Ghost tours and monster festivals are fun. But, their apparent frivolity disguise an underlying invitation to buy into an idea just because it’s entertaining while having no basis in reality.”

Commenters remarked that I might be getting too worked up over it. Meanwhile, I found this commentary from a local who thinks his town needs one of them monsters to draw tourists and he is not beyond creating one from scratch. Continue reading

Research groups’ useful social function is not “being scientific”

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The LA Times reports on the MUFON conference with the headline “convention emphasizes scientific methods”. The reporter then skewers this idea by showing how at least some of the attendees have thoroughly embraced the idea of alien visitation and human-alien hybridization. Oh my. (Read about a scientist’s experience in attending a MUFON conference here.

The reporter doesn’t have to go to the fringe to point out the sham of science here. It’s more basic than that – rooted in popular misunderstanding about what science is and what scientists do.

UFO researchers, including MUFON, were included in my study of ARIGs (amateur research and investigation groups). I looked at how they use the concept of science and being scientific in their activities. In this article, we see some common devices come up: they emphasize the “precision of a scientist” and the use of devices; they document reports, they are “professional”. All that is fine but certain critical components of being scientific are missing. Continue reading

Scientific or Scientifical?

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About half of all amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs – those self-forming groups that do ghost hunting, Bigfoot searches, cataloging of UFO sightings, and other paranormalia) on the Internet say they use scientific methods and equipment and/or their field is based in science. [1]

As one who actually did scientific work in a lab (geochemistry) and geologic investigations, I had a hard time with their claims about scientificity. To be scientific, in a strict sense, there is no substitute for academic training. Long ago, we exhausted all the relatively simple ways of learning about the world and science rocketed out of the reach of amateurs. Now, like it or not, science takes a big effort – careful planning, funding, collaboration and eventual publication so that results can be critically evaluated by the community. In Western society, science is a privileged method of inquiry. The public generally understands that the methods of science are rigorous and the results are authoritative. So, to say that one is “scientific” is to set a very high bar. I could not help but wonder just how close to the bar these ARIG participants could get. So, I looked at their websites and read their publications. Continue reading