Neutrality and the wood ape report

It’s very difficult to be truly neutral. In most situations, you can only get somewhere by taking a side and exploring it. Last week’s hubbub regarding the Wood Ape report that I posted on Doubtful News was illustrative of a number of different issues that arise when attempting to learn more about and assess an extraordinary claim.

My approach to the report, which you can read here, is one of interest and openness. To me, having seen probably hundreds of poorly done “reports” by amateur paranormal investigators (ARIGs) and obvious and ridiculous hoaxes, this one was not of those. If we expect claims to be supported, and we ask for higher quality, then my view is we should not dismiss out of hand the product when we get it.

It was clear that this approach annoyed several Bigfoot Skeptics (for lack of a better term) – namely ones who follow Doubtful News who were disappointed in the lack of strong tone – and a few people from the former JREF forum (now International Skeptics) who have known me as a one who will dig into the nonsense such as that of Melba Ketchum (an OBVIOUS and embarrassingly awful presentation of pseudoscience).

Several people misunderstood my approach. I have gained much information and understanding by not being hostile or dismissive to those on the metaphorical “other side of the fence”. I’m not out to debunk Sasquatch. I wish to understand what people are experiencing and why they conclude this creature is real. Some commenters do not share that goal and thus had a problem with the post and perhaps my cordialness towards Brian Brown, host of the Bigfoot Show podcast and a NAWAC researcher who co-authored the report.

I feel that there is something to be explained in this Area X (Oklahoma) event. What is happening? Is it an elaborate hoax on the investigators from people launching rocks at the cabin in Area X? Is the land owner pursuing a monetary agenda? Are the participants promoting a scenario that will be turned into a profit making venture such as tourism, TV show or a movie? Is this a case of poltergeist activity perceived by the researchers? There are pretty much limitless possibilities to apply.

Asking “what’s going on here?” is not limiting the view, it is aiming the inquiry at the large target. Language of neutrality is difficult. No matter how I try, there still will be some bend in the framework I use. I may have framed it in a way that suggested belief or led credence to the group or belief; it was not the intent to advocate for the existence of wood apes.

What has come out of this exposure?

I expected pushback but not quite like this.  Some opinions were asinine, unsupported, and conspiratorial – very UNskeptical indeed. But I concede that the framing of the piece may have been in such a way as to feel like a betrayal to those who thought I was more concrete in my nonbelief than I really am. So, I can understand if the harsh comments were a result of feeling that I was promoting the claim. Please consider that examining the claim is NOT promotion of the claim. I did not say it was any sort of proof or even good evidence.

The exposure did result in some people suggesting that there were potential shenanigans going on. But yet didn’t provide evidence for this. To assume that the reality was not as published means I would be accusing the researchers of exaggeration, deception, and, at the extreme, fraud. If they are f***ing with me than I will likely find out eventually and say so, thus putting them far back from whatever ground they could gain. I have no reason to suspect they are doing that. While I’ve lost faith in humans many times, I’m not ready to assume people who have previously been honorable are deliberately suddenly and drastically dishonest. It does not follow. (You can observe my interaction with Brian Brown on this episode of the Bigfoot Show).

I did contact Brian again to address the suggestions that there is something unscrupulous going on.

Is there money involved?

“We are a 501(c)3 and we operate using the funds we generate from member dues and any donations from interested outsiders. We do have a button on our website and a page dedicated to generating those donations, but that’s about it. We don’t make very many explicit appeals for donations from interested outsiders. Also, we have nothing to sell. No “product.” There has been discussion within the group of staging crowd-sourced fundraising campaigns for specific things (like more thermal cameras, for example) and we have toyed with the idea of things like t-shirt sales, but we haven’t pursued those things to date and I’m personally wary of doing anything that makes it appear as though we’re trying to profit from our work. 100% of our income (the vast majority of which is from member dues) goes into furthering our research. This year, for example, we purchased new communication equipment. Also, things like the tremendous amount of small lithium-ion batteries we chew through in a summer.”

So, their donations or support goes back into the research efforts.

What is the potential you are being hoaxed?

“We pay the owners a relatively small amount annually to be on their property for such extended periods (it’s not uncommon in Oklahoma for property owners to receive modest lease payments from hunters and such). We also contribute to the upkeep of the structures as there is a fair amount of wear and tear from all those people staying there over months at a time. However, we are most often not accompanied by the owners. They are only present over a few times of the year and a handful of weekends during the summer months. Is there a motive to hoax? I suppose the only answer to that is to weigh the effort that would be necessary against the benefit of doing so. It just doesn’t make any sense from that perspective.”

One commenter mentioned that locals heard the gunshots so it’s not a “remote” area. However, another, non-NAWAC, skeptical researcher assured me that it is remote and that hoaxing just does not make sense. Brian did not know of any residents within several miles since they have explored the area thoroughly in the 15 or so years they have been active there.

“Of course, this is Oklahoma we’re talking about and there are lots of guns and people who enjoy using them. While we rarely hear gunshots from others, it’s happened. Lots of people shoot guns around there.”

There were allegations made that Brian is in marketing and so, should not be trusted. (Poisoning the well attempt?) He responds:

“I’m in marketing, yep. Without making any attempt to try and raise anyone’s opinion of marketers in general, all I can say is I use my abilities to ensure the group is as well-presented to the public as possible. The NAWAC is filled with serious people trying to do serious things in a field littered with those it’s impossible to take seriously. It’s a daunting “branding” challenge, to be sure. Am I promoting the existence of the animal? Yes, 100%. I know they’re real and I know their habitat is threatened and I’d very much like to see them recognized and protected. Also, I take the mission of our group seriously, especially the part about education.”

So, yes, Brian does have an agenda to show Bigfoots are real. That is the largest flaw in the foundation of the report, but it does not prevent the researchers from pursuing the falsification of the events in this particular location. If they are being harassed by people or other animals, they will attempt to show that so as to not be seen a promoting a false claim which would be embarrassing and at odds with their goals. The report, he notes, was meant to not be sensational. It’s well known that it’s very hard to be taken seriously in a field loaded with jokers.

On the podcast The Bigfoot Show, they did mention the idea of a fictional movie about Bigfoot. It’s not a stretch to make this dramatic wood ape attack scenario into a movie reminiscent of The Legend of Boggy Creek. So, in the back of my head, and knowing the viability of viral marketing, I could entertain the possibility that this is a setup for such a project.

Brian says:

“On the BFS we have discussed doing, essentially, a video version of the show (though that idea is pretty much dead at this time). […] At no time was the idea of bringing cameras to [Area] X considered by me (though Herriott may have suggested it on the show) nor would I ever involve the group like that. In fact, the NAWAC routinely turns down appeals by television producers (Finding Bigfoot in particular about 50 times — their producers apparently don’t talk to one another much).”

This didn’t exactly answer my question about this being part of a media scheme. So, I leave all possibilities open.

As I said before, but not everyone accepts, I’ve no dog in this fight, I just want to know what’s going on. I’m on the skeptic side of the fence but it does not mean I can’t peer over to the other side to see what’s brewing. Being in the center means on some days I make one side unhappy and on the other day I make the other side unhappy. So be it.

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18 thoughts on “Neutrality and the wood ape report

  1. This didn’t exactly answer my question about this being part of a media scheme. So, I leave all possibilities open.

    I can state categorically and without reservation that the NAWAC has zero interest in any outside media involvement including, but not limited to, television or movie productions, whether they be fictional or non-fictional. We may, as some point, write a book or something of that nature, but if it happens, it would be after our objective has been obtained. To date, the only “media” that’s been produced regarding the group’s work has been the several episodes of The Bigfoot Show from which neither I nor the group receive any monetary incentive whatsoever (the show is free and unsponsored and sells no merchandise). Those episodes were made in order to highlight the group’s learnings and experiences and for no other reason.

    Much of what the NAWAC wanted from the creation and release of the Ouachita Project paper was for people like you, Sharon, to take notice and ask the kinds of very reasonable questions you’ve posed. We do not suggest our work has resulted in anything like proof (and say as much in the paper). We do not anticipate that we’d move someone who already cannot accept the existence of the animal into “our camp.” The best that can come of it, from our perspective, would be for those with applicable expertise in primatology, biology, or some related field to take notice and an interest and perhaps join in or contribute in some way to our endeavor. It’s a sad commentary that the more vocal members of the “skeptical community” seem only interested in maintaining their beliefs and discrediting all those who would dare challenge their assumptions. It seems to me that the whole point of skepticism is to expose truths hidden behind commonly held opinions or belief systems. Such a shame that many of the “skeptics” minds are as unconstructively closed as too many minds in the paranormal fields of interest are open.

    As hard as it may be to accept in today’s jaded and highly polarized society, the NAWAC’s only objective and motive is exactly what we say it is. Namely, recognition and protection of a novel primate and its habitat. All our efforts, money, and energy are directed towards that.

  2. Well done, a very clear and eloquent statement of your position. A bit unfortunate that this premise of scientific neutrality couldn’t be clearer before, it might have helped frame the discussion better and maybe even assuage some of the nastier ad hominem stuff that goes on in forums. I enjoyed the radio interview and Brian sounds like a reasonable and balanced person. I guess if I saw what he thinks he saw, I would be doing the same things.

    However, think I would not be so dismissive of hoaxes based on apparent remoteness, effort required or things like a hot day to wear a fur suit. Especially when we have seen significant efforts by some to perpetrate hoaxes and an increasingly large target audience of people in the bush looking for bigfoot. Not to mention increased media interest.

    Also, as a skeptic, I regard this as an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence – something unusually absent given all the years and efforts made by many people to obtain it. For a skeptic like me, hoaxes, pranksters and natural events are (in the absense of evidence) is a far more likely explanation.

    I appreciate your scientific detatchment and empirical methodology. I hope you appreciate that some of us skeptics are not scientists and therefore approach questions like this with basic tools like logic, personal experience, and hopefully, critical thinking.

    As you questioned Brian, what happens a decade from now if there is still hard evidence? Probably nothing, the show will go on with a new batch of believers and skeptics.

  3. Not to sound critical, but finding this site by accident and reading some of your comments – most of which were very neutral and evidence based – I am having a difficult time understanding how you brush off the supernatural as nonexistent just because there is not proof that is solid enough?

    Is there solid proof that ghosts DONT exist and cannot exist? This would be news to me and I’d humbly accept. Just because I’ve never been in serious condition after an experience of a gas leak in a house doesn’t mean that I Dont believein what iI can’t see. (Excuse my typos please, damaged screen)

    I was a skeptic as well. One day while working on my house a 2 x 4 raised off the floor stood on end, spun and then slammed into my face. Other family members witnessed this. What is more solid evidence than a large board hitting you between the eyes? Am I as well as the threeother family members insane? Or are therethings you can’t disprove? Just because I didn’t have it on video, does that mean it didn’t happen? If this happened to you, would it open your eyes?

    I Dont see how you can come down so hard on people for expressing their opinions and experiences. By your logic, I could tell you that you’ve never driven, you’ve never had a dream, you’ve never had inner fears or thoughts because I can’t see them or experience them and you Dont have them on video, sorry.

    J

  4. I have a large collection of work that you should look at if you wish to better understand my position on the supernatural and the paranormal. Start here. http://www.csicop.org/author/sharonhill

    Also, don’t assume so much about me. You just read a few blog posts. It’s better to withhold comment.

  5. Regarding the idea we’re being hoaxed by outsiders:

    http://woodape.org/index.php/component/content/article/45-our-research/249-ouachita-project-monograph-faq#3

    Regarding the idea we may be being hoaxed by those within our group:

    http://woodape.org/index.php/component/content/article/45-our-research/249-ouachita-project-monograph-faq#4

    Regarding the idea that we’re lying:

    http://woodape.org/index.php/component/content/article/45-our-research/249-ouachita-project-monograph-faq#6

    Regarding the need for extraordinary evidence, we completely agree! It’s our objective to provide the proof necessary to establish this animal. We will remain at our task for as long as we’re physically able to do so.

  6. I have not read all the 200-plus comments on the wood ape project, but I was surprised to see that not one of the many comments I did read questioned the wisdom of attempting to shoot and/or kill one of the apes (assuming, of course, that they exist). And from the report, one was apparently wounded. One member of the team struck me as being particularly trigger-happy. Surely a more sensible approach would be to anesthetize one than to kill it outright. I believe that in Oregon or Washington (can’t recall which) it is formally illegal to kill a Sasquatch, on the assumption that because such an animal (again, if it indeed exists) could be too closely related to human beings, to destroy; that killing one would be at the very least extremely irresponsible.

  7. Not necessarily. A type specimen is needed for any official recognition. We’ve been waiting 50+ years for a dead one. Nothing but a body will convince all.

    It’s certainly a dangerous proposition since it could be a human but there is merit to it if morally ambiguous.

  8. I agree. If a body is required for evidence, a live ‘squatch would be better than a dead one. These bigfoot hunters have expensive remote cameras, nightvision, thermal imaging and now Flir equipped drones – I’m sure they could afford a dart gun. And it might save the life of a prankster in a fur suit.

  9. Too bad it seems so necessary to defend an ‘open’ position… the Ouachita Project report does seem remarkable. Let everyone try reading it before making… comments…

    I guess I myself am no longer ‘open’ having been convinced some time ago there is an underlying reality to the Sasquatch phenom not explainable by any ‘ordinary’ means… including ‘hoaxing’… and the Ouachita document seems to record some real ‘communication’ with this ‘phenom’…

  10. With a colleague, I had the pleasure of teaching a course for seniors recently on the paranormal. We covered everything from ghosts, UFOs, cryptids such as the thunderbird and the Loch Ness Monster, and, of course, the Sasquatch. My colleague and I took the position of being neither skeptical nor believers, and tried to present evidence from both sides of each issue.
    The Sasquatch was by far the most interesting part of the course, because the evidence both for and against the reality ot the animal is equally compelling.
    In class discussion, the evidence in support of the reality of the creature lies largely in the hundreds of personal testimonies from witnesses,some of them very familiar with the wilderness, combined with pictures and castes made of footprints, the very number suggesting strongly that they could not all be hoaxes.

    On the other hand, with the exception of the Patterson film, there has really been no subsequent video of the same quality (or better, as one would expect) than Patterson’s in over half a century, despite the fact that video photography has evolved significantly since the 1960s, and interest in the Sasquatch has grown exponentially since that time.
    Still, skeptics to the contrary notwithstanding, if the Patterson film were a hoax, consisting of a man wearing a costume, why has that costume never materialised? Surely anyone who could manufacture such a costume back then could have made a bundle in the special effects division of a Hollywood studio, given that special effects experts in Hollywood at the time said that, if it were a hoax, it was extremely impressive and beyond the skills of most professionally employed special effects people in the film industry. Yet no one has ever convincingly demonstrated with tangible proof that this costume exists, which one would think would be pretty easy to do, if one existed.
    My personal belief is that there is likely a tangible reality to the Sasquatch’s existence, at least in the Pacific Northwest, given the remoteness of the terrain.

  11. I am in the science field ( microbiology) and enjoy nature and the outdoors as well. As I scientist I agree there is no definitive biological proof of the existence of these beings but it is beyond me why science (skeptics) shuns all the secondary information (unclassified hair, foot prints w dermal ridges, vocalizations) and thousands of eyewitness sightings. Many sightings are from trained professionals (police, wildlife biologists) and from multiple eyewitnesses. What is the statistical probability that ALL these are hoaxes or misidentifications ? Kudos for the team of investigators who see the challenge and commit their time, effort and expertise in trying to understand this phenomenon. These are the TRUE scientist and what science is about.

  12. So, how often do the microbes try to pull a fast one on you? 🙂

    People, on the other hand, are complicated and make lots of poor judgements and mistakes and even are not so honest sometimes. They make for terrible instruments for observing and recording.

    There is a TON of evidence and support that shows that it does not matter if you are a “professional” in ANY job, you will make mistakes in memory and perception. Police and pilots mess up all the time. I suggest Eyewitness Testimony by Elizabeth Loftus for this. It’s essential.

    It’s not correct to consider all the “evidence” in bulk but to weigh each case to see if it passes muster, what it tells us, and what it suggests towards a conclusion. If you do that, the cases look considerably different than in a big clump.

    With regards to the Bigfoot claims, you can’t use masses of terrible evidence and call that a strong case. It isn’t a strong case. The evidence from many fields simply do not point toward the same conclusion. That’s what we should see if it was true. We don’t.

    I’d add that science is not just about data and being systematic. It about peer review and consensus, adjusting ideas based on valid criticism, making progress through time, and having something that is predictive and testable. No amateurs are going to manage that. It’s too much. Science isn’t done by individuals, it’s done by a process and a community.

  13. Many valid points here but I know if I am in the lab and my mentor observes something very unusual which is not captured in text books and several other trained in the field have observed the same I would be a fool to deny it and not be interested in researching further. Why is this wrong ? If every eye raising observation was tossed under the rug where would science be ?
    Explain to me what these un cataloged hairs are coming from ?
    Is it really plausible that hoaxers are leaving miles of trackways that contain highly detailed dermal ridges in very remote areas ?
    We can go on and on…
    So are you saying that this does not merit the scientific community to further study this enigma ?
    There are some brave scientists that are familiar with the collective evidence and are withstanding the unjust redicule to find the answer.

  14. Unknown hairs does not mean “Bigfoot”. Not all animal hairs are catalogued and it’s not an exact matching technique. Also, where ARE these hairs? You’ll have to show the documentation and perhaps another examiner will have another opinion. Again, the claims fall apart with just a little scrutiny. Skookum cast, Patterson-Gimlin film, various photos…

    Yes, it IS more plausible that someone is faking tracks since we KNOW that is possible; it HAS happened multiple times. There is no supporting evidence to attribute this to a Bigfoot. (see the latest: http://doubtfulnews.com/2015/09/bigfoot-london-footprints-declared-a-hoax/)

    The scientific community has looked at this ALREADY, a while ago, and no better evidence has come to light in 50 years. Please read Regal’s Searching for Sasquatch. I’m afraid you need to look at the broader literature, not just that of the believers side. There is every good reason why science has not accepted the idea of Bigfoot.

    P.S. Michael: It’s not a great idea to use your company email to link to blogs…

  15. I’ve written to this site before, and would only like to add that my mind has still not been made up. The Patterson-Gimlin film, while intrinsically impressive and dramatic, has never been duplicated, despite the significant developments in photographic technology since the late 60s.

    My wife and I, who were then living in Alberta, met and interviewed a Harvard PhD–Vladimir Marcotec (sp?)- shortly after stills from the the film were featured in an ARGOSY magazine article written by Ivan Sanderson. Prof. Marcotec had been flown to the US to view the film (he was a professor of anthropology at the University of Calgary at the time). His view was that, if it was a hoax, it was an extremely sophisticated hoax, probably beyond the abilities of Patterson and Gimlin. His personal belief, off the record, was that it was probably genuine, based on muscle movements in the legs, etc, as well as how the creature walked.

    He did not think that an artificial construction such as a ‘monkey suit’ could have been designed to duplicate and reproduce such details, a point with which many experts (special effects people in Hollywood, etc) agreed at the time.
    Then, we were both convinced by his expert testimony. But after a half century, I’m more skeptical of the veracity of the Patterson film, simply because since then, after almost fifty years, NO films of similar credibility have ever emerged, despite the development of digital photography, etc,

    But this raises another question: IF this film were a hoax, and the suit had been manufactured, why did nobody come forward to produce the fake suit –which has NEVER been produced–and claim the credit for constructing it? Anyone who produced the costume at that time would have been hired immediately by a movie studio for their–at that time, cutting edge–technological expertise.

    And yet no one ever did.

    The mystery is still unsolved.

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