'Bigfoot DNA' Study Seeks Yeti Rights
1. The Empty Fossil Record When two Georgia men declared they were storing the body of Bigfoot in a freezer -- and that they had its DNA -- more than a few skeptics cried foul. Is the legend of Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch) little more than a stubborn myth? For the dirt on the doubters, Discovery News contacted Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, who was more than happy to rattle off the top 10 reasons Bigfoot is bogus. First on his list: the fossil record. Why, he asked, would a legacy of large mammals reported to exist throughout North America (and beyond) simply disappear from the same soil that has preserved everything from the dinosaur bones pictured here, to woolly mammoths, to tiny marine crustaceans? "There's no fossil record of anything fitting the description" of Bigfoot, said Radford. "There's simply nothing there."
2. Forget Fossils, Where Are the Bodies? Putting aside paleontology, Radford points out that today, if Bigfoot exists, it must disappear when it dies. "There's no hard evidence in the form of bones. There are no hair samples, there are no live or dead specimens," he said. Bigfoot believers argue that the soil in areas where the creatures live -- such as the region surrounding Bellingham, Wash., seen here -- is acidic and quickly breaks down the bones. Nonsense, says Radford: "There's nothing to that, because Bigfoot has been reported in every state but Hawaii."
3. Where Do Bigfoot Babies Come From? Even for mammals that are relatively rare in global terms, such as the chimpanzee, it takes a decent population size to maintain a species. "If Bigfoot is a zoological reality," said Radford, "there has to be a breeding population." For that population to be big enough to account for even a fraction of the sightings, there would need to be tens of thousands of the creatures in North America alone. "Think about that for a second. Tens of thousands of Bigfoot, living, breathing, doing what they do. Where are they? Why don't they get hit by a car?" asked Bradford. "The numbers just simply don't add up."
4. Your Lying Eyes The majority of "evidence" for Bigfoot, says Radford, consists of eyewitness accounts. Yet as psychologists and schooled juries know, such accounts are famously inaccurate. What's more, says Radford, "the problem is, that's not evidence, it's an anecdote....It's interesting and you shouldn't dismiss it out of hand, but it's not evidence."
5. The Ever-Mysterious Blobsquatch This black-and-white image was taken in 1977 by a man named Frank White, near Bellingham, Wash. "I'd call it a North American ape," White told reporters at the time. "You can call it a Sasquatch or anything you like." Radford calls it a Blobsquatch. Aside from eyewitness reports, blurry images like this are what most Bigfoot believers rely on. But it's no proof, said Radford: "These photos show something that is probably alive, it's probably dark, it's not a cat, it's not a camel. It could be a Bigfoot, or it could be a deer or it could be a guy in a suit." "Ultimately," he concludes, "it's a two-dimensional image. It's pixels."
6. Doctor Who? For Radford and other skeptics, the only acceptable standard of proof is the scientific one. Why, when there are countless researchers probing the far corners of every continent, is there no rigorous, documented, peer-reviewed evidence for Bigfoot? Only one answer makes sense, says Radford: Bigfoot isn't real. Attendees of the Texas Bigfoot Conference, pictured here, might disagree. The annual event draws hundreds of people -- including Bigfoot enthusiasts, amateur researchers, historians, and tourists -- but few if any academic scientists.
7. The Case of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Speaking of science, Bigfoot believers sometimes complain that funding for Sasquatch Studies is hard to find. But scientists are notoriously good note-takers, Radford points out, even about subjects they aren't directly studying. Consider this league of biologists scouting for the elusive ivory-billed woodbecker in Arkansas' White River National Wildlife Refuge, an area where Bigfoot sightings have been made. "There was a huge, hardcore investigation. They were well-equipped, well-funded and made a sustained search," noted Radford. "What I found interesting was, what didn't they find? They didn't find Bigfoot."
8. This Katydid Couldn't Hide Dozens of new species, previously unknown to science, are discovered each year. But for the most part, they are tiny: microorganisms and insects such as the newly discovered katydid pictured here. Could Bigfoot really hide in such a peopled world? "The last large animal to be found was probably the giant panda, and that was 100 years ago," said Radford. "There has not been a single new creature that doesn't fit the recognized taxonomy discovered in the last century, there just simply hasn't."
9. If It Walks Like a Hoax ... This ruddy strand, about 70 micrometers in diameter, could be taken as a hair. But it isn't -- it's a carpet fiber. A similar thread was once claimed to have fallen from Bigfoot's back. Later, it was shown to be synthetic Dynel fiber, said Radford. An alleged vial of Bigfoot blood once turned out to be transmission fluid, and many Bigfoot sightings, in the end, are admitted fakes. "There is no category of Bigfoot evidence that doesn't have a string of hoaxes attached to it," said Radford. "If you're studying a subject in which virtually all the evidence either comes down to being inconclusive or a hoax, something's wrong."
10. The Case of the Missing Footprint This picture shows Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at California's Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem, holding up a plaster cast believed by some to be a Bigfoot imprint. Authentic or not, footprints and other physical artifacts are meaningless scientifically, says Radford, when there is no standard to measure them by. "Some of the footprints have three toes, some have four toes, and some of course have five," he noted. "Even if I'm certain a certain track wasn't made by anything else, how do I know it's Bigfoot? You can't." The same goes for DNA. Scientists make a positive identification by comparing an unknown sample to a known one. There is no such standard for Bigfoot, says Radford. Even an educated guess about the giant footprint pictured here or a Blobsquatch gone wild is, at best, a shot in the dark. Benjamin Radford is the co-author of "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures."
A team of researchers led by Melba Ketchum, a Texas veterinarian, claims to have not only conclusively proven the existence of Bigfoot through genetic testing, but also that the mysterious monster is a half-human hybrid, the result of mating with modern human females about 15,000 years ago.
Ketchum’s work — which had been delayed for years because no peer-reviewed scientific journal would accept her study — was finally published yesterday in something called the “DeNovo Scientific Journal.”
There’s been much discussion about the dubious validity of the study; the fact that it was rejected by mainstream science journals and instead self-published in a “science journal” and web site created specifically for that purpose raised many eyebrows.
As i09 writer Robert T. Gonzales drily noted, “The site claims to be ‘open access,’ but charges 30 bucks to access the Bigfoot genome paper. It bears mentioning that the Bigfoot genome paper, at the time of this posting, is also the only paper in Vol. 1, Issue 1 of the new journal. Seeing as ‘open access’ clearly does not mean what these researchers think it means, you’ll forgive us if we remain skeptical when they say their data ‘conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin.’”
So what’s this all about? Why, exactly, is Ketchum struggling so mightily to prove that Bigfoot exist? Though Ketchum is charging for copies of her article, her motivation is likely not profit, since she’s not going to get rich from her research. Nor is it fame, since the paper is garnering universally scathing reviews from scientists, which can only further tarnish her reputation.
Instead, the answer may surprise you: Ketchum sees her research as an important first step in obtaining legal status for Bigfoot, which she believes are an undiscovered Native American population. Ketchum issued a statement demanding that the U.S. “Government at all levels must recognize them as an indigenous people and immediately protect their human and Constitutional rights against those who would see in their physical and cultural differences a ‘license’ to hunt, trap, or kill them.”
This is not the first time that believers in unknown animals have petitioned the government for their protection. Similar quasi-legal measures have been proposed or passed; for example in 2007 a Canadian Bigfoot enthusiast named Todd Standing (who, like Ketchum, claims to have definitive proof of Bigfoot) petitioned the government to make harming the creatures a crime. “Champ,” the lake monster reputed to dwell in Lake Champlain is “officially” protected by both the New York State Assembly and the Vermont Legislature.
Ketchum apparently views herself as less of a Bigfoot researcher than a valiant protector of a peaceful, vulnerable, and undiscovered native people.
Ketchum believes that “The Sasquatch people are more like us than they are different. The Sasquatch people have their own language, traditions, and rituals. They live in family units, they order their lives according to the laws of their people, and they bury their dead. Yet the Sasquatch people are captivating because of their physical, genetic, and cultural differences. Sadly, these special traits also make them uniquely vulnerable to those who would see in their unusual lifestyle or appearance a justification to harass, trap, or even kill them. Your compassion and understanding will be vital to protect the Sasquatch people.”
Given that—as far as we know — no Bigfoot have ever been harassed, trapped or killed, the idea that federal laws are required to prevent such actions seems rather like putting the cart before the unicorn.
Ketchum’s complaint — echoed by many on the Bigfoot and paranormal fields — that closed-minded scientists refuse to look at her evidence because they are afraid of its implications is absurd. If and when hard evidence is offered for Bigfoot, scientists will be scrambling to investigate and research this amazing scientific breakthrough.
The irony is that all the blurry photos, eyewitness reports, ambiguous footprints, and pseudoscientific DNA testing in the world have failed, whereas it would only take one Bigfoot, trapped live or found dead, to conclusively prove that the creatures exist.