Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sasquatch Believers vs. The Skeptics by the late Dr. Grover S. Krantz, Ph.D.

"Sasquatch Believers vs. The Skeptics" by the late Dr. Grover S. Krantz, Ph.D.

 Krantz discusses in this paper the view of scientists and non-scientists. He reproaches the former for refusing to be interested in the Sasquatch phenomenon, while at the same time he argues against the latter, and true believers for not examining the stories and data with a more rigorous method.

There are many people who believe there is a species of giant, hairy hominid living wild in the forested mountains of western North America. There are also many who are equally convinced that no such animal exists except in some people's imaginations. I am here going to alienate almost everybody by attacking both positions. With only a few exceptions, those who hold a firm opinion on this matter, either for or against the existence of this animal, are doing so without adequate knowledge.

The scientific establishment is overwhelmingly on record as denying any reality to the Sasquatch. This is not surprising. Science is generally not in the business of investigating the unknown, but rather it is working out minor details of principles that are already accepted. The Sasquatch, if proven, would certainly be something new and previously "unknown." Science has a vested interest in its own infallibility. So, to find out it has completely missed something as big and potentially important, as the Sasquatch would be to admit a certain degree of failure. It is easier to deny the existence of such creatures than to look for them. Having denied their existence, science then becomes obligated to refuse to look for them and can no longer avoid the issue by claiming it didn't know about the situation.

The scientific establishment is made up of scientists, their accumulated knowledge, and their institutional traditions. The individual scientists often have open minds, but many have as much faith in their discipline as religious people have in theirs. To suggest that their discipline is guilty of a major oversight, compounded by a deliberate effort to ignore the matter, is to threaten the foundations of their scientific faith. Small wonder many scientists actively oppose the Sasquatch investigation. Its successful conclusion would leave many of them without their infallible rock of faith to hang onto. Few scientists have enough self-confidence to stand against the accepted doctrines of their discipline.

Many major scientific breakthroughs are made by amateurs or by those who are only marginally involved in the field in question.

These new ideas are first regarded as heresy by the establishment, but eventually many of them become accepted when more authorities look at them with open minds, or a generation passes. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the vast majority of new ideas do not turn out to be true. We read about those few new ideas, which worked, but our history books say little about the 99% that were, and still are, foolishness. One of the tasks of the scientific establishment is to weed out these incorrect ideas and to accept only those few, which are true. The trouble is that after debunking 99 silly ideas it's easy to get into the habit and then to miss the next one that may be right.

The more unlikely a new thing may seem to be, the more proof is required for its acceptance by science. This is only reasonable. The Sasquatch is certainly more unexpected, hence presumably more unlikely, than a new species of chipmunk, for instance. The proof required in this case is an actual specimen, nothing less will suffice. The scientific establishment rightly demands that this proof be produced before it can be taken seriously. But the establishment also refuses to look for this specimen and even goes so far as to actively discourage those who would look for it. Research funds are given to projects, which are certain to produce usable results. Unfortunately, Sasquatch hunting works against extreme odds, and here negative results are of no value.

There is a large amount of real and imaginary evidence presently available which supports the existence of the Sasquatch. Unfortunately much of it is not reproducible because it is in the mind of the observers. For example, I have examined two sets of tracks and interviewed 31 people who claim to have seen Sasquatches. Any scientist could have gathered the evidence I have, but every scientist could not. After 50 or 100 people have looked over a set of footprints they are destroyed in the shuffle of human feet and fingers. Photographs and plaster casts can record these footprints, but they are then one more step removed from the original, and their authenticity can and should be questioned. Eyewitnesses to the Sasquatch can be interviewed, cross-examined and their motives studied by only a handful of curious scientists before they decide to shut up or else to change their stories. After that, all accounts are again one more step away from reality. A taped interview is not good evidence because it could easily exclude the parts where the participants were laughing over their hoax.

Few scientists have been willing even to look at or listen to the available information. Of those who are willing, only small fractions have had the opportunity to see the footprints or talk to witnesses. Mostly this is because they fear their scientific reputations would be damaged if it became known that they were even interested in such things, let alone investigating them. This is a reasonable fear, as could be illustrated from my own personal experience. Upon questioning, most of the established authorities will assert they have never seen any evidence that even remotely supports the existence of Sasquatch. Obviously, those scientists who know nothing about the matter ought to honestly admit that, and not present an uninformed opinion as though it had some validity. Expertise in one field does not make one an authority across the board.

The true believers are also generally as uninformed as the skeptics. Reading a few books and articles presenting a favorable view hardly qualifies one as being knowledgeable on the subject. Sasquatch enthusiasts are notorious for the way they accept and repeat stories without any attempt at verification. I know one investigator who insists on two accounts of each sighting, but is satisfied if both of them heard about it from the same source! My own experience suggests that the probability of truth of each account is cut in half for every human it passes through. What a direct eyewitness tells me is only 50% probable; if I hear it from an intermediary its likelihood drops to 25%, third person accounts are wrong seven times out of eight, and so on. Many believers pay no attention to this problem of lowering probability of truth.

Some people have gathered stories about bipedal, hairy monsters from almost all parts of the world, evidently under the mistaken impression that this strengthens the argument for their existence. Actually it does just the opposite--the more widespread a land animal is claimed to be, the less likely it is to be real. A truly worldwide distribution occurs only for man, his parasites, and his domesticates. This does not prove a worldwide Sasquatch does not exist, but it makes one wonder. Some reputable scientists would study a possible primate in North America and parts of Eurasia, but when you throw in South America, Africa, and Australia just for good measure they will back off. The possibility of multiple species of such animals might avoid this problem, but it only serves to raise another. For science to have missed one large species of unknown primate is difficult enough to swallow. To claim there are still more of them only strains to the breaking point whatever credibility there may have been.

Much potential support from individual scientists is lost when the enthusiasts bring in irrelevancies or downright impossibilities. I am reminded of an otherwise excellent newspaper article on the evidence for Sasquatch that was utterly destroyed by the writer's reference to a large "petrified heart" he had examined. Many hair samples have been collected and some could not be identified, but this just means they could be from some part of the pelt of a known animal that has not been analyzed. Fecal samples can also be studied, but these can never prove a new animal exists. I have been shown many photographs, purporting to be of Sasquatches, which are in fact just chance combinations of light and shadow in vegetation. If even half of these pictures were real, the Sasquatch must be a very common wild animal in North America. An enlargement of the Patterson movie (which I accept) supposedly shows teeth, but the specks seen are actually grains in the film and are also beyond the resolving power of the lens of that camera. Faked footprints need no further comment. In my opinion, people who push for acceptance of the above kinds of "data" have lost their credibility and one might well be suspicious of any kind of information they have.

Certain conservationists have taken up the cause of protecting the Sasquatch and speak in favor of extending the various laws that prohibit shooting one. These local laws are intended mainly to protect innocent bystanders including farmers, cows, and lawmen, rather than the Sasquatch itself. If and when a specimen is taken, and the existence of the species is proven, then serious legislation might be considered.

Some have argued that we are dealing with an endangered species, and that killing just one specimen might lead to their extinction. If they become extinct without ever becoming known, what difference would it make? If that sounds crass, the reader ought to think about it for a moment. In any case there is no reason to think Sasquatch numbers are declining and there is some evidence to suggest they are increasing. If there is some ecological danger from human activities at present, proving the Sasquatch's existence by killing one specimen might lead to investigations, which would eventually save the species. General public acceptance at this time without an actual specimen is not realistic; you may recall that Medieval Europeans believed in unicorns. By this reasoning we should also protect gremlins, werewolves, leprechauns, fairies, goblins, trolls, etc. Public officials will not presently act on behalf of the Sasquatch and it is unreasonable to expect them to do so.

Many Sasquatch investigators have started their intentions to provide sufficient proof without killing a specimen. These people are in keen competition with each other for this success. The scientific establishment will simply take over (assuring us they knew all along the creatures were real), and will exclude all amateurs from further investigations. Anyone who seriously thinks a Sasquatch should not be taken does not really want their existence to be proven.

At this point the burden of proof is still on the believers. Until a specimen is produced the skeptics will continue to hold the field. It is possible to prove something exists by producing it. The reverse is not possible--one does not prove a nonexistence with positive evidence. The failure to produce a specimen continues to be strong evidence against the Sasquatch.

The skeptics deny the existence of the Sasquatch because they see no evidence for it. The fact that they refuse to look at what evidence there is available, and try to discourage the gathering of more data, seems not to bother them at all. The believers act as though the case has already been proven and the Sasquatch should be accepted and protected right now. It is interesting that many of them also oppose bringing a definitive proof in the form of a body. It is almost as though the sides are drawn and neither one really wants the issue settled--they would rather fight than find out. Both sides are getting a lot of mileage out of the existence of the opposing side. Each side has a group of people it can criticize and make fun of. A concerted effort might prove one side wrong-perhaps neither side wants to risk that.

Unfortunately both sides argue strongly from what they want to be true rather than by what they know. Wanting something to be true may be a good reason to investigate it. But wanting something to be true does not constitute any evidence that it is true. That works only in children's games and religion. As it stands now, most of the people on one side of this argument, and all (in my judgment) of those on the other side, have not thoroughly investigated both sides of the issue. They would be a lot more reasonable if they would just honestly admit they don't know for sure. But who expects reason in a subject like this?

© Dr. Grover S. Krantz, Ph.D.