SGU Episode 26

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SGU Episode 26
January 17th 2006
PlaceholderSGU.png
SGU 25 SGU 27
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
P: Perry DeAngelis
Guest
EA: Eric Altman
Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes


Introduction[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This is your host, Steven Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. Today is Tuesday, January 17th, 2006. With me tonight are Perry DeAngelis ...

P: Hey, everybody.

S: ... Evan Bernstein, ...

E: Good evening, all.

S: ... and my "bro", Bob Novella.

B: Hey! What's up?

Psychic Predictions (0:30)[edit]

S: We're at the beginning of a new year, the end of an old year, and I think it would be appropriate to review the psychic predictions for 2005. How did our psychic friends do last year?

E: I bet you they batted a thousand.

S: (laughs) There is a science writer, Gene Emery, who has made himself famous in skeptical circles by, for a number of years, twenty years or so, actually since 1979, so twenty-six years. He has been tracking the psychic predictions, mainly those that have been published in tabloids like The Sun every year, and then at the end of the year he reviews and tracks their success rate. Over the last twenty-six years, their success rate has been very close to zero. Now, interestingly, he notes this year that the tabloids stopped attributing specific predictions to specific psychics. They just say "Here's our panel of psychics, and here are all of their lumped together predictions." Have you guys seen any of these yet for 2005. They are always so funny.

B: Not yet, but, Steve. don't you find a little unusual that their hit rate is close to zero percent? Isn't that anomalous in itself?

S: You would think that if they were trying to be accurate rather than just sensational, I think they probably would do a little bit better.

E: That's true.

S: I think that I could probably do better than zero percent if I was trying to make some fairly high-probability hits. And the hits that they do make are high-probability hits. Like someone noted that there would be a change in the Pope in 2005, which could be either a death or resignation, so they left it a little bit open, and they didn't predict the more difficult fact, which is that the Pope would be German. They in fact predicted that the Pope would be Italian, which again is a high-probability way to go. So occasionally they do get these sort of high-probability hits, but here are some of the things that they said for 2005: One prediction is "Communications would be disrupted when Earth's magnetic field reverses."

B: Wow! Ha, ha.

S: "A California inventor would cause earthquakes in Los Angeles and San Francisco." "NASA astronomers would find a ruined city on Mars." Of course if they did find one they wouldn't tell us about it, right?

E: Of course.

S: "Israel and the United States would invade Syria and Iran." Not yet. This is a great one: "Edible furniture, designed for couch potatoes, would have to be recalled because of a sanitation problem."

B: That's got to be a joke.

E: Oh no.

B: That's got to be purely for comedy.

S: It's out of the, it's in The Sun. "Millions of dollars in divorce fees would be saved when disgruntled couples were allowed to play a new computer game where the loser dies in real life."

P: What?

B: This can't be real.

S: Some of them are just ridiculous. Sometimes, Gene Emery notes in his annual report that sometimes the tabloids will bend the facts a bit to try to give their psychics some credibility. He says for example, the Examiner said that a psychic Leggett correctly predicted five major hurricanes hitting the US in 2004. However, unfortunately, there were only four major hurricanes hitting the US in 2004. The fifth one that they listed was actually a tropical storm, not a hurricane. So they'll tweak the evidence if they have to or the facts if they have to to try to ...

P: Did anyone predict Katrina?

S: So, no. So I mean again, you bring up the next point, which is what the psychics don't predict. Not only are their predictions close to zero percent in coming true, but it's remarkable that none of the world's psychics predicted Katrina wiping out New Orleans. None of the them predicted, going back a few years to big events of the last few years, none of them predicted 9/11. So typically, none of them predicted also the tsunami that occurred last year that killed so many people. These are certainly world-altering events. If there is such a thing as psychic energy one would think that the psychic reverberations of tsunamis and hurricanes and massive political reshaping terrorist attacks would have them. So thanks to Gene Emery for this. It's always useful to actually keep track of what the psychics have to say. They always count on the fact that we don't remember the misses. We don't remember the predictions that don't come true. They'll throw out a hundred ridiculous predictions, and one will come true by chance, and then that's they one that they'll include in their press release and their website now and their promotions, but Gene Emery keeps them honest, at least for those who are interested in such things as honesty and truth, by tracking their predictions. So always a good read. I think he has a website, which we'll link from our notes page, and also his annual predictions tracking is printed in the Skeptical Inquirer. So that will probably come out in the next issue, usually the first issue of the year.

B: We should try to get him for the podcast.

S: Yeah! We should. He would be a good guest to have on our show. We'll put him on the list as someone to contact for the future.

Darwin Day (6:14)[edit]

S: And before we go on to our guest today, let's just also mention that coming up on February 12th is what – do any of you guys know what February 12th is?

E: Uh, Lincoln's birthday?

P: St Valentine's Massacre?

S: It is Lincoln's birthday. And Lincoln shares his birthday with what famous scientist?

E: Edgar Cayce.

P: Albert Einstein?

S: Charles Darwin! Charles Darwin and Abe Lincoln have the same – not only the same birth day' but ...

E: Same year.

S: ... the same year. Same day.

E: 1804.

B: No way! Cool!

S: That's right. So February 12th is Darwin's birthday. There's now a group called Darwin Day – you can go to their website at darwinday.org – which tries to encourage and coordinate celebrations of Darwin Day around the world, and just the celebration of Evolutionary Theory and of the genius of Darwin as a scientist. Part of it also is sort of a cultural backlash against Creationism and criticism of Darwin. They specifically mention how important it is to acknowledge Darwin in the face of such attacks over the last year as Intelligent Design.

P: Is there going to be a parade in Dover? A Darwin parade?

S: There should be.

P: A Darwin/Dover parade?

S: It says the bicentennial birthday of Darwin is coming up in 2009, so I guess he was born in 1809.

E: Ah, yes, 1809.

S: So in three years it will be Darwin's bicentennial, so that'd be great.

B: Oooh. I sure there has to be big festivities for that. People are already planning it.

S: So if you are listening to this podcast in time, don't forget to celebrate Darwin Day and visit darwinday.org.

Interview With Eric Altman(8:05)[edit]

S: So let's get to our guest. We have – this is the second time we'll be having a guest on the Skeptics' Guide that is not a skeptic that is promoting belief in a claim that is traditionally not accepted by skeptics, specifically, the existence of Bigfoot. Joining us now is Eric Altman. Eric is the Director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society. Eric, welcome the Skeptics' Guide.

EA: Thank you very much.

S: Thanks for joining us.

EA: It's my pleasure.

S: You told me just before we came on that you have been Bigfoot hunting since you were ten. That's right?

EA: That's correct. I've been involved in Bigfoot research, either through book research, television movie research, documentary research, and actual field research for about twenty-five years, now.

S: And what got you interested in Bigfoot?

EA: I got interested in Bigfoot as the child watching the old Sunday afternoon matinee movies on television. They ran some cult classics like The Legend of Boggy Creek, Creature From Black Lake, Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot, and I saw those as a kid and was fascinated by them, and from there, started doing the book, newspaper, and magazine research and that kind of thing.

S: So, let me just ask you straight out up front. You believe that Bigfoot really exists, and you think the evidence supports that. Is that correct?

EA: I believe there's something out there with the evidence that's been collected and the eye-witness reports. There is something out there, and it very well could be a Bigfoot creature. I'm not a hundred percent certain that Bigfoot exists. I'm probably about eighty-five, ninety percent that there is something out there.

Patterson-Gimlin Film (9:53)[edit]

S: OK. What do you think is the most compelling evidence that there is something out there?

EA: Actually, there's several things that really have led me to the point where I'm at, the 85-90 percent belief the creature does exist, or I shouldn't say belief, I should say more educated ...

S: Probability.

EA: ... probability ...

S: Yeah.

EA: ... that Bigfoot exists. The first and foremost is the Roger Patterson - Robert Gimlin film ...

S: Mm, hm.

EA: ... from 1967. I think that probably the only video footage that I've seen that depicts or shows an actual creature, an upright bipedal creature walking across a sand bar. They have yet to prove it 100% that it is the authentic thing, and have yet to prove 100% that it is not a creature, it's a man in a suit or a hoax.

S: Right.

EA: My personal belief on it is that it is a real creature. It does depict a real creature walking across the sand bar.

P: Why is that, Eric? Why do you believe that?

EA: Well, from some of the scientific studies that have been done on it recently, and my watching the film and studying the film, I feel that the animal in the film or the creature in the film, is much too massive to be a human. Its gait or its stride is very, very difficult to duplicate – for a human being to duplicate. Some of the evidence that was found at the site: the footprints ...

S: Hm, hm.

EA: ... that were found at the site were so deep in the sand bar, that the horses that they were riding didn't even leave an indentation like this animal did. There's several factors that really contribute to my belief or my thinking that this footage is the real thing.

S: Are you familiar with John Napier's analysis of the Patterson-Gimlin film? He's an anatomist and anthropologist that works at the Smithsonian Institution, Director of Primate Biology. He and others, other anthropologists have analyzed the film, and their impression is that the size and the gait of the creature in the film is within the range of human anatomy, and also doesn't match the footprints that were found at the site, as if the footprints were made by something else other than what we are seeing on the film. Again, I just wonder if you are familiar with that particular analysis.

EA: Yes, I am.

S: What do you think about that?

EA: I do agree that the gait and the stride are within the realm of human possibility.

S: Right.

EA: Like I said, it's difficult – the way the creature walks is difficult to replicate, but it's not impossible.

S: Mm, hm.

EA: It can be done. I've talked to several other researchers, and I've seen demonstrations based on the evidence that was found at the site. I've seen other people try to duplicate this, and they've had a very difficult time doing it.

S: Right. Although it depends ...

EA: Sorry.

S: The one point I was going to make is that it depends in if you are trying to replicate the tracks or the film.

EA: Exactly.

S: The tracks are not necessarily actually made by a walking creature. If you accept the possibility that the tracks could have been hoaxed, the evidence of the creature walking on the film actually is much easier to replicate. Do you agree with that?

EA: I do agree that – well not so much the tracks of the creature. It can be replicated like you said, but I don't feel that it is a human being.

S: Yeah.

EA: It's very difficult to walk like that animal, simply because seeing the documentation on television and talking to some other researchers that talked to Dr. Jeff Mildrum about this, and he even agrees that the way the creature walked, his gait, the way it swings its knees outward before placing them down, and the way it lifts its foot, almost ninety degrees perpendicular to the ground, is very difficult ...

S: Mm, hm.

EA: ... to duplicate.

S: Right.

EA: It isn't impossible. It can be done.

S: Right.

EA: I'll be the first to say "It can be done." But, I don't think that somebody is going to try to fake something in that film to make it look that ridiculous in a walk.

S: Why not?

EA: Even when somebody ... I think if somebody was wearing a suit trying to walk across a sand bar, why would they swing their legs the way they did try to walk like that? Why not just walk like a normal human being?

S: Maybe they're trying to make the gait look unusual because they are trying to look like something other than a human being.

EA: Again, it's possible, but I just don't think if somebody hoaxed that film in 1967, I don't think that they were that intelligent enough to do that. I think what's in the film is the real thing. Like I said, I'm not going to go out and say that it's a hundred percent guaranteed ...

S: Right.

EA: ... a Bigfoot. What I've seen and what I've studied of the film, and watched the film – I've seen it a couple of hundred times myself.

S: Right, as have we.

EA: I think it's the real deal.

S: Of course you can't talk about the Patterson film these days without at least addressing the book by Greg Long The Making of Bigfoot, where he claims to have interviewed numerous people involved in either directly or indirectly in the hoaxing – Patterson's hoaxing of the film. What do you think about Long's analysis.

EA: I think Long's book is a character assassination on Roger Patterson and nothing more. I've read the book. I feel that all he's done through the book is attack Roger. They claim that Philip Morris created the suit, but yet no one has produced the suit.

S: Mm, hm.

EA: The witness testimony – it's the same as big foot research. All you have is witness testimony.

S: Right.

EA: You can take it and throw it out the window. It means nothing. Greg has proven nothing, except he's out to attack Roger Patterson's character.

S: Right.

EA: I've read the book, and that's basically what he does in the book. Is it possible that Bob Heironimus was the man in the suit? It's possible, highly unlikely in my opinion, but possible. But the book to me really serves as no relevance to the film, because the one major factor why I feel this way is not only the attack on Roger Patterson in the book, which he constantly does, but is the fact that when he presented this book to the Bigfoot community, and to other researchers, when asked the hard questions, he became extremely defensive and very argumentative and almost belittling and attacking other researchers ...

S: Right.

EA: ... instead of answering the questions. What purpose does that serve? If you're going to present evidence, whether you believe it or don't believe it, you should at least have something to back up your evidence or your claims and not go out and attack people. And that's what he did. Instead of presenting his answers and why he thought this way or why he felt this way, he didn't. He attacked everybody who questioned him. He would not answer the hard questions. So I find his book completely irrelevant.

S: I think it's reasonable to be critical of Greg Long, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss his book as irrelevant, even though you may not agree with his style or the way he presented his case. He does have rather extensive interviews of individuals. So you're right, you're absolutely right, it comes down to testimony. He was not able to produce any smoking-gun evidence like the costume that somebody wore. So it still comes down to the credibility of the people involved. At the very best, I think an objective, outside person could say "Well, the whole thing is a wash." There really is no reason to accept say Patterson or Gimlin's credibility over that of Heironimus or Long or any of the other people who were giving those testimony that Patterson had essentially bragged to them that he faked this – hoaxed this video. So if you dismiss all of the... it's hard to pick and choose what eye-witness testimony to accept and what to refute. Certainly scientists don't do that, and if you just take the scientific position, let's just dismiss all of it and go just based purely on the hard evidence, what we're left with is an incredibly ambiguous film that in and of...

EA: I agree.

S: ... that in an of itself does not establish the existence of Bigfoot, because there are other possibilities that cannot be dismissed.

EA: I agree. I agree. I think you're right. All we have to go on at this point with the exception of some footprint casts that were collected at that site, and we don't even know if those are legitimate or not.

S: Right.

EA: All we have to go on is the film. The eyewitness testimony can be thrown out. It's done in the court of laws every day.

S: Right.

EA: The scientific community does not even look at eyewitness testimony.

S: Right. It's not admissible.

EA: They need hard facts.

S: Exactly.

EA: So, you're right. The film can be a complete wash, and all we're left with is video footage, thirty or forty seconds worth of video footage. And that's it. But to me, that stands on its own.

S: Well of course, you knew coming in to this that we're skeptics.

EA: Oh, of course. I knew that.

S: And we have a probably just a higher bar for acceptance than that. Obviously I wouldn't accept that evidence as sufficient for a number of reasons. The first comes from our experience in investigating hundreds of different kinds of paranormal claims. And it's so typical for a key piece of evidence to be either a video or a photograph, that is just at that perfect, perfect distance and resolution where you get the very creepy suggestion of something unusual or paranormal, but there isn't sufficient detail to make a positive identification. It's the exact same thing whether you're looking at pictures of Bigfoot or ghosts or the Loch Ness monster or name anything, any other controversial ...

B: But, Steve.

S: ... entity. Yeah, Bob.

B: Steve, doesn't that remind you of when we interviewed the Warrens, Lorraine and ...

S: The White Lady video, yeah.

B: Yeah, the video. We asked them for their best evidence, and they showed us what they had.

S: The White Lady at Union Cemetery.

B: Right.

S: It was exactly the same thing. A perfect ...

B: It's like they calculated it, almost, all right, what would be the best distance so that it's just kind of a vague impression of something there. It could be a person, could be a ghost, but you can't really tell either way. It kind of reminds me of that.

S: Yeah. I think one thing you have to say is the video is ambiguous, and it does fit well into the pattern of controversial claims, in that again it's suggestive without really being probative. Without really having any kind of details that would enable an objective scientist, for example, to make a positive identification. So to me, that smells of a hoax. That's my personal take on that. But, again, just as an objective scientific opinion is the evidence is ambiguous, and therefore, I think the most objective thing to say is that it doesn't establish or refute any particular claim.

EA: Exactly, and that's what I said from the onset.

S: Right. Right. Which is fair enough.

EA: It hasn't been proven that a hundred percent that it's real and it hasn't been proven that it's a hundred percent hoax.

S: Right. But you find it compelling, personally, I guess, is where the difference would be.

EA: Yes. I find the footage very compelling and very interesting. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that it is a Bigfoot in the video footage, but I do believe that that's what it is. I don't believe it's a human in a suit.

S: OK.

EA: That's just my personal opinion.

P: Eric why do you think (unintelligible)

Lack of Evidence (22:10)[edit]

EA: Unfortunately, without a body to back up the possibility of Bigfoot existing, without some piece of a body or a full body to study, we're going to run around in circles the rest of our lives. Whether it's with the Patterson film, the Skookum cast, footprint cast, eyewitness testimony, it all boils down to the fact that in order to solve this mystery once and for all and to prove that this thing does exist, we need hard scientific evidence through either a piece or a full body. And that's the bottom line.

S: I agree with that.

P: Do you agree that it's odd that one hasn't been found in all these many years? Wouldn't you agree, Eric?

EA: Yes, I would. I would completely agree with that. Bigfoot research from my knowledge has been going on since the late nineteen fifties, early nineteen sixties.

P: Mm, hm.

EA: With the footprints that were found by Jerry Crew, in Northern California up to the present date. There are active field researchers out there, there's active organizations out there looking for this creature, looking for the I guess you call it the golden chalice, if you will.

S: Mm, hm.

EA: And no one has yet brought forth a definitive piece of evidence to say "Yes, this does exist." I'm hoping that soon with all the inventions, modern technology, the video equipment, the collecting equipment for DNA, that someone will be able to bring something to the table. As of yet, it hasn't happened, and quite personally, I don't see it happening within the next ten to fifteen years.

S: Why not?

P: Why? Why not?

EA: Well, I think people are going about this the wrong way. And what I mean by that, and this happens in every paranormal field, and I'm sure you gentlemen can attest to this. Everybody wants to be the first to solve the mystery. And until organizations, researchers combine our efforts, put aside the petty arguing, the who's right, who's wrong, and work together to solve this, it's not going to get solved. Each group is going to do their own individual thing whether it works or it doesn't work. Information's not going to be shared, and we're not going to get to bottom of the mystery.

S: But this does cut to the heart in my opinion of the mainstream scientific opinion, which is basically skepticism regarding the existence of Bigfoot, in that – of course, from a logical point of view, you can't ever prove a negative. It's impossible to prove that Bigfoot doesn't exist, or that never has existed. That's just a logical impossibility. So what science has to go on when there's basically trying to establish a negative, is say "OK, the more we look and the more we come up empty-handed, the smaller the probability that whatever we're looking for exists." So all you can really do is shrink the probability of existence, and it never really reaches zero. So if you apply that scientific model to the Bigfoot phenomenon, we now have fifty years of Bigfoot hunters, of incredible improvements in video and photographic technology, video cameras and pictures are virtually ubiquitous now. Everyone with a cell phone has a camera. And in addition to our ability to do DNA analysis, etc. And yet there isn't a scrap of objective, hard evidence. So, again, the probability of Bigfoot existing I think a reasonable scientist wouldn't say is zero, but it has shrunk down to awfully small, given the persistent fifty years of negative results. And that's also partly based on the fact that if you hypothesize that there is population of seven-foot tall primates living in the woods of North America, that requires – a breeding population requires at a minimum a couple of thousand individuals. It would seem awfully difficult to hide that many animals out there without ever turning up a bone, a corpse, whatever, a hunter running afoul of a Bigfoot and shooting it. What do you think about that? That is basically our position. So, how would analyze or respond to that?

EA: I think that's a valid position because there is no hard evidence that has been collected. But something I think you guys are failing to look at is the fact that there is evidence there. It's, unfortunately at this point, a lot of it is circumstantial, but there is hard evidence being gathered and being collected. We do have hair samples that are on record and on file. Dr. Henner Farenbach, formerly of the Oregon Primate Institute, has hair samples in his collection that are from an unknown primate. There are track casts that have been taken that have been discovered to have dermal ridges in the cast, and I'm sure you're familiar, dermal ridges ...

S: Right.

EA: ... are the things that we have on our hands and feet that finger prints and toe prints that identify us. Jimmy Chilcutt is a forensic specialist for a police department in Conroe, Texas, and he has studied these tracks, and he has found these dermal ridges. He's also an expert in primate dermal ridges. He's taken thousands of primate finger prints and foot prints, I guess he calls it models.

S: Mm, hm. Mm, hm.

EA: And he has them on file, and he's been able to study these dermal ridges from these supposed Bigfoot casts, and he's come up with his conclusions that these dermal ridges in these casts do not match humans, they do not match known primates. So we are slowly starting to gather evidence which is starting to turn the heads of some scientists. There are some scientists who are now finally starting to look at this evidence. So we can't say the probability is going down almost to zero it's still there because there is hard evidence coming out now.

P: Do you in fact think it's ...

EA: It's not a lot, but there is some.

P: Eric, do you in fact think it's increasing, not diminishing?

EA: I think it's starting to finally come into light. Yes, I do think it's increasing. I don't think it's decreasing. And the reason being as I mentioned there is hard evidence. They're finding these dermal ridges. They're finding these hair samples. They're finding these things that they can't match with any known species of animal known on this planet. So yes, we can't say that they are Bigfoot, but there's something out there ...

S: Right.

EA: ... that's leaving these footprints with the dermal ridges. There's something out there leaving these hair samples with DNA that cannot be positively identified. So yes, I think the evidence is increasing. Although albeit slowly increasing, it is increasing.

S: But you did sort of allude to the main problem with those lines of evidence is that there is no gold standard, in fact. We don't know what a Bigfoot ...

EA: Correct. We have no body to match it with.

S: The best you can get to is an unknown, ...

EA: Exactly.

S: ... and an unknown doesn't equal Bigfoot, it equals an unknown.

EA: Exactly. That's the starting point, at least. At least we can say, yes, we are finding something out there that does not match any known primate, any known species of animal. The DNA found in the hair does not match anything. We have to have a starting point somewhere.

S: Although you have to be careful with ...

EA: If we have the starting point ...

S: The DNA evidence, I think you have to realize, it's not that every mammal's been ruled out with these hair samples. It just means that whatever they did compare it to didn't match. It doesn't mean that you have to create a new species in order to explain the existence of that hair. It's possible they match something that just hasn't been compared to yet. There are hundreds of species of mammals. So ...

EA: Oh, that's correct.

S: There are no hair samples that I'm familiar with, alleged Bigfoot hair samples, that really have been exhaustively compared to other mammal species, only – and usually they're compared to humans or some local animals, other primates, etc. Which still leaves a lot of possibilities. Because the amount of DNA – first of all, hair doesn't have a lot of DNA in it, I'm sure you know. You have to get a hair sample that actually has a root in it, and you're lucky if you can get any DNA out of it, and it takes time and it's very expensive to do DNA analysis and comparisons. So no real exhaustive analysis has been done. So the fact that they're unknown is really not that impressive. It just, again, means it's unknown, but it doesn't necessarily mean that there's got to be some new species out there. Nothing has been established to that degree.

EA: Well, to me, it does, because if we're looking at something that is unknown, there's something out there that hasn't been classified. So to me, that is important, and we need to find out why.

S: The point I made is that it's only unknown because all known species have not been properly or adequately ruled out.

EA: But you fail to realize that what they are doing is, they're going out there and they're matching the hair versus the animals that are known to populate that area. So if they're looking for let's say Sasquatch hair, they're looking at a possible Sasquatch hair, and they haven't tested it against gibbon. Gibbon's not popular to that area or not even native to that area. I mean, that's what I'm saying. They're out there matching the animal hair to what's native to that area. And if they're not finding anything to match to that, then there's something there that's not native. And there's something there that's unknown, and I think it deserves to be looked at further. I never once said it's a Bigfoot, but it is definitely intriguing and it does give us a starting point to start looking closer at the evidence that we have.

Bigfoot Bodies (32:22)[edit]

S: So, Eric, I understand what you are saying, but that does bring up another problem with the whole Bigfoot research endeavor, in that the field is rife with fraud and hoaxes. So when you have hair, for example, you can compare it to species that are known to be local, but how do you know the hair wasn't brought in from a gibbon or an elephant or whatever, some creature from Africa? That's certainly easy enough to do. So I do think that there, again, there is a problem with verification. It still comes down to a lot of the times the credibility of the person who collected the evidence. And again, when you are left with an unknown, it's really just hard for scientists to know what to make of that. So I think we both agree that unknowns do not establish the existence of a new creature, specifically a Bigfoot, and we sort of differ on what we think is the most likely explanation for those. But I do want to get back to one thing that Perry was bringing up before, and that is I think this is a point that demarcates those people who think that Bigfoot may or probably exists from those of us who think it probably does not exist. And that is what you really make of the fact that there hasn't been a body recovered in the last fifty years? Do you think – what do you think is the explanation for that?

EA: I think there's a couple of reasons why we haven't brought a body in, yet. First and foremost, those of us who are there researching with the exception of a small few aren't scientifically trained to identify, positively identify a corpse or a portion of a bone as a Bigfoot, or anything other a normal wildlife. When we're out there we find something, if it looks peculiar or it looks odd to us, sure, we're going to collect it, but what do you do with it? Do you contact the authorities and say "Hey, I found some bones," and have them come and look at it and tell you "Oh, they're deer." or "They're bear." I think a lot of the researchers out there today – and it is a very – unfortunately it's not a professional background, because there aren't professionals in this field. We're all amateurs with varying degrees of experience. I think a lot of the bones are found in the woods, can be easily misidentified because we are not properly trained to identify them.

S: Right.

EA: I also think that, and I'm sure you're all aware of this, when an animal dies naturally in the forest, it decays very quickly, and the bones are eaten by other animals. Nature has a way of recycling animals very quickly. So unless you're there within a matter of weeks to find this body, chances are you're not going to find much. And like I said, if you're finding a segment of a bone, how do you know if that bone is actually a Bigfoot bone or deer or a bear or a raccoon. It's very difficult.

E: What about teeth? How about teeth, Eric?

EA: Even teeth are going to be hard to identify. I've found jaw bones in the woods of deer, and I believe I found a bear jaw bone one time, but I honestly don't know what they are. I've looked at them. I've put them in a baggie. Are they worth turning in to have the money spent on a jaw that could be a deer and have them analyzed? Being amateurs, we're going to make mistakes. We're going to look at things, we're not going to be able to identify things. We need to have a professionally-funded, scientific I guess expedition or search to find this kind of evidence. The amateurs out there doing it are doing a great job with what training or experience we have, but I don't think it's enough.

S: Right. I would take a slightly different view of a couple of points. I think that, sure, animals that die in the woods are eaten by scavengers. Their remains decompose. Bones take a lot longer, teeth much, much, much longer. But, still, the soft parts would survive typically for weeks or months – during the winter much longer. And the bones, though, would survive for years, typically. In fact, recently just by coincidence I discovered the bones of a dog that had died about fifteen years ago on a relative's property, and they actually knew who the dog was. It took me awhile actually to identify the skull. It can be very challenging, even to identify it as a dog. But, the other point that I would dispute is it's difficult to identify an animal from a single bone. In fact, biologists, some biologists are expert at that. It's actually incredible how accurate an identification you can make from a single bone. There are characteristics, precise characteristics of different animal bones that enable them to be identified with great accuracy, even from like a single femur, you can tell what species the femur is from. So certainly, a giant primate jaw or skull or even leg bones would be absolutely unique and identifiable, not in the slightest would a biologist confuse that with a non-primate species. And then once you know you're dealing with a primate, then you can compare it to existing primates. I think that any remains that were discovered would be different-looking enough that anybody who found them would bring them to attention, and I think the scientific community would be all over them. I don't think there would be any mistaking them for any other than a giant, a newly-discovered giant primate. So I don't agree with your analysis on that score.

EA: Oh, I think it's possible if it's found, but as far as I know, no one found anything, yet.

S: Right. I agree with you.

E: Right.

S: That was actually my initial point is: It does make one wonder why. We find remains of all other kinds of animals in the woods, despite the fact that they decay, etc. At some point, it just becomes remarkable that, again, a population of these creatures could be living in North America, and no hard evidence has come to light – no bodies, if you want.

EA: The way I look at is this: I've been a hunter for about fifteen going on sixteen years, now. I've spent a lot of time in the woods, not just looking for evidence of Bigfoot, but I enjoy hiking.

S: Right.

EA: I know there's a population of deer in Pennsylvania, well over millions of deer in Pennsylvania. It's one of the most populated, wildly-hunted states for deer population. I walk a lot in the woods, but I have yet to find the remains of a deer that has died naturally, and I'm talking teeth, jaw, something that hasn't been shot, that I can identify as being shot. I haven't found anything that I can look at and say, "OK, well I know this animal died naturally or didn't die naturally." If that were the case, if the remains of all these animals were still there for us to find, we would find a lot of deer bones and a lot of jaws and such. The deer population is tremendous.

S: Mm, hm.

EA: Now if you compare that to what's believed to be the population of a Sasquatch or the Bigfoot, you said there possibly could be thousands of them. Spread that out across the entire United States, and what are the odds of finding the remains of a Sasquatch? Very, very slim. That's the way I look at it.

S: Certainly, actually I have actually found a deer carcass in the woods. But, again, that's anecdotal. The ...

EA: I've seen them too ...

S: Yeah.

EA: ... that had been shot.

S: Well I don't know if it had been shot or not. It was on the side of a river. It was mostly decayed. The skeleton was intact. But anyway ...

B: I've seen a lot on the side of the road.

(laughter)

EA: I have too.

E: That's for sure. Nobody's ever hit a Bigfoot with their car, that's for sure.

S: That's true. The actually does bring up a point. I do see a lot of dead deer on the side of the road. It would only take one Bigfoot running afoul of a car on the road to end this controversy. Maybe that will happen one day. That has not happened.

EA: We can hope. Us researchers and believers in the subject can hope.

Photographic Evidence (41:20)[edit]

S: Right. At least we agree on that, that certainly, the recovery of a live or dead Bigfoot, the actual body of one, would end the controversy, and pretty much nothing short of that would. Although I do think that the opinion of the scientific community would change dramatically if even there were some good, reasonable quality, convincing photographic evidence. And again, it's more surprising to me that none of that has emerged ...

EA: Well ...

S: ... given how commonplace it is to have pretty high quality cameras and videos.

EA: I agree with you, but I disagree with you. I think if the right circumstances were to happen showing an animal doing something that no normal human being could do, then, yes, photographic video evidence could very well help support our cause. But, with today's technology and the ability to computer enhance digitally video or photographic evidence, I don't think that's going to work. I've seen a lot of photographs that people have either sent me or that show up on the internet of someone saying "This is a Bigfoot," or "This is what we saw running across our field at night." And you look at it, and you're like "Wow!" That looks pretty good at first, but then when you start looking at it closely, you can tell maybe they did something with Photoshop or ...

S: Right.

EA: ... some kind of ...

S: Well, you answered your own question. Expert analysis can usually detect photo-manipulation. So any photograph that was offered as evidence would have to pass muster, would have to pass the scrutiny of photographic experts. If it were done with film, the negative is always very, very helpful. With digital cameras, you don't get a negative, but you would hopefully would have a raw and unmanipulated file.

EA: It goes back to the Patterson film.

S: Yeah.

EA: I mean, back then they didn't have the technology to enhance the videos or to make changes or ...

S: Right.

EA: ... put something in it, and that's the difference.

S: True, but I don't think anyone ever charged that. That's not one of the charges of the Patterson film. It's that it's not a Bigfoot; it's a guy in a costume, not that the film's ever been manipulated.

EA: Right. But also, back then they didn't have the technology to really enhance the video footage to really study it, and now they are starting to. They still haven't yet with today's technology been able to deduce that it is a man in a suit or it is the real thing.

S: Right. Right. If it's possible to get more information out of that film – the Zapruder film comes to mind with the JFK assassination, that they ...

E: I was going to say that.

S: They did do that with the Zapruder film. They did digital reproduction and enhancement, and it really did help. It would certainly be interesting. I don't know if that information is there. Looking at the blowup photographs of the Patterson-Gimlin film, it get's pretty blotchy when you get real close up of the creature in the film. That information just may not be there, even with digital enhancement. But it would be interesting to see what emerges if ...

EA: Yeah, I'd be very interested to see that myself. I just disagree. I don't think video footage really is going to solve this, no matter how compelling it is. Someone's always going to throw the monkey wrench into things and say "Look at this."

S: Right.

EA: "Well, that can't be that. It was done with a computer."

S: I agree it won't solve the controversy, but I do think it would make it much more interesting, and the photos that are being published by Bigfoot groups right now are so uncompelling that really it's not raising anyone's eyebrows, in my opinion, except for people who already believe in it.

EA: I was going to say that what we talked about off the air about the photos on my website or lack of photos is strictly the reason why we don't have photos.

S: Right.

EA: We don't have compelling enough evidence. Sure, we have some broken branches, a possible footprints that were found.

S: Right. Right.

EA: But we don't have compelling enough evidence to put up there where we're going to risk our reputation as an organization that's out there researching just to put up a blurry photo ...

S: Right. Right.

EA: ... and say it's a Bigfoot.

EA: Well, good, more integrity than some other sites up there who certainly feel free to publish ...

EA: I've seen some pretty bad ones.

S: Yeah. They're like Rorschach tests, basically, just blotches, most of them.

P: They really are.

EA: They've gotten the title or affectionately known as Blobsquatches.

S: Blobsquatches, right. And they do hurt their own credibility when they do that, of course.

Paranormal Links (46:02)[edit]

P: Eric, I just want to, since we mentioned other websites, I noticed that you have links to other not just Bigfoot or even cryptozoological websites, but other paranormal websites, ghosts and things like that. Why are you connected with all sorts of paranormal websites? I'm just curious why. Why is that?

EA: Well, what we've started to do is basically out of common courtesy is, when someone asks if we wouldn't mind linking their site to ours, and vice versa, I don't have a problem doing that. Some of the sites up there are, not to be rude, but some of them just really aren't very good websites.

P: Mm, hm.

EA: Some of them are ghosts, some are UFOs, some just have very bad information on them. I put them up there to show people that there are other websites, and they can go and make their own decision on them. I'm not endorsing them. I'm not saying "This is the best website there is out there on this subject."

S: Right.

EA: People just approach me and ask "Hey, Eric, I have a website. Would you mind posting a link and I'll reciprocate, and post your link."

E: Would you post a link to our website on your page?

EA: I'd be more than happy to, if you send me your link privately through email, I'd be more than happy to put your link up there.

E: OK. Just checking.

EA: I'd be more than happy to put anybody's link up there if they send me their link. I don't discriminate as far as putting links up.

S: Right.

EA: It really has no meaning as far as what our organization does. It just networking with other people, and it helps maybe one day that group or that website or whoever sent us a link and reciprocation, maybe they have some evidence they can share with us. That's possible.

P: Do you have a personal belief in some of these phenomenon, Eric: ghosts, UFOs, etc.

EA: Growing up, I was fascinated by UFOs and hauntings and other cryptozoological animals: the Jersey Devil, the Lochness Monster, stuff like that. I've gotten away – I do believe that there is a spirit world, and I don't want to get too much into that, but I do believe that there are spirits, and I've had personnel experiences which have led me to believe that there are spirits. UFOs: I'm not a very big UFO fanatic, but I think there's a possibility something's out there. I'm open-minded enough to believe that anything is possible unless it's proven not. I have yet to see them prove anything doesn't exist. We talked about that earlier.

S: Well, again, that's a logical impossibility.

EA: Right.

S: It does say in your bio that you're a member of the Pennsylvania Ghost Hunter Society. Are you active in that, or is that just out of passing interest?

EA: That was a group that was formed several years ago by a researcher by the name of Rick Fisher, and the group has been not dissolved but turned into the Paranormal Society of Pennsylvania, and they investigate everything: UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, and I serve as a consultant to their group as a Bigfoot researcher.

S: OK.

EA: I've gone on some ghost outings with them as an invited guest, and I've had some very and weird and unusual experiences with them, but I'm not more of a ghost hunter, I'm more of an investigator of Bigfoot phenomenon and studying the sighting reports on that.

S: OK. The reason why we ask these kinds of questions is because certainly we've noticed that there is sort of a cosy relationship between various different cryptozoological and paranormal societies.

EA: Mm, hm.

S: Once Perry and I were at a local UFO convention, and there was a little section on Bigfoot within the UFO convention.

P: Mm, hm.

S: Obviously, as scientists and skeptics, to us it makes sense that people who are interested in UFOs or ghosts or Bigfoot, people would be interested in all of these topics, because the approach is often very similar. I think, again, you seem to be very interested in bringing to Bigfoot hunting a certain amount of scientific professionalism and credibility, which I think if you're going to do it, that would be a reasonable goal to have. Do you think that this close association with other paranormal phenomenon hurts the credibility of Bigfoot and the enterprise of Bigfoot investigation?

EA: I think it can. I think because Bigfoot is an unknown entity, or undiscovered entity, and it has that mystery about it, that it's lumped into the same category as UFOs, and ghosts, and other paranormal phenomenon because it's something that hasn't been yet proven, and it's something we don't really fully understand, yet. I think it's been lumped in there, but what I'm trying to do and what other researchers are trying to do is study the phenomenon and prove that this animal does exist, that it is a living, breathing, flesh and blood animal, and not a paranormal creature or ...

S: Right.

EA: ... something from a UFO or a ghost. Our organization is open-minded to the fact that we need to explore all possibilities when it comes to Bigfoot, because we really don't have an answer at this point in time.

S: Right.

EA: But I don't have a set mind frame that this is an animal yet to be discovered.

S: Let me ask you a hard question.

EA: Sure.

S: Are you open to the possibility that Bigfoot doesn't exist and is purely psychological and cultural phenomenon?

EA: Yes, I am open-minded enough to think that it is possible Bigfoot does not exist. However, I have talked to enough witnesses, I've seen the evidence myself to make me really question, OK, does Bigfoot really not exist? Something is out there. I have yet to find out what it is, and that keeps me motivated. Every time we get a sighting report or every time we find footprints or someone discovers a hair sample that needs to be tested, that keeps me motivated enough to go. I have not personally seen a Bigfoot. I've heard things in the woods that I can't explain, that I can't say was a Bigfoot or was a known ...

S: Right.

EA: ... animal that I'm familiar with. I've seen footprints in the snow and in the mud that are much larger than a human foot, and they resemble a bare foot. Why somebody be running around up in the mountains in fifteen-inches deep of snow in bare feet is beyond me. Could it happen? Yes! Does it happen on a regular basis? I don't know about that. But until we have a body that we can scientifically study and learn from, then, yes, it is very much possible that this animal does not exist. All we have to go on is circumstantial evidence, eye-witness testimony. We are starting to get some better evidence through hair sample study, through the dermal ridges on the footprints of casts that are taken. So we are starting to get some better evidence to really not so much debunk the fact that they don't exist, but to give some credence to the possibility ...

S: Mm, hm.

EA: ... that they exist.

S: OK.

EA: Do they or don't they? I don't know.

S: Right. Well, that's good. We appreciate your honesty. I think we can end on that note. I think we both agree that there's certainly – you can't prove or disprove it at this point, and that the only thing that will end the controversy is indisputable biological evidence, and you're open to the possibility that they don't exist. We're certainly open to the possibility that they do exist. We would be absolutely convinced if adequate evidence came to light.

EA: And I would, too.

S: Great! That's great. So, Eric, thank you again for being on the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. We appreciate you coming on the show and subjecting yourself to our withering skeptical analysis of your views.

EA: It was my pleasure. I enjoyed it.

S: Thanks. Thanks a lot. Good luck in your Bigfoot hunting.

EA: Thanks.

S: If there is a Bigfoot out there, I hope you are the one to find him. OK?

EA: Well thank you.

S: Take care.

EA: You, too.

Post-Interview Discussion (54:12)[edit]

S: So, what did you guys think of Eric Altman?

P: A very reasonable fellow, I felt.

S: He was. You never know what you're going to get when you talk to somebody who runs a Bigfoot society, but I would say that he's towards the more reasonable end of the spectrum.

B: Yeah, I was going to ask him about the whole psychic/bigfoot aspect that some of the real fringe bigfooters believe, but I didn't even bring it up, because it was obvious that he definitely was not at that end of the spectrum.

S: Right. Well imagine being on the fringe of Bigfoot believers.

(laughter)

S: The fringe of the fringe.

E: I found it interesting he said right off the bat he's eighty-five to ninety percent convinced ...

S: Mm, hm.

E: ... that there is something Bigfootish.

P: Something out there.

E: Something out there, right, granted. Yet at the same time during the course of our discussion, he seemed to acknowledge that there's no evidence for it whatsoever. So he's basing his entire eighty-five to ninety percent on his own personal belief and nothing more really is what I think it came down to?

S: Well, that's not entirely fair. He didn't say no evidence whatever. There's no body. There's no biological evidence. What he said he bases his belief on is the Patterson film, which he thinks is compelling, on the hair samples that have not been identified, ...

E: Right. No evidence.

S: ... on the dermal ridges on the feet, which again that's all just nonsense.

E: So, what evidence?

S: Yeah.

E: There is none.

S: On circumstantial evidence. He acknowledged that is was circumstantial or inferential, but he did ...

P: I think the point is that he is faced with the same evidence that we are aware of, ...

S: Yeah.

P: ... and he has come out with a ninety-plus percent believability, but we have come out with a ninety, I imagine, a ninety-nine percent unlikelihood ...

S: Yeah. Couple of decimals.

P: ... of existence ...

E: That's generous.

P: ... of a large primate in North America that is yet undiscovered. It's seems ridiculous on its face.

S: To his credit, he acknowledged that there's only a body would really end the controversy.

E: Yes, he did admit that. That was encouraging.

P: Photoshop aside, crystal-clear, high-definition video evidence would compel me.

S: Yes, I said that, too. It would be compelling. I agree. It wouldn't be a controversy ender, but it would be at least compelling, which nothing out there right now is compelling.

B: But guys. Imagine, though, someone's got a video, a very compelling video, what would have to be on that video to really make it compelling, and not something that a visual-effects artist can throw together. Think about it. What would really be compelling?

E: You could digitally put a Bigfoot in the Super-Bowl halftime show and make it seamless as if that Bigfoot was really there at the time with fifty-thousand screaming people around him.

S: Yeah, but photo experts would be able to tell that it was manipulated. Bob's point is a Hollywood costume expert could make up a Bigfoot. You wouldn't have to manipulate the photo, but you could put a guy in a costume. That would be seamless.

B: Right. What I'm saying is that I think there's no such thing as a truly compelling video. I think it's impossible ...

P: I disagree.

B: ... to make one to really make you think about it, because we would always say "Come on, all you need is a special effects artist, a moderate effects artist to put together a good costume, some good prosthetics." I mean they've got stuff with mechanized, ...

P: I disagree.

B: ... electronic prosthetics that would blow your mind where you would say that's not a person in a mask. I think it's impossible to put together a truly compelling video.

P: I disagree. I disagree. I think that if I watched film, high-definition, clear, sometimes close-up film of a creature in a natural surrounding.

S: Family. A family would be better.

P: A family would be even better. Family would be even better. And, you know what else? If I saw three hours of it, or five hours of it, and you gave me five hours of primate behavior, intelligent primate behavior.

S: Yeah. Like Jane Goodall with the chimps.

P: Yes.

S: If Jane Goodall can cozy up to chimpanzees. And we also have, there were other researchers with the mountain gorillas, {{w|Diane_fossey|Jane Fossey} (ed. note: Diane Fossey) I think was her name. Why aren't there any anthropologists cozying up to the Sasquatch with hours of footage of them investigating their culture?

B: All right, guys. Say we did have five hours of this stuff, OK? What would that bring you down from? Right now, say you're at 99.999? What would you go down to?

P: I'd have to see the film.

S: Yeah, you'd have to see the film.

B: Well think about it. Everything you just said, imagine it's there. Everything. Nothing to make you think that's a guy in a costume.

P: Take me, take me ...

S: Bob, it would also require that the video was investigated by skeptical scientists ...

P: Right.

S: ... and said all right this has not been manipulated.

B: OK.

S: That special effects people said first of all none of them admit to doing it but also that they were under the impression that it was not – that it was an actual live, biological animals, not costumes.

B: Well that would be helpful. That would be helpful.

S: Yeah, the more of that you get the more compelling it becomes. Again, I don't know it would ever get beyond say seventy or eighty percent without any biological corroboration.

P: Yeah but that's a big turnaround, down to twenty percent, you know.

S: It would make it interesting.

B: It would revive the entire phenomenon.

S: It would. But also if you had that, you probably would also get corroborating biology.

P: Exactly. You would. That's my point. What's the follow-up work? What's at that site?

E: That's for sure.

P: Show me where they've been breaking the branches. Where's their spoor? Where's the follow-up work?

S: Where are they nesting? Whatever.

P: Rather than fifteen seconds of bouncy horse video. Come on!

S: Yeah. Right. Again, I think our familiarity with the paranormal does come into play here because it is such a fake phenomenon. It has all of the earmarks of a cultural hoaxed phenomenon. All the evidence is of the exact quality that you expect from a phenomenon that's not real. It's all just at the edge of being legitimate and compelling. The videos are always blurry and without sufficient detail.

P: There's no capture. There's no body. You know what I mean?

S: Yes.

E: It's called physical evidence.

P: Cameras are everywhere. Cameras are ubiquitous. There's nothing.

S: And the explanations for the absence of bodies and biology and compelling evidence is frankly naive and lame.

E: He struck out there, in my opinion.

S: It reminds me of those people who claim that there was a bronze age civilization in Connecticut a couple of thousand years ago.

E: Mm, hm.

S: At America's Stonehenge. I forget where that was.

P: Right. Yeah, yeah.

S: And they were asked "Well, if there was a bronze-age civilization here, how come there's no bronze-age tools or pottery or anything?" And the guy's response was "Well you don't think we're going to leave all that valuable stuff just laying around, do you?"

B: Whoa!

S: I mean, come on!

E: Oh, boy!

S: But they do at every other archeological site everywhere else in the world. So anyway, the dismissal, dismissive explanations for the lack of evidence is just not compelling (unintelligible) .

E: It doesn't hold water.

S: It holds no water, and it separates legitimate science from amateur science.

P: I think Eric was a good guy. I think he's trying to be reasonable. He wants to bring some scientific ...

S: Right.

P: ... normative approaches to this research.

E: Except he's come up with his conclusion before he's really examined the evidence.

S: I didn't jump on him, but he did say "My goal is to prove that Bigfoot exists", not to find out if he does exist or not.

E: Red flag!

S: A scientist would not have said it that way.

P: Right.

S: If he were being thoughtful.

P: Well he said he was an amateur.

S: Yeah.

P: He said he was ...

E: Something tells me they're all amateurs.

P: I believe he said that.

E: It's just my guess, but they're all amateurs in my book.

P: I believe he said that.

S: Well it was fun.

P: All right.

E: Yes it was.

S: Guys, thanks again for joining me.

P: Thank you.

E: Lets do it again soon.

P: See everybody next week. All right.

S: OK, until next week this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.


S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a production of the New England Skeptical Society. For information about this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theness.com. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.

References[edit]


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