‘ware the cookies! »« The descent of Xanth

Bigfoot!

I spent my first evening at the Paradigm Symposium last night. I’ve missed virtually all of the talks so far — I got to watch a panel about new media, podcasting and that sort of thing, and there wasn’t too much novelty to it, but it was fine…except for the bits where they mentioned how the skeptical outlook was distasteful.

There was also a final Q&A session of the evening where a few of us, me included, were put up front to introduce ourselves and take questions from the audience. I went bold and made it explicitly clear that I’m a skeptic, I don’t believe in little grey men or ghosts or the paranormal or any of that sort of thing, just so no one would be at all confused about my position. The responses of the other panelists were interesting: lots of mumbling about how we don’t know everything, and mysteries, and that sort of thing, and I got in one rejoinder about how science builds on what we know, not what we don’t know, and leaping into mysteries is a formula for failure.

It was an aggressive approach, but a good one, I think. At the bar session later a number of people collared me to argue, and several just wanted to know more. There’s a huge difference between this group and, for instance, the creationist events I’ve been to: paranormalists tend to be strongly anti-dogmatic, so so far I’ve only encountered one person who hit me with the “invite Jesus into your heart” line. They also tend to be curious, so they ask lots of questions, which is good. I think the main problem is a lack of criteria to judge the quality of evidence, so they tend to go lurching off indiscriminately into weird phenomena.

I met one nice fellow who was proudly showing off his cast of a Bigfoot print.

bigfoot

He was very friendly, and he’d carefully documented everything he could about it: who found it, when it was cast, all that sort of thing. Of course it’s totally useless as evidence for Bigfoot since prints are so easily faked, but that’ll be one of the subjects I talk about tomorrow: the quality of evidence and setting standards for your work.

Today I’m going to sit back and listen. I’ve browsed all their vendor tables, though: anyone need some healing crystals, or books about the Illuminati?

Comments

  1. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    C’mon, PZed, he’s got a footprint. Those are harder to fake than a digital picture.

  2. Kevin Schelley says

    The only use I could thing of for those things are as props in a play or low budget movie, at least if you had to pay for them.

  3. says

    Oh, also, one guy came up to me very earnestly and asked whether it was true I didn’t believe in psychics. I said yes. So he told me to look out for trouble from my brother-in-law, or perhaps another family member, sometime in the next few months. He had a strong impression that something was going to happen.

    I told him that vaguely predicting mild familial conflict was a totally useless guess.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    A factual biography of Adam Weishaupt and his Bavarian buddies, detailing their actual actions and influence, would be very intriguing – thanks so much!

  5. vole says

    News this week from Oxford University that the yeti might be real after all – some kind of bear. So maybe we’re not entitled to be quite so skeptical about the bigfoot any more?

  6. ludicrous says

    Well, as Carlin would say, there is a reason, there is a reason for everything. The reason she is always called Bigfoot , and not Bigfeet, is because she only has one and that’s why it’s so big. She lives in the forest, hops around on one foot and eats skeptics.

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Gee, looks like a footprint from a wooden model just like a known skeptic leaves every so often to mock the bigfoot True Believers™. They get all excited by the fake footprints.

  8. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Well, PZ, if your older son’s ex roommate accidentally murders you while faking an ax attack that was supposed to divert the investigation from your wife who is actually slowly poisoning you via negative thoughts embedded in Mary’s Monday Metazoan emails…. you’ll regret not listening to that good man’s advice. Or not, depending on what role you get in your next life.

  9. Al Dente says

    Look at that cast. It’s obviously big. And it’s obviously a foot. What else could it be but Bigfoot? Sheesh, we have to explain everything to these skeptics.

  10. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    When I was up at my latest fire (in the middle of Bigfoot country), my night time road guards were joking about trying to catch Bigfoot. I explained, in a very carefully toned professorial voice, that there were two problems with this idea.

    First, Bigfoots are employed by the Gray Aliens to keep people away from their experimental areas and they arm them with phase-lazers that give the target memories of quite personal probings while at the same time scrambling other memories to guarantee that no one will take them seriously.

    Second, Bigfoots are naturists. They are nudists. They will only interact with humans that are nude. Which doesn’t work for the road guards because they have to be wearing their Nomex at all times since we are inside the fire perimeter.

    Which does beg the question, what are they doing out there at 3:00am in the middle of nowhere?

  11. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    And as I take another look at that Bigfoot foot cast which is big, does anyone else see a dorso-ventrally flattened coprolite?

  12. Ogvorbis: Apologies Available for All! says

    Markita:

    I wonder if the finger was the middle finger. Would be wonderfully appropriate.

  13. Nick Gotts says

    News this week from Oxford University that the yeti might be real after all – some kind of bear. So maybe we’re not entitled to be quite so skeptical about the bigfoot any more? – vole

    Yes, we are. Brown bears are well-known to live in the Himalayas, so all Sykes shows (and this assumes that the samples’ provenance is sound) is that at least some Himalayan brown bears are genetically close to whatever bear the ancient jawbone belonged to. Similarly, if all the sightings of Bigfoot that are not outright frauds are just misidentified brown bears, there’s no unknown creature to discover.

  14. Nick Gotts says

    Sorry, the reference to “ancient jawbone”@18 needs explaining if you haven’t read about the research vole@5 referred to. Brian Sykes tested the hairs allegedly from the yeti against DNA from an ancient bear’s jawbone, supposedly one ancestral to modern polar bears:

    Prof Sykes found that he had a 100% match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway, that dates back to between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago – a time when the polar bear and closely related brown bear were separating as different species.

    In fact, brown bears and polar bears interbreed and so are sometimes considered to belong to the same speices; I’m not sure on what grounds the ancient jawbone is linked to modern polar bears rather than modern brown bears. Given that Sykes’ research is going to feature in a Channel 4 TV series on the yeti, this story looks to me like an attempt to sex up the finding that the “yeti hairs” belong to an ordinary bear.

  15. vaiyt says

    @Al Dente

    Look at that cast. It’s obviously big. And it’s obviously a foot.

    It’s foot-shaped. Assuming it’s a foot before that’s even stablished, and drawing conclusions from there, is the big trick paranormalists throw at you.

  16. =8)-DX says

    Don’t get healing crystals, get healing potions – much more useful when fighting a bigfoot. Oh, and the potions are usually sold at this place called “the bar”.

  17. Sastra says

    There’s a huge difference between this group and, for instance, the creationist events I’ve been to: paranormalists tend to be strongly anti-dogmatic, so so far I’ve only encountered one person who hit me with the “invite Jesus into your heart” line. They also tend to be curious, so they ask lots of questions, which is good. I think the main problem is a lack of criteria to judge the quality of evidence, so they tend to go lurching off indiscriminately into weird phenomena.

    Keep in mind that you were on their turf surrounded by their own “experts,” so they felt less threatened. I just finished reading Jason Rosenhouse’s excellent Among the Creationists and his experience at Creationist conventions parallels yours at the New Age symposium: the vast majority of attendees were polite, friendly, curious, and full of questions.

    From what I have seen, the paranormalists’ loudly proclaimed “hatred of dogmatism” is a sham — one which fools even them. Remember, when push come to shove they include science in their definition of ‘dogmatism. There ought to be many sciences, different ones for different paradigms. What this entails then is a hatred of being corrected. Belief is identity. The evidence is sufficient for those who are ready and willing. Closed-minded materialists are not as spiritually developed — but they don’t judge them for that. And they know they can’t rationally argue skeptics into belief — it’s a matter for the heart, not the head.. So their unwillingness to convince you isn’t a sign they’re not dogmatic: it’s a sign that they ARE.

    It’s the same argument as the one the creationists use — our “world view” (or spiritual development) inevitably skews how we see the evidence (and it doesn’t go the other way around UNLESS it goes in the right direction.) It’s profoundly anti-humanist.

    Yes, you will find that New Agers are very nice people. Jason found the Creationists to be warm and delightful too. In person, there’s usually no problem, they’ll say and do all the right things when asking questions and listening politely to the answers. But their basic philosophy and mindset is divisive and dogmatic. And this will eventually come out when you start to dig below the friendly surface.

    Of course it’s likely that at least some of the people there can learn to understand why the skeptical approach is a better one and thus begin to approach their beliefs more rigorously. Kudos on you for going and giving them a real alternative. But the symposium is labeled “Paradigms” for a reason.

    My prediction is that you will be told that your beliefs and approach isn’t wrong — it’s just different. And in return you’re going to be expected to extend the courtesy and say that their beliefs and approach aren’t wrong either — it’s just different and you’re fine with that. If and when you don’t and persist in arguing the issue, however, then they’re going to be sorry you’re so dogmatic.

    Let’s see if I’m psychic.

  18. RFW says

    “Belief is identity.”

    Which meshes well with the idea that a lot of the attraction religion has for people is nothing more than “the church as a social club.”

    Or to put it a little differently, what’s important to religious people isn’t the actual belief system they claim to adhere to, but, rather, that they can say “I am a member of ….”

    Catcalls, boos, hisses, and refudiations all welcome.

  19. unclefrogy says

    nothing more than a social club,
    a social club in the face of oblivion in the face of isolation and fear. in the face of death’s final irony.
    a social club for a social animal is a very important thing it is hard to imagine anything more important. the desire to see reality in some shared dream is very comfortable even the threat of “damnation and eternal torture” can be reassuring. compared to isolation and simple utter oblivion.

    uncle frogy

  20. Sastra says

    RFW #24 wrote:

    “Belief is identity.”
    Which meshes well with the idea that a lot of the attraction religion has for people is nothing more than “the church as a social club.”

    It meshes well, yes — but it’s not really the same thing. Many people who are virulently opposed to organized religion (they’re “spiritual”) and who have no community to speak of still consider their faith to be completely wrapped up not just in their self-image but in all their values and ideals as well. They are the kind of person who believes in God (or Spirit or ESP or alt med or even (sometimes) Bigfoot. They aspire to be that type of person.

    What we see as correcting a factual error they see as trying to change who they are.

    This is where the accomodationists and the gnus split. Accomodationists look at the identity confusion and emotional investment and think it wise, prudent, and kinder to back off. Stop try to convince people they’re wrong and concentrate instead on just getting them to accept atheists/skeptics as decent people (who would not attack a person’s core identity!)

    Gnus, on the other hand, say to hell with that. It avoids the issue, changes the subject. Besides, it’s self-defeating anyway because the way it’s set up their system has to define the skeptic core identity in a very non-flattering way. Yeah, we get it — they don’t want to become like a skeptic, they want to open their minds and hearts and in turn will like us if we cave to this not-so-subtle tactic and admit their views are valid in their paradigm but not in ours. No shit, Sherlock. I’d want that too — if my solid, beautiful case was falling apart under scrutiny.

    Scrutinize away.

  21. fulcrumx says

    So Myers is lending his name to this woo symposium to help fleece people out of $249 to $449 per ticket to that crap. Respect meter just went negative.

  22. says

    So Myers is lending his name to this woo symposium to help fleece people out of $249 to $449 per ticket to that crap. Respect meter just went negative.

    Wait, is he forcing people to pay that, making them attend because he is going there? I haven’t exactly seen PZ posting on here encouraging people to go to see him. I am not sure it can be called fleecing when it is absolutely clear what the point of this symposium is, no one is being tricked, is anyone stupid enough to see PZ there and think it is not a meeting a woo? PZ is one voice of reason in a venue that normally has none. I think it is a great chance to get some of those in attendance to think a little bit about how poorly thought out these wooish things are.

  23. Sastra says

    fulcrumx #27 wrote:

    So Myers is lending his name to this woo symposium to help fleece people out of $249 to $449 per ticket to that crap. Respect meter just went negative.

    I seriously doubt that PZ Myers is a huge draw for this crowd — meaning, a lot of them chose to buy a ticket only on the strength of his presence as speaker. So your fear is almost certainly unwarranted. And he didn’t lend his endorsement along with his name.

    On the contrary. He’s there to argue for rationality, skepticism, science, and a healthy dose of critical thinking among people who have been going in the opposite direction but like to think that this is what they have been doing. So the audience is both hostile … and potentially receptive. It’s an opportunity to do something other than ‘preach to the choir.’ And it takes a certain amount of courage — if for nothing more than sitting through any of the talks.

    Many years ago Madelyn Murray O’Hare apparently lent herself to a evangelical dog-and-pony show, where she would come out in front of a primarily religious audience and turn the ranting up to 11, being vicious and vile as a sort of stage atheist. The preacher she was working with would then get to the podium and in heartbreaking accents intone “THIS is what we’re fighting!” before he passed the hat. O’Hare and the preacher would then split the take. Then they’d repeat it at the next town. (Can’t vouch for this as gospel, but heard it from sources which seemed reasonable enough — and it fits in with other reports on O’Hare’s sometimes difficult personality.).

    Now ok — THAT made my respect meter go negative. But PZ at Paradigm Symposium makes it swing upwards. Could be yours needs to be re-tuned.

  24. otrame says

    That cast reminds me of the pleasant man who brought us (at a university archaeology lab) a slab of limestone that had what he was convinced was a human footprint. It was a vaguely foot-looking shape with four indentations at the “top” that were vaguely toe looking. I use the word vague in this comment advisedly. When I pointed out that there were only 4 toes, he said, maybe he lost one of his toes. When I said the “big toe” is on the lateral side of the “foot” while us humans have ours on the medial side of the foot, he said, “Well this is very old, Maybe feet have changed.” When I pointed out that the several million-year-old footprints at Laetoli showed big toes on the medial side of the foot, he got a little desperate. When I explained that the limestone on the surface in our area is late Cretaceous and therefore could not possibly have human foot prints, he got a little grumpy, but never got rude. I explained that out brains tend to see patterns even when they aren’t there. He left after that, clearly convinced that I was either lying to him or I was an idiot.

    But he was nice about it.

  25. David Marjanović says

    I’m not sure on what grounds the ancient jawbone is linked to modern polar bears rather than modern brown bears.

    Are there any teeth? (Those can be told apart at first glance.) If not, the alveoli might be different, and the proportions of the jawbone (shaped by the musculature) probably are.

    Let’s see if I’m psychic.

    + 1

  26. chigau (違う) says

    fulcrum #27
    PZ is there on a dare.
    —-
    PZ
    how is scottyroberts?
    does he miss us?

  27. ekwhite says

    Pierce R Butler @4: From what I have read, Adam Weishaupt and his buddies were early rationalists and anti-monarchists who advocated democratic government. A book about their actual history would be pretty interesting.

  28. ekwhite says

    My nephew used to live and work in Sedona in the 90’s. I remember him telling me about a fake Native American who used to work at a cinema in town who gave a bullshit “Native American Spirituality” talk to the rubes. Apparently the guy was actually an Italian from New Jersey.

    Unfortunately, some of this bullshit turns deadly, as in the case of James Arthur Ray (Link).

  29. says

    I just finished Abominable Science, a really wonderful book about the science of cryptozoology. Or rather, about the historical application (and lack of application) of science to cryptozoology, and how science might be meaningfully applied to cryptozoology.

    Anyway, it’s a very accessible book, and very enjoyable reading. It won’t present many surprises to anyone here who has looked into cryptids, other than a few historical facts — for instances, I didn’t realize the chupacabra only dates back to the ’80s, or that the first really modern description of Nessie was reported only months after King Kong premiered in the UK (a fact that’s important, as the description of Nessie parallels the scene of a plesiosaur in the movie).

    Aaaaanyway, I really enjoyed the book. It’s relevant to the post. I really love the idea of bigfoot. I don’t think bigfoot exists. So there.

    PS: vole, #5: the book has an entire chapter on the yeti, and the conclusion is that the evidence supports the yeti as merely the Himalayan brown bear. The recent report of DNA supporting the yeti as a relation to the ancient polar bear is not surprising, as it’s probably an identity relation to the current Himalayan brown bear.

  30. says

    The big toe (hallux) is quite divergent. That would make for very inefficient bipedal locomotion. The foot is also extremely narrow, making for a poor platform for a supposedly large animal. What do they expect is the phylogenetic relationship with the rest of the apes? Are they proposing that bipedalism — an extremely idiosyncratic locomotory pattern — evolved twice, or that this feature is homologous due to common ancestry with a human ancestor? Neither explanation really makes sense.