BY DAVID S. LEWIS
It came as a surprise when a friend asked if I had seen the Sasquatch track collection of a professional tracker in Gardiner—Jim Halfpenny (scientist, educator, Ph.D. in Biology, Ecology and Mammal-ogy). Before we proceed, let’s be clear—Halfpenny is neither a believer nor a denier, but a skeptic, the appropriate scientific position regarding any hypo-thesis. As he tells us (see page 15), he is a scientist and therefore takes the scientific approach: he is aware of this particular theory, says it has not been disproved, but adds that he has not seen evidence convincing him of the creature’s reality.
For several decades Halfpenny’s life has been immersed, not in sensations like Bigfoot, but the forensics of tracking, so much so that he’s the go-to guy in his field. And so when people find tracks that need to be analyzed (including those that could shake the foundations of modern science) or come upon puzzling circumstances involving tracks, he’s the man they call, a pro at the top of his field, and so lots of casts (of tracks) are sent his way for forensic analysis.
Supposed Sasquatch tracks come his way often. He has pegged many as fakes or something else (often Grizzly bear). The issue, often driven by hoaxes, has been hard to take seriously, but that’s not the whole story. In fact, some researchers, bolstered by historical and present day accounts, are serious about the creature and apparently convinced of his existence, or willing to address the issue scientifically. This was another surprise, as we found that one scientist in particular, Jeff Meldrum, Ph.D. (Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology, Dept. of Biologi-cal Sciences, Idaho State University) has gone all in considering evidence for Bigfoot (and he’s not alone).
The whole issue though becomes obscured, not merely in the vastness of wilderness where the hairy hominid is believed to hide, or due to the intellectual pollution brought on by hoaxing, but in that murky world where science turns adamantly against anything that challenges its norms, doctrines and professional reputations, regardless of evidence. And for Bigfoot there are those who claim to have evidence, even DNA.
The Sasquatch, though, is probably the worst test case of the dynamic in which politics compromises science, in that the issue is easily ridiculed. Man caused global warming, say, would be one of the best test cases, considering the contradictory evidence, other hypotheses, and the refusal to have those factored into the debate so that the scientific method might be applied, skepticism being the default position of science.
The point is, not that we believe there is a Bigfoot out there, but that the question may not be asked, and so we can never know, and that is not science, but it is consensus.
As we asser-ted last month, you don’t know what you don’t know, and so the proper attitude, scientifically, toward any challenge to the status quo way of thinking, is not emotional effron-tery and ridicule but forensics.
In Halfpen-ny’s considerable experience that approach has failed to turn up conclusive evidence of the creature’s existence. Surveying for rare species, saturating tracts of winter geography with trackers from first snow to last, and using trail cameras, Halfpenny, et al, found a great deal, but never Bigfoot.
On an internet radio program in May 2014, Halfpenny discussed the issue with Meldrum, and Todd Standing—a fellow who claims he has seen Bigfoot and taken close up video (see YouTube, judge for yourself). Halfpenny’s expertise was central to the hour-long program, and that expertise and the power of it became apparent as Standing advan-ced weak rationalizations as to how Bigfoot might leave no tracks in snow, tracks in snow being probably the most revealing and useful means by which animals are tracked and rare species chronicled. It became apparent that Bigfoot, in this sense, was an impossibility, while Standing claimed to have video of the creature and to have seen it in Canada. He said he would pay for Halfpenny’s expenses so that he might examine a sighting location. Nine months later, we spoke with Halfpenny in Gardiner. His position remained the same as before, he had seen no evidence that convinced him of the creature’s existence.
It’s usually hard for the Big Fella to get a fair hearing, but this time he did. Standing, while praising Halfpenny, performed acrobatics of logic explaining how a Sasquatch might avoid being tracked in snow, as Halfpenny explained that even expert trackers themselves could not avoid being tracked in snow.
People advancing the existence of Bigfoot say he is nocturnal and hibernates (as if they could know)—the reason his tracks do not often appear in winter. Sounds a bit too convenient though. Since when do hominids hibernate? Yet there are claims of tracks in snow, of up close and personal sightings, and the creature may not have been present in the areas surveyed by Halfpenny’s teams.
We, here, as readers know, remain open to forbidden areas of knowledge, having reported (by virtue of heretical yet sound science), that the Clovis First doctrine is pretty much disproved, yet consider-ed gospel, the doctrine that says the Clovis people were the first North Americans. And we’ve asserted, with examples, that rather than this sort of malfeasance being the exception in science, it is common—when money, pride, and career incentives dictate which data are touted or suppressed, at least in the big questions of life that science is ill equipped to address, given its prejudices about reality.
Bigfoot, though, seems to defy common sense. Where is he? We are impressed by accounts given by eyewitnesses (whose testimonies would sway juries in courts of law) but find it hard to understand why the creature would not be more visible—though sightings have been reported throughout history, and Sasquatch derives from a Salish word in use when the creature was considered a member of another Indian tribe. What’s more, the Yeti and other Sasquatch-like creatures have been reported in other parts of the world. In this regard, Jim Halfpenny, while declaring himself a skeptic, suggested that though the animal would have been officially observed in North America (if real), it could have remained hidden in the dense jungles of Asia, cloaking itself within the regional flora.
The subject would not be fairly addressed without emphasizing that Bigfoot hoaxers have poisoned the well—hoaxes are cited as if they explain all evidence, when they do not, and are used to explain away what may be, who knows?, the real thing. With technology, cable tv and YouTube, though, the incentives and venues for hoaxing have increased. Standing claims his videos depict close ups of Bigfoot (see left). We doubt that, and find it curious that he happens to have close ups (tight shots) of subjects at different locations as if his crew specializes in close ups for cable tv ratings.
Wish you could see, though, the casts of tracks Halfpenny places in the unexplained category (we were not permitted to photograph them). There’s a reason they call it Bigfoot. Huge and misshapen compared to human feet, one’s imagination kicks in. A 17-inch track would have been left by a very large creature indeed.
The legend endures.