Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 18th, 2007
In the May-June 2007 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, a cadre of skeptics review Jeff Meldrum’s book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.
The list includes Ben Radford, Michael R. Dennett, Matt Crowley, and David J. Daegling.
Ben Radford shared the review with me to share with the readers of Cryptomundo.
As there were four separate reviews, I will share them individually over the next few days here at Cryptomundo.
First off the bat, we have Benjamin Radford’s review of the book.
The Nonsense and Non-Science of Sasquatch
Benjamin Radford, Michael R. Dennett, Matt Crowley, and David J. Daegling
Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. By Jeff Meldrum.
Forge Books, New York, 2006. ISBN 0-765-31216-6.
Psst, you can purchase the book at Amazon.com for only $18.45. Click on the book cover to be whisked away to Amazon.com to purchase the book.
(SI) Editor’s note: This review is comprised of analyses by four noted researchers of Bigfoot claims, each of whom was asked to briefly critique the book on their areas of expertise.
Benjamin Radford has investigated Bigfoot and other mysteries for over a decade; his latest book is Lake Monster Mysteries.
That which appears to be scientific, or has the veneer of science but is not, is called pseudoscience. Pseudoscience can take many forms, and is often found in areas of study in which there is little hard evidence for a given phenomenon. Real science uses scientific methods, standards of evidence, critical analysis, and so on. The pursuit of free energy, aliens, ghosts, and psychic powers, just to name a few, are rife with pseudoscience, nonscience, and nonsense.
Enter the pinnacle of the scientific argument for Bigfoot: Jeff Meldrum’s new book titled (without a trace of irony) Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. Meldrum, who holds a PhD in anatomical sciences, is an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. With the 2002 death of anthropologist Grover Krantz, Meldrum assumed the mantle as the highest-profile scientist publicly investigating Bigfoot.
Meldrum’s expertise, according to the books’ forward, is “human locomotor adaptations;” he is certainly qualified to speak about anatomy, but how that applies to Bigfoot – an animal never proven to exist – is unclear. Since we have no Bigfoot body for Meldrum to apply his real-world expertise to, he is reduced to being an armchair analyst for the Zapruder film of Bigfootery, the famous film shot in 1967 by Roger Patterson. The problem for Bigfoot proponents is that the film is an evidentiary dead end. Like any number of other ambiguous photos, film, videos, and images, it is simply a pattern of colors on a two-dimensional medium and cannot yield a shred of hard evidence or conclusive information about Bigfoot.
Meldrum often fails to seriously consider alternative explanations, a serious scientific misstep. Throughout the book, he focuses on theories that support his position while ignoring (or giving short shrift to) competing skeptical theories. Whether intentional or the result of the book’s production deadlines, some parts of Sasquatch are simply incomplete and outdate. For example, Meldrum does not include a thorough and devastating analysis by Anton Wroblewski showing that the much-touted Skookum cast imprint was most probably created by a kneeling elk – complete with a photograph showing an elk in just such a position. And Sasquatch fails to include a serious discussion of the evidence that at least some Bigfoot dermal ridges may be casting artifacts. (Though from the tone of the book it seems unlikely that these careful skeptical analyses would have been objectively evaluated and discussed.)
Meldrum was apparently not happy with Benjamin Radford’s SI overview article “Bigfoot at 50.” Among other issues, Meldrum chides Radford for quoting “unqualified individuals” and amateur investigators” as if they were authorities – researchers such as Rene Dahinden, Loren Coleman, Grover Krantz, Rick Noll, Richard Greenwell, Dave Daegling, John Napier, and others who have written widely on the topic. Curiously, Meldrum himself repeatedly quotes the very same unqualified amateurs throughout Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science.
Another of Meldrum’s criticisms actually highlights the fundamental flaw in his book: a lack of scientific expertise. Meldrum writes, “The majority of those [Bigfoot] critics … have limited expertise to evaluate the diverse evidence – e.g., footprints, hair, scat – with a degree of competence or authority. Indeed, precious few qualified scientific researchers have made any serious effort to … evaluate the data.” Since that scientific expertise is the book’s subtitle and calling card, it merits a closer look.
While Meldrum congratulates himself and his fellow “qualified scientific researchers” for their academic bravery and expertise in tackling the Bigfoot issue, he fails to recognize that real science (as opposed to pseudoscience) operates on good evidence. There simply isn’t good, hard evidence for Bigfoot. Meldrum is like a chef with bare cupboards, promising to show his expertise when the food arrives but in the meantime forced to talk idly about how sharp his knives are.
Meldrum appoints himself the sole judge of who is qualified to critique Bigfoot evidence, yet fails to look closely at his own scientists. Experts discussing matters outside of their expertise is one hallmark of pseudoscience, and Sasquatch offers several instructive examples. For example, Meldrum quote a Dr. Lynn Rogers on the subject of eyewitness testimony. Rogers, Meldrum states, considers the likelihood of mistaking a bear from a Sasquatch “possible but unlikely.” This seems compelling until you note that Dr. Rogers is a bear biologist, not a cognitive psychologist and therefore has no particular expertise about the real issue, which is not ursine morphology but the reliability of perception and eyewitness identification. One wonders if Jeff Meldrum consults his auto mechanic when he gets a toothache.
Meldrum later quotes Dr. Henner Fahrenbach, “who published a statistical analysis of reported Sasquatch dimensions” based on a collection of stories and anecdotes that Meldrum himself admits “may or may not be credible”(!). Meldrum passes of Dr. Fahrenbach’s pseudoscience as valid research, hoping readers won’t notice that Dr. Fahrenbach is not a statistician but instead a retired microscopist, a field of expertise with little or no relevance to the type of analysis he performed. (More to the point, despite Meldrum’s puzzling claim that “anecdotal data forms the basis for many valid statistical analyses,” the jumble of stories Fahrenbach analyzed is prima facie poor data, rendering his conclusions virtually worthless; as the saying goes, garbage in – garbage out. It is troubling and puzzling that Meldrum, a scientist as he keeps reminding us, doesn’t realize this.) – Benjamin Radford
Stay tuned for the remainder of the review here at Cryptomundo over the course of the next few days…
Part two of the review, Michael Dennett’s review of the book, is now posted here at Cryptomundo at Michael Dennett Reviews Meldrum.