Bigfoot DNA: Is it Real?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?
Description: “Artistic depiction of Bigfoot.”
Attribution: “LeCire”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Melba Ketchum released her eagerly-awaited Bigfoot DNA research paper today…and already it’s looking like a disaster. No academics (just forensic experts) were involved in the research. In order to get their paper published, they were forced to purchase and relaunch their own peer-reviewed journal. The paper, from what I understand, assumes Bigfoot exists and then goes about setting to prove its existence. Ultimately, it concludes with this comment: “The data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendant of modern humans.” I’ve written about pseudoscience extensively. And from the looks of it, this is pseudoscience at its finest.

“Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

The jury is still out on the actual data. But early word is that the results look more like contamination than anything else. Also, there seem to be a lack of rigorous tests done on the data. Here’s more on the Bigfoot DNA paper from idoubtit at Doubtful News:

Melba Ketchum’s long LONG awaited paper on Bigfoot DNA is published today. But you’re not going to see it.

Back in November, Ketchum announced her results: A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.

There was no paper to go along with the results. There is now a paper. With it comes a BOATLOAD of issues that leave this announcement less than spectacular…

(See the rest at Doubtful News)

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Conducting Pseudoscience?

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are pseudosciences. But that doesn’t mean researchers in these fields can’t use the tools of science to improve their work. How does one practice pseudoscience…using real science?

A giant squid attacks a ship
Illustration in Hetzel version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Drawn by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pseudoscience – A Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic and it’s taken us several articles to fully cover it. Six days ago, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method. Five days ago, we looked at how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method (answer: not good). Yesterday, we examined the so-called “scientific paradigm” argument that pseudosciences just haven’t been accepted by mainstream science yet.

By now, we’ve established (at least in our minds) that fields like cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are pseudosciences. But that doesn’t mean pseudosciences can’t be practiced in a professional manner. How can pseudoscience researchers use the methods of science to improve their work?

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

The Problem of Falsifiability

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology have two major problems. First, they lack falsifiability. In other words, you can prove the existence of a cryptid, ghost, or UFO by finding one. But you can never prove nonexistence.The lack of falsifiability is a major problem. It’s the primary reason real scientists stay away from these fields. It also helps explain the extremely poor quality of research in pseudoscience fields. Real scientists create hypotheses to explain phenomena and then do everything possible to refute them. Pseudoscientists, unable to refute their hypotheses, are forced to do the opposite.

“Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

The Evidence Problem?

And this leads us to the second major problem. Pseudoscientists generally marshal evidence to support their theories. But most of the “evidence” for cryptids, ghosts, and UFOs is anecdotal and thus, extremely weak.

So, we’ve got two major problems. First, practitioners are forced to use flawed hypotheses. Second, the evidence gathered is weak and used in an incorrect fashion.

Improving Pseudoscience through…Science?

Let’s return to our example from two days ago. Assume you hear reports of a strange ape-like creature roaming the Pacific Northwest. The nature of this creature is a legitimate, scientific question. How do you proceed?

Most amateur cryptozoologists will race to the scene. They’ll camp out and roam around the woods for awhile. Eventually, they’ll give up and go home, leaving an unsolved mystery in their wake.

More experienced practitioners will attempt to utilize the scientific method. They’ll begin with a hypothesis such as: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a heretofore undiscovered animal.” Then they’ll head to the region and conduct an exhaustive investigation. They’ll interview witnesses and create a narrow search window. They’ll scour the area for footprints and hair follicles. They’ll set traps and deploy expensive cameras in the vicinity, hoping to catch an image of the creature. Eventually, they’ll use this evidence to support their original hypothesis.

The second method is preferable to the first one. Eyewitness testimony is used to narrow the search window and evidence is gathered in a systematic fashion. However, the initial hypothesis fails the falsifiability test. Regardless of the evidence, there’s no way to prove the creature doesn’t exist. Thus, the evidence only serves one purpose…to support the original hypothesis.So, how should our hypothetical cryptozoologist proceed? Simple…by doing real science.

A proper hypothesis should follow Occam’s razor, or the principle of parsimony. In other words, the researcher should consider numerous hypotheses and choose the simplest one (defined as the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions). Thus, the original hypothesis might be restated as: ”The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a bear.”

The investigation then proceeds as in the second example. Eyewitness testimony is used to narrow the search window and evidence is gathered in a systematic fashion. However, this time the evidence gathered is used to refute the hypothesis. If a bear is ruled out, the next most likely hypothesis is considered. And then the next and then the next and so on…

One Remaining Problem…

So, that’s how one would conduct a real scientific expedition in a pseudoscience field. Unfortunately, that leaves us with one problem. It’s impossible to rule out all alternative hypotheses. And even if a pseudoscience researcher believes he or she has done so, it still doesn’t prove the existence of the monster, ghost, or UFO. Unfortunately, this problem is unsolvable.

There’s only one way to prove the existence of the unknown. And that’s through physical evidence…i.e. an actual monster, ghost, or UFO. Thus, it’s understandable that few people choose to employ the scientific method and rule out alternatives. It’s far easier (and far more fun) to attempt to prove existence via the available evidence, weak though it may be.

This problem is exacerbated by the large population of “true believers.” UFO enthusiasts, for example, believe ardently in UFOs. Nothing can convince them otherwise. They’re not interested in skepticism. Instead, they’re only interested in evidence that supports their pre-determined beliefs. Hence, they provide a steady fan base for pseudoscience research.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution here. Real scientific research regarding monsters, ghosts, and UFOs is possible. However, the best it can do is eliminate alternative theories for a strange phenomena.

Not that this a bad thing. Eliminating alternative theories has value. In addition, the application of the scientific method may have other results, such as leading researchers to do more rigorous and skeptical analysis.

At the end of the day, we believe the best thing a pseudoscience researcher can do is to keep an open mind and to always employ Occam’s razor. It might not be as much fun…but it’s the only way to get closer to the truth.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: A Paradigm Shift?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to them have sprung up over the last few decades. These fields fail the scientific method test due to the lack of falsifiability. But is there a way we can still classify these fields as legitimate sciences? Or are they doomed to be pseudosciences?

Frequency of UFO Reports
June – September, 1952
Source: Appendix I to Project Blue Book Status Report Number 8, ARC Identifier 595542

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will take us several articles to fully cover it. A few days ago, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method. Then we looked at how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method (answer: not good). Today, we’ll examine a counter argument…namely that the only reason pseudoscience fields aren’t looked at as being scientific is due to the current paradigm.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

The Scientific Paradigm

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book entitled, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he divided science into two categories…”normal science” and “extraordinary science.” Normal science operates within an accepted “paradigm.” But sometimes, anomalies occur. If enough anomalies take place, normal science is recognized to be flawed and undergoes a “crisis period.”

In this “crisis period,” scientists begin to do extraordinary science. In other words, they operate outside the paradigm. Eventually, this may lead to new ideas and a resulting “paradigm shift” in which the new paradigm replaces the old one.

A Paradigm Shift toward Pseudoscience Fields?

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Scholars in these fields often call upon Kuhn’s work to support their research. In other words, they think the current paradigm is flawed and controlled by scientists within the paradigm. Thus, the only reason cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are still considered pseudosciences is because they don’t fit into current theories.

However, Kuhn’s concept of a “paradigm shift” doesn’t happen easily. It requires constant anomalies that can be detected in repeatable experiments. And this is where pseudosciences fall short. It’s not that mainstream science refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOs. It’s that such evidence doesn’t exist.

But some Cryptids are Real…Aren’t They?

While no one has ever produced a real ghost or UFO, new animals are discovered every year. Thus, cryptozoology has a leg up in this regard.

That being said, we have to draw a distinction here. The types of animals remaining to be discovered are most likely small and unknown to cryptozoology. In contrast, most cryptozoologists focus their efforts on well-known, highly unlikely creatures (Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster for example). Even worse, they seek such creatures with absolute certainty of their existence. Still, the regular discovery of new animals would appear to hold some hope for serious cryptozoologists.

Most new animals are discovered by accident. However, unknown animals are sometimes known through folklore. Take the extremely rare saola for example. Its existence has been known by locals for many years. Yet, their skulls were only discovered in 1992. To this day, the saola has yet to be observed in the wild. Incidentally, the discovery of the saola wasn’t made by cryptozoologists. Still, it represents how a cryptozoological expedition might work.

Cryptozoology is feasible, but is it real science? No. It still fails the scientific method test, specifically in terms of falisfiability. One might hypothesize the existence of a saola-like creature via folklore. One might even find the creature. But it’s impossible to prove it doesn’t exist.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

The inherent problem with cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology is that either a monster/ghost/UFO exists or it doesn’t. There’s no way to be sure unless something is discovered. Thus, these fields are rightly classified as pseudosciences.

“The only way to prove an unknown “monster” exists is to either capture one or find the carcass of a dead one. That doesn’t require the scientific method. It requires camping out in the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of some unknown creature.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. The Scientific Method?

That being said, when practiced in a scientific manner, pseudoscience fields can produce results. At it’s best, cryptozoology is a study of unknown animals, a mixture of zoology and folklore. Sitting in the woods waiting for an unknown animal to pop up is a poor way to do research. But hunting down old folklore and trying to ascertain its origin could result in a discovery.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how a monster/ghost/UFO expedition might work. We’ll attempt to employ the scientific method and see how one can do good work even in pseudoscience fields.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. Science: Part II?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to these topics have sprung up over the last few decades. How do pseudosciences like cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method?

“Your Grave will be Under the Stars”
Illustration by W.T. Benda for “The Ghost at Point of Rocks” by Frank H. Spearman (August 1907)
Source: Scribner’s magazine, Volume 42, August 1907 (Digitized by Google on March 12, 2007)

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will probably take us several articles to fully cover it. Yesterday, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method in scientific research. Today, we’ll see how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

Cryptozoology, Ghost Hunting, & Ufology

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Yesterday, we stated our opinion that few of the researchers in these fields utilize the scientific method. Instead, the vast majority focus their efforts on trying to support their theories, rather than attempting to refute them. However, a few (okay, many) bad apples doesn’t necessarily discredit these fields of study. Can cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology be practiced as protosciences as opposed to pseudosciences?

The scientific method requires one to observe phenomena, ask a question about it, and then form a hypothesis that answers the question. For example, one might hear reports of a strange ape-like creature roaming the Pacific Northwest. A researcher might legitimately inquire as to the nature of this creature. But what hypothesis should he or she form?

One potential hypothesis is: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a heretofore undiscovered animal.” But this is problematic because there’s no way to prove it false. Indeed, forming falsifiable, testable hypotheses is exceedingly difficult in these fields since we can’t be certain whether or not the monster/ghost/UFO actually exists.

Another potential hypothesis is: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a bear.” This is a falsifiable, somewhat testable hypothesis. This route might allow a researcher to cancel out alternative theories. However, it does nothing to strengthen the case for an unknown animal.

And therein lies the rub. The only way to prove an unknown “monster” exists is to either capture one or find the carcass of a dead one. On the other hand, there’s no way to disprove its existence. Therefore, even the most diligent cryptozoologist won’t be able to make full use of the scientific method. And without the scientific method, a field of study can never reach the level of protoscience, let alone mainstream science.

The Evidence Problem

There’s one more thing to consider. The scientific method requires one to gather evidence that can be tested and verified by other researchers. It would appear cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are sorely lacking in this regard.

As we see it, there are three types of scientific evidence. Physical evidence is something you can see or touch. Second-hand physical evidence includes things like photographs and footprint plasters. Anecdotal evidence is basically eyewitness accounts. Physical evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOs is practically nonexistent. Cryptozoologists have gathered some DNA samples for possible “cryptids.” However, since there’s no possible comparison, the best conclusion one can draw from such evidence is that it doesn’t match certain other creatures. There’s just no way to be certain whether or not it matches a cryptid. Again, the problem of falsification rears its ugly head.

Second-hand physical evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOS is fairly common. However, this evidence is difficult to test or trust. You might be able to eliminate certain possibilities. However, you can never eliminate the possibility of a hoax.

By far, anecdotal evidence is the most common form of evidence gathered by crytozoologists, ghost hunters, and ufologists. Unfortunately, eyewitness testimony has little value, regardless of the purveyor’s social standing. It cannot be tested nor is it falsifiable. Also, most people are untrained observers and thus, make for poor eyewitnesses. They forget details. Sometimes they add extra ones. They can easily mistake one creature for another. As a result, anecdotal evidence is notoriously poor in quality.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology appear to suffer from two major flaws. First, there’s no way to form falsifiable hypotheses that will shed light on the existence of monsters, ghosts, or UFOs. And second, the available evidence for these things is weak at best. Indeed, from a certain perspective, it would appear the aspiring researcher is better off avoiding the scientific method altogether and instead, doing everything possible to get his or her hands on actual physical evidence. Hence, the sorry state of research in these fields today.

Is there a way out of this mess? Perhaps. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the “paradigm shift” theory of Thomas Kuhn. Maybe the problems seemingly inherent to cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology aren’t their fault but rather, the fault of science itself.Or maybe not.

Stay tuned!

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to these phenomena have sprung up over the last few decades. How should we classify cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology? Are they protosciences (emerging areas of study)? Or are they pseudosciences?

“Hoding stood erect and whirled his axe up against the descending muzzle”
Illustration by E.L. Blumenschein for “Thyra: A Romance of the Polar Pit” by Robert Ames Bennet (1901)
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous pseudoscientific expeditions that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will probably take us several articles to fully cover it. We’ll use this first article to present the problem and establish the importance of the scientific method in scientific research.

Superstitions to Science

There are five general ways people attempt to answer scientific questions. They range from superstitions to mainstream science.

  • Superstitions: Superstition is the linking of cause and effect using supernatural forces rather than natural science.
  • Pseudoscience: Pseudoscience refers to scientific-like ideas that fall short of actual science. Usually, research in these areas lacks evidence or the ability to duplicate experiments. As such, the scientific method is not properly employed.
  • Fringe Science: Fringe science employs the scientific method. However, it is highly speculative and its results are widely rejected within the general scientific community.
  • Protoscience: Protoscience also employs the scientific method. It refers to new areas of scientific investigation that have yet to be firmly established. Sometimes these areas fail to pan out and become pseudosciences or fringe sciences. Other times, such as with plate tectonics, they become widely accepted as mainstream sciences. Cryonics could be termed a current protoscience.
  • Mainstream Science: An established and respected field of scientific study.

The issue of what separates science from pseudoscience is known as the demarcation problem. This is actually a difficult problem and remains a point of contention among many researchers. Most scholars believe the scientific method must be utilized in true science. Karl Popper suggested that scientific statements must be falsifiable, or capable of being refuted by a physical experiment.

Arguably, falsification is required when making proper use of the scientific method. Thus, for our purposes, we’ll postulate that true science requires the ability to test hypotheses using the scientific method.

The Importance of the Scientific Method

The scientific method is a self-correcting body of techniques used to gain knowledge. While there isn’t an established procedure, there are several steps which are generally utilized by the scientific community. Here’s one possible iteration of these steps.

  1. Observe phenomena.
  2. Define a question about the phenomena.
  3. Form a testable hypothesis answering the question.
  4. Rigorously test the hypothesis in ways that can be repeated.
  5. Analyze the data.
  6. Either reject or don’t reject the hypothesis (note: not rejecting the hypothesis doesn’t mean accepting it). If hypothesis is rejected, form a new hypothesis and repeat steps 3-6.
  7. Publish results so others can peer-review the work.

Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs

Crytozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Practitioners tend to think of themselves as scientists. They’ve even adopted many scientific practices. They use scientific jargon and employ technical equipment in the field. Many researchers join organizations and publish research papers. To the casual observer, it all looks very scientific. Unfortunately, it’s often not even close.

Many researchers in these fields are hopelessly biased. A proper scientific investigation attempts to explain phenomena with hypotheses based on the most logical explanations. Then scientists attempt to refute those hypotheses. However, pseudoscientists often do the exact opposite. They establish pseudoscientific hypotheses and then marshal evidence to support their own hypotheses. Incidentally, we accused TIGHAR of doing this exact same thing recently while searching for Amelia Earhart’s lost Lockheed Electra.

The presence of poor researchers is unfortunate. However, it doesn’t necessarily discredit these fields of study. Can crytozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology be practiced as real protosciences as opposed to pseudosciences?

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Well, that’s it for today. In summary, we believe true science (protoscience and mainstream science) requires its practitioners to make rigorous use of the scientific method. Most cryptozoologists, ghost hunters, and ufologists appear to fail that test. But is that just due to the individuals themselves? Or are these fields of study doomed by their very nature? We’ll take a closer look at that issue tomorrow.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

Searching for Bigfoot?

When it comes to Bigfoot, we’re pretty skeptical here at Guerrilla Explorer. But can science prove its existence?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?
Description: “Artistic depiction of Bigfoot.”
Attribution: “LeCire”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Searching for Bigfoot?

Recently, Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology in Switzerland joined forces to research Bigfoot, the Yeti, and alleged similar creatures. The idea is to gather organic remains purporting to be from these animals and subject them to genetic testing.

“There have been DNA tests done on alleged yetis and other such things but since then the testing techniques, particularly on hair, have improved a lot due to advances in forensic science.” ~ Bryan Sykes, Wolfson College

DNA tests are nothing new. In fact, a recent DNA test indicated the infamous Yeti hand from Pangboche, Nepal actually belonged to a human. However, Sykes and Michel Sartori, director of the Lausanne Museum, wish to conduct a “systematic review” of all Bigfoot and Yeti material.

They plan to start with remains currently housed at the Lausanne Museum. Specifically, material gathered by Bernard Heuvelmans from 1950 through 2001. Then they’ll reach out to other institutions as well as cryptozoologists for more material. As part of their tests, Sykes and Sartori hope to take DNA samples from areas rife with Bigfoot or Yeti sightings. The idea is to see if the local population has unusually high amounts of Neanderthal DNA (modern research shows that the average person living outside of Africa carries Neanderthal genetic material in the range of one to four percent). If so, it might lend credence to a recent hypothesis that the legendary creature is actually a Neanderthal.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It seems unlikely they’ll break new ground. The most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters such as the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent. Air or land-based cryptids like the Thunderbird or Bigfoot are far less likely to exist. We have slightly more faith in the Yeti, although not much. The Yeti supposedly lives in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make expeditions difficult.

Still, we’re big supporters of this type of research. All scientific claims deserve the chance to be taken seriously…even when they involve so-called monsters.

“But while I’m extremely skeptical of Bigfoot, I certainly don’t reject the possibility of its existence. One of the things that frustrates me about modern science is the built-in disdain many researchers hold for fields like cryptozoology. Regardless of our opinions, we must continue to evaluate any and all scientific claims with an open mind…even if its about the legendary Sasquatch. After all, that’s what science is all about.” ~ David Meyer, Bigfoot Lives…!

The Threat of Happiness Research?

Two days ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) relaunched its “Better Life Index.” According to it, women are generally happier than men and Australia is the happiest country (assuming all categories are equally-weighted). But does happiness research pose a threat to society?

Is happiness research dangerous?

Is happiness research dangerous?
Attribution: SPUI
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is Happiness Research?

Happiness research has exploded over the last few decades. The idea is to quantitatively measure happiness as well as what makes people happy. This allows for all sorts of comparisons between groups as well as nations.

Happiness research tends to treat individuals with a broad brush. But happiness is entirely subjective. Different people have different preferences. Some people value money derived from work more than leisure time and vice versa. The Better Life Index attempts to deal with this fact. It allows users to personalize their indexes based on how much they value eleven separate categories: community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, housing, income, jobs, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. So, this would appear to be a marked improvement.

Cardinal Utility – The Fatal Flaw of Happiness Research?

Unfortunately, the Better Life Index doesn’t deal with the underlying problem. Happiness research depends on something known as cardinal utility. Cardinal utility holds that personal preferences can be accurately measured by a third-party. However, cardinal utility is an outdated view. No one believes it…no one except happiness researchers that is.

Take the Better Life Index. It asks people to self-report how much they value various categories. However, a stated preference don’t necessarily equal a demonstrated preference. What’s the difference? A stated preference is saying you’d take a pay cut to have more leisure time. A demonstrated preference is actually following through on it.

“The concept of demonstrated preference is simply this: that actual choice reveals, or demonstrates, a man’s preferences; that is, that his preferences are deducible from what he has chosen in action. Thus, if a man chooses to spend an hour at a concert rather than a movie, we deduce that the former was preferred, or ranked higher on his value scale.” ~ Murray Rothbard, Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics

Actions speak louder – much louder – than words. There are several ways stated preferences can mess up happiness research. First, people alter their preferences all the time. So, even if a person creates an “accurate” Better Life Index, he might change his mind when it comes time to make an actual choice. Second, a person might think they prefer doing one thing. But when presented with a choice, that same person might do something else entirely.

“In vacuo, a few consumers are questioned at length on which abstract bundle of commodities they would prefer to another abstract bundle, and so on. Not only does this suffer from the constancy error, no assurance can be attached to the mere questioning of people when they are not confronted with the choices in actual practice. Not only will a person’s valuation differ when talking about them from when he is actually choosing, but there is also no guarantee that he is telling the truth.” ~ Murray Rothbard, Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, maybe happiness research isn’t all that accurate. So what? It’s just for fun right? Well, maybe not. It might seem innocuous, but there’s a dark side to it. Politicians and bureaucrats from around the world are taking a page out of Jeremy Bentham’s book and claiming public policy can be used to engineer societal happiness.

“The most commonly cited statistic in happiness economics is the rule that somewhere between $40,000 and $110,000, a higher salary doesn’t buy much more joy or satisfaction. Many people draw the bright white line at $70,000. This provides a strong utilitarian impulse to raise taxes on the rich, who apparently can’t buy much happiness with their extra millions, and to funnel the money to the poor to bring them closer to $70,000. … But one reason why incomes differ is that some people care more about making money than others.” ~ Derek Thompson, The New Economics of Happiness

We barely understand happiness. And we certainly can’t measure it with any type of accuracy. So, the idea that politicians and bureaucrats can engineer it is an illusion. But that won’t stop them from trying. In the end, the research that is supposed to be improving lives might just end up ruining them.

“Apologists for Marxism have made myriad excuses for their ideology’s failure to provide the same standard of living and liberty as was enjoyed in capitalist nations. Until recently, few have been so brazen as to claim that lowering living standards and curtailing freedom were the intended consequences, let alone that people would be happier with less of either. … Limiting choice, reducing wealth and lowering aspirations are now openly advocated as desirable ends in themselves.” ~ Christopher Snowdon, The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact-Checking the Left’s New Theory of Everything

For Further Reading: The Trojan Horse of Happiness Research by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

The Horse that Could Calculate?

Beginning in 1891, crowds throughout Europe were spellbound by the amazing feats of the horse Clever Hans. Urged on by his owner William Von Osten, Clever Hans would answer questions by tapping a hoof on the ground. For example, 5 and 9 were once written on a blackboard and he was asked to add them together. Clever Hans proceeded to tap his hoof 14 times. What was his secret?

Did Clever Hans really know how to do math?

Clever Hans performs in front of an audience
Attribution: Karl Krall
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Secret of Clever Hans?

It took 16 years but finally, a philosophy professor named Carl Stumpf and his student Oskar Pfungst solved the mystery. It turned out that Clever Hans based his responses on “unconscious cues” provided by Von Osten. In other words, when Clever Hans reached the correct number of hoof taps, Von Osten would unknowingly change facial expressions or lean forward. Clever Hans would stop and then receive a reward for his “guess,” which served to reinforce the behavior.

Incidentally, this is a primary reason that modern psychologists use double-blind experiments or communicate with subjects via computers. Here’s more on Clever Hans from Benjamin Radford at Discovery News:

You may think your dog or cat is smart and amazing, but it’s got nothing on a horse that drew huge crowds in Germany and throughout Europe over a century ago.

The horse, named Clever Hans, was known around the world for his inexplicable abilities. William Von Osten put his amazing horse on display in 1891, and together he and Hans treated crowds to sights never before seen.

Not only could Hans count — something no other animals were said to do — but he could also tell time, read, and spell (in German, of course).

(See Discovery News for the rest on Clever Hans)