I’ve been watching a lot of Finding Bigfoot on Animal Planet lately. It’s not because I’m expecting them to ever find a bigfoot. It’s because no show on television illustrates the virtues of true skepticism or the powers of rationalization. If you haven’t watched Finding Bigfoot, I recommend sitting down and watching at least a few minutes of an episode. Any episode will do because the same sort of pseudoscientific investigations take place every show.
I want to be clear that I don’t watch this show to feel superior. If anything, I finish every episode wondering at what unacknowledged biases shape my own world view. It’s a scary thing to realize that, in the right circumstances, on the right topic, we are all capable of believing things unproven and ridiculous. The reasons for doing so might vary, but if you don’t think this is true of you, then you’re fooling yourself as much as the poor folks running through the darkened woods, looking for a creature that they have no reason to believe exists.
Finding Bigfoot replaced Ghost Adventures as my favorite pseudoscience show because at least ghosts are supposed to be invisible and supernatural. I still love Ghost Adventures because it has the highest ratio of “dude” and “bro” uttered on pretty much any show on television. And their standards for evidence are so laughably low that in one episode, a ball NOT MOVING was offered as proof that there might be a ghost in the room.
But Finding Bigfoot is different because this is a show about intrepid investigators tromping through the woods looking for a giant hominid, finding nothing, and yet, utterly convinced that such a creature could exist. Certainly, I could point out the obvious flaws in this assumption. Points like that it is basically impossible for a breeding population of large animals to live on this planet without leaving any evidence behind. I bet, for instance, that you could hire an expert bear tracker, and it wouldn’t be too hard for him to find some bears. Yet bigfoot hunters, the so-called experts, can’t even offer us more than a grainy photo and a plaster footprint.
None of this matters though to the folks of Finding Bigfoot though because they know the creature exists. They say so often. It doesn’t seem to make a difference that they haven’t found one. It’s just enough to know.
(I know a lot of folks will say the hunters don’t actually believe, but that they’re paid to look. No doubt this is part of what encourages them, but these are people who have spent years, unpaid, looking for bigfoot. There is a level of commitment that is worth acknowledging, even if it is a bit misplaced.)
I offer the patented A. Lee Martinez Leprechaun rebuttal. If the evidence you offer is just as much proof for the existence of leprechauns as bigfoot, then you have to admit it’s not much good as evidence.
All the hallmarks of pseudoscience are present in Finding Bigfoot. Eyewitness testimony (always unreliable even when dealing with things we’ve already proven to exist) is offered as compelling proof. Unexplained noises are framed as intelligent responses. Assumptions run rampant. This is a show where not only was a wolf howl taken as proof that bigfoot was near, but the listener even somehow knew that what the wolves were thinking. The blurriest footage is compelling. And the investigators mistake sincerity for veracity, as if someone genuinely believing they saw a bigfoot is the same thing as actually seeing one.
Pseudoscience illustrates the importance of the scientific method when in comes to research. It’s not enough to use science-tastic terms or to call yourself an investigator. Without the proper methodology, you’re just walking through the woods, jumping at shadows. It might feel exciting to do so, but it’s little more than well-meaning believers stumbling around blindly groping for something they have no reason to believe exists.
But darned if it isn’t compelling television for the skeptic in me.