Monday, November 7, 2011

An Interview with Benjamin Radford

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer, former editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language magazine Pensar, which was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine Skeptical Briefs newsletter, Discovery News, and He also co-hosts, with Karen Stollznow, Skeptic magazine's audio podcast MonsterTalk, which critically examines the science behind cryptozoological (and legendary) creatures, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and werewolves. [1]He has written six books, and hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, film, and media literacy. In his work with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Radford characterizes himself as one of the world's few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into psychics, ghosts and haunted houses;[2] exorcisms, miracles, Bigfoot, stigmata, lake monsters, UFO sightings, reincarnation, crop circles, and other topics. Radford also writes on many other topics, including world travel, science literacy, jungle hiking, sex offender panics, and popular fallacies. Radford has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Learning Channel, CBC, BBC, and others. He also served as a consultant for the MTV series "The Big Urban Myth Show."
1. Q: What weight, if any, do you place on the historical data about Bigfoot, (like that illustrated in NA culture), and the plethora of continuing eyewitness accounts?

Benjamin Radford : It depends on what you mean by "historical data." There's nothing wrong with looking at Native American / First Nations stories and legends, but these are not eyewitness accounts of encounters with real creatures. Any expert on anthropology and folklore can tell you that. Legends and stories from the Grimm brothers, Aesop, and Greek myths about monsters and magical creatures were written hundreds (and thousands) of years ago, but they are not "historical evidence" for any real-life animals. If anyone is interested, I discuss the weight of historical data in the search for cryptids in my book Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures. Of course much of it is about lake monsters, but it applies to Bigfoot as well. Eyewitness accounts should be investigated and can be valuable if they lead to other evidence (for example if a person sees a Bigfoot somewhere, and goes to where they saw it and finds tracks). But eyewitness reports, by themselves, are simply not good evidence. They are the most common type of evidence, and the weakest because it is well known that sincere eyewitnesses can be very wrong. Loren Coleman admits that at least 90% of eyewitness accounts are wrong (misunderstandings, misidentifications, etc.), and this is a well-established fact supported by decades of psychological studies (I have a degree in psychology). That doesn't mean that it's not possible that some people are really seeing an "unknown creature"just that there is very strong reason to be skeptical.
2. Q: How do you think the Bigfoot phenomenon compares to the chupacabra phenomenon? Do you think they are similar and if not why?

Benjamin Radford : They are very different. We can trace back the chupacabra to 1995, while of course Bigfoot dates back to at least the 1950s, with Jerry Crew and all that. Chupacabra, unlike Bigfoot, is a vampire, and was mostly seen in Spanish-speaking areas and countries. Also, it's pretty clear to me (and people who have read my book Tracking the Chupacabra) that the chupa mystery really is pretty much solved. I don't think we are anywhere near as definitive on the solution to Bigfoot, partly because there's so much material.
3. Q: What do you think is the most challenging evidence for Bigfoot from a skeptical viewpoint? Also, what evidence regularly cited by Bigfoot proponents do you think is the weakest?
Benjamin Radford : The most challenging evidence from a skeptical perspective would probably be DNA analyses, since they are scientific and theoretically definitive. Unfortunately "unknown" or "unidentified" results do not mean "Bigfoot." There are many reasons why a given sample might come back unknown, including that the sample was contaminated or degraded. As for the weakest evidence, I have to go with eyewitness sightings, for reason I mentioned above. There have been thousands and thousands of sightings, and every single one of them has failed to uncover good evidence. Think about that for a second. If you are trying to do something (i.e. identify an animal by describing what you think you saw it do), and you did this for months and years and decades, collecting thousands and thousands of descriptions without ever accomplishing your goal (identifying the animal), you're doing something wrong. Your methods are not working. From an evidence and investigation standpoint, eyewitness testimony has been a complete and undeniable failure. Why keep doing something that has never succeeded?
4. Q: On the Bigfoot Forums, there's been alot of discussion about the Sierra Bigfoot shootings and also the Ketchum DNA study. Have you been following or investigating either of these and if so, can you share your opinion or any findings with us?
Benjamin Radford : To be honest I haven't been following these two very closely... Bigfoot is only one small part of my crypto research (including lake monsters, chupacabra, etc.), which is only one small part of my "unexplained / paranormal" research (which includes everything from ghosts to UFOs to crop circles and miracles), which is only one small part of my workload (magazine editing, writing books, Discovery News columns, etc.). So I can't keep up on the latest developments in all the fields. But from what I've seem of the Sierra shootings and the Ketchum analysis, I think they will be just another set of dead-end embarrassments to Bigfoot research. If Ketchum's analysis is solid, they should be replicated by other labs. Get them out there; there's no reason a Bigfoot buff should have special access. If the science is there, publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal. Otherwise it's just more of the same bullshit we've seen for decades. I've seen dozens of these "promised earthshaking evidence" things come and go: the Gates Yeti track; the Minnesota Iceman hoax; the Skookum elk print cast; the Biscardi / Georigia Bigfoot hoax; the recent Russian Yeti expedition, etc. It gives the whole field a bad name.
5. Q: In 2011 Bigfoot remains a popular topic in North America and yet there is still no conclusive proof in the form of a type specimen. How do you think the subject remains as popular as it does?
Benjamin Radford : Bigfoot has always been popular. I think a lot of it comes from pop culture. Of course something doesn't have to really exist to capture the public's imagination, think "vampires and zombies"so the lack of evidence isn't really a problem for most people. Unless you're trying to solve the mystery, which I am!
6. Q: If Bigfoot was proven to exist tomorrow, what do you think our role as modern humans should be?
Benjamin Radford : If Bigfoot were found tomorrow, it should be treated like any other undiscovered species. It should be protected and studied and hopefully we can find out where in the evolutionary line it fits. I would love for Bigfoot to be proven real, that would be awesome and very exciting from a scientific point of view.
7. Q: Any thoughts or opinions on the Erickson Project?
Benjamin Radford : Yes. I'm always willing to look at new evidence, but real scientific proof of Bigfoot would be reported on CNN and ABC News, not in a movie. As I noted earlier, this is not the first time when someone has claimed hard evidence, and it won't be the last. These folks will be forgotten in ten years or be remembered as either sincere but deluded, or hoaxers.
8. Q: As a Bigfoot researcher, I've spoken with several witnesses. Credibility is always the big issue. Some encounters seem to be questionable or honest misidentifications, and yet there are others that to me, ring true. Have you personally ever spoken with a Bigfoot witness that you felt may be credible?
Benjamin Radford : Sure, I've interviewed many Bigfoot witnesses who seem very sincere and credible. The problem is that sincere and credible people are only human, and they are subject to the same eyewitness problems that everyone is. Anyone can be mistaken, and pilots, policemen, priests, and public officials are no exception. Just because a story "rings true" doesn't mean it reflects reality. It might, or it might not as I noted, eyewitness reports are not worthless, but unless they lead to real evidence, one report is as good as a thousand. And remember that not a single eyewitness report in history has ever provided a single verifiable detail about Bigfoot.
9. Q: In your article "Bigfoot on Ice" you gave several reasons why Bigfoot does not exist. One of the first was "the empty fossil record".
"There's no fossil record of anything fitting the description" of Bigfoot, said Radford. "There's simply nothing there." Many in the Bigfoot community believe these creatures likely to be relatives of Gigantopithecus. Isn't there some fossil evidence from China to support that theory?
Benjamin Radford : Sure, there's fossil records of Gigantopithecus, absolutely. I was referring to Bigfoot, not Gigantopithecus. Gigantopithecus lived about a half million years ago in Asia; Bigfoot (allegedly) lives in modern times in North America; they are completely different. You can speculate all you like that Bigfoot and Gigantopithecus are related, but there's no evidence for it at all, it's just a wild guess.
10. Q: It doesn't take a lot of research to find you've investigated various topics/mysteries from a skeptical point of view. Have you had any in-depth field investigations on the subject of Bigfoot? If so, can you tell us a little about some of those investigations?
Benjamin Radford : Sure... In addition to writing and researching various Bigfoot related topics (Skookum cast, Bigfoot videos, Manitoba Sasquatch hairs and videos, P/G film, etc.), I've done field investigations in Canada (near a town called The Pas in Manitoba); Central America (mostly Belize) in the Maya Mountains jaguar preserve, Honduras, and Nicaragua); in rural western New York state (a sighting and photo taken on a farm owned by Hans Mobius, investigated by Biscardi); in Louisiana (Honey Island Swamp); and elsewhere. Most of these were Bigfoot / wild man reports, and involved doing interviews, visiting sites, etc. I've probably done about a half dozen of those in total over 12 years, though I've spent more time doing field research and investigation on lake monsters (Scotland, USA, Canada) and chupacabra (Puerto Rico, Texas, and Nicaragua).
11.Q: I mentioned before, there's currently alot of excitement in the Bigfoot community about the Melba Ketchum DNA study. (Soon to be released we are told) This study is said to contain DNA sequencing from several different Bigfoot creatures. As a skeptic, if the results are found to be conclusive, will this change your opinion on the existence of Bigfoot/Sasquatch? If not, What evidence would be required for you to do so?
Benjamin Radford : "If the results are found to be conclusive, will this change your opinion on the existence of Bigfoot/Sasquatch?" It depends on what the results say; I don't know what "conclusive" means in this context. Conclusive about what? We have no reference sample of Bigfoot DNA to compare it to, so there cannot be a "conclusive match". I have no idea what Ketchum is going to claim about the DNA, but whatever it is, I will not just take her word for it; that's not how science works. The samples should be sent to independent DNA labs who have no vested or monetary interest in a movie, or the creature's existence. I have serious questions about Ketchum's objectivity and bias, and I read on Cryptomundo that questions have been raised about her laboratory (and perhaps results). If whatever Ketchum comes up with is accurate and valid, then she should be happy to have independent labs run the same tests to support her conclusions. The whole veil of secrecy behind this project is both unscientific and laughable. If Ketchum is right, and they can prove Bigfoot exist, then I congratulate her and look forward to seeing the Bigfoot. Otherwise, we'll need a live or dead body.
12. Q: What advice would you give to those skeptics with an interest in Bigfoot?

Benjamin Radford : I would hope that most people are "skeptical"despite how skeptics are often treated (I stopped posting on Cryptomundo because of the ridicule and abuse). My main advice is to give both the skeptics and believers a fair hearing. Don't let other people tell you, "skeptics say..."do your own research, take some time to really read some skeptical literature and arguments. You may not be convinced, but if you don't give each side a fair hearing, then you're just being closed-minded. I read a lot of "believer" books and magazines and articles, while I have found that relatively few "believers" have read skeptical books and magazines and articles, by people like Mike Dennett, Dave Deagling, Matt Crowley, or myself. Some people who haven't read my work assume or think that I say or believe that Bigfoot does not exist. This is completely wrong: I don't know if they exist or not. I'd love to see a Bigfoot, or find final proof that they exist. But I approach the topic with critical thinking and science, and I'm not going to accept a low bar for evidence. Nobody should.
Credit Wikipedia for opening information about Mr Radford. Chris B.

1 comment:

  1. The goatsucker mistery is far from being solved. and it can be traced under many different names to much farther in time than just 1995