Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Truth Behind Bigfoot

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: unknown

"The Truth Behind..." series has been something of a mixed bag -- some scientifically sound, some cluttered with people trying to "scientifically" prove their own beliefs -- so I was a bit concerned about this show going in.  They start with the infamous Patterson Film, and by declaring "If it's a fake, then it's the work of brilliant hoaxers," which almost immediately tips this show into the believer category.  (As professional magicians know, there are no people easier to fool than those who think they can't be fooled.)  They chopper a research team into the area where the film was shot to laser scan the terrain for a digital recreation of the film.  Next, they plan to collect details about the sighting to recreate the creature, and thereby, determine if the film is real.

Next they get Patterson's widow to loan them a 1st generation copy of the film (which removes some artifacts that have been mistaken for anatomical details, like finger curls); where the original is, they don't say.  They scan the film frame by frame in hi-def, and then stabilize the frames to compensate for Patterson's "shaky cam."  Then they overlay a 3d skeleton to try and match the "compliant" gait seen in the film.  They should try to match the gait of Bob Heironimus, but they bring in their own 7' tall actor to do motion capture instead.  Eventually, they get the actor to duplicate the gait (so much for the other no-human-can-duplicate-that-walk shows).  Next, they start talking about rumors that a Hollywood SFX suit maker created the creature from the film.  They claim that the details seen in the suit were "almost unheard of" and "virtually unavailable" in costumes of the day (1967).  (Notice that it was heard of and available.)  They pile on more and more details like this until it become obvious that this is a show that wants to believe in the Patterson film.

And as they keep telling us how "impossible" it would have been to make a suit like this during 1967, I should point out that many of the same kind of arguments were made about the Michigan Dog Man film, which was fairly recently revealed to have been a hoax using a simple ghillie suit.  Sometimes, simple tech in the hands of a hoaxer can fool very sophisticated people.

Meanwhile, they talk to "the world's foremost bigfoot expert" Jeff Meldrum, who has many footprint casts and other "evidence."  He says it's not strange that no actual bones of the creature have been found, because of natural conditions where these creatures would die.  He also thinks bigfoots have flat feet to help navigate difficult terrain.  Others think the casts in his collection are from prints made by hoaxers.  Meldrum cites sheer numbers to dismiss hoaxers, while others note huge variation in such tracks, including the number of toes -- supporting multiple hoaxers with different ideas about the creature.  Meldrum believes the woods could support this type of large animal, and the anecdotal evidence is strong.  He also claims to have 15+ (hair) samples that defy identification, yet show primate characteristics.  (But unidentified samples do not make bigfoot real, any more than unidentified lights in the sky mean we're being visited by aliens.)

Back at the film, Bill Muns lines up a CGI actor with the monster, but can't make both shoulders and hips match.  He notes that the anatomy would be unusual for a human -- but, again, there's Bob Heironimus, whom they haven't tried to match.  Could it be that all this science is being thrown off by a random choice of a disproportionate model (Heironimous) to wear the costume; sure seems like that to me.  Calculating from the sighting distance reported and the lens (25mm) Patterson claimed to have used, the height of his creature would have been a mere 4' tall.  (Clearly absurd.)  Based on foot casts, Meldrum calculates it would be 8' tall.  (For the record, Bob Heironimus is 6' 2" tall.)  Note that this "scientific" TV program now assumes that the reported lens length was wrong, and they substitute their own lens length to fit their 8' creature theory.  I can just as easily, and with more evidential support, assume that Patterson lied in order to line his own pockets.

They conclude that while there is no actual proof, their evidence suggests the film and bigfoot are real.  I conclude that they had a horse in this race when they started, and are therefore unreliable witnesses -- and scientists.

There's a lot of interesting science brought to bear in this show.  Sadly, it's all misused by believers to support the pre-supposed truth of the Patterson film.  Thus, the only real value I can see here is a new, more clear scan of the film.  (And, oddly, that seems less clear that some of the duplicates we've seen before.)  Every person in this show, all of them should be forced to watch National Geographic's own Is it Real? program on the same subject before they're allowed to do another TV showof this type.  Turns out my concerns for this episode of The Truth Behind... were well founded.


Autumnforest said...

I watched that episode today (and all the other fun shows on Natl Geo). I wasn't really impressed with it. There's no way we can prove or disprove the film, so I say--could we please have spent the entire show out in the woods looking for a blast BF? It's like video. If we get video of BF, either we get people who totally believe it because they saw it with their eyes or those who totally don't believe it because video can be hoaxed. The only way we'll ever answer this is find a furry-butted creature and haul him in. Besides, the shows where they camp out in the woods in the dark waiting and listening are more creepy and fun than sitting around using computers to generate scenarios. Great review!

Stephen D. Sullivan said...

Thanks, Autumn. My problem with many of these shows is they go looking to prove something is true by finding things that "couldn't be faked." Really? _Can't_ be faked? See the Michigan Dogman case and numerous others throughout history, please. (Piltdown Man, anyone?) That's bad science.

Good science is: What would it take to prove bigfoot is real? The answer is: a body.

Failing that, good, solid evidence on a number of fronts coming from incontrovertible witnesses, preferably simultaneously. See the recent sighting of the red-crested tree rat -- for the first time in 113 years.

Look! Good pictures! Reliable witnesses who know what they're talking about! (And have no skin in the game.)

If someone were to photograph a bigfoot in HD, follow its trail, find fur and scat along the way, but not deliver a body, they might have a chance to be taken seriously. Until then....

So, by all means, spend the money from these shows on a serious, long-term expedition.