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Thursday, 24 August 2017

Book Review: Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Last Neanderthal: A Geneticist's Search for Modern Apemen by Bryan Sykes

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Disinformation Company (Mar. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193887515X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1938875151
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.6 cm

..".you're talking about a yeti or bigfoot or sasquatch. Well now, you'll be amazed when I tell you that I'm sure they exist." --Jane Goodall on NPR
This is "The Big Book of Yetis." What the reader gets here is a world-class geneticist's search for evidence for the existence of Big Foot, yeti, or the abominable snowman.
Along the way, he visits sites of alleged sightings of these strange creatures, attends meetings of cryptozoologists, recounts the stories of famous monster-hunting expeditions, and runs possible yeti DNA through his highly regarded lab in Oxford. Sykes introduces us to the crackpots, visionaries, and adventurers who have been involved in research into this possible scientific dead-end over the past 100 years. Sykes is a serious scientist who knows how to tell a story, and this is a credible and engaging account.
Almost, but not quite human, the yeti and its counterparts from wild regions of the world, still exert a powerful atavistic influence on us. Is the yeti just a phantasm of our imagination or a survivor from our own savage ancestry? Or is it a real creature? This is the mystery that Bryan Sykes set out to unlock.

Back on the 28th October, 2013, I gave my opinion on British TVs Channel 4 The Bigfoot Files episode  dealing  with Sasquatch.

On the Almasty episode>

Nadia Moore wrote a piece on her involvement with the programme:

In fact, it seems that not even Dr Sykes was happy with the cuts made in the TV series. An innocent in TV world!   

I once knew a natural who had studied reports of non native cats in the UK for a couple decades. I warned him, when he was invited onto local BBC TV news to talk about a recent puma sighting in the area.   He thought the BBC would be fair. He had plaster casts, charts and even some interesting photographs. Spent a few  hours with the BBC film crew. "Nice people".  Then came the news item and the usual "Perhaps the cider is too strong down that way" and the researcher had everything cut down to 8 seconds and the camera trailed through long grass got longer air time.  And the studio giggled and laughed.  It was after this that I had an angry exchange with a BBC TV producer and told him I had now barred any work with the BBC ~long story.

In this book, Sykes mentions the cuts and how the show's host, the much hated by everyone it seems, Mark Farmer, was there to wring out every last ounce of much needed TV time from the interviews. It must have been something of a shock to Sykes to meet and chat with 'nice' TV people, trust them and then this happens.  "TV people" covers it all.

But Sykes was damned by "Bigfootologists" because of a cut up series and the press/media loving the jokes and mocking headlines they could get from the fact that DNA and Science ~Sykes~ had proven that Bigfoot and the yeti and their kin were all silly stories.

There is something that many fail to understand and that is the fact that there were skeptics who poked fun at Sykes yet accepted his conclusions that there were no unknown hominoids out there.  Most I note are billing themselves as critics of "pseudo science" and seem to rely heavily on reading rather than getting off their arses and doing field work but, I guess, it all comes down to "Why go out into the wilds to investigate what isn't there?"

Not sticking to facts is, it seems, permitted on both sides. Very unscientific.

The book itself looks at famous examples of Yeti, Sasquatch and Almas. So, rather than just jump into DNA analysis, etc., Sykes gives the curious reader who may be open minded a fair appraisal of the subject.

There is the 1924 "Ape Canyon" incident in which miners claimed to have been attacked by a group of sasquatch along with the supposed explanation that throwing volcanic rock from a ridge was an established teen pass~time but those involved had no idea the miners were below. 

Fair enough. 

But Sykes did not sit on his arse in some comfy armchair and pontificate.  He visited the Bernard Heuvelman archives and delved into papers there and provides a wonderful (Chapter 8 The Godfather) look at Heuvelman and Ivan T. Sanderson's investigation into the Minnesota Iceman and shows how these close friends fell out over the case.  Basically, Heuvelman's had promised not to submit any scientific paper on the Iceman until Sanderson had secured the body to examine it properly. Heuvelman's threw that promise aside and, in many eyes then and since, screwed everything up ~including his own scientific reputation, not helped by his deciding to give the "new species" a scientific name.

The whole Heuvelman/Sanderson/Minnesota Iceman affair is fairly summed up. But let's not dwell on the iceman.

There is even a look at hybridization and ape~human hybridization as a possibility which leads into the subject of Oliver ~if you have never heard of Oliver "the Humanzee" then just google him (or  buy my book!).  Even today, decades after Oliver's origins were explained there are many in the cryptozoology community who still credit him as a mystery.

A very nice look at mitochondial DNA and microscopic analysis of hair samples and we even have described the laboratory to which samples from any dead sasquatch would be sent, probably the body, too.  Bigfooters keep asking "where" US officials would send these samples yet here is the answer.  I am guessing they have not read the book which may be why criticism is based on things said in the TV programme or press.

Unfortunately, Sykes refers to his contact with British cryptozoologists. However, if you are going to take the Scientific approach of listening to all sides while evaluating the case/evidence then this  type of contact needs to be there.  You have to see for yourself and assess.

Sykes notes that cryptozoologists feel rejected by Science. I wonder why?  Bluster, half truths and publicity seeking to make money seem to be the main requirements from these people.  This then detracts from the work carried out by anyone seriously studying a subject and it is good to see that Bigfooters in the US and Canada are trying their best to acquire evidence that Science requires and avoiding the continuous inter bigfooters wars!

Unfortunately, Adam Davies does not come out of this well. It is not intentional on Sykes' part as he is just explaining his interactions with cryptozoologists and Bigfooters.  I have always held Davies in high esteem and even written before about how other cryptozoologists should follow his example.  After the Matthew Johnson/SOHA debacle  I still accepted Davies' credibility ~anyone can be fooled under the right conditions and with the right priming.  After reading his book, Man Beasts~ A Personal Investigation, the crown slipped even more.

In this book, Sykes notes how at a weekend event Davies had stated that DNA results had shown that his orang pendek sample had shown it to be part human, part chimpanzee yet, when Sykes politely questioned him about the results there was avoidance.  This was used by Sykes to show the problems with sending samples to labs for testing and tests not being carried out thoroughly and in cases samples not being returned but, most importantly, there being no report on the tests.

When we had the top man and his assistance working on samples of hairs and other materials about ten years ago now, the one thing that the lab always presented was an analysis breakdown and a chart that backed this up. So there was no question regarding the results and we were always asked whether we wanted the samples back.  So, if I gave a talk and reported that a lab had run DNA tests and the report stated the samples were from Panthera pardus (leopard) I would have the lab results and the sample so that if another lab was asked to do a double check I could compare results. Davies did not seem to have this.

We then got onto the whole Lori Simmons and sasquatch known as "Big Guy". I have stated before that a couple of video clips I have seen have audio that sounds like bear noise. Remember that Davies told us "I've heard tigers in the wild" when the Big Guy roared at him.  He noted searching around the tree in question but finding no entrance to a bear den but claimed that he and Simmons believed the bigfoot got under the tree via underground tunnels, which, okay, seemed "iffy" but.... 

And Davies stated that the apples left as offerings had been obviously eaten whole ~ "something a bear cannot do" and at this point the blood drained from me.  Check out the video above.  There are plenty of photos and videos of bears eating apples whole.  What was Davies thinking??

Anyway, Sykes heard the knocking and other sounds but not roaring.  After Davies and Simmons left the area Sykes decided that he was a scientist and there was this bigfoot actually under the tree. He could not walk away from going back to try to get more evidence ~he even got his camera ready.  However, he asked a park ranger whether he would accompany him for safety sake and to have a witness if he saw anything.

Here is where my heart sank.  The ranger looked around the tree thoroughly as Sykes gathered his hair samples.  It was then that the ranger, who had been rather open minded especially because of who Sykes was, told him that he might be able to offer an explanation for not just the wood knocking but also why the knocks and intensity only seemed to occur at a certain time of day. 

I find it almost unbelievable that, in inspecting and walking around the tree, Davies had not looked up. The basics of investigating any site is that you look at the area in question ~every direction around, at the ground and up.  Okay, in my case the possibility of there being a puma, leopard or angry primate in a tree branch made it essential and was why I usually had someone armed with me.  But, even then, if you are investigating in the field then whatever you are looking for you look up.  Deformed tree branches blown by a breeze knocking into and rubbing against the tree at the same time you are hearing the knocking and 'growls' ~explanation.  Does this mean that while Davies looked around for Orang pendek he never looked up into the trees?  The hair sample Sykes retrieved looked very much like Simmons' hair.

The whole  yeti~bear chapter deals with a topic some bigfooters and cryptozoologists have used to make fun of Sykes and his research.  Again, I am guessing this derision is based on the TV programme and news coverage  not reading what Sykes wrote.  It is straight forward and Science not make believe. Do not deride or use research based on proper science to attack people who come up with results you do not like.

On page 309 Sykes writes:

"From what I have seen, Bigfootologists are not, on who whole, good researchers. They lack the necessary degree of self~criticism. One of the elements of scientific  training is that you should be your own fiercest critic, though many of us fail to live up to this dictum.  You do not have to be right  every time ~indeed progress in science is a process of evolution where one theory supersedes the last, however strongly held, as new information or new thinking is revealed"

Sykes goes on to point out that the search for bigfoot, yeti or almasty is not beyond Science and, this is all on page 309:

"I may not have found an anomalous primate amongst the hair samples I was given, but that is simply because there wasn't one, nothing more."

You see, Sykes was joking nor dismissing the hominids in question. He has an open mind and not a dismissive one.  His comments on the disorganized state of the research into hominology is what Bigfooters dislike.  

This is, however, a factual statement.  

People who are doing this work are, in the main, not prepared to do so scientifically.  "That's his opinion" will be the grumpy response.  Or "I've spent thirty years in the field looking for this creature and know more about it than some Brit in a lab coat!"

I have had experience with "Ufologists" who reacted the same way and really messed up with trace evidence, before abductions made that of "no consequence" ~they argued and fought tooth and nail more than carry out serious evidence gathering.

I have seen the same thing with "cryptozoologists" and so called UK "Big Cat Hunters" where personality clashes, promoting oneself to get into the newspapers or on TV where facts can be bent to their own benefits.  

Oh, and if a lab result catches them out then it is quite 'obvious' the lab was either "gotten at" or samples intercepted and changed. I am not joking ~I have first hand experience with all of these people.  Cryptozoology, Ufology, Bigfootology, etc. are not Sciences.

Yes, there are people involved in Sasquatch research who are in fact beginning to "science up" and here's hoping they achieve something.  I think that this book is a suitable read for people involved in any field or branch of cryptozoology because it shows the bad science and good science and how samples and other material should be gathered. I even went into this in another recent posting:

Anyone have any idea what microscopic hair analysis or even DNA testing costs in time or money?  I can tell you it is a lot.  Sykes also travelled to look at alleged yeti~bear and to take samples, he travelled to look through Heuvelman's papers and other archives. He did everything he should have done as a scientist and it was not his work that showed he needed a kick up the arse ~it was the practices of the hominologists that let hominology down.

I felt sorry for the Russian Almasty researchers.  They have put in decades of work and even Sykes states that the way the TV programme edited out anything but his results revelation left them looking bad.  Zana may not have turned out to be what we all expected but it teaches us a lesson. The story of Zana adds more to history but not hominology and I hope that the people at the Darwin Museum adapt new practices for the future.

Sykes is not dismissing the subject.  If you read his book he makes it clear that there seems to be a lot of work being done in the field (Jeff Meldrum) and that there is anecdotal evidence in huge stacks of files.  What he wants is for more scientists to get involved and for those involved in the search to organize themselves and work by a scientific method. There is no need for a body.

I would highly recommend this book.

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