Monday, October 21, 2013

you ain't seen nothing yeti

I was a bit torn while watching Bigfoot Files last night between thinking, well, this is actually quite sciencey and objective compared with most programs of this sort, and getting all shouty at how credulous and accepting it was of clearly absurd claims.

But overall, it was pretty good, focused as it was on actual testing of actual (supposed) yeti remains (generally hair) rather than the various blithering anecdotes of spooked altitude-crazed mountaineers. And there were some laughs on the way as well, particularly around the stuffed yeti supposedly recovered by Nazi scientist Ernst Schäfer in the late 1930s, which is not only laughably botched together out of some old animal skins and teeth and papier-mâché, but also seems to be giving a Nazi salute.

Anyway, to no-one's great surprise the hair samples retrieved and offered for analysis turned out not to be some hominid species previously unknown to science, but some sort of bear. There's some interest here in whether there might be a brown bear/polar bear hybrid species knocking around that scientists were previously unfamiliar with, but of course that's a completely different thing from the claims made for the yeti/bigfoot/whatever, which is that it is some sort of hominid ape-man thing.

There's a parallel here with the claims made by religion, and the sort of slippery refusal to define your terms that characterises those who seek to, for instance, insist that the Jesus of the New Testament was a genuine historical figure. I mean, yeah, we know the miracles described contravene the known laws of physics, so maybe those didn't happen, but maybe he was just some kind of great prophetic teacher or something. Or perhaps the figure described in the New Testament is a sort of mashup of several historical figures, with a bit of supernatural icing smeared on top. To which the sensible answer is: yeah, but you've backed off so far from the key claims that what you're left with is essentially meaningless (more on this theme here). Same with Bigfoot - either it's a crypto-hominid, or it doesn't exist.

I look forward to next week's episode about the North American variants of the legend - Bigfoot, Sasquatch and the like - as these are particularly subject to ludicrous fakery. I also relish the prospect of more unintentionally amusing huffy articles from the cryptozoology community pooh-poohing the latest findings.

One last thing: close your eyes while geneticist Bryan Sykes is speaking and see who he reminds you of.....that's right, Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records, co-presenter of Record Breakers, and regrettable right-wing nutter.

1 comment:

Emma said...

Yes, I watched the first part of that. You're probably right about the correctly sciencey approach, though I was secretly hoping for some more hilariously amateur footage of men in fur suits. Perhaps next week. Re the picture from 'Tintin in Tibet' - yes, put me in mind of that also; must have been the mention of the migou.