August 15, 2008

Bigfoot's First Press Conference

Posted: 04:18 PM ET

I just watched the coming-out party for Bigfoot at a news conference in Palo Alto, California. Bigfoot did not attend. The participants included a publicist; veteran Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi; and the two alleged discoverers of a Bigfoot carcass in the state of Georgia - prison guard Rick Dyer and police officer Matthew Whitton.

Biscardi showed a photo of the tongue and teeth of Bigfoot (as one blog commenter pointed out, Bigfoot obviously practiced awesome dental hygiene!) and an indiscernible photo of another Bigfoot said to be alive and walking away from the camera. That's it. They released a purported DNA result, although it was uncertain if the DNA info was supposed to be compared to other primates (it certainly couldn't be compared to other Bigfoot - or is it Bigfeet?).

Audio quality for the press conference was poor; there was no explanation of why the announcement would be made thousands of miles away from Bigfoot's location (he's in a freezer, somewhere here in the Atlanta area), but there was an assertion that access to Bigfoot would be very selective.

Biscardi, the professional Bigfoot hunter, did most of the talking. He promised to involve credentialed scientists, and dropped the name of Richard Klein, a Stanford University anthropologist. Dr. Klein was conveniently out of town, even though the press conference was held down the block from Stanford. I've left him a message inquiring if he's really involved with this.

The whole affair had a familiar ring to it:

Nearly six years ago, there was a media frenzy around the reports of the first cloned human. "Eve" was born the day after Christmas, fortuitously appearing during a dependably slow news week. Who unveiled that fantastic development? A cultish group called the Raelians, who believe that space aliens created life on earth, and who said a second cloned baby was on the way. But after a barrage of skeptical questions and a refusal by the Raelians to show us the baby or allow outside inspection (citing respect for privacy - not exactly a logical follow-up step if you've just held multiple press conferences), the Raelians disappeared. So did talk of a second baby, and the first baby hasn't been seen to this day.

The Bigfoot hunters, Biscardi, Dyer, and Whitton, certainly aren't cultists. Whitton and Dyer seemed like nice Georgia boys. But they're following a time-honored tradition of hucksterism, for which there's a voracious public appetite.

Okay, boys. Show us the proof. Let the experts establish the proof, and the stage is yours. Otherwise, put a sock in it, and go hide in the woods. Maybe you'll grow into a legend.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Animals • Hoaxes • myths • sarcasm

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Bigfoot discovered! Large, historic bridge for sale.....

Posted: 10:05 AM ET

On Friday at 3pm ET, a press conference in Palo Alto, California will announce the discovery of the body of Bigfoot.

I got the press release, and quickly checked eBay to see if the Brooklyn Bridge was for sale again.

But let's play along for a minute, and drive a bit of web traffic to the Searching for Bigfoot website. Bigfoot was discovered in north Georgia (the U.S. state, not the besieged former Soviet Republic). He stood seven feet, seven inches tall, weighed over 500 pounds, and yes, he was a he.

The Searching for Bigfoot site belongs to Tom Biscardi, a veteran bigfoot tracker. But it was two relative newcomers - a local cop on longterm leave, and a former prison guard, who found Bigfoot right here in Georgia. They have a website too, and you can not only learn more about Bigfoot, but you can buy a Bigfoot T-shirt, a Bigfoot coffee mug, or, for up to $5,000, a guided expedition to the place where Bigfoot was found.

Unlike the intrepid Bigfoot hunters, who have been on the job for years, I'm new to the facts and specifics of all this. So as a journalist, it would be unseemly for me to spout off an opinion on what I think of all this. For that, you'll just have to read my mind.

Of course this is far from the first cottage industry to spring from shady sightings of mystical, mythical beasts. There's a dinosaur that's been hanging out in a lake (a loch, actually) in Scotland. Hanging out for over a hundred years in a relatively small, intensely well-watched and photographed loch. But Nessie, with its presumably walnut-sized brain, has been smart enough to snatch tourist dollars and escape undetected for a long, long time. Click on this link if you want to make travel reservations and grab a Scottish bed & breakfast.

Kenneth Wilson, a gynecologist and amateur dinosaur hunter, snapped this picture of the Loch Ness Monster in 1934

Kenneth Wilson, a gynecologist and amateur dinosaur hunter, released this picture, purportedly of the Loch Ness Monster, in 1934. It was later admitted to be a hoax. The photo was snapped by Wilson's friend, Ian Wetherell.

Then there's Sasquatch. It's normally presumed to hang out in the Pacific Northwest, although there was a Sasquatch sighting in Ontario last month. This big fella also has a web following, with Sasquatch merchandise a part of the overall plan.

Nepal's more enduring version of Bigfoot is the Yeti. There's a site that even has a page of Yeti humor for your Yeti-related speaking engagements. Be advised that most of the jokes are Abominable.

Mexico can offer the Chupacabra (translation: "Goat Sucker"). It's a hairless, dog-sized night prowler blamed for mysterious livestock killings. A chupacabra head was recovered in Texas last year. Upon further review, it turned out to be a coyote with a bad case of mange.

In my native New Jersey we had the Jersey Devil, a mystical creature that prowled the Pine Barrens. We named our pro hockey team after them.

All this exists (or not) in the animal kingdom, but let's not forget that years after their alleged deaths, Elvis and Tupac Shakur are also still routinely sighted.

What the moral of this blog? There's a slightly charming, mostly sad tendency for people to abandon science and reason while they fall for romantic or scary mythology, and there's a vibrant business existing to separate those people from their money. Many politicians, Professional Wrestling promoters, faith healers, and Nigerian email scammers have made a handsome living off this.

Anyway, they're presenting "DNA Evidence" at Bigfoot's coming out party. If any of this convinces any credible scientist anywhere, I'd be happy to eat a big plate of crow. Or chupacabra.

Let us know what you think about all this. Thanks!

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science and Tech

Filed under: Animals • myths • sarcasm

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