Aug 21 2008

Bigfoot Hoax

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Comments: 70

That was a short news cycle!

Last week two Georgia boys, Matt Whitton and Rick Dyer, announced to the world that they had found the dead body of a bigfoot and had it in their freezer. They also said that they found the body at an undisclosed location where they also saw several other bigfeet scurrying off into the woos.

They promised a press conference where they would show their evidence. Skeptics responded with an appropriate level of skepticism – predicting that the press conference would yield no actual evidence as this was all an obvious hoax. Believers, like Cryptomundo, were breathless, declaring, “It certainly looks like the real deal.”

Last Friday they held their press conference and told the world about the evidence that they will provide in the future, but they did not present a body, compelling photographs, scientists who have examined the body or DNA evidence – nothing.

This week the whole thing was revealed as a hoax. The “body” turned out to be a bigfoot costume.

I know, bigfoot – ho hum. This is classic skepticism – wasn’t bigfoot debunked in the 1970’s? Sure, but I do want to make a few observations.

First, the media ate up this story from soup to nuts. Fox, CNN, and all the major outlets went with this story. I strongly suspect that they all new from the outset that this was bunk. The tone of their reporting was non-committal, typical of a fluff piece presented in the same spirit as a carnival sideshow. All they seemed to care about was the chance to put “Bigfoot” in their headlines – the content wasn’t important. As usually, they were delightfully free of hardcore skeptical content. But it also seems like they knew this one would blow up fast and so did not want to come off looking like they were had, so they were proactively coy.

The story also contains an enduring mystery. Whitton and Dyer, according to reports, had a agreement to sell the body to Searching for Bigfoot CEO Tom Biscardi. After the hoax was revealed Whitton and Dyer apparently vanished with Biscardi’s money. What is not clear is the extend to which Biscardi was in on the hoax. Was he just a dupe who got taken by a couple of con artists, or was he the mastermind?

The question comes up because of Biscardi’s history. Even other bigfoot hunters don’t trust this guy. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has this to say on their website:

Journalists, beware!

Tom Biscardi is NOT one of the “leading bigfoot researchers”, but rather a well-known scam artist on the American bigfoot scene. He seeks media attention, relentlessly, to futher (sic) his scams. He should receive no attention at all.

In the 1980’s Biscardi was involved in the marketing of a collection of fake bigfoot footage made by in the infamous hoaxer Ivan Marx (see John Green’s “The Apes Among Us”).

Then in 2005 he orchestrated the infamous “Coast-to-Coast AM” radio show scam, regarding a supposed “captured bigfoot” in California. His claims about an imminent capture of a bigfoot in Northern California dominated the popular late night radio shows for several days, like an extended Orson Wells hoax.

Although apparently sincere, the BFRO are not always so savvy to hoaxes. They were taken in by the Sonoma bigfoot video, later admitted to be a hoax that was made for a Penn & Teller Bullshit episode.

I also can’t quite figure out what was in it for Whitton and Dyer. Did they think they would get away with the hoax? Were they just trying to make a quick buck from Biscardi? That seems unlikely given that he has a long history of being a huckster himself. If they were all in on it, was the rapid news cycle of attention worth it?

I guess anything is better than the daily grind of a mundane life. Really – they should just get a hobby.

The hoax has apparently cost Whitton his job as a police officer.  I guess he didn’t forsee that – but really, if you are going to pull a scam do you really want the world to know? Scam by press conference? It seems these guys did not think this through.

Or maybe there is a deeper layer to the con yet to be revealed, if ever. Maybe we have not yet gotten to that part of the movie where we find out what was really going on the whole time.

None of this means, of course, that bigfoot does not exist. But it is consistent with the mainstream scientific view that there is no credible or compelling evidence for bigfoot, and the existence of such a creature that has escaped scientific notice is highly implausible. The whole affair also supports the general skeptical belief that the entire bigfoot community are a bunch of hapless pseudoscientists.

On a positive note I did get the sense that the public was generally skeptical of this event – or at least were waiting for actual evidence. Maybe they are starting to catch on, and this event will help the process – especially since the turnaround from suspected hoax to definite hoax was short enough to be within the public attention span.

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