Cryptozoology was rocked this July by the release of a two-year study on alleged Bigfoot DNA by London's Royal Society (paid for by producers of the UK series Bigfoot Files). Now, the chief of America's largest Bigfoot research group (and host of Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot) has cried sample bias. Who's correct?
In response to an email request for comment from Jennifer Viegas, a senior correspondent at Discovery News, the founder and president of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, Matthew Moneymaker, called the Royal Society's study "meaningless scientifically."
The actual DNA analysis by Sykes' team was surely performed with the highest integrity and accuracy but the overall effort was already corrupted by that point. It was corrupted at the sample inclusion stage.
Note: The BFRO did not provide any of the North American samples, nor did we endorse those few samples from North America that were focused on in the associated TV program. None of the "bigfoot" samples that came from the US had a strong *credible* connection to a bigfoot sighting or some other credible corroborating evidence (i.e. footprints).
Moneymaker (Yes, his real name. Yes, I did a background check and now know more about his minor traffic violations than anyone should.) goes on to point out that a considerable portion of the 57 hair samples — submitted to the society's research team from across the world — were not even subjected to analysis. (18, by my count, based on the paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.) He asserts that these samples were excluded specifically "because there was a relatively small amount of material in the sample (i.e. only a few hairs in the sample ... like MOST authentic bigfoot hair samples)." [Moneymaker's emphasis]
I've contacted both the society paper's lead author, Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, and Moneymaker for additional information on this discrepancy. In specific, requests to clarify why the BFRO did not submit samples in the first place, and why the Royal Society opted not to examine 18 of the viable hair samples that were submitted. This post will be updated as needed.
As is often the case with pop-sci articles on any subject, the conclusions and finality of the Royal Society paper have been greatly exaggerated. Venerated old media institution Time magazine, for example, published not one, but two, grossly inaccurate headlines about the study "DNA Study Proves Bigfoot Never Existed" and "DNA Analysis Debunks Bigfoot Myth, Points to Unknown Bear Species" ignoring even the Royal Society researchers' firmly enunciated clarification:
While it is important to bear in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and this survey cannot refute the existence of anomalous primates, neither has it found any evidence in support. Rather than persisting in the view that they have been 'rejected by science', advocates in the cryptozoology community have more work to do in order to produce convincing evidence for anomalous primates and now have the means to do so.
Even the Guardian went with the headline "Abominable news: scientists rule out yetis" despite simultaneously quoting the study's lead author, Sykes, as saying, "Don't give up yet, the yeti may still be out there."
These are important nuances from the researchers themselves and cause for optimism, if you're someone who wants to believe.
Pitched as a disappointment by many media outlets, the study's most newsworthy finding was really anything but: Two of the alleged Yeti samples, one shot by an experienced hunter in Ladakh, India over 40 years ago, turned out to be a "100 percent match with DNA recovered from a Pleistocene fossil more than 40,000 BP [Before Present] of U. maritimus (polar bear)."
So, to review: Ancient polar bears were causing trouble and fighting with people in the early 1970s! That's news! Cryptid enthusiasts perhaps ought to take some time and fully appreciate how weird and interesting that is.
Just look at this thing:
[this purported Bigfoot photo was allegedly taken at Avocado Lake Park in California and sent to Matthew Moneymaker's Twitter account, according to Adam Bird of the Facebook group Bigfoot: Believers Only; ancient polar bear illustration via Icon Films]