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Media puts its Bigfoot in it Yeti again: it’s abominable

What ever happened to quality science reporting in the mainstream media? Why do so many journalists seem to simply accept press releases as fact? Are qualifications no longer relevant when it comes to…

When you hear the words “international team of scientists” run for the hills. The Itsy Bitsy Spider

What ever happened to quality science reporting in the mainstream media? Why do so many journalists seem to simply accept press releases as fact? Are qualifications no longer relevant when it comes to journalistic scrutiny of science? Perhaps there’s no longer any scrutiny? Let’s be clear: there is NO Yeti!

The people claiming there is such a creature have no idea about science or the evidence that would be needed to convince scientists that a Yeti, or Bigfoot, or Yowie, or what ever you call it, exists!

This week I learned from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, the ABC, the UK’s Mail and Telegraph newspapers and the Huffington Post (no less) that a Russian scientist is to be supported in his Bigfoot-hunting efforts by an international team specialising in human evolution.

I checked my calendar to see if it was April 1, and not October 6, as I had (mistakenly) thought. No, October. This story must be real. Not again, I thought.

The 82-year-old Russian heading the project, Igor Burstev – apparently “Dr” Burstev – has convinced himself, local authorities, and apparently plenty of journalists, that the Yeti is real. Burstev even claims the Yeti is a relic population of Neandertals.

And a number of sometimes quite respectable news outlets have been sucked in with this nonsense.

Tesium

Who are these “international scientists” who are going to find the Yeti? We have been given no names, nor credentials, nor institutions they belong to. I suspect, like so many of the so-called climate-change deniers, they are frauds.

Why the long feet?

Is there a chance the Yeti might exist? Yes, there’s a chance, just as with so many phenomena we scientists think about. It’s possible. From time to time, a new species of mammal, even primate, is described in some remote area largely unexplored by scientists.

But based on the evidence presented in favour of its existence, the Yeti looks like a very poor hoax to me. Why are there no proper photographs of this creature? Oh, of course – the people who have seen it were too scared to look away and pick up their cameras in case the Yeti disappeared from view.

All of the claimed photographs or video footage I have seen are completely bogus. I could do a better job myself with a gorilla costume from a party shop, a good camera, and photo-editing software.

The infamous Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot” footage from 1967.

Why do they always have ridiculously large footprints that look like some off-course camel train passed through snow-swept Siberia?

A few facts: the Neandertals, our closet evolutionary relative, with whom we shared an ancestor 400-500,000 years ago, went extinct 25-30,000 years ago.

They had a body mass of around 75 kilograms (on average) and stood about 162 centimetres tall (on average). We can estimate these things with good accuracy from their bones.

I’m about 75 kilograms, but a lot taller than 162 centimetres. Yet my foot is size eight, about average for an Australian male.

Why the big foot? Lack of imagination by the hoaxers, I suppose. Or lack of knowledge of human anatomy and the human fossil record, more likely.

Oh, and guys, they had five toes like we do, not four, as seems mostly to be the case in your fake photos. Try referring to a good anatomy textbook for starters.

Frocoli

Interbreeding

When our ancestors left Africa, 60-70,000 years ago, they happily interbred with the Neandertals. In fact, all of us alive today whose ancestry is Asian, Aboriginal Australian, European, Pacific Islander or Native American, share DNA with them. Up to 6% of our DNA is in fact the result of our ancestors having shagged them!

Far from being bushy-haired, large-toothed, stoop-shouldered, and rather large-footed like the Yeti, Neandertals looked an awful lot like us. Probably not very hairy; certainly with small canine teeth; and hell, they even had nice posture – not like some creature that has spent his working life hunched over a computer writing about hare-brained nonsense like the existence of mythical beings living today in Siberia …

So I ask, where’s the evidence for living Neandertals? If anyone has it, we’d really love to see it. Forget those broken bits of fossil bones and teeth we anthropologists have to work with to study our evolution. We could do real biology! With living creatures!

No-one should be excused from the normal rigorous processes such as peer review scientists have to go through to get their research accepted.

Anyway, forget the hassles of convincing the real experts, go straight to the media – they’ll believe you!