The following excerpts are taken from The Discovery of the Sasquatch: Reconciling Culture, History and Science in the Discovery Process. Part VI, Discovery Forestalled, contains an extensive discussion of pseudoscience and scientific taboos, unawareness of evidence, conformity and dissent within the scientific community, and interdisciplinary dissonance.
The literature of the philosophy of science is replete with admonitions reminding scientists of their obligation to publish new findings and new ideas. In The Scientific Community, sociologist Warren Hagstrom stated that “the scientist…must be concerned with maintaining and correcting existing theories in his field, and his work should be oriented to this end” (emphasis added). This perception of the scientist’s obligations appears to have been shared by astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan, among others, has extolled the open-mindedness and willingness of scientists to entertain new ideas:
Again, the reason science works so well is partly that built-in error-correcting machinery. There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths. That openness to new ideas, combined with the most rigorous, skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, sifts the wheat from the chaff. It makes no difference how smart, august, or beloved you are. You must prove your case in the face of determined, expert criticism. Diversity and debate are valued. Opinions are encouraged to contend—substantively and in depth….
Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find….We are constantly prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs.1
But what if some of the evidence which supports the proposition has been claimed by the mass media as hoaxed, thus tainting it and all evidence of a similar nature? What if most of the evidence for the existence of the sasquatch has been collected by untrained amateurs, some of whom have explained the evidence with unsubstantiated paranormal claims? What if scientists in other disciplines, such as anthropology, have discounted the evidence as myth? What if the “new findings and new ideas” which a scientist wishes to introduce to the scientific community for evaluation have already been rejected based upon the current thinking outlined in the previous chapter? Finally, what if the “new idea”—the sasquatch as an existing North American mammal—would necessitate significantly modifying or even replacing large portions of prevailing knowledge?
It is partly because scientific gatekeepers have effectively forestalled scientific discussion of sasquatch evidence that most reportage by the mass media has been carried out without the benefit of informed scientific comment and has proceeded uncritically. This situation has resulted in the widespread acceptance of hoax claims as an explanation for all observations of hair-covered bipeds and their tracks. The resulting perception of the sasquatch as a hoax has, in turn, resulted in a vicious circle in which informed scientific comment has become increasingly difficult to attract. Consequently...the sasquatch appears to have entered the canon of generally accepted knowledge, not as an existing North American mammal, but as a “proven” hoax.
One of the reasons why scientists may reject a scientific claim at first offering was identified by Ernest Hook when he noted that “they [scientists] harbor inappropriate prejudice against some aspect of the claim or its proponent.”2 Scientists may argue that their prejudice against the subject of the sasquatch is not at all “inappropriate,” but is quite justified. Irresponsible and unfounded claims have indeed been publicized in the mass media, claims which have undoubtedly contributed to the perception of the sasquatch as a subject of pseudoscience. But dismissing the subject itself on the basis of incorrect interpretations of untrained or misinformed amateurs suggests a lapse in critical thinking.
1. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Random House, 1996), 43, 31-33
2. Ernest B. Hook, "A Background to Prematurity and Resistance to 'Discovery,'" in Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect, ed. Ernest B. Hook (Berkely: University of California Press, 2002), 4.
In the following video, I discuss and illustrate how the unfolding discovery of the North American sasquatch (or bigfoot) is hindered by the absence of informed scientific comment, and its resulting treatment as almost exclusively a subject of entertainment. Consequently, it may have been inevitable that many members of the North American public — affirmed by scientists unaware of the evidence supporting the discovery claim - have dismissed the unfolding discovery as tabloid material and pseudoscience. A recent letter to the editor of a midwestern US newspaper provides an opportunity to address some widespread misconceptions.