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Science Education and Skeptical Inquiry

 

Institutional science stands accused of thwarting the search for new knowledge, obstructing challenges to the status quo, and even oppressing those whose ideas depart from the mainstream. American culture has a long and colorful history of hostility toward scientific endeavor as it is popularly conceived. Are scientists nothing more than the high priests of the 21st century?

Scientific literacy has become a major issue in public education. Rationality seems to be a quaint relic of a myopic enlightenment as tales of UFO abductions, psychic detectives and spirit mediums pervade the media. Evolution, the cornerstone of biology and anthropology, is depicted as a theoretically bankrupt idea from creationists and postmodernists alike. Scientific evaluations of these claims suggest overactive imagination is a more likely culprit than a goblin universe rife with supernatural interventions, yet such studies seldom reach the public eye. The North American Bigfoot phenomenon is one in which the scientific community is said to be ignoring definitive evidence of an undiscovered primate. This not quite true: the case for Bigfoot has been reviewed in Current Anthropology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Scientific American and Nature. The real issue is not the quantity of evidence, but its quality.

"Oliver" is a habitually bipedal ape that has captured the imagination of both laypeople and scientists. He has been touted as a relict australopithecine, a bigfoot, or a "humanzee" (the result of a clandestine human-chimp hybridization experiment). After years of lively debate, Oliver's DNA was sampled to settle the issue and perhaps provide us with a breathing version of the missing link. These data established that Oliver is just a standard-issue chimpanzee who is used to walking upright. See Ely et al. (Am J. Phys. Anthropol. 105:395-403) for the full story. 

 

Publications

Radford, B., Dennett, M., Crowley, M., and Daegling D.J. (2007) The Nonsense and Non-science of Sasquatch (Review of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science by Jeff Meldrum). Skeptical Inquirer 31 (3): 58-61.

Daegling, D.J. (2004) Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America's Enduring Legend. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Daegling, D.J., and Radford B. (2003) Bigfoot hoaxer dies, legacy lives on (News and Comment). Skeptical Inquirer 27 (2): 6.

Daegling, D.J. (2002) Cripplefoot hobbled. Skeptical Inquirer 26 (2): 35-38.

Daegling, D.J. and Schmitt, D.O. (1999) Bigfoot's Screen Test. Skeptical Inquirer 23 (3): 20-25.