Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
There’s a group of people I used to hold in contempt, for whom I now feel a higher degree of respect and sympathy. I’m talking about Bigfooters, or “Squatchers,” or whatever you want to call the folks who passionately hunt for the elusive cryptid. I owe them an apology.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not a believer. In fact, I’m an obstinately skeptical person by nature. If I were walking through an old Civil War cemetery at night and suddenly saw a mustachioed Union commander standing before me, my first thought would be that I was hallucinating, not that I was actually witnessing the apparition of a dead soul. I used to have a framed, autographed picture of Agent Scully hanging in my bedroom (purely because I admired her skepticism, of course). Needless to say, I’m not the kind of guy who “wants to believe.”
That being said, my newfound respect for the Bigfoot community comes from their humility and steadfast commitment to someday finding evidence, something that’s tragically lacking in today’s political climate.
Lifelong Bigfooters (and there are plenty of them) will tell you that the whole objective of Bigfooting is to obtain irrefutable proof of the giant ape’s existence so that they can finally get the acknowledgment they deserve from the scientific community. Once they’re able to prove all the skeptics like me wrong, the years of ridicule and fruitless searches will have paid off.
While the community surely has its woo-woo elements, many Bigfooters clearly accept that anecdotes are not evidence. An eyewitness account, a lone footprint, or a blurry photo isn’t remotely sufficient, as these can all be easily explained away by more plausible things (misidentifications, hoaxes, camera glitches, etc). As some professional Bigfooters readily admit, nothing short of a complete physical specimen is likely to persuade scientific minds to take this thing seriously. And so, their search continues.
In this way, Bigfooters show a better understanding of how science and persuasion work than many people in the current political landscape, including (*sigh*) the president. It’s not enough to feel strongly in your gut that something is true, or to rely on anecdotes from random youtube videos and other dubious sources. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you want to persuade those who are skeptical, you must be prepared to back up your argument with something concrete.
Imagine if climate change deniers, immigration restrictionists, QAnon believers, and other baseless fear-mongers all actually understood this — that you can’t just go around making unsubstantiated claims and demand to be taken seriously. Why is it considered “elitist” to hold the President of the United States and his supporters to the same critical standard that we hold Bigfoot hunters? Why is it suddenly snobbish or indicative of “liberal bias” when we demand evidence for a politician’s outlandish claims?
The worst you can say about the Bigfooters is that they are simply wasting their own time searching for something that, in all likelihood, doesn’t exist. But one could just as easily argue that while the hunt itself may be pointless, it’s also an opportunity to get some exercise, spend time in nature, and broaden your social circle. Not only are the Bigfooters not harming anyone, they’re actually caring for their own physical and mental health. As far as unsubstantiated beliefs go, Bigfoot seems pretty benign.
There also seems to be some degree of intellectual humility left within the Bigfooting community. Their true believers are more likely to say, “I know how crazy this must sound, but hear me out!” rather than calling everyone who doesn’t share their belief a mindless sheep or a communist. Of course, if one of the Finding Bigfoot guys somehow made it all the way to the White House, maybe some of that humility would fade.
The Bigfooters will likely never find what they’re looking for (although if they do, I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong!), but at least they’re committed to looking. This recognition that evidence should be a prerequisite for persuasion shows a basic modicum of respect for rational inquiry that is, in the modern Republican Party, almost as elusive as the Bigfoot.
(**Side note: If you like podcasts and want to hear some great stories about the history of Bigfoot lore and the passionate community of searchers still roaming the forests, I’d highly recommend the series Wild Thing with former NPR reporter Laura Krantz. Fun listening for stressful times.**)