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LOUDONVILLE -- When it comes to Bigfoot, there are many tall tales but very little evidence. And evidence is just what geology professor Mark A. Wilson of the College of Wooster says people should be looking at when judging the veracity of such claims.
In a lecture that had to be moved from the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum to Ohio Theatre to accommodate the large crowd, Wilson talked about Bigfoot from a scientific perspective.
The professor has appeared on the popular television series "Ancient Aliens" and also uses the Bigfoot phenomenon in his classroom to teach students how to think critically about a topic of discussion.
While many Bigfoot claims have turned out to be elaborate hoaxes, Wilson stresses that looking at the phenomenon through a scientific lens will yield the most truthful answer to questions that surround the elusive hominid.
No evidence has been provided that would meet the requirements needed to consider Bigfoot as being real, Wilson said. No DNA, not even a convincing photo or video.
Wilson maintains that there are many stories from people that claim to have had an encounter, but eyewitness accounts aren't very accurate, he said.
There is something called confirmation bias, he said. Basically, people who want to believe in a bigfoot will interpret evidence as a confirmation of their existing belief.
"As a geologist, I spend a lot of time in the woods and I see some pretty strange things," Wilson said. "Some people have attributed these things to Bigfoot making a nest or bending tree trunks or breaking branches and these things are presented as signs of Bigfoot."
Another popular method of providing evidence of Bigfoot is to make plaster casts of footprints found in the woods.
Wilson explained the problem with plaster casts and footprints. "When we look at footprints from a scientific perspective, it is not scientifically convincing," Wilson said. "There are too many doubts, too many errors, too many cases of fraud to count footprints as evidence."
In 2013 there was some speculation about the existence of Bigfoot DNA. "The Ketchum project, lead by a Dr. Ketchum, claimed to have some DNA," Wilson said. "The problem is that it got very weird very quickly. When it came time, as all scientists need to do, to take the data seriously, you have to publish it. Their article was rejected over and over again and their study did not support the claim of an unknown hominid in any way."
Not even a convincing picture exists of Bigfoot. "What about all of those images you see that claim to have a bigfoot in them," Wilson asked. "The most famous Bigfoot video is from 1967, the Patterson-Gimlin film; it is probably the most famous and it has been intensely studied."
Wilson pointed out that there are many holes in the story and there is evidence of the bigfoot suit being purchased, and there is a book called "The Making of Bigfoot" in which a man by the name of Bob Heironimus admits to being the man in the costume.
With a complete lack of evidence, why does the legend persist?
Wilson says that phenomenon is an important part of our folklore and that stories and tales are easy to imagine and make up.
At least one member of the audience didn't need science to affirm his belief in Bigfoot. "I understand and agree with him," said Fred Pryor of Ashland. "But if he ever met one face-to-face like I did he would change his mind."
Pryor recounted his experience when he met a Bigfoot head-on. "It was 1973 and I walked out the door to go to work," he said. "I had a dog who wasn't afraid of anything and he was cowering beside my leg. I looked up and all I seen was hair, two red eyes and this thing was nine foot tall going on 10. We stared at each other and he took off running. They definitely exist."
Another reason why the phenomenon perpetuates is money, and people are making a living off of Bigfoot, Wilson said. "It is a profitable industry, there are TV shows, T-shirts and all kind of gear."
Visit our YouTube channel for a video of the lecture at www.youtube.com/user/thedrecord.
Reporter Dan Starcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @danstarcher on Twitter.