Don’t call them skeptics

Le TrollI know something about internet discussion boards. Way before the advent of this Facebook thing, I used to frequent quite a few of them. Then, back in 2002, I manifested hubris sufficient to start my own. It’s still chugging along and seems to be as popular as ever, even though it’s starting to look somewhat dinosaurish with all the little social media mammals running around its ponderous feet. I have little to do with the running of that forum anymore, but in my capacity as the North American Wood Ape Conservancy’s spokeschimp, I spend a lot of time there talking about the NAWAC’s efforts.

One of the things that’s always puzzled me with regard to the Bigfoot Forums is the ever-present participation of those who actively espouse the impossibility of a creature like bigfoot existing on planet earth. These people are often called “skeptics,” but I think that’s a disservice to both the word and those of us who count themselves as skeptical. Before I go any further, it’s important to explore the different types of people who discuss bigfoot on the internet.

Kinda like a Kinsey Scale for bigfootery, there is a range of attitude towards the existence of bigfoot:

The Witness — This is a person who believes they have had an encounter with bigfoot. For them, its existence isn’t debatable. They have seen one (or have had some other experience sufficient to make it absolutely real to them). In Kinsey terms, these folks are on the far left side of the scale. Right or wrong, they have no doubt.

The Believer — While they haven’t had an encounter with one, they have decided that bigfoot is real based on their interpretation of the evidence. They are almost totally convinced. Only an incidental amount of doubt remains (probably because they haven’t seen one themselves).

The Left-Side Leaner — Bigfoot is probably real, but enough doubt exists that these guys are willing to leave quite a bit of room for the possibility that they don’t.

The Fence-Sitter — Probably the same guy who can’t decide which flavor of ice cream to get at Ben and Jerry’s or is among the 20% of people who don’t know who they’re voting for the day before an election, this person comes down squarely in the middle of the conversation. Won’t commit either way. Damn them.

The Right-Side Leaner —Bigfoot is probably not real, but enough doubt exists that these guys are willing to leave quite a bit of room for the possibility that they do. Typically, I find these people to be those who have been in the community for quite a while and are frustrated by the lack of any hard evidence after all these years of looking for it. They’re frustrated, poor dears.

The Disbelievers — Maybe these things are real, but it certainly seems to these people as though they aren’t. Too many problems with the evidence. Too many hoaxers. Too much bullshittery. If you’re looking for them, you’re probably wasting your time.

The Scofftic – No way, no how is bigfoot real and nothing you can say or present will ever change that. If you think you’ve found evidence of the animal, you’re wrong. Looking for bigfoot is equivalent to a delusional mental illness and any resources put into it would be better served doing something more useful (which is just about anything at all).

A couple of things about this. First, note that the position on the Bigfoot Scale one takes in public and the one they take in their own head doesn’t have to jive. Nobody likes to look the fool (and man, does bigfoot bring out the fools, or what!?) and, in my experience, people will often come off as much more conservative about the existence of this animal than they really are. Also, note that skepticism isn’t in any of my descriptions. Being skeptical of claims is vitally important (and not just in the field of bigfootery). It’s especially critical the more left-leaning you are on the scale. When you know they’re real (or suspect they are) you’re more vulnerable to claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Another way to think about this is to understand that there are two axes to each individual’s persona. One based on how they interpret facts and their skills of analysis (which could be described as their “quantitative” axis) and one based on their personality and interaction skills (which could be as their “qualitative” axis). Boiled down, this means that, no matter what they think about the existence of bigfoot, some people are just assholes.

So, why would a dyed in the wool scofftic who does not and cannot publically accept the existence of bigfoot waste any time on a site like the BFF? And not just a little time, by the way. Some of these guys have thousands of posts. Again, based on my experience, there’s a few possibilities.

  1. They’re missionaries. Some people might just have so much time on their hands and/or are so saintly in their disposition that they’re willing to burn up copious effort in order to show those of us who are deranged the error of our ways. They’ve left their world behind and have settled amongst the heathens in order to show them the One True Way.
  2. They’re sociologists. Not interested in converting us to logical thinking, they instead study us like aborigines to satisfy their own fascination or because they’re writing their thesis on mass delusion.
  3. They’re projecting. That is, they actually do believe in bigfoot and that’s so hard for them to accept, they lash out at others who do also, but who aren’t ashamed of it. This is the bigfoot equivalent of a congressman who comes out strongly against gay rights legislation but who then picks up dudes in the airport men’s room on the way back to his district.
  4. They’re trolls. Defined as “a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.” Maybe they’re really nice in person, but online, they’re horrible and sociopathic. If you have a daughter, you fear she’ll end up dating one of these (or an insurance salesman).

I think most of them are projecting, personally. Next time you’re online and see someone investing themselves in trying to make you understand how wrong, wrong, wrong you are about bigfoot, try and figure out in which of these buckets they belong. Maybe we can turn it into a license plate bingo-like game.

The bottom line — and the reason there’s so much discord — is that Witnesses and Scofftics are fundamentally incompatible. And not like Republican/Democrat incompatible, either. More like those dudes on Star Trek who both had black and white faces and hated each other’s guts. The Scofftic suspects the Witness of puffery and self-aggrandizement at the expense of the simple minded while the Witness resents how the Scofftic debases the Witness’ experiences and essentially calls them deluded or lying.

The only thing that can cut this Gordian knot would be absolute proof that bigfoot exists. As of now, that’s not available. Until it is, let the hating and name-calling continue.

This post is the culmination of a thought I had that germinated in a recent thread on the Bigfoot Forums. Also, a hat tip to Roger Knights who, I believe, is the guy who originally coined the world “scofftic.”

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Posted in Miscellaneous sasquatchery
10 comments on “Don’t call them skeptics
  1. Wonderful, well-thought-out and insightful post, Brian. I too am puzzled by those who frequent the Bigfoot blogs and chat rooms contributing nothing but sarcasm and name calling. Do they have NOTHING else to occupy their time and energy?

  2. JM says:

    Excellent analysis Brian.

    I spend a fair amount of time on BFF and find the more threads you read, the more odd some of the members can be. For instance, I read one thread regularly about a certain *researcher* in Canada who is a hot hoaxed potato right now and one member just bashes the crap out of him nonstop because he got turned down by Mr. Ontario on some research help. But then this same guy who bashes the Canada dude turns to another thread about the supposed *paper* and glorifies its contents to high heaven. And I won’t even start on the habituation or psychic threads. :) So amazingly amusing. Also love, love, love the constant derail on your thread about the word APE. Dear god, give it a rest already!!

    JM

  3. Paul Vella says:

    I have personally have no problem whatsoever with being called a skeptic. Skeptic implies someone who is evidence based, but open-minded. It is very different to being a ‘scoftic’.

    By Brian’s account, I guess I would be a ‘Right Side Leaner’, but Skeptic is fine. Whilst I would dearly love there to be large apes roaming the woods, I require proof. Not evidence, but proof, but Brian’s description is a good one – I’m frustrated, not just by the lack of evidence, but by a significant proportion of so-called ‘researchers’ who simply don’t understand the scientific method and are playing at ‘research’.

  4. Michele M says:

    I call myself a skeptical proponent. I believe they are out there, but look at all evidence with a skeptical eye….You have to in this community.

  5. […] We talked about how many people who call themselves skeptics aren’t skeptical. […]

  6. Donn says:

    DON’T GET ME STARTED.

    In fact, do me a favor.

    Pick up – and read – Abominable Science! by Loxton and Prothero. Then go on Amazon (or, sure, BFF) and slag it. Billed as skepticism, it exceeds anything I have ever read, or seen, for swallowing-stuff-whole put in a neat package. The trees that took. The trees alone. Abominable, all right.

    – DWA

  7. Donn says:

    “The bottom line — and the reason there’s so much discord — is that Witnesses and Scofftics are fundamentally incompatible. And not like Republican/Democrat incompatible, either. More like those dudes on Star Trek who both had black and white faces and hated each other’s guts.”

    NOT TRUE!

    One guy had one side white; the other guy had that side black! Which meant that one of them had to be, you know, right….and……eternity…..ooooooooohhhhh, I get it.

  8. […] good members there who are genuinely interesting to talk to — even (and maybe especially) the open-minded actually skeptical ones. But their contributions are overwhelmed by those who are only there to derail and demean as […]

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