Jeff Meldrum’s New Bigfoot Course and Skeptical Bias

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Over at Doubtful News one of the hot topics is Jeff Meldrum’s new course on Bigfoot. Meldrum is a longtime Idaho State University Professor of anatomy and anthropology, and if you don’t know, one of the most prominent modern Bigfoot researchers. While that story is interesting after a couple minutes of Googling I found more. I ran across the story on DN first and it says this:

The Bigfoot professor, Jeff Meldrum, has proposed a new course for credit. It’s not sitting well with everyone.

Bigfoot and you — ISU prof to offer class that factors Bigfoot into theory of evolution

In the upcoming semester, Idaho State University professor Jeff Meldrum will be teaching an experimental course titled The Relict Hominoid Inquiry. Part of that inquiry will address scientific theories on Bigfoot, alongside other links in the human evolutionary chain.

“It’s not a course about Bigfoot,” Meldrum said. “What I’m trying to do is address a shift in perception that’s been gaining traction in the anthropological community.”

That shift involves looking at human evolution as a tree in which scientists are discovering new branches all the time.

“Each year it seems like there are more discoveries,” Meldrum said. “The phylogeny is becoming bushier and bushier.”

Ok… yeah, sort of, but I feel this is a bit of a con, that he is inserting his pet idea, which is unsupported, into a course that should be based on science instead of speculation. Why does it have to be called “relict Hominoid inquiry“? Because that is the name of his journal examining mystery creatures that reportedly exists. If he wants to teach about hominoids, a valid anthropological subject, why not be straightforward? Instead, he admits that they spend time on mystery hominoids that have very little good evidence. The title alone, clues us in that he is talking about creatures that do not necessarily exist.

Why not just teach a course about Bigfoot, be fair and be done with it. Don’t couch a myth in terms of science like this. It’s unsavory.

This is an experimental course. The university staff is not all keen on it but value academic freedom. I’m not sure this really qualifies as a science course since a science course should be based on good science, not speculation and your personal pet project.

I’m not a big fan of Doubtful News and this is one of the reasons why. From the commentary you’d think this course was dedicated in large part to covering reported hominoids like Bigfoot, but that’s wrong. According to the Idaho State Journal, the course is actually a Human Evolution course and includes two days for the discussion of Bigfoot as another possible living Bipedal Hominid. I take issue with conjecture being taught as fact but as long it is transparent I see no issue with this offering. Furthermore the course is an elective and not specific program requirement. And the department chairman who approved the course noted “…the course was approved on its academic merits, not because of its connection to a sensational topic.”

What I find truly distateful is the biased coverage by at least one skeptical media outlet, Doubtful News. It is clear the post is not an accurate representation of the facts and post commentors demonstrated continuing bias. 

DN recently updated their comment policy to be more restrictive as I discussed previously in this post. These new guidelines included rules like:

1. Comments should ADD to the interpretation of the story, especially if you are involved in the story. Additional info you can add is VERY MUCH APPRECIATED but it should be verifiable. Putting in your “two cents” is discouraged.

3. This is a science-based site.  We will delete propaganda, invitations for debate, pseudoscience, or faith-based comments. We moderate in accordance with staying true to the goals of the site, so, if you are simply against the established scientific consensus on a topic, or just want to argue, comments will not be approved.

7. Incivility, name-calling, sexist or prejudiced remarks are not allowed.

And thumbing through the comments, post-policy update, you will not find any advocates of paranormal claims, open minds, or even objective investigators. Everyone is clearly of the scientific skeptical mindset with a few rare cases of very mild dissent. But a few comments stood out to me as strange given the restrictive comment policy:

How does this university maintain accreditation with courses like this? Do they also have courses on the Loch Ness Monster, Dowsing, Ufology, and How To Communicate With Your Dead Grandma?

– Richard

 

I’m curious… will his course touch upon leprechauns also, and how their magical branch fits into the human evolutionary tree?

– Rook

 

Is Jeff’s online journal really “peer-reviewed”? I’m assuming Melba Ketchum, Tom Biscardi, and Phylis Canion are among the reviewers…

– Ben Radford

 

You cannot claim to have a comment policy to encourage critical thinking yet let commentors post ignorant, unsubstantiated statements and ad hominem attacks when they support the skeptical view point. This is just plain dishonest! Worst of all is Ben Radford’s statement. Radford is recognized as one of the few paranormal investigators skeptics praise, yet it is comments like this and illogically conceived notions that beg criticism. Ben’s comment was obvious sarcasm but a simple Google search can answer this ridiculous statement. Here is the Relict Hominoid Journal Editorial borad which includes several PhDs in relevant fields. And of course none of the names Ben mentioned are on that board.

I’m a huge proponent of free speech and as such have no comment policy on my site. The comments I delete are obvious spam: And I have nothing against site owners restricting comments to suit the discussion. But you lose credibility when you adopt a comment policy and don’t apply it universally; and you lose credibility when you fail to report important details of a story. This is just another sign in a long ling of bias from scientific skeptics. The evidence is overwhelming. The sad part is so many people cannot see the obvious bias in these cases. Exposing this bias is key to regaining credibility for the field of paranormal research. 

 

I posted this reply to Ben Radford’s comment on DN:

Actually Ben that answer is a quick Google search away: http://www.isu.edu/rhi/board.shtml

To answer your question, no.

I don’t understand the need for sarcasm instead of substance and why this comment was allowed under the current comment guidelines. This runs contrary to the goals of critical thinking.

 I’ll be surprised if it makes it through moderation. 

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