Monday, February 8, 2010

Witness Efficacy

(above: witness account by a man who witnessed Yowie (Australian Bigfoot))

I was watching a Bigfoot documentary the other day when something struck me: The people who stumbled upon a Bigfoot encounter seemed much more believable than those who are hunting Bigfoot and reported seeing him.

This thought took me back to the Patterson-Gimlin famous film footage of a supposed Bigfoot. They went into the woods with camera looking for Bigfoot and managed to film one. Over the decades since, people have debated the film and its authenticity a great deal, especially in the context of their expedition. Now, had they been weekend campers who happened upon Bigfoot and filmed it, would they have been less criticized?

Actually, the accounts by people who happened upon Bigfoot without intention of finding him give descriptions that are emotionally gripping, clearly burned into their minds in a moment of fight-of-flight, and not something they like to repeatedly discuss. However, Bigfoot hunters often grab any camera crew available to talk about their hunt, no doubt making the story a big bigger and larger than life with each telling.

When people go looking for something, does that make them less sincere as witnesses?

I’m a ghost hunter. This concept applies to my industry, as well. When a team enters a supposedly haunted place, they know the history, the stories of what’s happened there to present-day tenants and they hope to get proof of ghosts. Anything that happens could be explained in that context as a haunting. However, a family moving into a home and renovating and faced with weird occurrences almost always uses logic as long as they can to explain strange sounds and weird feelings. The last thing they want to think is “ghost,” but ghost hunters’ first thoughts are “ghosts.”

What is the lesson in all of this? Perhaps that those seeking the phenomenon are likely to overexaggerate and those who were not looking for it are likely to understate it. It doesn’t make one source or the other more reliable, but it makes it damn hard for those in the “business” of hunting to be taken seriously.

The message from all of this is that scientists don’t become rock stars and they shouldn’t. You have to doubt their test findings when they’re funded by drug companies and others with an interest in the results. So is the same with hunting paranormal phenomenon. Should a team like TAPS be funded by a channel like SyFy, their findings take a huge plummet in believability. To be a real hunter is to be anonymous, to share the findings, but to not profit on the findings because then the findings become a “product” and their power to influence change in the industry takes a nosedive.

If you don’t believe me, think of the last time you heard a song you liked being used for a commercial? Did you ever want to hear it again? Did your opinion of the singer plummet? Did you wonder how much cash exchanged hands to give over use of a song that was once associated with sunshine and happiness and is now associated with Japanese cars?


  1. I always think witnesses that just happen upon things are more reliable. Many times they have nothing to gain from what they report and are even a little embarrassed to be involved. People who are looking sometimes want to see something so badly they convinve themselves it's there when it's not. Great article!

  2. Thanks Jessica. You described it well.

  3. Interesting post. I tend to agree with your assessment. I love that original bigfoot video though - b/c it makes you imagine ... what if?

  4. Heather;
    You know, I've never wanted to make a decision about the original film, but the more I watch it and try not to think of the context it was taken in--two guys looking for bigfoot--it seems very authentic to me. It's a shame because their venture makes a lot of people never even stop and study the film--they just wave their hands and insist it's not a bigfoot.

  5. These are some great points. The paranormal, to me anyways, always seemed a bit like a crime scene. One of my old instructors use to say that if you walk into a crime scene expecting to see something specific (i.e. a murder when it was obviously a suicide), your objectivity is skewed and your value as an investigator plummets. Evidence over opinions people! Never form preconceived notions! I took a lot from that and think it's such a useful mindset that it's as equally important for a ghost haunter to take in their tool kit as an IR camera and EVP recorder is.

    Of course autumn, you know I'm superstitious, but there are just some instances that call for reasonable deduction and even I'm capable of making a rational leap or two from time to time!

  6. I see what you're saying...when someone goes out looking for something specifically, they might plan ahead of time where they are going to find it. However, a hoax can be a tricky thing, it might be done in different ways. A clever hoaxer may not say he went out to find a bigfoot, he may say he just bumped into one while out on a stroll to give his story more credibility.

    As far as credibility goes, a lot of people attach a higher level of credibility to someone who's in law enforcement, a military officer, or a professional like a doctor or lawyer. I actually don't attach additional credibility to witnesses in those positions, but I don't take any credibility either. There are people in those positions who have lied before and done unethical things before, so someone in one of those positions is not necessarily being any more truthful about a situation than anyone else would be. I guess what you really have to look at it is not their status or credentials, but whether or not their story is viable, and whether or not they are trying to gain something from telling the story.

  7. Alternatively, I'd hate to think that if I were to go on some sort of paranormal investigation and did find real evidence of whatever I was investigating, I'd hate to think that people thought I was less credible simply because I found some evidence.

    But if I ever were to get footage of a real bigfoot, I'd be curious to see how many people would label it as a hoax or try to explain it away as something else.

  8. Grim;
    I love that point! I can't tell you how many times here in Phoenix, following the famous Phoenix lights, that folks explain lights in the sky at night as another visitation.

    It is particularly hard for investigators. I will admit that a cop's opinion does sometimes draw my attention more than any other witness because, as the case in the White Mountains Reservation in AZ, they have reported more bigfoot sightings than any other PD. Most of these are cases of being called out because of an "intruder" and then finding BF in a backyard. That's exciting to me because they actually came expecting a man--holy cow! (shivers and shakes). Now, my brother is a doctor and I wouldn't take his word for anything. He's one of those deeply in denial fundamentalist types who's in his own world with his own explanations for everything. You really have to look at a person's mental state to see if they can find alternate explanations for something and be open.

    When I was raising my son, I had a lot of rules like the curiosity rule--you want to know about something, we research it and if no answers are found, we write down possibilities and pick the most realistic one. I wanted to teach him when he was young not to take other people's moods personally, so I would have him name 10 reasons why the person might be cranky. He'd come up with some creative things--but none of them involved himself. That helped him to keep an open mind and not an explanatory style that's illogical, resulting in illogical emotions.

    It's ultimately up to the investigator how they present their findings. If they parade a BF in a refrigerator and money is exchanging hands, I'm disgusted. The minute you get sponsorship, you're screwed and so is your evidence.

  9. I just came across a blog posting on another blog questioning whether a police officer or a military officer was a more reliable witness that anyone else.

    That writer's analysis is similar to my thoughts on the subject.

  10. Jeff;
    Thanks--you are, as always, a font of knowledge.