Meldrum’s laboratory houses more than 200 casts relating to Bigfoot. As he pulls out drawers and talks about the casts, Meldrum shows ones with the hallmarks of hoax and others that intrigue him because of anatomy, hair striations, musculature and an apparent midtarsal break—a pair of joints in the middle of the ape foot that have less mobility in the human foot because of the arch. He brings out a particularly controversial piece called the Skookum cast that he thinks may be of a reclining Sasquatch and others think may be of a reclining elk. “There is a chance we are wrong,” he says. “But with the footprints, I feel more certain.” Discounting the unusual casts “isn’t scientific in the least,” Meldrum maintains, and “it is irresponsible.”
“He does bring more scientific rigor to this question than anyone else in the past, and he does do state-of-the-art footprint analysis,” notes David R. Begun, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto. Todd R. Disotell, a New York University anthropologist, agrees: “He is trying to bring rigor to it.” Both researchers collaborate with Meldrum even though they do not accept his hypothesis that a large apelike creature exists. “If he hands me a feces sample or a bloodstain or a hair shaft, I am willing to do what I do with anything I get,” Disotell says. “I go along with this because I am either doing good science, finding alternatives or debunking, or I have the find of the century.” Disotell gets Bigfoot jibes over beers sometimes, but nothing similar to what Meldrum experiences: “I think what is happening to him is a shame.”
In his famous “Cargo Cult Science” lecture in 1974, Richard Feynman described scientific thinking and integrity as “a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards” to raise and examine every doubt, every interpretation. This kind of thinking, critics say, is missing from Meldrum’s Bigfoot work, whereas it infuses his fossil and primate gait research. Meldrum’s principal critic from his own field is Daegling, who concludes that the “evidence doesn’t look better on deeper analysis, it looks worse.” He adds that “this isn’t about Bigfoot—it is about how scientists go about doing their work and how we should be self-reflective and self-critical.”
Meldrum responds by saying that most people do not see him critically sifting through all the evidence that comes his way—and discarding most of it. But if he is at times frustrated and beleaguered by skeptics, it appears some in his community are beleaguered by his exhortation that more researchers accept his interpretations or become involved. In reviewing Meldrum’s and Daegling’s books in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Matt Cartmill of Duke University concludes that if the chances of Bigfoot’s being real are one in 10,000 (his admittedly wild guess), then having one physical anthropologist on the case seems a reasonable allocation of professional resources and that Meldrum does not deserve scorn or abuse. But Cartmill, who notes that he is “mortally certain” there is no Sasquatch, is irked by Meldrum’s trying to guilt-trip those who do not do Bigfoot work and his disparaging them as lazy or aloof.
The tension is inevitable for science on the fringe, says Trent D. Stephens of Idaho State who co-authored a book with Meldrum on evolutionary biology and Mormonism. As he puts it: “The stuff that is on the margins, the stuff that isn’t popular—we scientists are horrible at judging it. And we say our mistakes about the fringe are all historical; we claim we are not making those mistakes today.”
The fringe has produced wonderful science, and it has produced wonderfully abysmal science. It has never been a comfortable place to live.
This article was originally published with the title Bigfoot Anatomy.