A sketch is NOT evidence!

Every bone in my body groaned a skeptical sigh when I read this article earlier this week. A little part of me was hoping that it was an April fools joke, but it’s not! The same story was also featured on the BBC’s website, almost word for word. This is just wrong on so many levels!

I would like to start out by making it clear that anecdotal evidence (a story, relating a personal experience) is not valuable as evidence at all. If I tell you that I have seen a crashed alien spacecraft and give you a detailed description of the alien corpses within, my tale is useless unless it leads to the recovery of the spacecraft and the corpses. It is important to understand that it is the physical craft and the corpses which are the important evidence, not my testimony. The use of anecdotal evidence is widespread, especially in support of non science based, untestable claims. When anecdotal evidence is presented as evidence you should be very skeptical!

Ms. Pickering’s entire claim for the existence of the yeti is based on anecdotal evidence, except for that yeti skull she was shown in a monastery, but she was expressly forbidden from taking any pictures, so she hastily sketched out a rough image. There is one famous yeti skull which I can think of, in 1960 Desmond Doig and Sir Edmund Hillary set out on an expedition which was the most serious attempt to resolve the question of the yeti’s existence. They spent ten months in the region known as Sikkim where the most sightings had been reported. They were equipped with state-of-the-art technology (for the time), including tripwire cameras, and time lapse-and infra-red photography. The expedition turned up no evidence during this period.

Finally Hillary persuaded the villagers of Khumjung to lend him their legendary yeti scalp for examination. They allowed Hillary to take the scalp and a pair of skins, said to be the only evidence of the yeti in existence. Hillary and Doig spent six weeks traveling the globe with the scalp and it’s guardian, Khunjo Chumbi. The scalp was rigorously examined by scientists at every stop while Chumbi imitated the high pitched howls of the yeti for the television cameras.

The Khumjung yeti scalp

The skins were identified as having come from the blue bear and the scalp was proven to be made from the hide of he serow goat. Hillary and Doig dismissed the yeti as the stuff of legend. They had devoted almost a year in the supposed heart of yeti habitat, with the best equipment they could lay their hands on and the only evidence they could find was easily dismissed as false.

Whenever I hear the words “fortean zoology” I think of men with funny hats on, that’s probably the result of watching one too many episodes of “Bullshit!”. Fortean zoology is the study of unknown creatures, that’s right, these guys study animals which they can’t prove exist. Think Loch Ness monster and you are spot on. Jonathan Downes, the expert cited in this article, describes himself thus;

I haven’t had my hair cut in years, I drive a Jaguar, I travel round the world doing wonderful things. I don’t want a proper job. I think I’m doing okay.”

and yes, he is wearing a funny hat.

Cryptozoologists try to get all the glory of discovering new species, without actually being willing to do all the hard work necessary. Mr. Downes has no formal training and, according to his own testimony, held an unknown creature in his hand without realising it. If you want to discover a previously unknown creature you have to be willing to put in the hard work, not wait around for a great sounding creature in a folk tale to pop up and then chase after it for a few days.

I would like to know how Mr. Downes established that the scalp in question still had bone attached. Ms. Pickering left the monastery with nothing but a sketch of the scalp and made no mention of bone being attached.

If Jonathan Downes is the only expert who was consulted about Ms. Pickering’s yeti scalp, I would like a second opinion please. Preferably from someone not wearing a hat.

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