published Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

How the 'Bigfoot effect' blew up in Iraq's face

There is no such thing as Bigfoot.

But as an article by feature writer Casey Phillips in Monday's Times Free Press proved, that doesn't stop people from believing that sasquatch exists. In fact, Phillips profiled an area woman who will soon join a bunch of other Bigfoot believers in walking through the woods in search of the creature — an activity that people without the delusional hope of finding a fictional, mystical being refer to as "hiking."

No verifiable scientific evidence has ever indicated the existence of Bigfoot, despite what the beef jerky ad would have you believe. Still, plenty of people are convinced that Bigfoot is real.

An April survey by Public Policy Polling found 14 percent of Americans believe in Bigfoot. A shocking 35 percent of respondents to a Times Free Press online poll think Bigfoot exists, even though it doesn't.

Believing in something that isn't real doesn't make Bigfoot enthusiasts bad people. After all, there's something comforting about having the faith to believe in something you can't see and no one can prove. Until, that is, bad things occur as a result of a reasonable lack of skeptical thinking.

That's exactly what happened in Iraq.

The Iraqi government purchased $85 million worth of bomb detectors to search for explosives at hundreds of police and military checkpoints. Iraqi officials replaced bomb-sniffing dogs, which have been proven effective at locating explosives and saving lives, with the faster and supposedly more precise hand-held machines.

Unfortunately, the bomb finders — small portable wands with a telescopic antenna on a swivel — were bogus. Hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians have been killed as a result of explosives missed by the sensors.

The bomb detectors were nothing more than replicas of gag gifts; golf ball finders given with a smirk to weekend hackers whose errant drives often wind up in the woods.

The product's plastic case, which appears to house sophisticated electronics, is actually empty. The antenna that supposedly steers the user to the location of the golf ball (or the explosive) isn't connected to anything. In fact, it's just a souped-up version of an old-timey dowsing rod, the type used in hopes of finding water or black gold. The rod is moved by the ideomotor effect, the unconscious movements that lead us to spell out words on Ouija boards.

Even though the bomb detectors were completely fraudulent, Iraqi soldiers and police officers thought they worked, so they never asked any questions. Thankfully, some British and American scientists and military leaders did. As a result, last week, a British judge sentenced James McCormick, the man who made $78 million selling the sham bomb detectors to Iraq and 20 other countries, to 10 years in jail for fraud.

Hucksters like McCormick that use pseudo-science to trick the public and make a quick buck cause a great deal of harm. But that harm is only possible because otherwise intelligent people are unwilling to ask questions, do a little research and think rationally.

One scientist invented data linking autism with certain vaccines after being bribed with $600,000 by attorneys hoping to bring lawsuits against drug companies based on the phony research. As a result of the fabricated vaccine fears, more than 100,000 children across America have been infected with diseases such as mumps, measles and whooping cough — all once declared eliminated — because parents didn't have their kids vaccinated.

A number of devious companies are lining their pockets selling homeopathic medicines with ingredients such as Echinacea, zinc, oscillococcinum, cinnamon, elderberry, garlic and probiotics that have no scientifically-proven health benefits. All homeopathic remedies have one unfortunate side effect: separating consumers who haven't done enough research from their cash.

A few hucksters even lead expeditions that take poor suckers who believe in Bigfoot on expensive tours in hopes of finally spotting the non-existent creature.

When safety, health and hard-earned dollars are on the line, blind faith isn't a good enough reason to believe in something. We must all take it on ourselves to search for truth, embrace science, research facts and make wise decisions for ourselves and our loved ones.

It may be fun to believe in something that isn't real. It may even make us feel good. But in the long run, it always does more harm than good.

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lkeithlu said...

Excellent piece. Thanks.

May 8, 2013 at 4:29 a.m.
EaTn said...

From the article: "All homeopathic remedies have one unfortunate side effect: separating consumers who haven't done enough research from their cash."

You failed to mention the billions drug companies have made from consumers on "tested drugs" that were FDA approved then later found to cause serious complications or even death.

May 8, 2013 at 7:14 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Taking Drew's excellent article one step further, the evidence for any god or gods is also non-existent, just wishful ideology.

May 8, 2013 at 7:31 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

My wife and her mother have experienced Christian miracles, so atheism is hogwash, a theory refuted by facts. Put your presuppositions to the test, as we fundamentalists do: we know there are different theories out there and that the differences matter. Jesus died for our sins, showing perfect love and perfect obedience, and rose up alive on the third day. Darwin, Marx, and Rand, Mohammed, Lenin, Joseph Smith, and Buddha simply died, and stayed dead; forget them. Did atheism do Russia any good?

Beware of the Scooby Doo effect, believing in entertaining fairy tales whose point is to get rid of anything supernatural (although the villains in Scooby Doo stories accomplish remarkable feats--getting rid of a powerful intelligent designer may be harder than it looks.)

May 8, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Proof of your miracles? Proof of intelligent design? Proof that Jesus was a super-god? There is none, merely superstitious myths and legends believed by the same mind-set types that believe in Bigfoot, ETs, demons, devils, and witches.

Jesus is dead. His followers concocted a myth, like King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Biblical creationism.

Poor Andrew. But it's not too late for you. Throw off your superpositions and follow in reason. But we know you won't.

But I'll gladly look at any objective proof you can provide. I've been waiting for a long time for any proof, but all I get is the same answer. Zip, nada, zero.

May 8, 2013 at noon
Easy123 said...

AndrewLohr,

"My wife and her mother have experienced Christian miracles, so atheism is hogwash, a theory refuted by facts."

Personal delusion/coincidence is not a miracle. But, as daytons said, provide the proof of those "miracles". Atheism isn't a theory. It is the suspension of belief in a deity. There are no facts to support your miracle claim, much less to support that said miracle involved the Christian god.

"Put your presuppositions to the test, as we fundamentalists do: we know there are different theories out there and that the differences matter."

Yet, you have no proof to support anything you say.

"Jesus died for our sins, showing perfect love and perfect obedience, and rose up alive on the third day."

You must first prove that Jesus even existed. Then you must prove that he actually died and came back to life. Then prove Jesus was your god incarnate. You've got a lot of work ahead of you.

"Darwin, Marx, and Rand, Mohammed, Lenin, Joseph Smith, and Buddha simply died, and stayed dead; forget them."

Their teachings didn't.

"Did atheism do Russia any good?"

Russia wasn't an atheist country. Stalin was their god. He was worshipped as such. The absence of Christianity does not yield atheism. You're deluded and ignorant beyond belief.

"Beware of the Scooby Doo effect, believing in entertaining fairy tales whose point is to get rid of anything supernatural"

Your supernatural beliefs are fairytale. No facts, no proof, nothing. You're the one believing the entertaining (and illogical) fairytale to bolster and rationalize your misguided, beliefs and lifelong Christian indoctrination.

"(although the villains in Scooby Doo stories accomplish remarkable feats--getting rid of a powerful intelligent designer may be harder than it looks.)"

There is not one shred of evidence for an intelligent designer. Most logical, scientifically literate people have dismissed your "powerful intelligent designer" hypothesis long ago.

May 8, 2013 at 12:24 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

All of this fascination with cryptozoology is odd, in that the American public does not understand enough ecology to know that a single organism cannot exist. A genetically viable and sustainable population of mammals would number at least a hundred, and a population that large would leave lots of evidence: hair, bones, dung, foraging sign. Even aquatic animals like the Loch Ness monster, and a huge animal like the Congo Dinosaur would have to be numerous enough to leave evidence.

To quote the Professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: "What are they teaching in schools these days?"

May 8, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.
Easy123 said...

Ikeithlu,

"All of this fascination with cryptozoology is odd"

I've had that very same thought so many times. It's truly amazing that the same people that tend to reject all things science are the same folks that watch shows like Finding Bigfoot.

I guess myth really is better than reality to some. Why do the majority of people live in a world of their mind and believe things they cannot see when there is so much beauty and wonder all around us that we can see and touch?

May 8, 2013 at 1:25 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

This is what allows people to believe that there was a global flood and an ark. If you ignore the vast problems with geology (no evidence of a global flood) thermodynamics, and the fact that an all wooden boat of that size would be unstable, the biology alone tells you that an 8-person bottleneck in a mammal population (humans) would have never survived. And that's just Noah. The problem with diversity in the animals and plants would be just as much an issue, not to mention the selective migration from Mt. Ararat of marsupials to Australia (some of which can't swim and move very slowly) and to where their ancestors were buried and fossilized. (You'd think that an occasional placental predator would follow this vulnerable migration.)

It makes far more sense that the flood was an epic regional flood, so serious it lived on in the oral history of the tribes in the area, and put into writing in Genesis. That also explains why the Bible does not mention kangaroos and llamas, glaciers and polar bears, because the bible was written by people whose world didn't extend much beyond the Middle East.

May 8, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.
Leaf said...

BLASPHEMERS! Bigfoot does exist!

Sooo, what are you doing writing for the crazy side of the paper? Ed. sounds rational and not ruled by fear and superstition. Huh.

May 8, 2013 at 2:40 p.m.
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