A Response to the “Data Scientist Says Bigfoots May Be Many Bears” Story

Fotor AI Image of Sasquatch looking at a bear in the forest
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Correlation Does Not Imply Causation– Unknown

All over the internet in the last week or so have been articles discussing the same study. A study published by Floe Foxon on bioRxiv.org which uses a mathematical model to compare the numbers of Sasquatch sightings with the known black bear population and human population in the same areas. Media outlets all over have picked up this story, but I found it first on Huffington Post. I won’t go into all the data, but I will give my thoughts on the study.

Many different stories reporting on this study present it as an explanation for the Bigfoot phenomenon. Obviously, it is isn’t a conclusive explanantion. I’m not sure how this study got such widespread attention in the first place but it does provide some interesting information.

First, Foxon himself does not claim that black bears account for all Sasquatch encounters. He does say “In conclusion, if bigfoot is there, it may be many bears.” He also points out some of the inconsistencies in the data that would seem to refute his own conclusion. Overall, it is simply a fun look at data and the scientist doesn’t seem to be doing this as some sort of hardline stance on the subject.

The Study

The best way to get an idea of the study of data is to look at the Choropleth maps graphic included in the study. I’ve included it here for reference. The maps show the Bigfoot sighting count (top), black bear population (middle), and the human population (bottom) of each state/province.

Do you see what I see? If the study proves that Bigfoot sightings are linked with misidentification of black bears then wouldn’t we see the darkest shades be the same in all three maps?

Now, to be fair, there is some variation due to having three data points. Human population isn’t very high in the most dense area of the bear population, so you wouldn’t have as many sightings. However, to my eye there is a glaring disparity in black bear populations and Bigfoot sightings in Washington State and British Columbia. It seems like the density would be much closer even given the human population difference between the areas. Ohio also has an oddly high number of sightings for their relative lack of bears.

Another discrepancy in the data is even mention by Foxon himself in the study. Both Florida and Texas have a large number of Sasquatch reports, but little to no black bear population. Foxon writes this off as some other form of misidentification, but it’s hard to ignore.

My Thoughts

Foxon cites two previous studies in his own: Blight (2005a) and Lozier et al. (2009). He says his findings are consistent with these two studies. His conclusions, however are not shared by these studies. Blight’s study states:

The lack of significant correlation between black bear population statistics and Green’s sighting data suggests that misidentification of black bears is responsible for only a small fraction of Bigfoot reports.”

Lozier, Aniello, and Hickerson did their study in an effort to show how Ecological Niche Modeling can have erroneous conclusions when the model uses indirect evidence as a data source. The purpose of the study was not to determine whether Sasquatch could be a real creature.

In my own opinion, I reference the axiom above. Correlation does not imply causation. There is some correlation to black bear distribution, at least in the Pacific Northwest, and Bigfoot sightings. However, this does not mean that they are the same animal. Obviously misidentification happens in some cases, but it is also true that if a large mammal exists in an area then that area could probably support another species of large mammal as well.

One More Thought

The interesting thing that the study brought into question for me are the sightings in Texas and Florida. I have long held the opinion that the probability of Sasquatch being a real animal was most likely confined to the Pacific Northwest. My thinking was that area holds the most unexplored territory and therefore the most likely place for a species to evade detection. After reading the data and realizing that there aren’t large animals that can be misidentified in some of these “Southern Sasquatch” areas (thanks Lyle Blackburn) I am wondering if I have underestimated the possibility. Can they all be hoaxes? I have always thought that the Florida Everglades “Swamp Ape” had the highest likelihood outside the Pacific Northwest. This is due to the tropical climate, large biodiversity, and nearly inaccessible wilderness.

My book will still focus on the Pacific Northwest mainly, but my opinions could be shifting.

Chad Gatlin

I have been a Firefighter, a Radio Personality, a Writer, and an Insurance Agent. Now I am adding Author to that list! I have had a long interest in the weird and unexplained, and love to discuss and debate these subjects.

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