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When Science is Done Right

African elephants are two distinct species : Nature News.

The article linked to above is what you get as a result.

Basically what happened is, we learned that Africa has two distinct species of elephant, giving us a total (so far) of three species of elephant in two genre. The scientific method was applied, evidence was gathered and tested, and propositions and suppositions followed up on and either proved or disproved. In the long run the evidence leading to the finding that forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and bush elephants (L. africana) are distinct species.

This wasn’t always the case. Not so long ago L. cyclotis was explained away as juvenile L. Africana off on a sort of sylvan walkabout. Differences in anatomy were explained as variations in morphology to be found within the L. Africana species; much as differences between different buffalo populations in Africa are explained as normal variation within the same species. Though I have to wonder what a thorough study of African buffalo genomes would tell us.

In short, science worked.

So why did it work?

Because people took the time to look into the problem. They took the time to gather evidence and give it a look. A good, honest look. They noted that there were significant morphological differences between the two species, as well as significant genetic differences. They gave the testimony of bones and genes, of morphology and DNA, a listen and they paid attention when that testimony said that what we have here are two species of pachyderm, and that recognizing this is a good thing.

What does this teach us concerning my favorite, the sasquatch?

Well first, we could use a bit more evidence. Bones, bodies, even more photographs and videos would help a lot. That said, the antipathy expressed by all too many people towards the mere possibility that North America has its own great ape doesn’t help matters any. The forest elephant faced nowhere near the amount of hostility the sasquatch has faced, and that has stymied research into the animal for all too long.

People took the time to do deep research into the forest elephant, the sort of depth, in my considered opinion, the sasquatch deserves. The depth of study needed to make it more likely for physical evidence to be discovered and tested as it should be tested to get the question settled for once and for all.

We learn so much when we apply the scientific method properly, no matter how frivolous and useless such effort seems before it yields fruit. Yet it is such diligence in the face of opposition and nay-saying that has produced much of what we take as a matter of course. Remember, Charles Darwin went into great detail in his On the Origin of Species because he wanted to persuade his audience his work has merit and should be appraised honestly. Darwin was careful with his work, much as the researchers who determined Africa has two species of elephant were careful in their work, and as researchers into the sasquatch need to be careful with their work.

Which leads to my final point in this essay, that there are those on either side of the question who have been sloppy and careless where their work is concerned.

Hate to tell you, o sasquatch booster, but hair samples and footprints aint quite enough to prove the animal exists. And you, o sasquatch denier, have nothing to boast about, with your explaining away and denial of what evidence exists. What we need are bones and bodies. Pieces of skin and body parts. We hear of people finding sasquatch dung, and even see photographs taken of that dung, but when was the last time we saw an analysis of that dung. Where are the monographs and papers on anomalous primate shit discovered in North America?

Now I’m aware of the antipathy towards the subject expressed by people who really should know better, but dammit, isn’t it about time certain parties grew a pair and provided good, solid work on the subject. Work that can pass muster in scientific periodicals and lecture halls.

And this means one thing for Bigfoot’s supporters; you need to repudiate and ostracize the kooks among your number. The Patterson/Gimlin film shows only one sasquatch, not a multitude. There are frauds among the body impressions taken over the years, and they need to be spotlighted and publicized. And the fraudulent films, photographs, and videos need to be highlighted as well, the better to recognize future frauds as they appear. It won’t silence the strident among the critics, but it would help marginalize them in the scientific community.

The discovery of Loxodont cyclotis shows us what can happen when we use science properly. The continued controversy over the sasquatch shows us what happens when we decide the scientific method does not have to apply.  I say it is time we started applying science to the subject of North America’s great ape, despite the scarcity of evidence and the problematical provenence of much of it. So most of what evidence we do have points to fraud or other species, at least we’ll know and can show what we know and how we know it when people in the future try to use that evidence in their arguments. And when examination points to a large North American primate, we’ll have that to point to as well.

My thanks to Greg Laden for pointing me to the story of Africa’s two elephants.

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