Why We Can’t Rule Out Bigfoot


Illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love

How the null hypothesis keeps the hairy hominid alive.

Carl Zimmer | NAUTILUS

I recently got an email from an anthropologist commenting on a new report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The topic of that report was Bigfoot—or rather, a genetic analysis of hairs that people over the years have claimed belong to a giant, hairy, unidentified primate.

The international collaboration of scientists, led by University of Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, found no evidence that the DNA from the hairs belonged to a mysterious primate. Instead, for the most part, it belonged to decidedly unmysterious mammals such as porcupines, raccoons, and cows.

My correspondent summed up his opinion succinctly: “Well, duh.”

This new paper will not go down in history as one of the great scientific studies of all time. It doesn’t change the way we think about the natural world, or about ourselves. But it does illustrate the counterintuitive way that modern science works.

People often think that the job of scientists is to prove a hypothesis is true—the existence of electrons, for example, or the ability of a drug to cure cancer. But very often, scientists do the reverse: They set out to disprove a hypothesis.

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