Easter Bunny vs. Bigfoot

By Martin Hackworth

In Herbert Maschner’s recent column in the Idaho State Journal, he referred to a number of insinuations by me concerning the involvement of the Idaho Museum of Natural History with poor science in my recent column about Bigfoot, 9/11 conspiracy theories, Cold Fusion, Weather Wars and other outlandish ideas dressed up as science. Though I am happy that Professor Maschner felt “privileged” to respond to my column, I cannot return the sentiment. It’s just too depressing to have to explain to a museum director, with credentials out the whazoo, why the scientific method is real but Bigfoot is not. I also do not think that the term “insinuation” means what Professor Maschner thinks that it means.

Professor Maschner evidently based his critique of my column on the Cliffs Notes version. He attributes, for instance, the use of the term “fringe science” to me, when the term I actually used was “pseudoscience” — literally, false science. To elevate Bigfoot tracks to fringe science status is to attribute to them vastly undeserved merit. I also stated (no insinuation) rather plainly that the scientific pursuit of Bigfoot, sans any compelling evidence, is foolish. Perhaps the insulation, to which he refers, rests in the notion that if I think that the scientific aspirations of Bigfoot, et. al., are scientifically dubious, I also think that those who hold these notions, by extension, could be dubious as scientists. Let me save you some wear on those outsized mental gears — you’re right.

A central tenet of Professor Maschner’s critique is academic freedom and I find his views extremely interesting. Evidently academic freedom is pretty one-sided. By Maschner’s reasoning it’s OK, according to the precepts of academic freedom, to bestow an unearned patina of respectability on something as silly as Bigfoot — but it’s not OK to function as a critic and point out serious (and obvious) flaws in the same business. If other opinions expressed recently by Professor Maschner in the ISJ are accurate — and I assume they are, since he expressed them — academic freedom exists to protect weak, featherbrained and intellectually questionable academic endeavors like Bigfoot — things that deserve little serious consideration — but not to protect fundamentally important and critical academic endeavors like faculty self-governance, which do.

As for Maschner’s confident claim that the National Science Foundation is completely onboard with supplying a million dollar grant to ISU that has been used, in part, to display Bigfoot tracks, I take it that he will have no objection to me supplying them with a copy of his column and asking if it’s true. As long as they are onboard there’s no harm, right? I hope that this holds up better than his claim that no public monies have been used to display Bigfoot tracks in a museum facility on a public college campus using a taxpayer-funded computer system.

But perhaps I am too hard on the Professor Maschner. His ideas concerning the “democratization of science” might be groundbreaking. Could it be that what separates us is mere geography? Could it be that some in the College of Arts and Letters, way over on the other side of the ISU Quad, simply don’t deal with the scientific method on a daily basis like most of us in the College of Science and Engineering do? Why have none of us heard of the exciting sounding paradigm known as the “democratization” of science?

Perhaps , in honor of Easter, I should use Professor Maschner’s droll prose, along with the motif du jour, as a teachable moment. This afternoon there happens to exist, right in the field below my home, many giant tracks that a democratically-assembled multicultural tour de force of neighborhood children, Native Americans, Feminists, Hispanics, LGBTs, Mormons, Catholics, Persons of Color, MENSA members and a few individuals dumber than a fence post all attribute to an unknown-to-science variant of Oryctolagus cuniculus. There are reports of similar tracks all over the world — far too many to attribute to any hoax. There are cards and T-shirts available at the grocery store and it’s all over television. All of this suggests that the Easter Bunny deserves serious consideration.

So I’m going to wait until all of the kids get done with the egg hunt and make casts of whatever giant bunny tracks are left. I assume that the Idaho Museum of Science will have no objection to using a system supported by the NSF to scan and display these tracks — since the evidence for the Easter Bunny (in my opinion) is at least as compelling as the very similar evidence for Bigfoot. We’d sure not want to deprive folklore specialists the ability to study the Easter myths, anyone in comparative literature the ability to deconstruct writings, sociologists the ability to confab, and scientists, writers, students, skeptics and politicians the ability to see exactly how similar I believe, when you line them up side by side, the scientific basis for Bigfoot and the Easter Bunny happen to be.

Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth, of Pocatello, is a senior lecturer in physics at Idaho State University and the publisher of motorcyclejazz.com.