One of the common refrains of bigfoot denialists1 is that an animal such as the North American Wood Ape is highly unlikely to exist here since we, as a people2, have been crawling all over the continent for so long and, unfortunately, have not habeased the corpus yet. So to speak.
And one might think, WOW, that is such a good point because we know everything, at least everything having to do with things we’re super familiar with. Right?
Last month, knee surgeons from the University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium announced that they had found a new knee ligament, one that had not previously been specifically identified despite untold numbers of past knee dissections and scans.
What!? Impossible! The knee is this relatively tiny space. We’ve been cutting into them and scanning them and doing all manner of things to them forever. How is it possible that nobody saw an entire ligament that’s in something like 93% of all humans before?!
Wait. They did see it?
As far back as 1879, a French surgeon named Paul Segond first speculated that, in addition to the four obvious structural knee ligaments known then — the anterior cruciate, medial collateral, posterior cruciate and lateral collateral, which loop around and through the joint — other ligaments must exist in the knee or it would not be stable. He wrote that during dissections he had noticed a “pearly, resistant fibrous band” originating at the outside, front portion of the thighbone and continuing to the shinbone, which, in his estimation, must stabilize the outer part of the knee, preventing it from collapsing inward.
He did not, however, give this pearly band a name and somehow, in the decades that followed, its existence was forgotten or ignored. While some surgeons noted that a ligament seemed to exist there, none named and systematically studied it, and many came to consider it a continuation of other tissues, such as the nearby iliotibial band.
Here’s the thing about people. If you tell them things, they believe them. Especially if you train them to believe. Even if what you tell them is contradicted by their own eyes (i.e., there is no ligament where doctors have been clearly seeing it), they’ll figure out a way to explain what they’re seeing as something else. Because, you know, all these really smart people have already told you again and again what the truth is.
Such as, North America cannot be home to an undiscovered primate. Because every last inch of it has been thoroughly covered and no one has “discovered” one before today. Q.E.D.
Luckily, in the case of the “new” ligament, there was a doctor who wasn’t satisfied with the accepted truth.
But a few years ago, Dr. [Steven] Claes and his colleagues began to suspect otherwise. Their interest had been piqued by a problem that occurred in some patients who had undergone reconstructive surgery for an injured anterior cruciate ligament, or A.C.L. Despite the repaired knees’ appearing afterward to be healthy, the joint would sometimes give way as people moved.
“We thought, something is still not right” in that knee, said Dr. Claes, who wondered whether additional, untended knee injuries might be to blame, and if so, whether they were occurring in uncharted knee parts. “I know it probably sounds crazy to say that we thought there might be this new ligament,” he said.
It is only those people who are willing to sound crazy that discover the unexpected. In this case, it was an orthopedic surgeon. The safest thing in the world is to defend the dominant paradigm. To do so requires no strength of character or remarkable cognitive abilities. But, if you’re willing to ask questions based on non-stantard observations and, most importantly, be willing to think something outside accepted dogma, you might get to make a “surprising announcement” someday.
Unfortunately, a vast number of those who call themselves skeptics are nothing more than vociferous defenders of the status quo. The acceptors of “common knowledge” (i.e., there are bears all over North America, bear territory overlaps quite a bit with reported bigfoot encounters, therefore all encounters are misidentified bears seen by the mentally impressionable).
Of course, this isn’t to say all crazy claims are worthy of study (just as not all claims of bigfoot encounters should be taken seriously). But, in cases where there is — at minimum — circumstantial evidence of a specific phenomenon, to not investigate is to reject the very thing that’s allowed human accomplishments to advance as far as they have.
- In deference to the truly skeptical, yet open-minded (such as myself), I’m going to refrain from calling people who won’t accept any evidence of the existence of bigfoot “skeptics” and, from now on, call them “denialists” since, you know, that’s what they’re doing. ↩
- That is, people of a European descent since the natives can’t be trusted to relate their experiences here before we came along to set them straight.↩