I'm interested in Gigantopithecus both out of professional curiosity and because it's one of those topics (like the Nephilim) that is nicely situated at the intersection of science/pseudoscience. That's what makes it interesting to write about on a blog: it's a legitimate area of scientific inquiry that matters to the "fringe."
There's no question that the strongest fringe appeal of Gigantopithecus is among Bigfoot enthusiasts, some of whom contend that Sasquatch and the giant ape are one and the same. I'm not really that into the Bigfoot phenomenon, but when you talk Gigantopithecus online you get attention from the Bigfoot crowd. So I'm learning a little bit about how that world works.
(Aside: In my opinion, Bigfoot fans are the soccer hooligans of the fringe world. If you want to see some ridiculous displays of racist, sexist, homophobic, scatological, immature, ad hominem attacks, go and read some of the comments on Bigfoot forums like this one. I get discussed on there when I write something related to Bigfoot. What a compliment. I can't even tell who is who or what exactly they're trying to say . . . anyway, moving on.)
Perusing one of the Bigfoot forums, I stumbled across this story about a possible "skunk ape" arm being investigated by Stacy Brown, Jr. Brown has apparently proclaimed himself to be the best Bigfoot researcher on the planet, so we should take his claims seriously, right? The links in the story are no longer active, so I'll reproduce a quote and an image that is reportedly from Stacy Brown's original announcement (you can get the same information from this video):
That was on September 1 of 2014. A week or so later, the verdict was returned: alligator limb.
Case closed, right?
A few weeks later, Robert Lindsay reported that the "alligator leg" story was actually a fabrication designed to cover up the discovery and sale of a possibly legitimate partial skeleton of a Bigfoot. Lindsay alleges that
"Within one hour after taking possession of the arm, Brown received a phone call from a very wealthy Bigfoot enthusiast in Ohio. He wanted to get involved. Brown said no. The man asked how much would it take you to give up that arm. Brown quoted a very high figure – I can now reveal that that figure was $500,000. The man bit, unbelievably enough. The sale was made immediately, and incredibly, the entire $500K was wired into Stacy’s account, and the arm was in the mail just like that."
Lindsay goes on to say that Brown then went and bought an alligator arm from a taxidermist and "started putting out fake stories about how they were going to test the arm even though they didn’t even have possession of it anymore." While the actual Bigfoot arm was in a mail truck, Lindsay alleges, Stacy Brown was covering his tracks and counting his money.
The reason I'm relating this tale is not because I care much about any of this nonsense, but because the story has so many of the elements of the accounts of "giant" skeletons discoveries from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Note these four similarities:
Appeal to Authority: First, there is an appeal to an authority to establish the credibility of the find. How do we know we're onto something out of the ordinary? Because an FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) or FWS official said so! Interestingly, Lindsay also made an appeal to authority to bolster his counter-claim of conspiracy:
"I know someone who saw the arm with hair on it and was there when the FWS made that determination. In order to believe Stacy Brown’s insane story, we have to believe that a FWS biologist is so stupid that he cannot tell a reptile arm from a mammal arm."
Well . . . I doubt "stupid" is really the issue. I would not expect every employee of a wildlife management service to have enough expertise in comparative anatomy to correctly identify a set of isolated limb bones. There are numerous documented examples of medical and anatomy professionals making mistakes in the past, identifying the bones of animals such as mastodons, salamanders, and turtles as those of giant humans. And I know from anecdotes that medical professionals of today don't have a great track record of being able to differentiate isolated human and animal bones from one another (and there's no reason to expect that of them - it's not part of their job or their training). Anyway, the FWC/FWS person on the scene was actually not "stupid," but correct as quoted: the bones were not those of a human or a bear.
So what's the rush? As in many old accounts of "giants," the sensationalism of the claim comes through loud and clear. Announcing that you found something that turned out to be part of an alligator doesn't get you much attention. Announcing that you found something that COULD be Bigfoot does get you attention. So if attention is what you want, it makes sense to go ahead and announce your "discovery" before it has time to come under any scrutiny. Searching on the phrase "Stacy Brown skunk ape arm" returns thousands of hits. I would guess that most of those are about the "discovery" story rather than the "oh sorry it's just an alligator" story.
Conflicting and Foggy Details: Some of the stories/postings about the arm say that Stacy Brown found it. Others say that it was found by someone else and reported to Stacy Brown's team, which then went to investigate. None of the stories that I saw provide much additional detail about the "discovery," which should be a red flag to anyone who is paying attention. When even the basic details are absent and what's there doesn't line up, your story has problems from the get-go. Just as in accounts of "giants," however, the absence or inconsistency of details doesn't really seem bother those who just want the story to be true (e.g., Joe Taylor's 47" femur sculpture, the "eyewitness" account of a giant skeleton from New York).
Conspiracy to Hide Evidence. Those familiar with the conspiracy thread woven through giantology will immediately find familiar the "evidence purloined by a mysterious outsider" component of this story. Once the evidence is swept away, we'll never really know what happened, will we? So there's still a possibility that the story could be true, isn't there? Making evidence disappear actually helps those who like to tell tales that could be falsified by that evidence: if the alligator limb was still out there, it would make it much harder to insist that it was the arm of a Bigfoot. But saying it was purchased by some millionaire in Ohio both makes it seem more likely it was legitimate (why else would the man have paid half a million dollars for it?) and explains why you can't see it anymore. That's pretty convenient, just like the Smithsonian-evolutionist conspiracy to hide all the giant skeletons.
The Stacy Brown alligator limb story makes me wonder if we're in the midst of a Bigfoot "fad" that will, in retrospect, look a lot like the giants fad that reached its peak in the late 1800's. I think many of the fundamental ingredients are there: public interest, lack of basic scientific acumen about the actual evidence, profit motivations, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. We're clearly not in the 19th century, however, in terms of our communication infrastructure. The internet is both a faster and more democratic speader than traditional print media, and one would expect that those differences would have some significant effects on the patterns and processes of information spread, persistence, and error creation and transmission. I think the rise of the internet probably underlies (and maybe even partially explains) the current re-emergence of the giants fad. Maybe the same could be said for Bigfoot. Maybe I'll figure it out someday. There's no rush: I doubt that either giants or Bigfoot are going to disappear anytime soon.