Dr. Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropologist at Idaho State University, has spoken out about his recent excursion to Siberia to examine the existence of the Russian Yeti. Dr. Meldrum was a featured speaker at the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Conference in Youngwood, PA on Sunday, October 23. His conclusion: the yeti evidence was poor and he and other researchers were brought to Russia to add credibility to the local claim that yetis live in the area.
His presentation, entitled “The Russian Connection”, was not the listed topic on the schedule. He noted that he changed his topic upon advice from the conference organizers after the media storm that ensued regarding the announcement that “scientists were 95% convinced” that the Russian Yeti exists. Along with American scientist John Bindernagle, and researcher Ron Morehead, Meldrum was part of the team invited to Kemerovo region of Siberia to discuss the formation of a scientific commission to study the yeti. Led to believe there was significant scientific interest by the academic institutions in the area, Meldrum expressed his dismay when the press coverage was greater than the public and academic interactions.
In his talk, Meldrum described the players involved in the conference that began in Moscow and ended in Kemerovo. Specifically, he named Igor Burtsev, director of the International Centre of Hominology in Tashtagol, Kemerovo region. Burtsev already holds the belief that yetis exist in the area and are a Neanderthal relic population.
Meldrum showed photographs and described how the local Russian contingent greeted and treated the invitees with much pomp and ceremony but little scientific protocol.
As in scientific conferences, the attendees were taken on a field trip to a cave in the municipality of Tashtagol. Meldrum said he began to get concerned about the event when twisted and broken trees were rather conveniently located near the sites they visited. Reservations about what he had gotten himself into grew when he noticed saw cuts in the trees. The guides pointed to every bent and broken tree as marks of the yeti. From what Meldrum observed, the cave was not remote but apparently visited rather frequently with the trail maintained by the local municipality. The group was told the cave was a probable yeti habitation. Inside the cave, Meldrum notes that “right on cue”, isolated footprints and a “nest” were pointed out by their hosts.
Meldrum’s impression was that the “evidence” looked more like a staged event. Only right foot impressions were found, not a trackway as would be expected. His remark about the creature “playing hopscotch?” made it into the local press reports. The print had uncharacteristic pressure ridges that Meldrum described as consistent with that made from a rigid wooden imprint.
When a comment was made that the “nest” hardly looked used, Burtsev jumped into it himself for a photo opportunity, oblivious of any potential evidence that might have been there. A hair sample was collected in the cave but not from the nest.
After the excursion, the scientists convened to discuss what they had seen. The group was pressed by the locals to sign a consensus statement saying that what they saw constituted evidence that the Yeti exists in the region. Meldrum said that Valentin Sapunov, a literature professor from St Petersburg, was the one who drafted the “95% certain” language. Meldrum refused to sign noting that science doesn’t work by committee. Yet, the statement was given to press outlets and went viral.
Dr. Meldrum expressed that he felt the conference was “orchestrated” with “publicity stunts” to promote tourism for the region. He was dismayed and perhaps a bit angry that the Russian group “exploited his credibility” for their means.
In addition, Meldrum was put off by a Michigan woman, Robin Lynn Pfeifer, who claims that a family of Bigfoot was living on her 10 acre farm. He described how she, as a guest invited by Burtsev who believes her story, intruded into the scientific discussion. Meldrum admitted to confronting her over her lack of evidence for her outrageous story (which included her noting the creatures’ favorite food was blueberry bagels). Morehead was blunt, telling her that her kids were obviously playing a trick on her. Yet, disturbingly, Burtsev takes her account as typical in the U.S. and believes this kind of habituation was commonplace all over Russia as well!
During the trip, as a joke, Meldrum dropped a chocolate almond snack on the ground, pretending it was scat. Bindernagle, in on the joke, took a taste just to “be sure” of what it was. Ironically, Igor Burtsev knew it was a American food product and didn’t fall for the joke. One wonders why is he so uncritical of the Pfeifer story?
Therefore, the Russian Yeti spectacle was a planned, rehearsed event to promote tourism in the Kemerovo area. (See Come for the Yeti, stay for the skiing) Meldrum and other American scientists were burned by the promise of legitimate scientific evidence from a very non-scientific source. The Russian event is another notch of silliness in the Bigfoot story that ultimately erodes credibility in the subject and cryptozoology in general.
While trying to stay positive about the potential existence of large unknown hominids, Dr. Meldrum’s underlying message to the audience (of non-scientists) was his disgust over “amateurs” with no training in biology, natural history and evidence collection who were seen as experts represented the “scientific” side. It was obvious he was annoyed by this state of cryptozoology, echoing sentiment by a famous predecessor, the late Dr. Grover Krantz.
However, in observing the crowd at this event for amateur enthusiasts, the polished presentation of Dr. Meldrum possibly missed the mark on one point I believe he was trying to make. He prefers this subject left to the hands of people with qualifications and training and not to the purveyors of the paranormal and exploiters of tales without evidence. Dr. Meldrum, however, appears to have succeeded in being diplomatic.
Update: this story from Wall Street Journal provides some additional viewpoints. I contacted the reporter to alert him that Meldrum was speaking out.
Update: Meldrum in the HuffPo corroborates what I said in this post.
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