What exactly does this question mean? The missing details in survey results about Bigfoot and Nessie.

Two stories appeared last week in a blog by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun. Both reference surveys done by Angus Reid regarding belief in creatures…

One of five Canadians believe in Bigfoot (Sasquatch) | Vancouver Sun.

One out of five Canadians believe the legendary Bigfoot stomps through the forests. Americans are even more inclined to believe Bigfoot lives in the West Coast mountains.

A new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found three-in-ten Americans (29%) and one-in-five Canadians (21%) think Bigfoot is “definitely” or “probably” real.

The Angus Reid survey of more than 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans found that the Bigfoot phenomenon is bigger in the U.S., where 77 per cent of respondents claim to have heard “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” about Bigfoot (compared to 61% of Canadians).

One in four Scots believe Loch Ness ‘Monster’ real | Vancouver Sun.

A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion in three countries found 17 per cent of Britons believe the Loch Ness Monster is “definitely” or “probably” real — a proportion that jumps to 24 per cent in Scotland.

The Angus Reid Opinion Survey interviewed more than 1,000 people in each of three countries, the U.S., Britain and Canada.

But, where are these survey results and what do the results mean?

Source: Vancouver Sun

Credit: Guy Edwards at Bigfootlunchclub.com

When I first saw this story Friday, I emailed Douglas Todd, the author of the article, to provide a link to the survey data he cites. He said Angus Reid had not released the results. Since then, this VS article on Bigfoot belief has been repeated by a few Bigfoot blogs and news sites. I chose not to report on it until I got the actual survey. So, the story I’m reporting on here is the lack of support for a story. I am awaiting a reply from Angus Reid, the survey company, for a copy of the reports.

It may seem silly to be dubious about a story when it’s just about statistics in a poll. But, survey questions are notoriously tricky to write. For example: what if the question was “Do you believe Bigfoot is real?” Well, I’d have trouble answering that. What is Bigfoot? You have to make an assumption that you are talking about a large, hairy, ape-like creature. I think it’s more complicated than that. I don’t “believe” in Bigfoot, same as I don’t believe in ghosts or UFOs. It’s not a matter of faith, but of evidence. I think people have experiences that they interpret as Bigfoot. So is Bigfoot a “thing” that people use to interpret their odd experiences? Yes. Is it a real creature? Don’t know.

So, what exactly is real about Bigfoot?

Yes, yes, I know… pedantic. But it’s important. The answer is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In fact, to oversimplify it is to eliminate a huge amount of data. It narrows the possibilities and decreases our chance of understanding.

It’s even worse when you ask something like “Do you believe in UFOs or that UFOs exist?” That is a TERRIBLE question. Because, by definition, UFOs are unidentified objects and OF COURSE those exist. We all see things we can’t identify. To make the leap that they are alien spacecraft is unwarranted. Yet, I think it is done with poll questions all the time. They squash all the subtlety out of the answer. The really cool stuff is in the details.

Survey research is WAY more difficult than you can imagine. In my experience in constructing forms for people to fill out, you would be amazed at how many different ways people can answer a seemingly self-explanatory question. People apply many of their personal assumptions into these questions. It’s important to be VERY clear about what you are asking to get meaningful data out.

[See update below] So, I await the release of these polls by Angus Reid. I’m really interested in what they say, what other questions were asked and how demographics compare. I need the full story, not just a few numbers thrown out there.

It is important to know how many people put stock in reports of unknown creatures and how they view them. But, it’s more important to be aware of exactly WHAT the results are telling you and not misinterpret or miss the real story.


UPDATE: The Survey Results. Available here.

The survey was released about 4 hours from when this post was originally written. Let’s look at them.

First, they compared the belief in Bigfoot/Sasquatch in the US and Canada with the belief in the Loch Ness Monster in the U.K. I don’t like that idea, actually. Is there a current TV show on about the Loch Ness Monster? No. But, it may be close enough when thinking about a possibly mythical creature that some think may be real. So, I’ll not beat on it too much.

The error on the survey is 2.2 to 3.1%. Therefore, we have to view the numbers with a fairly broad brush, looking for major differences. All the subtle differences, like responses based on gender and even location of respondents aren’t worth a whole lot. But the MOST important point is that this was an ONLINE survey. That is a selected population that is different from people who aren’t familiar with the internet. I’m not sure what it means exactly but it is highly suggestive that the test population is more attuned to cultural items, that is, they are potentially greater consumers of pop culture memes, of which Bigfoot and Nessie are. It’s something to keep in mind that may be sending the numbers higher.

This question reflects this pop consumption: Over the course of your life, how much have you heard, read or seen about Bigfoot/Nessie? The greatest response was in the category, “a moderate amount”. But, I wonder, does this include fictional representations? I’m a fan of the Jack Links Jerky ads “Messin’ with Sasquatch” and the Toyota ads with Nessie. Also, we’ve seen dozens of movies and cartoon representations of these creatures. That will play into people’s recollection. But, what does it tell us about the belief in the reality of them? That conflates with the next question.

Do you think Bigfoot/Nessie is real? (See above problem with the wording of this question. Is it a real mystery monster? Is a misinterpretation of a known animal? Is it a variation on an animal we already know? What does this even mean?)

The highest result is for “Probably is not real” at 37-41%. About 3/4 of the respondents say that they are not sure, definitely sure or probably sure the creature is not real.

The “probably/definitely is real” combination is 29-17%. So, about a quarter, give or take, will hold some credence in the idea of “real” monsters but we don’t know what they mean when they say that. With all the pop culture references to these animals, I’m not at all surprised by these numbers. There is an audience for this and it’s fun to entertain the idea that they are genuine monsters out there. This is people giving their opinion at the moment.

The categories for voting preference is weird. But it reveals to me that Angus-Reid mostly does polling on political issues. This is not that. I wonder if they asked any sociologists familiar with the subject questioned to weigh in on what they would like to know. It doesn’t seem so. (See point by spookyparadigm in comments below who cites the Baylor survey – a far better constructed attempt at data collection since it was a scientific poll, not a public opinion poll like this one.)

In conclusion… meh. Some people believe in famous cryptids. Nothing we didn’t already know. We don’t know what they believe about them or why they believe it. That’s a more interesting set of questions. This is just another opinion poll. It is important to keep in mind when viewing survey results that they are subject to a lot of factors.

And finally, remember that the reality of such creatures is not determined by vote. Only by science.



  3 comments for “What exactly does this question mean? The missing details in survey results about Bigfoot and Nessie.

  1. March 4, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    The Baylor religion survey six years ago, which is part of the basis for the book Paranormal America, found that 18% of Americans “believe creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster will one day be discovered by science.” I’d chalk up the modestly higher numbers in the unknown survey question this year to

    – Finding Bigfoot being on TV
    – The media coverage of the Georgia Bigfoot. Even though that was a hoax, it meant serious media attention on the topic for the first time in decades. Unlike say Limbaugh’s situation, no one was greatly offended, so that falls into the “bad publicity is publicity” meme. Is it any accident that tv (in both commercials, junk tv-movies, and in ‘reality’ shows) increased rather than decreased its interest in Bigfoot since 2008?
    – Probably a less specific question than the Baylor survey. I could easily see people who vaguely “believe” in Bigfoot who really don’t discount the possibility, but would answer no to the Baylor question.

    In the same survey, only 25% “believe some UFOs are probably spaceships from other worlds.” That is far lower than the usual number around 50% that Americans have had for decades when asked “do you believe in UFOs” and I suspect that here the specific question is the big culprit. I suspect a much larger number of people than we’re either aware of, or may be comfortable with, think UFOs are real, but that they are Satanic or demonic (or perhaps daemonic for a smaller number) rather than extraterrestrial. I’d love to know, but no one who puts these surveys together has ever asked that as far as I know. I’ve seen small-scale “vote now” internet “polls” that have asked about the nature of UFOs, but they are of course self-selecting (not just whether one votes, but also in the audience for a particular website. I saw such a poll on The Daily Grail, and it will likely have a very different audience than C2C vs. ATS) and have small samples, and therefore are useless.

  2. Daran
    March 4, 2012 at 9:34 PM

    The reports of large hairy man type creatures is difficult to dismiss after talking to witnesses in person, especially in Australia where there are no bears

  3. March 4, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    From the 2007 Baylor survey (Fig. 5.1, page 106 in Paranormal America)

    Does Bigfoot exist
    Absolutely = 3.1%
    Probably = 13%
    Probably not = 44.3%
    Absolutely not = 39.6%

    There is actually much more interesting information in the book on Bigfooters, including demographic profiles of those who actually participate in the “field.” The authors were surprised to find Bigfoot hunters to be “hypernormal,” and while overwhelming male, very much in a traditional mold and better educated than the average American. Which then begs the question of how do we end up with the train wrecks of people in online communities who try to top each other in outrageousness? The authors note that the population that believes in Bigfoot is not like the population of enthusiasts, and especially not like the population of Bigfoot hunters. Given that being a hunter (of ghosts, Bigfoot, whatever) involves both time and money, I do wonder if that is part of the reason, that when Bader et al find a bunch of middle-aged white guys in white-collar jobs going out hunting Bigfoot on the weekend, they’re not selecting so much for who believes in Bigfoot, but who can afford to make Bigfoot a pursuit.

Comments are closed.