In the field of cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence has yet to be proven, there are no bigger questions than what Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster are.
Now a scientist has used statistics to try and explain the legends of the world’s two most high-profile urban legends.
Bigfoot and Nessie, the two giants of 20th-century culture, have captured the media’s attention for 90 years and are still making headlines as people try to pinpoint whether they are fact or fiction.
Modern research has found no convincing evidence that Loch Ness is the habitat of a giant prehistoric marine reptile, or that it is a yet unrecognized species of giant bipedal ape roaming the US Pacific Northwest.
Floe Foxen, a US-based data scientist, used cold, exact numbers to try to solve mysteries.
The self-described “epistemic intruder” has a day job as a professional data scientist and has repurposed his job’s methods of dealing with numbers for Nessie and Bigfoot.
He found that statistically speaking, the current theory that Bigfoot sightings were actually misidentified black bears was “very likely.”
However, he says the current theory that Nessie is actually a giant eel “is unlikely to go extinct.”
“Last year, I took my partner, Dr. Arielle Selya, who is also a scientist, on a X-Files themed journey through the UK,” Foxon told The Telegraph.
“We went on a ghost tour in Edinburgh and visited Stonehenge, Whitby Abbey and Loch Ness. None of us are ‘believers’; We are skeptical so it was just for fun.
He doesn’t believe in either Bigfoot or Nessie, and says the odds of finding a living Mesozoic reptile or Early Pleistocene hominid today are “too low to extinction.”
But he added that it would be arrogant to say they have no chance of existing, saying that scientists need to keep an open mind.
The trip got the analytical juices flowing and prompted him on a new side project to see if the numbers could shed light on two of the world’s foremost cryptozoology cases.
“Most scientists don’t care too much, but a few have taken things a little more seriously,” he said.
“Like the suggestion that Loch Ness might not have been a plesiosaur and that there might be large eels sometimes mistaken for surface-splashing lake monsters.
“Usually when people say they’ve seen something like Bigfoot, they’re not lying about what they think they’re seeing, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”
Mr. Foxon looked at the available data on bear sightings and eel catches to estimate how many of each animal you would need, statistically speaking, in two preprints, one devoted to each beast, to get one that could be mistaken for one another. A 10ft tall bipedal ape or a Mesozoic leviathan.
“On average, you would expect to record one Bigfoot ‘view’ for every 900 months in a given state or province,” he told The Telegraph.
“So the most likely explanation is that many Bigfoot sightings are indeed black bear observations, which makes sense because bears occasionally walk on two legs with their hind legs, so they may look a bit like giant apes. The bear explanation for Bigfoot is very likely.
However, while there are enough black bears in the US and Canada to convince probability laws that Bigfoot is just a bear, the same cannot be said for Scottish eels.
In 2019, Professor Neil Gemmell, a geneticist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, scanned Loch Ness for DNA and found no evidence of plesiosaur genetic material. Nor were the sturgeon, catfish or Greenland sharks, other creatures previously theorized to be Nessie.
However, Dr Gemmell found a lot of eel DNA and suggested that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness that may be behind the Nessie observations. Unfortunately, DNA evidence gives no information on size.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of giant eels in Loch Ness,” said Dr Gemmell. “Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility that what people see and believe as the Loch Ness Monster is a giant eel.”
But Mr Foxon’s analysis revealed that the odds of finding a meter-long eel in Loch Ness were one in 50,000.
“The probability for a six-foot eel is near zero,” he added. “So, although there are a lot of eels in the Loch, they don’t get very big. It’s not monstrously big anyway.”
As for what might explain the Loch Ness monster legend, an age-old hoax remains the most likely scenario.
Mr Foxon said there may be “other natural explanations, such as wave effects, stumps and the occasional mammal crossing the bay” behind Nessie folklore.
“I would like to think there is more, but there probably isn’t. Still, it’s interesting to think about,” he said.