LOUDONVILLE, Ohio -- Bigfoot believers and skeptics alike packed Loudonville's Ohio Theatre on Monday night for a scientific discussion of the legendary ape-human hybrid said to roam the North American continent.
Mark Wilson, a geology and natural sciences professor at the College of Wooster, led the presentation, titled "A Scientific Perspective on Bigfoot," to explain scientists do not believe it's likely the creature truly exists.
"I've long been interested in the Bigfoot legend and other strange and unusual things," Wilson said.
Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch or Grassman in Ohio, is usually described as a large, hairy, bipedal, ape-like creature that lives in the woods of North America.
Wilson used the scientific method, starting with a hypothesis: "Bigfoot is real."
He then listed several examples of reported proof, like footprints, remains, DNA, photographs, videos and eyewitness reports.
But with each category of evidence, Wilson disproved the hypothesis, explaining why each is not scientifically convincing.
"Scientists don't think it's very likely that Bigfoot is out there. ...There's no evidence yet to support the 'Bigfoot is real' hypothesis," he said.
Footprints, DNA, remains, photographs and films have been faked and disproved in the past, he said.
"There are too many doubts, too many errors, too many possibilities of fraud," he said.
One of the most frequent examples of proof is eyewitness accounts.
Some audience members told Wilson during the presentation stories of their experiences, like a sighting in the woods or casts of footprints.
And about half of the more than 300 audience members raised their hands when asked if they believe in Bigfoot.
But Wilson said these accounts are not reliable and therefore not scientifically convincing.
"The problem is that eyewitness accounts are shockingly poor in reporting what actually happened," he said. "They make good stories, but they don't make good science."
Wilson also explained several reasons it's not likely the creature exists.
There has never been any real biological evidence, like bodies, bones, skin, hairs or DNA, found, he said.
"To have an animal be real in the world of science, we have to have some real part of that animal," he said. "And there's nothing, nothing at all."
Additionally, any kind of hominid, like a Bigfoot, would need a significant population of hundreds of individuals to reproduce.
"We should have lots of them out there, and we don't," he said.
And primates generally flourish in tropical and subtropical locations, like South America, equatorial Africa and southeast Asia, Wilson said.
"It's not a likely place to find an unknown, bipedal hominid," he said.
Wilson said the myth persists because it's a tale that's easy to fake. Human perception is easily fooled, he said, so it's difficult to rely on what people say they see, especially if they already believe in Bigfoot and are looking for evidence to support it.
The Bigfoot industry is also profitable, Wilson said, with television shows, conferences, equipment and tours geared toward the creature.
He said he believes it remains a classic tale in American folklore.
"I think it's fun to think of mysterious creatures in the woods," he said. "They add flavor to a world that's increasingly civilized ... to have this unattained hominid lurking around in the woods. ... It's really quite a romantic concept."
Loudonville's Cleo Redd Fisher Museum of the Mohican Historical Society hosted the program.
The discussion was originally to be held at the museum, which holds about 100 people, but after interest skyrocketed, the event was moved to the Ohio Theatre, said museum curator Kenny Libben.
He invited Wilson to speak after he took a class with Wilson on pseudo-science issues.
"I know there's a lot of Bigfoot believers in town," said Libben, who said he believes it's unlikely but not impossible Bigfoot exists.
Wilson was also featured on two 2012 episodes of the History Channel's show "Ancient Aliens," discussing dinosaurs, earthquakes and floods.
"We were scientists," he said. "We weren't 'Ancient Aliens' theorists, but traditional scientists."