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Pete Leeson Guest Blogging at Freakonomics

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My wunderkind colleague (and former student) Pete Leeson kicks off his first day at Freakonomics with reflections on the Bigfoot/UFO correlation:

States with more U.F.O. sightings also have more Bigfoot sightings. In fact, six of the top ten U.F.O. and Bigfoot states are the same: Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Alaska, Wyoming, and Colorado. Two states, Washington and Oregon, are among both categories’ top five.

If you’re like many people, you may think it’s at least possible, though perhaps very unlikely, that U.F.O.’s are real. When it comes to Bigfoot, on the other hand, you’re quite certain he’s not real. If this is you, how should the pattern in this figure influence your beliefs?

Here's Leeson's webpage, and his c.v. Here's Pete debating Dani Rodrik, among others. And don't forget to look for his forthcoming book with Princeton University Press - an economic history of piracy called... The Invisible Hook!


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Jennifer writes:

So, what if you think that both kinds of phenomena *might* point to something in the world that really exists but has not been assimilated into modern scientific discourses? Personally, I think that sasquatch, yeti, agogwe, etc are *more* likely to be eventually discovered to be some actual mammals (maybe even primates) that evolved on earth compared to the the validation of um... whatever theory you propose for UFOs.

It seems to me like a basic failure of rationality to think that the first of these propositions is more likely than the second:

(1) Weird bright lights in the sky are *more* likely to "really signify space aliens"

(2) Other phenomena reveal an interesting but unstudied twist in earth's evolutionary history.

Like, "outside of context visitors" might be time travelers or Europans or from another star or from another dimension or, well, who knows? You'd have to imagine deep misunderstandings in our current conceptions of physics and/or *incredible* economic systems "some distance away from earth" that are as yet invisible.

"Bigfoot" is just a claim that "Hey, you missed a few endangered but smart species." And really, we've been adding new species every so often for a long time. New insects are no problem. Pandas used to be controversial. But it's not like there's anything conceptually new in the discovery of a large mammal (or three) that walk upright and hide from modern humans.

Basically the correlation seems to indicate that there are some states that hold "respectable academic science that's hostile to weird stuff" in less esteem than their own reason. And that's something I (living in urban California) agree with, for all that I've never seen either a sasquatch or a UFO.

Sometimes eggheads have a hard time believing in reasonable stuff.

floccina writes:

It is because those UFOs are dropping off those bigfoots.

Jason Malloy writes:

If you’re like many people, you may think it’s at least possible, though perhaps very unlikely, that U.F.O.’s are real. When it comes to Bigfoot, on the other hand, you’re quite certain he’s not real.

I'm confused by this statement. Do a lot of people think it is possible, but unlikely there are alien visitors, but somehow impossible that there is some sort of man-ape?

Who is he arguing with?

And by the way, if he does attempt to publish this, I sincerely hope he doesn't frame it as econometric evidence against alien visitors. I don't believe that is a legitimate scientific topic. (because a noncorrelation between bigfoot and alien sightings would not serve as scientific evidence for alien visitors, so the reverse cannot serve as scientific evidence against it. Just like "Intelligent Design", it just isn't a scientific hypothesis)

On the other hand there is a literature showing that different paranormal beliefs tend to cluster (i.e. people that believe in ESP, tend to also believe in astrology, UFOs, etc) So it would be interesting to explore why people or regions that believe in bigfoot also believe in aliens.

But since he dismisses these as uninteresting "mundane factors" in his post, I sense this is not his focus.

Snark writes:

From what "statistics" I could gather, it seems there are more ghost sightings per capita in the eastern U.S. Werewolf sightings appear to be isolated to the Great Lakes region. And, according to Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency (FVZA), zombies (at least in the domestic U.S) are more indigenous to the southern states, while vampires have recently been spotted in New Mexico.

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