July 5, 2016

"Evidence" ~ What Is It?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines "evidence," as:

: something which shows that something else exists or is true
: a visible sign of something
: material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something

Why do I bring this up? There seems to be a lot of people who don't understand what evidence is or how it is applicable to the work we do. I work off the truest definition of that word using my background in investigations. 

Over the years, some, have been convinced that footprints, footage, audio - all the things we look for (and more) are not evidence. That's simply not true. Not true at all. We have an abundance of evidence. What we don't have is an abundance of (and I am sure this will ruffle some feathers)  reliable evidence

There is a difference.

Have you ever heard the phrase, "let the evidence take you where it leads"? It's  not just a catchy phrase from a movie or an episode of Law and Order. There is a reason for that phrase. Evidence is information you gather, as an investigator/researcher. It's physical, tangible items. It is up to you as an investigator/researcher to determine - what is going on - based on the evidence you find. I never let myself get emotionally invested in evidence of any kind. Why? Because it takes away my ability to remain neutral during an investigation. You need your neutrality to accurately assess the evidence you collect. I know it can be very hard, but it will save you a lot of pain down the road. If you think you can't be hoaxed, let me tell you, you couldn't be more wrong. Some of the best have been taken in by a hoaxer. No one is immune.

BUT - and here 's the kicker - Evidence is NOT proof. Yep, that's right. There is the rub.

Footprints. Yes, they are evidence. They are evidence something walked a path (for example). They can also contain biological evidence like hair that can be collected from the cast itself along with dermal ridge evidence. It's your job as in investigator/researcher to determine what created those tracks or footprints. So perform your due diligence; cast and document the area.

Say you are documenting a track way and you come across a trident wrapper (for example). What do you do? Is this evidence? Yes it is, especially if you have been lead to this spot in the woods by a witness. Do you need to collect it? No. You can simply snap a photo and move on. Why do I say document this? Because what if the witness is hoaxing you and only later you see the witness pop a piece of trident in their mouth? Are you going to run back to where the track way was to collect the wrapper? No - but it helps build the case for, or against, a legitimate track or track way. It is our job as investigators/researchers to pay attention to everything - even signs that hoaxing may be happening. You can believe the witness all you want but be ready should the worst come to pass.

You laugh about the gum wrapper;

But ask yourself this, how many times have you been in an area looking at tracks or what not and never even gave the rest of the area a glance? Be honest and really think about that. It happens a lot because we get so focused on the evidence at hand we don't stop and take a look at the larger picture. We are human after all.

Video. Video is also evidence of something that happened. It is your job as an investigator/researcher to determine - what. It can be evidence of the target animal, it can be evidence of hoaxing, it could be evidence of wishful thinking. I have said this before and I'll say it again - if you must screen capture and use a red circle it is NOT evidence that is useful. Your position in the woods has nothing to do with the blurriness or clarity of the video you capture. Make the proper adjustments and be prepared if this is the kind of evidence you choose to work with, or rely on, for your own field work. It's your responsibility. Yes, some of these videos can be interesting and can provide us with months of evaluation, debate and fighting that leads to the ending of friendships and all kinds of drama which is great fodder for the internet- which is all so much fun - but unless you have clear footage that does not need to be enlarged, enhanced and filled with red circles - it is not evidence that is useful other than trying to decide if this is an intentional hoax or someone who was simply excited and just turned on their camera or cell phone. But as an investigator/researcher it is your job to determine which.

Witness reports: Yes, they are evidence. They are also your first true point of contact with a witness. The report you get online or over the phone is great -but you  can't truly evaluate the witness until you are face to face. Witness reports are very important and can give you all kinds of information if conducted right. I can hear you all  now:

REALLY? Yes, really. But, again, as an investigator/researcher it is your job to determine the value. The witness report is either evidence of an event or a hoax.You must investigate to decide if it's a hoax or the target animal. 

Going back to the trident wrapper incident - the face to face report is where you first ask all the questions you can think of. I do often ask witnesses if they were eating or drinking near the location where their sighting happened (or what not). Documenting as much information as possible can only help you during your evaluation of the evidence you collected. Be it good or bad.

Audio: Oh audio. Yes. It's' evidence. It's evidence that something made a noise. Again you perform your due diligence and try to determine if it's an animal noise we know of. BUT unless you witnessed - as in seen the animal with your own eyes- open its mouth and utter the noise you captured on audio - it is NOT proof.

Actually, I would suggest you ask the bigfoot to pause before he/she makes the noise, so you can get your camera going because no one will take you at your word.

That's a joke, lighten up. Of course the bigfoot isn't going to wait. So, you be ready!!

Stick structures and tree breaks: The bane of existence for most in this community. Are they evidence? Well yes. They can be evidence of a natural weather event that moved through the area. They can be evidence of a hoax. They can be evidence of an elk rubbing its antlers, or it could be humans out practicing their survival skills which is all the rage these days. Thanks Preppers! Or it could be bigfoot related.

And again,

It is your job as an investigator/researcher to determine what created these things. You check weather reports for that area. You go to the area and look for animal sign. You look for evidence of people in the area. Check the structure for knots and such which holds the structure up. If you see a square knot - probably hoaxed.

I don't think Bigfoot makes square knots.

Are you seeing a pattern here? So, what does this all boil down to?

It boils down to you and your ability to ask questions, listen, observe and document. Talk to those you trust and ask them what questions they ask witnesses. Read your manuals from front to back. Learn your equipment so you can use it in the dark. Practice casting in different types of soil, so you can reasonably anticipate what you may encounter. Different soils require different mixing ratios. You can never document enough information. I record all telephone conversations (with the permission of the person on the other end of the phone) for my own reference later.

In the end we all want the same thing - proof. But if the goal is to get as much evidence as possible, regardless of the reliability of said evidence, we will be here another 40 plus years complaining about the lack of proof. I know the bar is high. But rise to meet it. I know everyone is capable of doing just that. Yes it's a lot of work.....but;

Proof should be the ultimate goal. Not just evidence.


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