Yeti sightings and the case of missing scientific temper

A week ago, the Indian Army tweeted that they had definite proof of the Yeti’s existence.While twitterati had a field day mocking Yeti and linking him to climate change, to Modiji and to India elections, the biggest embarrassment has been for the Indian army who has been a little too quick in posting pictures of “footprints” without further verification.

The Nepal Army and Director General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Man Bahadur Khadka have dismissed the Indian Army’s claim saying it is more likely that the footprints belong to a bear. Wildlife experts also informed that the Makalu Barun region is home to large snow bears and the footprints might belonged to them.

What/Who is Yeti?

The Yeti has been described as a tall ape like creature who lives in Himalayan mountains and mostly been part of folklores in the mountain regions of Nepal and Tibet. The name Yeti or Teh-meh is a sherpa word that means `man of the rock´.There are many stories of this creature terrorising mountaineers, campers and animals. Tales of the yeti are common around Himalayan ranges and Tibetan plateau. Stories spanning Nepal, Ladakh and Bhutan with different names for this mythical being.

Yeti sightings

For decades, people living in and around the region have claimed to have spotted “Yetis”, but never managed to get visual proof. During early 20th century when many westerners made frequent attempts of scaling the Himalayas, stories of strange footprints and snow man sightings started. Many have spent years of their lives obsessing over Yeti. Many made several mountaineering expeditions to search for the elusive Yeti. Yeti also entered pop culture with movies and comic books like Tintin in Tibet. Despite such attempts Yeti is somehow too shy to come out for a selfie!

Separating Yeti from the myth

In the absence of any concrete evidence, the general scientific community has regarded the Yeti as a legend. The harsh terrain has made it difficult to study the fauna (wildlife) of these areas and perhaps that is also the reason it made it easier to spin stories about a giant fearsome snowman. The most convincing evidence so far has come from a study done by Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York in Buffalo. The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B in November 2017. In this study the researchers matched DNA from hair samples found in Himalayas from various sources. These samples were collected by people living in Nepal´s upper Mustang region, from Reinhold Messner, a famous mountaineer and from museums across the world. Out fo the 23 samples collected,  22 samples matched with with a prehistoric bear from the Pleistocene epoch. One sample belonged to a dog.

The study found that most of the yeti samples belonged to two bear species: the Himalayan brown bear and the Tibetan brown bear. The study also shed some light on the distribution of brown bears in Tibetan plateau and western Himalyan region. This study represents the most rigorous analysis to date of samples suspected to derive from anomalous or mythical ‘hominid’-like creatures i.e Yeti, strongly suggesting that the biological basis of the yeti legend is local brown and black bears.

The missing Scientific temper

What the Lindqvist team found should have put the future Yeti arguments to rest. As we can see from the Indian army social media fiasco, it did not..After the attempts to elicit praise failed, Indian army public information unit issued statement clarifying their post-

Ladies & gentlemen,
• The story is based on physical proofs of on the spot narration, photos and videos.
• We got the inputs about 10 days back and yet we held on to it. Please do have a look at photos and videos (getting full tomorrow) that may surprise you.
• But then we decided that there are photographic evidences which match with earlier theories.
• Tweeted as we thought prudent to excite scientific temper and rekindle the interest. Some of us who reject the story, surely shall have a definite answer to the evidences.
• As they say nature, history and science never write their final story.

Their story based on photos and videos ignored the fact that it also needed some supporting evidence and research to corroborate their hypothesis. Indian army claimed that they held the photos for 10 days and then released the photos to excite scientific temper. The so called prudent behaviour of Indian Army was anything but reflective of scientific temper. Scientific temper calls use of scientific method of observation, questioning, testing, analysing and discussion. If the Indian army had questioned, discussed with some wildlife expert or biologist before jumping to their conclusion, they would have saved themselves from this international embarrassment.So much for scientific temper…

Scientific temper is an attitude that involves evidence, reason and application of logic not just reliance on one observation .Now, there are popular personalities who have fallen prey to social media traps in an attempt for likes and shares, but the way Indian army, a national organisation communicated, took credit of its `surprise´ findings was a little unflattering for its status. What is with our national organisations occupied in doing things that is not even their job description? Indian Army finding footprints of mythical beings, NSA finding caste of a student, Archaeological survey of India looking for Saraswati river, scientists researching on Pushpak Viman..

Ironically, the term Scientific temper was coined by our first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, who has been the target of social media malicious and slander campaign through fake news and photoshop in last couple of years.

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