Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Russia Claims it Named Patty the Sasquatch

An interesting article on the blog Cryptomundo reports that "Patty," the subject of the Patterson-Gimlin film and thus the most famous of sasquatches (real or fake) was allegedly named by Russian researchers. Russian cryptozoologist Igor Burtsev has claimed a Russian coined the term based on Patterson's last name. This led to a discussion on the sometimes humorous topic of nations claiming credit for everything. Loren Coleman asked me to weigh in from a space history perspective, and I wrote:

As a space historian, I run into this a lot. I always appreciated Gene Roddenberry’s joke in making Ensign Chekov an over-the-top partisan – the Russians had done everything first, better, or both.
Every nation likes to boast of its accomplishments, and some nations are more determined than others. Space is a field where many “firsts” really did belong to Russians, so of course it was heavily played up in the Cold War days.
There was a moon race, but the Soviet effort was crippled by the death of brilliant organizer/engineer Sergei Korolev. When Apollo succeeded, the Soviets gave it up and claimed they had never been focused on the moon, which most Americans accepted until hardware like the Soviet lunar lander began turning up in the post-USSR period.

The Soviets since early days trumpeted examples of science and technology achievements. The father of space flight, Tsiolkovsky, was a little-known mathematics teacher until the new government realized he was a true pioneer, promoted his reputation and his books, and gave him a comfortable pension. When they could not find a true Soviet first in some area, they tended to exaggerate or fabricate one. I own an English-language version of a Russian aeronautics textbook that credits the first manned aircraft to a Soviet naval officer – the Wright brothers do not even get a mention.
Sometimes this mindset led to disastrous embraces of Russian ideas that actually were no good, with Lysenko being the standout example.
I have no idea about the Patty claim – certainly I never heard it before now. But it’s a reminder that history is a fragile thing, even when events are still within living memory. Universally agreed-on narratives are rare. We fallible humans must do our best.

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