The Cajoling Stones

The origin of many hoaxes is lost to history, but with the Ica Stones, skeptics and reporters chased down the origin, which lies with first the gullibility, and then the deceit, of Dr. Javier Cabrera.

Our tale begins in the mid-1960s when Cabrera received an engraved rock for his birthday. If I were so bequeathed, I would think there had better be some really good ice cream to make up for it. But the doctor was intrigued and recalled, “It was engraved on one side with a carving of a fish I did not recognize. The stone struck me as most unusual,” since he had thought the aquatic animal had died out long before humans encountered it.

At the time, the only other known pieces belonged to the brotherly duo of Carlos and Pablo Soldi, Peruvian looters and grave robbers who illegally excavated archaeological sites for profit. The siblings and doctor met through an intermediary, Basilo Uschuya Peering at their collection, Uschuya guessed the inscriptions to be ancient renderings of now-extinct creatures. The Soldis said the collection had been found in a secret cave and more could be produced for a price. Thousands (both stones and sols) would be forthcoming. Cabrera deduced that because the stones’ hardness would have precluded them from being carved into, aliens had to have done it. But the real source were terrestrial con artists, the artist part being literal.

Authorities arrested Uschuya for selling archaeological artifacts since, if the stones were what he alleged them to be, they weren’t his to sell. And if not, it was fraud, so he was cooked regardless.

At this point, Uschuya confessed to the hoax, saying he got the ideas for the images from various entertainment media. Hit with a cognitive dissonance overload, Cabrera claimed it was the confession that was a hoax.

He said that stones were too hard to carve, which is true, but the images had not been carved, they were etched. Second, he argued that the collection was too voluminous for just a few people to have perpetrated. This was untrue, as a skilled fraudster could knock one out in 15 minutes. A team of 10 or so working for a few weeks could produce a mammoth collection. But while the hoaxers had some artistic skills, they lacked in anthropologic knowledge and made some telling mistakes, such as the images reflecting outdated 1960s portrayals of dinosaur life. Further, the only animals depicted were known at the time; none that have been discovered since make an appearance. And no fossils of these types have ever been found in the region.

As to the humans, they are shown as having harnessed advanced technology such as surgery, telescopes, and airborne conveyances. Again, no corresponding archeological evidence supports this. If their society had evolved to such a point, it is reasonable to assume that they would leave remains on their existence in other artwork, architecture, and accomplishments, instead the lone remnant being a huge rock collection.

Since the stones contain no organic material, they cannot be carbon dated. Still, Cabrera claimed scientific analysis shows the stones to be made of andesite and that their was revealed through their oxidized patina. He was presented no evidence to support this, nor has it been independently verified. Even if all this were true, it would not verify the age since the engravings lack patina in the grooves. Later analyses indicated the clean edges of the incisions would have lost this distinction after a few centuries due to oxidation. Also, evidence suggests the engravings were made with acid, sandpaper, and modern saws. In the end, all Cabrera ended up with was a memorable birthday present.

“Flight of the Tweedledee” (Maylaysian Air disappearance)

One of the great aviation mysteries centers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared on March 18, 2014, after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. With little debris recovered, and never a body, we can safely assume the 239 on board are deceased. Their fate has been variously tied to homicidal pilots, black holes, and alien abduction.

Meanwhile, the Netflix series MH370: The Plane That Disappeared centers on two conspiracy theories, one championed by aviation journalist Jeff Wise and the other proposed by French newspaper reporter Florence de Changy. Both doubt the consensus conclusion that the plane plunged into the Southern Indian Ocean. Wise believes Russians hijacked the plane, while de Changy maintains that the U.S. government shot it down.

The few pieces of common ground include that the plane departed at 1:19 a.m. on the fateful morning. And the final contact between the pilot at air traffic control came just moments later when the tower told him to contact air traffic control in Vietnam. The pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, responded, “Good night. Malaysian Three Seven Zero.” Two minutes later, the plane disappeared from radar and voice contact but took up permanent residence in aviation lore.

Suspicion for what happened has ranged from the mundane to the malevolent to the farcical. In an article for Skeptical Inquirer, J.D. Sword wrote that the BBC quoted Malaysian Air Force Chief Rodzali Daud as saying radar signals showed the airplane may have turned around. Supporting this is the Thai military claiming to have intercepted a radar signal from an unknown aircraft turning west toward the Strait of Malacca. Additionally, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid’s cellphone pinged off a cell tower on Penang Island. Piecing this together, investigators concluded the flight lasted until around 8:19 before the aircraft exhausted its fuel supply and crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

As the involvement of nefarious Russian or American agents, Wise and de Changy provide little in the way of evidence. They merely dismiss the radar data and insist the satellite information has been falsified. Physical debris is likewise dismissed, with the duo claiming it was planted. This is needless conjecture and supported by noting in the way of tangible proof.

Wise blames the Russians, pointing out that four months later, they shot down a second Malaysian flight over Ukraine. However, this conclusion is based on the appeal to incredulity and post hoc reasoning. He says, “It seemed like an incredible coincidence” and that “When MH370 happened it had the desirable effect of stopping anybody from talking about Russia’s invasion of Crimea.” Besides the aforementioned logical fallacies, this ignores the Law of Truly Large Numbers and represents a common conspiracy theory trait of tying together two disparate events by claiming one is a distraction for the other.

Wise makes an additional claim that Russians hijacked the plane remotely. However, Sword quoted Fuad Sharuji, former crisis director for Malaysia Airlines, as explaining, “Anyone who gets into the hatch can disable the transponder and disable the communications systems, but it is impossible to fly the aircraft from the avionics compartment.”

Meanwhile, de Changy believes the U.S. Air Force shot down MH370 to prevent delivery of electronics to Beijing since American feared China would purloin the technology. Again, this ties together two events without offering evidence. No, the U.S. would not want China to get American technology, and yes, a flight en route to Beijing went down. The French journalist offers little in the way of showing that these facts are connected.

As to recovered debris, she cites a secret source, who allegedly told her the plane’s identification plate was missing and that those are only removed on decommissioned planes. Therefore, the source deduces, the recovered parts were planted. However, Sword notes that eight items were identified from MH370 that were consistent with a Boeing 777-200ER. Moreover, an investigative team analyzed debris consisting of an engine cowling piece and an interior panel piece from an aircraft cabin, again the type found on this kind of aircraft.

In sum, Wise and de Changy’s wild speculations have gotten us no closer to determining what caused the crash or why communications disappeared.

“Imminent domain” (Artificial intelligence takeover)

From Shakespeare to Frankenstein to Jurassic Park, the overriding theme when it comes to tampering in nature’s domain is to not do it. In the real world, however, adapting, improving, refining, and harnessing nature have led to many of humanity’s greatest achievements. Examples include the first loincloths, agriculture, civilization, electricity, transportation, education, mass communication, GMOs, and vaccines.

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence, some think there is an existential risk that if safeguards are not put in place, AI could lead to human destruction or large-scale catastrophe. Even centuries before HAL, there were ominous premonitions about the harrowing fate that awaits those who chose an unchartered course.

But does this jibe with reality? Veteran skeptic Michael Shermer has written that most AI subject matter experts have a somewhat middle of the road approach, feeling manmade intelligence will usher in neither dystopia nor utopia. Instead, he noted, they “spend most of their time thinking of ways to make our machines incrementally smarter and our lives gradually better,” with Shermer citing the gradual development and continual improvement of automobiles over the last century plus.

The most optimistic forecast has AI producing flawless service robots, ending poverty, eradicating disease, and allowing immortal beings to explore deep into outer space. At the other end of the spectrum is the notion that AI will reach a point in which its capabilities so outpace ours that it will annihilate humanity, perhaps intentionally, perhaps by accident, but in either case, everyone being just as dead. Or perhaps we survive but are the ones who AI makes into servants instead of the other way around.

These more negative viewpoint posits that in the same way a more powerful and efficient brain allows humans to reign over other animals, AI could likewise surpass Mankind’s intelligence and grow beyond our control.

Many researchers believe that a superintelligence would resist attempts to shut it off or alter its path, and that we will be unable to align AI with our wishes. In contrast, skeptics such as computer scientist Yann LeCun feel such machines will have no emotion or instinct, and thus no desire to persevere.

Those with the more dour outlook site three potential problems. The first is that setting up the system may introduce unnoticed but potentially deadly bugs. This has, in, fact been the case with some space probes.

The second issue is that a system’s specifications sometimes produce unintended behavior when encountering an unprecedented scenario. Third, even allowing proper requirements, no bugs, and desirable behavior, an AI’s learning capabilities may cause it to evolve into a system with unintended behavior. For instance, an AI may flub at attempted copying of itself and instead create a successor that is more powerful than itself and without the controls in place. Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom warns that a system which exceeds the human abilities in all domains could outmaneuver us whenever its goals conflict with ours.

Stephen Hawking argued that no physical law constrains particles from being organized so that they perform more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains, and this means superintelligence could occur. Further, this digital brain could exponentially more powerful, faster, and efficient than its human counterpart, which is limited in size because of it having to pass through a birth canal.

However, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker argues that the dystopian view assumes AI would prefer domination and sociopathology when it might instead choose altruism and problem-solving. Moreover, skeptic Michael Chorost said that, “Today’s computers can’t even want to keep existing, let alone” plot world domination. And such fearmongering could lead to governments or vigilantes trying to shut down valuable AI research.

Slate’s Adam Elkus has argued that the most advanced AI has only achieved the intelligence of a toddler, and even then only at specific tasks. Likewise, AI researcher Rodney Brooks opined that, “It is a mistake to be worrying about us developing malevolent AI anytime in the next few hundred years. The worry stems from a fundamental error in not distinguishing the difference between the very real recent advances in a particular aspect of AI and the enormity and complexity of building sentient volitional intelligence.”

Indeed, intelligence is only one component of a much broader ability to achieve goals. Magnus Vinding posits that “advanced goal-achieving abilities, including abilities to build new tools, require many tools, and our cognitive abilities are just a subset of these tools. Advanced hardware, materials, and energy must all be acquired if any advanced goal is to be achieved.”

So by the time Artificial Intelligence ever gets to a point where it could destroy us, we likely will have offed ourselves or been done in by the nature that we are said to be violating by building that AI.

“Smiles to go before I sleep” (Lucid dreaming)

Detractors sometimes label us skeptics as joy thieves. A commenter on a Susan Gerbic post chastised the medium buster for taking away the comfort that those who claim to talk with the dead can offer families. The commenter provided no proof of the mediums’ claims, nor did she even necessarily believe it herself, but she thought no harm, no foul. As addressed previously in this forum, there is harm. Further, the commenter committed the appeal to consequences fallacy, where the result of something being true is considered more important than what that truth is. Meanwhile, other groups insist that their favored topic is genuine, be it ghosts, aliens, or cryptozoological critters, and they lambaste any skeptics for their close-minded cynicism.

But the truth is, many skeptics, myself included, would love for some of these to be true. Ghosts means there’s an afterlife, proof of intelligent life on another planet would be the biggest news story of all time, and who wouldn’t cotton to the notion of an real-life Yeti or Nessie?

We only ask that all these pass scientific scrutiny and that has yet to happen. If proof can be shown, we will accept it, even if we had previously been dubious. Consider lucid dreaming. Books on this topic are normally found in the New Age or spiritual sections, alongside tomes on contacting fairies, visiting one’s past lives, and homeopathic remedies.

Yet research and attempts to find scientific legitimacy in lucid dreaming have met with success. To dismiss lucid dreaming because it is normally associated with far-out beliefs would be to commit the composition fallacy.

During lucid dreaming, the sleeper remains aware they are asleep and they maintain an ability to direct the script. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning cited Keith Hearne, a University of Liverpool doctoral candidate, who sought a way to determine if the phenomenon were genuine. So he hooked subject Alan Worsley to a polygraph that used an electrooculograph to detect eye movements and vital signs. The experimenter instructed Worsley to move his eyes left and right eight time if he became aware he was dreaming.

Dunning wrote, “Worsley’s electroencephalogram showed that he was definitely asleep” while Worsley made the requested eye movements. Continued research has yielded similar results.

While lucid dreaming is real, there are those who ascribe greater abilities to it than what the evidence indicates. The Skeptics Dictionary notes that Stephen LaBerge claims the process can help practitioners “overcome limitations, fears, and…explore our minds, to enjoy incredible adventure, and to discover transcendent consciousness.”

Similarly, Dunning writes that some proponents attribute to lucid dreaming an ill-defined “spirituality, philosophy of consciousness, and a holistic mind-body connection.”

Some go further still. “Other researchers have written books advocating Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritualist practices for lucidity,” Dunning said. “When you write on science, it goes into journals; when those same authors stray too far outside the science…they turn to mass media publication, free of scrutiny or peer review.”

“Chasing the tale” (Old Wives Tales)

In a pair of delightful pieces for Skeptical Inquirer, science writer Ada McVean has examined Old Wives Tales to ascertain if there is truth, and if so, how much truth, there is in them.

One of the more ubiquitous is that a person should wait a couple of hours after eating before going for a swim. But McVean cites a six-decade old study in which 100 subjects swam at various intervals after chowing down and there were no cramps reported in any of them. Another study from the same time period showed no changes to heart rates during digestion. This is crucial became the supposed cause of the putative cramps were that blood was being diverted from the muscles to the stomach. So we have known (or should have known) for many years that there is no truth to this tale.

So eating before swimming if fine, but what about walking after sleeping? Should this be allowed to continue, or should sleepwalkers be awakened? McVean found the former to be the case, for the safety of the person doing the waking. She cited several cases of the person being woken inadvertently lashing out physically, sometimes fatally.

While the origin of most Old Wives Tales are lost to history, McVean feels we can pinpoint the one centering on not sitting too close to TV, lest the viewer harm their vision. She thinks it stems from a recall of color televisions in 1967. She explained, “The increased voltage found in new color televisions caused a radiation output that exceeded what the federal U.S. government deemed to be safe.”

These potential dangers only applied if a viewer spent excess sitting directly below the TV as opposed to the more eyes-and-screen horizontal norm. And even if favoring the viewing up from the floor method, the radiation danger has long since passed with changes to the televisions’ construction. If the viewer were watching show featuring maritime adventures, he or she may have heard the adage, “Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight. Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning.” McVean rates this one as accurate.

That the sky has any color is the result of the sun’s light hitting the atmosphere, causing it to scatter. McVean explains, “We get a blue sky because these short wavelengths correspond to blue hues. At sunset and sunrise, the angle at which sunlight enters the atmosphere is significantly changed, and light must travel through many more atmospheric particles to reach us. As a result, most of the shorter blue and green wavelengths are scattered before reaching the lower atmosphere, meaning we see more of the orange and red colors in the sky.”

As this applies to the adage, a bright red sunset or sunrise means more charged particles are at play in the atmosphere. This is more likely to happen during systems of high pressure, which brings clear skies. And since weather in the western world usually travels west to east, a red sunset in the west means that a high-pressure system and associated clear weather is on the way. Conversely, red skies to the east indicate that a high-pressure system has passed, so a low-pressure system is incoming.

Now we move onto the notion that swallowed gum will rest in one’s digestive track for seven years. A high school classmate of mine ate gum in the same way other people would eat Smarties, gulping one bite-size piece after another. So was he walking around with a basketball-sized wad in his stomach? No. Our bodies have little trouble excising indigestible items, be it, seeds, glue, paper, or Bazooka Joe. All these will soon come out during a trip to the bathroom. There is one possible danger to swallowing the stuff, though it requires exercising zero gum control. A person could eat such a massive quantity that it could form an indigestible lump that would cause intestinal blockage.

I have swallowed gum before but we now move onto on Old Wives Tale that I have more experience with, the quaffing of alchol. It goes, “Beer Before Liquor, Never Been Sicker; Liquor Before Beer, You’re in the Clear.” I originally heard it with the words reversed, “Beer before Liquor, You’re in the Clear; Beer Before Liquor, You’re Never Been Sicker.”

As it happens, the worst post-drinking experience of my life involved me doing both of the above, so it would have applied either way. It took place over several hours in New Orleans and involved a relatively moderate four drinks. It started with a complimentary glass of wine at dinner, which was followed by a Budweiser in my pre-craft beer days while seated at the bar watching a college basketball game. One bar later, I downed a hurricane, and I then finished with a second beer. This modest amount of imbibing would lead to 20 of my most tortured bathroom visits ever. All night, I would wake up with the room violently spinning and my stomach seemingly ready to explode. Yet no vomiting relief was forthcoming. Instead, I had uncontrollable and massive dry heaves. On and on it went, all through the nightmarish evening. I had always attributed it to my mixing of the drinks. After all, I’ve been known to have four times that many in my alcoholic days without having near the displeasure.

The largest issue is the amount of alcohol consumed. Assuming no beer pong is used, a brew will take longer to drink than a glass of wine and still longer than a cocktail and even longer than a straight shot of scotch. A bottle of beer has eight times as much drink as a shot of liquor, not only taking longer to drink but also filling one up more. The key components are how quickly the drinks are consumed and how many there are. Those are far more consequential than the order, my anecdotal Big Easy queasy notwithstanding.

“Scheming service” (Pseudo archeology)

I’m looking forward to the release this summer of a Netflix series featuring Patrick Mahomes, quarterback of my beloved Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. I’m less enthusiastic about the streaming service’s offering of Ancient Apocalypse, whose main contention is that human civilization is much older than what most historians and archaeologists contend.

According to host Graham Hancock, around 12,000 years ago a cataclysm wrought havoc on an advanced Ice Age civilization.
Survivors dispersed throughout Earth, introducing primitive populations to agriculture, architecture, legal systems, astronomy, and other advances. While such claims have long been made by ancient astronaut aficionados, Hancock posits a slightly less ridiculous narrative centering on Atlantis.

However, there are already scientifically-grounded explanations for these societal development and there is no need to bring lost continent refugees into the equation. Hancock claims the explosion in knowledge was too much to be practical, citing Göbekli Tepe as one example. Yet Damian Fernandez-Beanato writes in Skeptical Inquirer that archaeological records for the Fertile Crescent, home of Göbekli Tepe, show gradual development: “Archaeologists found that pre-Neolithic people, increasingly sedentary and starting to cultivate plants more and more, led to sedentary and farming people in the Neolithic. There are known precursor cultures.”

Fernandez-Beanato further points out that the megalithic structures at Göbekli Tepe were constructed many thousands of years before the invention of the wheel, the domestication of the horse, and the advent of writing – developments conspicuously absent for a society supposedly advancing at lightning speed.

Hancock sometimes plays the Galileo Gambit, dismissing archeologists as stuck in their stodgy ways and as hostile to new evidence or ideas. But as Fernandez-Beanato notes, solid proof for
Hancock’s hypothesis would show that modern knowledge or capabilities immediately preceded the Neolithic transition. That ancient peoples had impressive accomplishments consistent with the resources and abilities available works against Hancock’s proposal.

Further, Ancient Apocalypse mistakenly casts the established scientific position on the advent of farming as occurring after the end of the Last Glacial Period. This dismisses recent findings that pushes back the origins of the Neolithic transition. Another falsehood is the assertion that Antarctica appears on maps drawn before it was discovered. What those maps actually show is the Terra Australis, a hypothetical continent thought at the time to exist.

Pseudoscientists play the Galileo Gambit when they are dismissed by experts in the field. Hancock speaks of “official” archeology, which is not a thing. It merely serves to set him up as a brave interloper daring the question enforced orthodoxy.

Further, pseudoscience frequently relies anecdotes over data. Fernandez-Beanato writes, “When analyzing the so-called Bimini Road with other team members (a biologist and a wreck searcher, no geologist or archaeologist in sight), Hancock and the biologist mention that they have never personally seen beach rock fractured that way, as if that were anything to go by in science.”

Other evidence-free claims such as humans existing in the Americas 130,000 years ago are presented as fact rather than wild speculation.

There is plenty of genuine archeology out there, online and in libraries, and I would suggest seeking out that instead. Or at least check out the Mahomes documentary rather than Ancient Apocalypse.

“The host who can boast the most ghost” (Ghost hunting)

Purported psychics meet with continual failure when tested under controlled conditions or when asked to demonstrate their ability in the presence of someone who knows their tricks like James Randi or Susan Gerbic. Some genuinely believe it, which are the types that lend themselves to these tests. Meanwhile, the charlatans know to stay away from skeptics and prefer to ply their trade in the presence of grieving family members.

Then we have aliens, which are cool and exciting, but which are seemingly restricted by distance or which require the granting of super-advanced technology to an unknown species without evidence this has occurred.

Then there are crypto critters, also an intriguing idea and which requires no wormholes or triple warp speed travel. Zoologists discover species all the time, right? Sure, but assuming the existence of a new terrestrial creature of significant size necessitates that all such representatives escape capture, hunters, cars, and steady cameras for decades.

But what about ghostly apparitions, which are confined to a time and place? McGill University professor Jonathan Jarry looked into this with the skeptic community’s leading ghost expert, Kenny Biddle, and reported his findings. Biddle was once a believer but he used ghost-speak as a prank during a hunt and this ended up being reported by credulous attendees as the real deal. When Biddle revealed the ruse, they refused to believe it.

Jarry notes that ghost hunters have adapted for the time and “have traded the embroideries and candlesticks of the Victorian era for” whirring, whizzing electronic gizmos.

For example, most bring a electromagnetic field (EMF) meter to the hunts. Whenever the device is triggered, ghost hunters count this as a spooky score, ignoring or being unaware that the device merely picks up EMF activity, with there being no reason to think disembodied spirits are communicating via this spectrum.

Jarry explained, “In a world ever more reliant on electricity, we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields and it is the duty of ghost hunters to rule out normal explanations for their readings. But in Biddle’s experience, they typically do a very cursory look around to rule out anything obvious before concluding that it could be ghosts.”

Flashlights are also used, the purported idea being that the ghosts will communicate to “yes” or “no” questions by flicking on and off. While this sometimes works in the sense that the light comes on, it has nothing to do with a Medieval knight or a 19th Century Baltimore aristocrat contacting us from the nether realm. Rather, Jarry writes, it is merely heat science at work. And even then, it has to be a Maglite sporting a xenon bulb. Additionally, it must be a screw-on model turned to where it is almost on. A vibration can set it off, and if that fails, Jarry writes that “the light will cycle through its on and off states if its head remains on the cusp of its on position. The plastic lens in front of the bulb heats up by 13 degrees Celsius when the bulb is on. This causes the plastic to expand, which results in the flashlight head turning by 2.6 degrees, which puts pressure on the metal spring at the bottom of the lamp, resulting in the electrical contact being broken. The bulb goes off.”

Now let’s move from the visual to the auditory. For this we have a spirit box, whose ostensible purpose is to capture ghost speak. Like an EMF meter, it uses scientifically sound principles incorrectly. It scans radio frequencies but does not stop when it picks up a signal. The ghost hunter will ask a question and listen for white noise and passes off any seeming hits as spirit communication.

Jarry also notes the REM Pod, SLS camera, and the Ovilus (a monitor with antennas) are also used to seek ghosts, but again are being misused and apparent successes are just the devices acting as they would without an associated poltergeist present. Having primed the audience, and combined with humans’ desire to find patterns, these noises appear to be working.

In conclusion, the notion of ghosts accessing and utilizing electromagnetic field is supported by so studies or sound evidence. The devices are working by picking up and sending off signals but there is nothing to suggest the animated deceased are responsible. And while the devices are modern, the ghost hunting method of talking to the dead without ever hearing back, and still claiming success, is the way the field has always operated, and this stagnation is a pseudoscience hallmark.

“All wet” (Bunyip)

Zoologists discover species all the time. But it does not follow that this confirms the existence of terrestrial creatures of significant size whose representatives have all escaped capture, detection, cars, and steady cameras.

Cryptozoology places strong credence in eyewitness or third-hand accounts, legends, and folklore. Cryptozoologists aim to establish the existence of creatures, rather than examining actual animals and are thus engaged in Tooth Fairy Science.

Take for instance the bunyip, long associated with Australian Aborigines. Bunyips have been said to reside in wet locales such as rivers, creeks, and swamps. They feast on any flesh, be it human or a lower animal, and are associated with a nocturnal shrieking.

Consistent with cryptozoology, many persons claim to have seen the creature but no one has ever captured one, examined it up-close, or got indisputable video evidence of it. As such, bunyip descriptions vary, from a mammoth snake sporting a beard and mane to a man-monster hybrid with a bird-like head and elongated neck, to monsters covered with fur and being endowed with flippers that can transform to feet for land excursions. With this possible limited exception, the one constant of bunyip descriptors is that it makes its home in the water. And, of course, the accounts are embellished in future retellings.

Sightings report a creature similar to a seal or dog, often with a dark fur. Another variation has a long-necked animal about 10 feet in length with mammoth ears and modest tusks. They are said to favor a crayfish diet, though a more bloodcurdling option has them feeding on humans, especially women and children.

Author Robert Holden identified about 10 regional variations of the crypto critter. But by whatever form the bunyip takes, almost all evidence is anecdotal, although there have been a few attempts at a scientific spin. The Australian Museum displayed a deformed horse skull in the mid-19th Century and marketed it as having come from a bunyip. With that, eyewitness reports and belief skyrocketed. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, “Everyone became immediately aware that he had heard strange sounds from the lagoons at night, or had seen something black in the water.”

While the misshapen horse skull was a case of fraud or at least gullibility, a more measured approach at a scientific explanation has proposed the extinct marsupial Diprotodon may be the answer to supposed bunyip remains. Other possible explanations are misidentification of seals or cassowaries.

“Muscle & Witless” (Liver King)

Brian Johnson endorses what he calls an extreme case of primal living. In other words, he embraces the Appeal to Antiquity fallacy. This is when some time in the past – the 1950s, the Old West, the Medieval era, or something less concrete – is touted as ideal and a period whose values we should emulate. This requires cherry picking at best and a complete mangling of history at worst.

Additionally for Johnson, his claim fell horribly flat when leaked e-mails revealed that his Muscle & Fitness-cover physique came from the relatively recent invention of anabolic steroids. He may have consumed raw animal organs and gobbled some undefined supplements as he claimed, but it was steroids that resulted in his brawn.

Johnson said he started weightlifting because classmates were bullying him. That’s possible, although when the central tenet of a person’s existence is proven fraudulent, it’s hard to believe anything else they say.

Eventually, he founded Ancestral Supplements, which borrowed heavily from the ideas of author Sally Fallon. Her philosophy eschews modern diets and lifestyles. Applied physiologist Dr. Nick Tiller wrote in Skeptical Inquirer, “With so much competition in a saturated space, Johnson needed to distinguish himself among fitness influencers…so in 2021, the Liver King was born.”

This body organ monarch said he followed a list of Tenets, which were eat, sleep, move, connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond. As one example of what this meant, move refers to being active, usually by walking, to, as Teller explained, “combat the mismatch between our genetics that evolved when humans were required to expend energy to obtain it, and our modern environment, characterized by an abundance of empty calories.”

The sleep portion highlights sleep quality, which the hypothesis holds is best managed by regular sleep cycles and blocking blue light at bedtime. Both these Tenets have some validity but when Johnson starts dispensing nutritional advice, things get dicey. His suggested intake is a supreme form of the mostly-debunked Paleo Diet. This lifestyle emphasizes consuming large amounts of organ meat.

Tiller notes organ meat contains copious amounts of iron, zinc, and riboflavin, so its consumption can be advantageous. But there is the flip side, which includes high saturated fat and cholesterol. Further, the diet embraces raw milk and raw egg yolks, both of which have potential dangers.

While ground organs have been used as food for many years, it does not go all the way back to early homo sapiens. According to Tiller, their diet leaned heavily on meat when it was dry and a more plant-based, high-fiber approach during the wet times. Despite this, Johnson insists that we modern humans are descended from “the baddest mammalian predators that ever lived,” and we owe it to their legacy and honor to eat like they did. Curiously, this mindset does not extend to eschewing electronics, sleeping in a mud hut, or wearing loincloths.

While he lauded raw eggs and organs, Johnson most enthusiastically ingested synthetic testosterone, several anabolic and androgenic steroids, plus various drugs which mediate the effects of growth hormone and stimulate appetite.

Johnson’s claim that his physique was owed to food choice and sleeping patterns was comical to anyone possessing the slightest common sense. Attaining his form is impossible without massive doses of steroids and similar concoctions. The assertion that his extreme muscle size and definition was the result of diet and lifestyle choice was absurd on its face. Additionally, if true, it would mean that everyone in the time that he is claiming to mimic would have looked the same as he does now.

Johnson tries to maintain an image of back to nature, the good old (this case really old) days and embracing extreme manhood. Yet he enjoys the luxury lifestyle that this image enables him to attain. Teller describes the comical nature of how Johnson presents himself: “He’s often pictured with spears and other weapons, holding handfuls of raw meat that look as though they’ve been cut straight from an animal’s carcass. He owns four Dobermans and a fleet of trucks including a Hummer and an American Tank from World War II…and uses a rifle to obliterate vegan food.”

Teller also points out the hypocritical irony of Johnson taping himself destroying a WiFi router because it is modern, while employing a technology unavailable 150 years ago to tape this destruction. And, of course, Johnson needs the Internet to hawk his products and image.

His one accurate claim of continuing tradition is his following in the line of anti-science charlatans that have plagued society for the last millennium.

“Creep like a baby” (Ravenswood Devil)

Today we will examine evidence for the Ravenswood Devil’s Baby, a most excellent moniker bestowed upon a infant/monster hybrid who purportedly scurries about an Appalachian cemetery in the West Virginia town that bears his name.

In this cemetery stands a gravestone commemorating the brief life of George Elwood Sharp. The marker contains a ceramic photo that includes what was once a clear image of the deceased baby but which proponents believe has morphed into a demon child sporting fangs, horns, and hollow eyes. Some claim the plate releases a mysterious glow at night, while some go further and say the infant’s tortured wail can be heard at the same time.

Daniel Reed examined these assertions in a piece for Skeptical Inquirer. He learned that like many good legends, there are kernels of accuracy in this one. As stated earlier, there is a George Sharp gravestone with a ceramic photo plate. But as to whether it depicts Satanic spawn – especially one that can emit auditory and visual evidence of its existence – is another matter.

Reed explained that the child’s portrait appears devilish or vampiric because of discoloration and fading due to weathering. Additionally, a crack in the plate produces the illusion of fangs. Reed considers interpreting horns and fangs from the heavily-weathered image to be an instance of pareidolia.

Next, he tackled the claim that the ceramic plate emits an unearthly glimmer at night. Reed visited the cemetery and deduced that when the sun began to set on the western horizon, the glow proved to be merely light reflected off the plate’s relatively white surface. Also factoring in is a security light about 100 feet from the gravestone. This illumination hits directly on the plate, making for even more of a glow.

As to the putative crying, Reed wrote that considering the cemetery’s location in a residential area, one could expect to hear people talking, dogs barking, televisions running, animals running, leaves rustling, and more. That some of these could be misinterpreted as something ghostly is unsurprising, especially in a cemetery and by someone who is expecting or hoping to hear it. These are reasonable, albeit mundane, explanations, that make more sense than a disembodied spirit cavorting about.