“Shark Weak” (Modern megalodons)

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There are nearly 500 species of shark, most of which are harmless to humans, with obvious exceptions such as the hammerhead and great white.

According to Ryan Haput at Skeptoid, the fossil record reveals there was a much larger and more lethal shark millions of year ago, the megalodon, which likely could have devoured multiple great whites and hammerheads at once.

As part of its race against the History Channel to the bottom of the Stupid Pit, the Discovery Channel ruined one of its few remaining gems, Shark Week, by featuring a supposed documentary on a search for a living megalodon during the 2013 season. Like This is Spinal Tap, the mockumentary was hilarious. Unlike Spinal Tap, the producers were hoping to have it taken seriously. What is not funny is a network that started out as a science ally ended up producing faux documentaries they tried to pass off as authentic. They were busted when the supposed marine biologist leading the expedition was revealed to be actor Darron Meyer. The fact that they never found a living example did not keep them from naming the program, “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.”

This was allegedly a giant monster hunt but was actually just a wild goose chase. What’s sad is that a TV program whose mission was tracking down unverified creatures would be a fascinating, entertaining way of bringing zoology to the masses. But to actually succeed, the scientists and producers would need to pursue insects or maybe small reptiles in a rain forest. Meanwhile, cryptozoologists and Discovery Channel executives prefer their secretive animals to have fangs, claws, and the ability to shred humans with ease. Minor point here, but the megalodon search is not precisely a cryptozoological undertaking, since the animal once swam our oceans. Promoters are not asserting a new species, but the existence of a living fossil.

According to Haput, giant triangular fossil teeth were discovered at least as early as the 17th Century, by Danish naturalist Nicolaus Steno. These are the largest shark teeth ever, up to seven inches long. Haput wrote, “Estimating the size of the shark…is difficult because the majority of the fossils found are isolated teeth or disarticulated vertebra, but it was likely between 50 and 70 feet and weighed up to 100 metric tons.” Most exciting to the Crypto Crowd, it had a bite that would produce 10 times the force of a Great White commoner.

Based on the evidence, paleontologists conclude that the megalodon was a large predatory coastal shark that went extinct 2.6 million years ago.

In the Discovery Channel shlock fest, staged footage shows a boat being attacked, with the passengers concluding the damage is inconsistent with encountering an angry whale. The next obvious step is hyperbolic post hoc reasoning, so enter marine biologist Collin Drake, who deduces that it must be a megalodon because a giant fin was captured in a photo of a German U-boat in these same waters during World War II.

I love the concept of chasing a giant aquatic best, but want it to be done in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Attack of the Giant Leeches. I don’t want it in purported science documentaries.

This one featured sonar readings, beached whales, and an enormous amount of magical thinking that tied those elements into a giant prehistoric shark. In fact, the only piece of evidence presented was a Megalodon tooth allegedly found in 10,000-year-old sediment. But paleontologists who examined the find concluded it was an example of reworking. This is where a tooth erodes out of its original encasement and is re-preserved in newer rock.

Dr. Steven Novella has said that alternative medicine uses science the way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support, not illumination. Similarly, the Discovery Channel will gladly embrace genuine science if it furthers its goals, such as establishing that a 100-foot beast swims amongst us, ready to devour surfers, seals, and maybe even a blue whale. So the Channel identifies climate change as the reason the animal has swum from the depths of the sea back to the coast. In their explanation, warming oceans have forced the super beast back to his old chomping grounds.

Near the end of the program, team members deploy a life size whale decoy and 5,000 gallons of chum. A blurry, shaky image follows, during which the monster is tagged before diving more than 6,000 feet. Drake concludes, “I believe we just encountered megalodon,” cramming his version of the Scientific Method into one sentence.

As noted earlier, the biologist was later revealed to be an actor. No coincidence there, noted oceanographer David Kerstetter. “If even one credible scientist had doubts about this, the Discovery Channel wouldn’t have had to use actors,” he said. “But there is no discussion among fisheries professionals whether Megalodon is extinct.”

Indeed, no fossils indicate a megalodon in the last 2.5 million years. Haput noted, “This date coincides with the rise of our modern composition of whale diversity, including the gigantic filter feeders like the blue whale, which were smaller in general during the time of the megalodon. This is also around the time we start seeing orca in the fossil record, suggesting that there may have been intense competition driving the megalodon to extinction or that orca evolved shortly after the extinction of the shark to fill that niche in the ecosystem.”

In her takedown of the documentary, Discover Magazine’s Christie Wilcox wrote that the Channel could actually have made a worthwhile documentary about the megalodon: “They were incredible, fascinating sharks. There’s a ton of actual science about them that is well worth a two hour special.”

When the Discovery Channel was justifiably excoriated for trying to pass fiction off as fact, executives meekly noted it included a disclaimer about events being dramatized. This would justify recreating an actual moment, but the no “Dramatized Events” umbrella is so broad as to include completely fabricated events, fake newscasts being called real, or claiming an actor is a marine biologist. In doing so, the Discovery Channel created a whopper bigger than the one they were chasing.

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“Featureless presentation” (Bigfoot)

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There are dozens of purported cryptids worldwide, from the relatively small Chupacabra to the behemoth Mokele-Mbembe, from benevolent leprechauns to bloodthirsty Jersey Devils, from aesthetically-pleasing mermaids to revolting Skunk Apes.

But no Champys, Batututs, or Manananngals have managed to penetrate the cryptozoology triumvirate of Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot. And among this trio, Sasquatch reigns. This says less about the monster than about those seeking him. Nessie is underwater and the abominable snowman resides in the world’s highest mountain range, but with Bigfoot, anyone in North America can get a gander. Mix this desire with preconceptions, then throw in thick vegetation and an upright bear, and you’ve got a sighting to report.

I have dealt with claims from Bigfoot proponents before, so want this time to focus on some of the lesser-known arguments against the notion of Sasquatch.

First are the alleged Bigfoot vocals. Part of Bigfoot lore are the yelps, shrieks, and wails heard by terrified but excited hikers and campers. Yet these reported sounds are too varied to have come from one creature. No one would mistake a howling wolf for a croaking toad, yet wildly varying sounds are all placed under the Bigfoot vocal umbrella.

A second problem is the absence of tracks. Bigfoot aficionados explain away the total lack of roadkill and other corpses by assigning to Bigfoot extreme stealthiness. Yet even if he were a skilled recluse, he would still need to leave tracks, and even Bigfoot’s most-known investigators, such as Jeff Meldrum, have come up empty. Meldrum is an anthropologist, so he would know where to look and what to look for if stalking a North American bipedal ape. After all, rare mammal tracks are found by expert biologists who know where and when to look.

Many alleged tracks have been reported, of course, but this brings us to the third problem. Bigfoot is supposed to live in forests and on mountains, making his way over rocks, ice, sharp ferns, cockle-burs, rushing streams, and thorns. This should produce feet that are rough, scarred, calloused, broken, and torn. Instead the prints are smooth, almost manicured. They should appear consistent with an animal who has adapted for rugged conditions, but instead are featureless. Additionally, a large, lumbering bipedal primate should have toes that splay apart, as they do in wild primates. Instead, the toes seem neatly placed together. This is all strong evidence against the existence of Sasquatch unless we credit the monster with footwear innovation or the ability to fly.

Finally, Bigfoot DNA in the wilderness should be ubiquitous. Melba Ketchum purported to have evidence that Bigfoot was a cross between homo sapiens and an unknown animal. For maximum benefit, she should have had it being a Roswell alien.

Explaining an imaginary animal by invoking another imaginary animal is obviously unsatisfying. And if Bigfoot were real, scientists would regularly encounter DNA consistent with a North American bipedal ape. Yet this has evaded Ketchum, Meldrum, everyone else. Desire, preconceptions, vegetation, and bears can only get you so far.

“The tooth comes out” (Tooth Fairy Science)

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When my children put teeth under their pillow, they wake up with substantially more money than I did at their age.

If attempting to ascertain why, I could examine various factors, such as whether the amount the Tooth Fairy leaves has kept up with inflation, if the Fairy values incisors more than molars, and if the time in between lost choppers impacts the amount left. I could query 1,000 children, analyze results for socio-economic trends and determine if there is a correlation between the frequency of Tooth Fairy visits and the sell of home security systems. I may even endeavor to conclude once and for all if the Fairy is male, female, or androgynous. The findings could be put in a snazzy hardcover book with impressive graphics and detailed footnotes. Yet none of this would establish that a stealthy, mobile spirit is replacing extracted calcified objects with cash.

Tooth Fairy Science refers to doing research on an unverified phenomenon to determine what its effects are, rather than to ascertain if it exists. It is post hoc reasoning in research form. The phrase was coined by Dr. Harriet Hall.

This shoddy science is a regular feature of studies into ghosts, cryptozoology, reincarnation, alien visitors, alternative medicine, parapsychology, and creationism.

I have three co-workers who believe our office is haunted. Curiously, this spirit only manifests itself when the workers are by themselves at night. Perhaps he is nocturnal and dislikes crowds. We have ample video and audio equipment in the office, and we could set these up and record what times bumps most occur, detect any unexplained shadows, and note any high-pitched whistles. This data could by analyzed and a conclusion reached about the ghost’s characteristics. But this would not take into account wind, pipes, electromagnetic interference, or a worker on floor above coming in at 11 p.m. We would have to assume the ghost’s existence and attribute these factors to it.

Similarly, cryptozoologists will shoot sonar into Loch Ness or look for disturbed vegetation in Bigfoot’s supposed stomping grounds, then attribute any findings they consider consistent with their monster to be proof the animal was there. As such, they do not consider other explanations, such as the sonar detecting a bloom of algae and zooplankton, or a warthog beating Sasquatch to the trap.

That’s because when Fairy Tale scientists uncover data that is consistent with their hypothesis, they assume the data confirms it. For example, psychiatrist Ian Stevenson spent years collecting stories from people who claimed to be reincarnated. He used these anecdotes to support his belief in reincarnation, and he used reincarnation to explain the stories, a textbook case of circular reasoning.

Moving onto alien abduction, John Mack talked with persons who claimed to have been taken by extraterrestrial beings. He assumed the stories to be real instead of considering that he might have implanted the ideas by asking leading questions, such as, “Was the alien about four feet tall,” as opposed to “How tall was the alien?” The mental state and susceptibility of the subject was not considered, nor were explanations like fraud, attention-seeking, or sleep paralysis. 

Alien abductees aren’t the only subjects that spend time on a Tooth Fairy scientist’s couch. So do alternative medicine patients. Chi, meridians, and blockages are assumed to exist in “energy” medicines such as craniosacral therapy, iridology, therapueitic touch, reflexology, chiropractic, Reiki, Ayuvedic, and more. I have addressed the rest of these in previous posts, so we’ll address Therapeutic Touch here.

First, Therapeutic Touch is neither. The practitioner’s hands are close to the patient, but are never on them. As to the therapy part, practitioners claim to be able to sense a patient’s “human energy field” with their hands, then manipulate the field by moving their hands near a patient’s skin to improve their health. Scientists have detected and measured minute energies down to the subatomic level, but have never found a human energy field. Nine-year-old Emily Rosa designed a controlled test of the practice which Therapeutic Touchers failed spectacularly. Any seeming success is because of the fluctuating nature of many illnesses, the placebo effect, confirmation bias, and nonspecific effects. The latter is a common error and refers to confusing the effects of practitioner-patient interaction with the supposed effect of the treatment.

In a test that proponents claimed proved Therapeutic Touch’s validity, researchers gauged the effects of the technique on reducing nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. All patients were on the same chemotherapy regimen and they were randomly divided into three groups of 36 patients. The first group received usual Therapeutic Test treatment, the second group got a similar treatment except the practitioners’ hands were farther from the patients, and the third group received no treatment. A single practitioner performed all the treatments, which was fatal to conducting a proper study because he should not have known which patients were receiving which treatment.

Since there is no evidence the energy field exists, there can be no evidence that how far the practitioner’s hands are from the patient would make a difference. The alleged energy can’t be measured, so there’s no reason to believe any energy was transferred to, or benefited, any patient. While the authors claimed the study showed Therapeutic Touch worked, they had failed to establish that the central feature of the practice even existed.

Likewise, parapsychologists are quick to point to rare instances of a subject performing better than chance as proof that various forms of ESP are legitimate. Unsatisfactory results are considered as the power being unable to be accessed due to cosmic interference, negative energy from a skeptical observer, or some other ad hoc reason. They look to justify the failure as owing to a particular cause rather than the cause being that the power doesn’t exist.

Then we have the creationists. The Institute for Creation Research website informs us, “The very dependability of each day’s processes are a wonderful testimony to the design, purposes, and faithfulness of the Creator. The universe is very stable. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Earth turns on its axis and always cycles through its day at the same speed every time.”

All of these phenomenon are explicable through known laws of physics and astronomy, and the ICR has affirmed the consequent by saying if there is order in the universe, there has to be a god controlling it, and since we see that order, a god exists. They attribute any majesty to this deity without bothering to prove his existence first. It’s one thing to do this as faith in one’s religion. It’s quite another to claim this as science while bypassing the entire Scientific Method.

I’m going to have to wrap this up. My daughter lost another tooth so I’ve got more research to conduct. 

“Creatures of the Sleight” (Gnomes and fairies)

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My 4-year-old knows the only way he’ll play with Super Mario is through a Wii, and he has figured out that zombies are safely confined to television. So I’m unsure what to make of adults who believe in gnomes, fairies, and elves, but we’ll try to unravel this monster of a problem.

At southererncrossreview.com, Buck Young lays out the history of such creatures. Whether he made it all up or stole it from others who did, I’m unsure. In either case, his claims are accompanied by no evidence or sources.

He writes that, Once Upon a Time, “They tended the forest and took care of it, played in it, danced and sang in it, cared for wounded animals, worked out disputes between species, sat on mushrooms discussing matters of importance and drinking Labrador tea, rode down streams on leaves and bark, parachuted from trees on dandelion seeds.”

If a 25-year-old pines for the 1940s, an era in which he never lived, it’s indicative that there’s something significant missing in his life. He’s supplanting his current, unsatisfying existence with a romanticized version of a time that never was, and thinks his life would be different if only he had been born in the right place and time. Fairy chasers are an even more extreme case. They are seeking an idealized world on a higher plane populated by benevolent creatures who will provide unrivaled companionship.

Not only is reality inadequate, but there are hints of self-loathing. For at some point, this paradise was ruined by malevolent men. Buck blames agriculture, one of Mankind’s most important developments. At first, he writes, farming was a Communist utopia in which everyone received a half acre of land and a goblin government fulfilled every need. Naiads brought fresh water, elves harvested vegetables, and wizards explained how the lunar cycle benefited farmers.

But then humans cleared too much land and became concerned only with the bounty, not the land from which it sprouted. With their homes chopped down and dug out, the diminutive dudes fled. Only trolls stayed behind, tormenting and killing those who tried to cross bridges or low-lying marshes. Young offers pointers on how to avoid these trolls, and since following his advice, I’ve safely journeyed over many a river. 

The problem for Young is how to square the pixies and nymphs running away with their still being here for us to try and fellowship with. He halfway explains that they live on some sort of unspecified alternate plane, and it’s up to true believers to seek them.

If we ever find them, here’s what they will look like, per a youtube video: goo.gl/Evbm1v. This montage includes the Cottingley fairies, more than 30 years after the cousins who were photographed with them revealed how they pulled the ruse. Even by the almost nonexistent standards of fairy hunters, including the Cottingley affair today is bizarre.

In the hoax, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths copied drawings of dancing girls, added wings, and propped them with hairpins. They fooled many, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who ironically created a fictional character more fascinating than the Cottingley fairies. Doyle exemplified those who want so much for  something more to be out there in a better world, that they will suspend rational thought. Combine this insatiable desire to believe with pareidolia and a horribly out-of-focus video, and they have all the proof they need.

More faint, blurry, and distant evidence is offered at ufosundisclosed.com: goo.gl/4weFKe. This site’s mission statement rests on the twin fallacies of the ad populum and the appeal to ancient authority: “The fact that these little people have been so believed in over so many millenniums in so many different cultures and lands would suggest that there is a reality behind these tales.

In actuality, these creatures have their beginnings in myths take from either literature or oral storytelling. They were not meant to be taken as real any more than Chewbacca or the Three Little Pigs were. They were either entertainment or life lessons in the form of allegories.

Precisely what creatures the credulous seekers see is based on what culture they are in. No leprechauns are spotted in China, nor are any dragons spied flying over Dublin. No Tengu birdmen are seen in Greece, nor are any cyclops heard rumbling through Japanese forests.

As to why we can’t catch any of these Lilliputian critters, ad hoc rationalizations abound. They don’t want to be caught, they are too fast, too smart, don’t feel humans are ready, they escape to another plane, make themselves invisible, or blend into the forest.

Not that any of this would matter to the skeptic, writes poster Skygazer: “Some people are so blind to the world around them that they would be unable to see a thousand such beings if they sat on their laps.” I hear the same line from cryptozoological circles.

This strawman is used to swerve around the fact that there are no captive or domesticated creatures after thousands of years of sightings. If a leprechaun rode a Chupacabra into Times Square and this duo was subsequently examined by biologists and doctors, and determined to be undiscovered species, this proof would satisfy me. I am a skeptic, not a denier. Although given my druthers, I’d prefer to see science verify zombies and Chewbacca.

“Sasquashed” (Bigfoot hunters)

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Those who think Bigfoot is a myth could someday be proven wrong, while this could never happen to those who think he’s real. That’s why there will continue to be the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, and likeminded groups. These organizations are dedicated to the proposition that a sustainable population of eight-foot bipedal apes has clandestinely lived within 50 miles of Seattle for over a century.

There has been nary a capture, roadkill victim, or hunter’s trophy in this time. No hikers or campers have stumbled upon their remains. They are lumbering yet stealthy and so socially conscious that they clean up every drop of excrement they produce.

There are two primary camps among Bigfoot enthusiasts. The first bunch fiercely insists he is real and are hostile to the insinuation they have an imaginary friend. These types hang out at sites like cryptomundo.com. When Skeptical Inquirer deputy editor Benjamin Radford documented 10 scientific reasons Bigfoot is unlikely, believers pounced.

A poster named Bukwasboo expressed his displeasure thusly: “UGGGGGH! Please stop giving this guy the attention he wants. Every one of his tired old skeptical talking points can be resoundingly refuted with logical and informed answers. We’ve heard all this before a million times. UGGGGGH!!!!!!”

At first, I wasn’t too impressed with Bukwasboo’s response. But then I noticed he added a sixth exclamation point and he won me over.

His cohort Opalman added, “I could easily pick this specious, almost emotionally defensive catalog of illogical, unscientific palaver apart nine different ways on each point. But it’s a waste of time. They wouldn’t consider the possible existence of Sasquatch even if they were tripped by one.”

Both claim they could take apart his points, yet conspicuously fail to even attempt it. They respond with no science or evidence, just anger, personal attacks, and lies. They point out they’ve heard the arguments before as if that somehow renders them invalid. Their responses, however, do lend credence to the notion that North America is home to bipedal hominids with subhuman intelligence.

Others on the site point to tales of giant apes existing in many ancient North American cultures, and count this as evidence. By this logic, white Anglo males have magic powers, as demonstrated by Harry Potter, Prince Caspian, and Merlin.

While close-minded on this topic, proponents nevertheless demonstrate mental agility through swift ad hoc reasoning. Why don’t we find their remains? Because they bury their dead. Why is there no roadkill? Because they look before they cross the road. So a species advanced enough to have funerals and traffic safety plans roam about without leaving a trace of its civilization or culture.

Now onto camp two, those who think Bigfoot exists, but withhold definitive statements since no living or dead creature has been found. The BFRO says this about Bigfoot sightings, tracks, and yelps:

“To many, these suggest the presence of an animal, probably a primate, that exists today in very low population densities. If true, this species, having likely evolved alongside humans, became astonishingly adept at avoiding human contact through a process of natural selection.

“To others, these same facts point to a cultural phenomenon kept alive today through a combination of the misidentification of known animals, wishful thinking, and the deliberate fabrication of evidence.”

This is downright reasonable compared to the stances of Opalman and Bukwasboo, but we will see that this optimism if unfounded.

My main beef is with these organizations purporting to do science. The preceding paragraphs reference population densities, species, and natural selection, giving them a veneer of scientific legitimacy. But the tactics and techniques of its “researchers” fail to follow the Scientific Method, and includes a Bigfoot Report Form. Since I saw Shaquille O’Neal at the 1991 Final Four in Indianapolis, I filed a report that I had observed a dark seven-foot bipedal creature in Indiana, and this was added to the evidence file. No one doing legitimate science is going to put stock in unverifiable reports like these.

There have been at least two anthropologists who decided chasing Bigfoot was a résumé booster: The late Grover Krantz and Jeffrey Meldrum, who works with the BFRO. It requires a little accommodation, but Meldrum can probably be credited with applying the Scientific Method at the beginning of his monster quests. He defines the question, develops a hypothesis, makes a prediction, and then tests it. But that’s where the science ends. Since repeated forays into the woods turn up nothing definitive, there’s nothing to analyze, nothing to replicate, nothing to submit for peer review, and no data to share. Of crucial importance, the existence of Bigfoot is unfalsifiable. The BFRO defines itself as, “The only scientific research organization exploring the Bigfoot mystery.” Yet the site is primarily eyewitness accounts, shaky videos, and out-of-focus photos. That probably doesn’t qualify as research, and certainly isn’t science.

Meldrum, who works in the department of biological sciences at Idaho State University, has a large collection of footprints, which fails to impress his colleagues. For instance, anthropologist David Daegling of the University of Florida insists that quality trumps quantity. He said, “Even if you have a million pieces of evidence, if all the evidence is inconclusive, you can’t count it all up to make something conclusive.”

Ascribing to Bigfoot a footprint or hair of unknown origin is the appeal to ignorance. Because we can’t prove what animal it came from or that it’s fake, proponents count this as evidence he’s real. This highlights a major issue with chasing Bigfoot. We’ve never found one, so we don’t know what kind of impression it would leave. This is a micro example of the lack of falsifiability that encompasses the entire field.

While Bigfoot is primarily associated with the Pacific northwest, there are Texans who aren’t about to let something that big be claimed by someone else. Woodape.org focuses its attentions on a southern Sasquatch, mostly residing in Texas, but also in Louisiana, Arkansas, and elsewhere. Woodape attempts a benevolent spin by announcing they are here to save the beasts. While Woodape never expressly states Bigfoot is real, its mission to save it necessitates there be at least one male and one female to rescue. Also, it offers a physical description and habitat for Bigfoot, treating it as real and not speculative. As an aside, if they want the animal to avoid extinction, it is best they ensure that man NOT find it.

Woodape.org also tries the appeal to science: “Much remains to be learned about Earth and the many species that inhabit it.” This is true, and we should continue the search for undiscovered animals and the expansion of zoology. But there are far better ways to do this than scampering after a giant ape. Places like Borneo, Brazil’s southern Atlantic Coast, and Papua New Guinea are teeming with undiscovered creatures, with hundreds being found every year.

OK, not everyone has the time and resources for these journeys. But every U.S. region likely features undiscovered critters. But finding one requires learning the anatomical features, breeding habits, diet, camouflage, habitats, mating calls, and place in the food chain of existing animals. If truly wanting to add to the discovery of new creatures, this is the way to go. By contrast, those desperately seeking Sasquatch praise science while failing to honor its Method and tactics.

For instance, Woodape puts heavy emphasis on eyewitness reports, citing 3,000 sightings of the animal or its tracks. A live creature or complete carcass would be proof. A substantial patch of fur or bones would be strong evidence. Eyewitnesses and reports of shrieks are weak evidence. And these 3,000 pieces of weak evidence do not add up to one strong piece. Until 2014, there had been no reported sightings, sounds, disturbed vegetation, tracks, or other evidence that the ampulex dementor cockroach wasp existed. Then it was found in the Mekong Delta, and this one piece of evidence outweighed the thousands of pieces of evidence that Bigfoot exists.

Woodape.org further claims there are “remarkably consistent physical descriptions of these creatures.” In truth, there is quite a bit of variety in terms of its alleged size, footprints, body covering, gait, sounds, and color. But even 500 precise accounts would still fall into the weak evidence category. Just like the plural of anecdote is not data, the plural of eyewitnesses is not captured specimen. Furthermore, Ben Roesch of the Cryptozoological Review has noted anecdotes are not reproducible, testable, or falsifiable, and are therefore outside the scientific process. There’s also the matter of eyewitness unreliability, which is addressed in depth here.

There is a good chance many of the sightings were of a black bear. An ecological niche model was produced using nine climate variables in areas where Bigfoot reports were most common, and they corresponded to where black bears are most concentrated.

Woodape also finds relevance in the “sincerity and credibility of eyewitnesses, some of whom are law enforcement officers and experienced outdoor workers, such as wildlife and fisheries officials.” No amount of belief makes anything true and the appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. Sincerity and career choice are not proof of Bigfoot and have no place on a site that purports to be executing a scientific study of the subject.

Nor would a serious scientific undertaking put relevance in the 1967 film shot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, especially with this logic: “No one has demonstrated convincing arguments or recreations that begin to cast serious doubt on the validity of the animal shown in the film.” That’s a dubious claim, as there have been arguments made that the movement is humanlike and that there seems to be a zipper on the creature. The larger point, however, is that the onus remains on the person making the claim.

If the animal was real, he would have had to make it to California from Asia or Africa because he has no ancestors here. There has never been a fossil found of a North American primate. This is not just one type of animal, but an entire order. Woodape dismisses this for the same reason it discounts the lack of live captures:  There are so few of them. But this rarity would make it even less likely that an entire species has been maintained for hundreds of years, managing to roam safely from Vancouver to the Bayou. Imagine the sustenance a creature this size would need for such a journey. Then multiply that by the number in the pack. That’s why anthropologist Nina Jablonski insists there are insufficient food resources to support such a large mammal. Woodape’s retort is that Native American tribes once lived in these areas. That’s solid thinking, once they find Sasquatch in a tepee with a bow and arrow.

Bigfoot enthusiasts will point out that a skin of the Giant Panda was not produced until 1869 and a skin attached to a living one was not found until 1927. They are also fond of referencing the lowland gorilla, okapi, and Komodo dragon. This allows them to couch their hide-and-seek game as one of discovery. But to insist or strongly insinuate a beast exists, then seek supporting evidence is not scientific. New species are discovered all the time, using solid predictive science, not wishful thinking and overexcited forest treks prompted by a stranger’s e-mail. Another reason the comparison falls flat is because the other animals were found without cell phone cameras, night vision devices, reality shows, and organizations specifically set up to catch them.

Every animal was a cryptid at one time, so looking for new creatures is legitimate. But anthropologists don’t use report forms, they learn taxonomy and anatomy, publish their findings and welcome tough questions. Except for Meldrum, Bigfoot hunters are not well-versed in anthropology and they do not submit their findings for peer review, though this is somewhat excused by them having no findings. As to their response to tough questions, I’ll let Bukwasboo handle this one: “UGGGGHH!!!!!”

And unlike those undertaking serious scientific pursuits, Bigfoot hunters are unable to point to an example of what they are studying. Most tellingly, scientists continually try to prove themselves wrong, while those pursuing Bigfoot continually try to prove themselves right.

“Bilbo’s buddies” (Cryptozoology)

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We will look today at some of the beliefs that are unorthodox even by the usual standards of gullibility. Unicorns are just as likely as Skunk Apes, and thinking mermaids are out there is as unwarranted by the evidence as thinking the same about ghosts. But the beliefs we will examine are less frequent and thus more distinctive. We will also uncover the mindset and motivation involved in embracing these ideas.

Some people adopt these beliefs because men claiming to be a god wrote something on parchment paper in the Bronze Age. While this is common, the folks at Answers in Genesis take it further than most. Their Creation Museum is more than children getting piggyback rides from Stegosauruses and Sleestak cavorting about. It also champions a belief in dragons.

As with its claim that the universe is 6000 years old or that representatives of every animal congregated on Noah’s Ark, the Creation Museum bases this on no science or evidence, but on its interpretation of a specific Bible version. The book of Job references a mammoth fire-breathing leviathan, and they infer this creature was what came to be known as a dragon. Dragons fly as opposed to swim, but this detail must have been lost over the millenniums. Job is full of long, flowery prose and graphic imagery that make it easy to see the book as allegorical. But for those who insist it is literal, something has to fit in spite of the evidence, so dragons it is.

There are no dragon fossils or animals presumed to have been descended from such. Hence, Answers in Genesis puts stock in the fact that dragons appear in other cultures. But 20 fictional dragons doesn’t equal one real giant monster with a heart-shaped tip on its tail. AIG writes, “There is evidence in art found around the world that indicates humans interacted with cryptozoological types after the Flood.” By this logic, Salvador Dali interacted with a perpetually melting watch.

Joining dragons in the Creation Museum’s Middle Earth zoo are unicorns. The only two pieces of “evidence” are that some versions of the Bible contain the word “unicorn” and that the rhinoceros has one horn. These are the types of arguments put forth by a group who insists that an insidious government is conspiring with their heinous henchmen scientists to keep the truth from schoolchildren.

With regard to the unicorn’s existence, it wouldn’t take much for even a committed conservative Christian to see it differently than AIG. Other Bible versions refer to the animal as a wild ox. Also, the reference in the King James Version comes in a series of questions about challenges that would be impossible to overcome. Hence, involving a fictional creature in such a line of questioning would be consistent. Like dragons, AIG points to unicorns in other cultures as proof they were real. But this only establishes their existence in fairy tales, not on Earth.

It’s not just biologically-challenged biblical literalists getting in on the magical creatures fun. Even highly-educated Icelanders are susceptible. Highway work was delayed in 2013 over fears it would disturb elven habitat. The matter was settled when a woman who communicated with elves conducted a telepathic mediation. She reported the bearded miniatures were OK with the highway crew blasting away as long as a large jagged rock that served as their sanctuary was relocated.

Over half of the people surveyed in the nation that ranks 19th in education were open to the possibility that elves are real. This shows how ingrained a religious or mythological idea can be in a culture, and how hard it is to extricate, no matter how much evidence is presented or how much the nation advances in other areas.

A British newspaper reporter wrote that Icelanders suspected that elves were behind bulldozer breakdowns and road worker misfortunes, a classic piece of post hoc reasoning. Another example of this came from a man who identified himself only at Petur, whom the reporter interviewed. As a youth, Petur related, his father told him to pay homage to an elf he felt was in the area. But the petulant youth considered this silly and refused. His punishment for this disobedience came in the form of blistered feet the next day. From then on, he believed. Couple this type of subjective validation with communal reinforcement, and you get belief in elves in the 21st Century in one of the worlds most developed, forward-thinking countries.

Staying with European island nations, we venture to Lancashire, England, where John Hyatt claims to have taken photos of fairies. He says he just asked people to keep an open mind. I’ve never met Hyatt, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt (about his commitment to open-mindedness, not about fairies existing). But whenever I’ve encountered “keep an open mind” or “just examine the evidence for yourself” exhortations from Truthers, reflexologists, and fairy people, they are OK with it only if my open mind accepts what theirs does.

Hyatt has photos that could be viewed as an out-of-focus Tinkerbell. They could also be viewed as flying insects impacted by reflection, refraction, flashes and flaws. You can judge for yourself here.

He was standing close enough to capture these creatures and remove all doubt. So the doubt remains, enabling believers to replace it with comforting thoughts. In fact, Hyatt inadvertently explained the reason folks believe: “A lot of people who have seen them say they have brought a little bit of magic into their lives and there’s not enough of that around.” So it gives their existence a little more meaning, perhaps offers comfort, a warm feeling, a sense of hope. Some of those interviewed felt the fairies held special powers. This is always an appealing idea, especially when you can infuse these magical beings with whatever benevolent actions you wish.

Also campaigning for fairy awareness is all-about-fairies.com. Despite its restrictive name, the website also informs its readers about leprechauns, mermaids, and pixies. On the FAQ, “Are fairies real?” is met with this persuasive, reasoned, thoroughly documented argument: “Of course.”

Later, it informs us, “Some people see fairies, and some see a white misty shape, other people see colored lights, and some sense their presence.” Everybody is a winner! This allows any action to be interpreted as a fairy. For those who can’t even sense a presence, that’s because, “Fairies must know that you believe in them and their magic before they show themselves.” That’s hardly right, it seems we incredulous folks need the most fairy love.

As to their habitat, “They like to live near meadows or gardens or in a fairyland.” Could you be a little more vague? Continuing, it is written, “They do interact with humans sometimes, but with only good intentions.” This is idealizing our wants, and this personification of total kindness and generosity offers peace and reassurance.

Here are the five pieces of proof for fairies that the website operator offers: 1. I’ve seen ‘em. 2. Others seen ‘em. 3. People in Days of Yore seen ‘em. 4. YouTube videographers seen ‘em. 5. People at fairy festivals seen ‘em.

While most believers prefer the elastic descriptions unencumbered by form or facts, a few try to bridge mythological creatures to real occurrences. For instance, a leprechaun-believing site tries to tie the Lilliputians in green fedoras to a historic event by claiming they hid gold from the invading Danes. Since the Danes couldn’t see them, it seems that guerilla warfare may have been a better response, but maybe leprechauns are pacifist.

The site reports that captured leprechauns offer gold for ransom. One hundred percent of leprechaun hunters have accepted this offer, as there are many gold coins in Ireland, but no captive leprechauns. The website also attributes to leprechauns “the ability to turn into a swirl of dust and be gone.” As such, it’s unclear why they would make the gold coin offer.

I also came across a mostly–abandoned blog run by a guy who runs around trying to capture photos of leprechauns. It mostly contains shaky images with green swirls, One picture shows really tiny humanoid feet in the sand, and, of course, the only creatures capable of making such impressions are leprechauns.

Most proponents of these fields appeal to myth and folklore, but some attempt are more pseudoscientific spin. This is often the case when dealing with belief in mermaids.

On cryptid.com, it is pointed out that a fish/mammal combination wouldn’t work from a zoological or practical standpoint. So it weaves a storyline, sprinkled with terms thieved from evolution and biology, then ties it up with this speculation: “What if not all of our ancestors left the sea and moved to the Savannah? What if some stayed in the ocean, and continued to evolve into mermaids?”

These hypothetical mermaids, we are assured, are not the kind we think of, but are a form of aquatic ape. What follows are a series of guesses which it calls theories. But they are at best hypotheses since they offer no observation or experimentation, and present only cursory predictive behavior, such as this: “It seems likely that a big-brained primate would utilize tools. We’d have to assume that, like chimpanzees, they may use objects like rocks or other undersea items as tools.”

It also seems likely that other big-brained primates are utilizing tools such as a computer and modem to keep ideas fit for the Middle Ages alive today.

“What on Earth?” (Geocentrism and Inner Earth inhabitants)

ALICEHOLERecent posts have dealt with reptilian overlords and other beings from outer space, so today’s entry will be Earthbound. We will examine a pair of distinctive ideas about our planet: Geocentrism, and the assertion that Earth is hollow.

Geocentrists think the sun, planets, and stars revolve around Earth. For many centuries, this was a manifestation of man’s arrogance in thinking he was the center of the universe. The incentive of today’s believers is reconciling the universe with their interpretation of the Bible. To the best of my knowledge, the only adherents are a tiny subset of Catholics and a few ultraorthodox Jews. Their reasoning centers around verses such as Psalms 104:5, which credits God with laying the foundation of an Earth that will never be moved. This idea had enough persons with enough resources that a geocentrism conference was held in 2010. Besides shaky science, the seminar also claimed geocentrism was being silenced by a conspiracy of secularists, scientists, and academic elites.

These folks say Earth remains stationary, while all heavenly bodies rotate around our planet. But even at warp speed, Neptune would be unable to complete a rotation of Earth in 24 hours. And that’s just Neptune, not the stellar bodies millions of light years away. Faced with this established science, some modern day geoncentrists adopt a position they call compromise and which I call idiotic. They claim the sun revolves around Earth, but that the other Solar System planets revolve around the sun. Also, stars other than the sun remain static. Since the Bible is silent on the movement of other planets and of stars other than the sun, they can still cram this idea into their preconceived notion, as long as Earth is motionless.

We’ll look now at some of the dozens of truths denied by geocentrists. While Copernicus and Galileo explained how it works, unquestioned proof of heliocentrism did not arrive until 1725. That year, James Bradley discovered stellar aberration, the perceived yearly change in the positions of stars. Further proof was provided by physicist Leon Foucault, who suspended a weight from a lengthy wire and let it swing. A pen at the bottom of the weight drew a line in a circle of wet sand. After an hour, another line intersected with the first line at an 11-degree angle, consistent with a rotating Earth. Then we have the Coriolis effect, which causes hurricanes to rotate in different directions depending on what hemispheres they are in. Keeping with natural disasters, a major earthquake changes the rotation of Earth, which would be impossible if Earth didn’t have a rotation to change. Geocentrists retort by insisting earthquakes are caused by the change in rotations of other heavenly bodies. Silly ad hoc hypothesis like these are the result of arriving at a conclusions first, then seeking evidence that fits. This case is even more egregious since claimants present no evidence, just assertions.

Whether our planet is spinning is of no concern to advocates of a hollow Earth. Their only focus is on the critters that dwell within. There are two main schools of thought: One a conspiracy theory, the other a belief in New Age blissful harmony. Neither camp allows for the existence of moderate Middle Earth creatures. They are entirely malevolent or benevolent, depending on which idea one subscribes to.

In the conspiracy theory, Earth’s middle is accessed at the poles by Bildebergers, Bohemian Grove members, reptilians, Atlantians, or Buddhist and Hindu monks that have attained a higher level. Theorists offer little reason as to why these beings are there, leaving it to be inferred that the middle serves as a sanctuary and a place to plot world domination. It is sometimes suggested UFOs park there when stopping by for an intergalactic visit, or that Eskimo’s ancestors are the original inhabitants. There is also talk that Nazi leaders made their escape there, a much more interesting location than South America.

There exists no explanation for what is holding us up if our planet is without a mantle, solid inner core, or liquid outer core. And the lack of sunlight for those trapped inside is also never addressed. Also, there are several photos of the poles, none of them showing an entrance.

One advocate gave his life to the cause. Eschewing medical care, Raymond Bernard keeled over from pneumonia while searching for a mystery tunnel to the underworld that a Tibetan lama told him was at Argentina’s southern tip.

The most prominent proponent today is Diane Robbins, who claims to receive telepathic messages from High Priest Adama. Adama resides in Telos, a Golden City beneath Mt. Shasta, close to where Robbins lives. How fortunate that the subterranean telepathic creatures reside precisely where someone who can detect them lives. Another lucky break for Robbins and her minions is that the inner Earth inhabitants speak English.

Robbins also communicates with dolphins and trees, and sells products so others can acquire these skills. These include BioLumina, which Robbins touts as offering “the highest vibrational spirulina you can buy.” Indeed, I checked around and could find no product with more vibrating spirals.

The High Priest describes an area of unimaginable bliss: No violence or even friction; immunity to illness, injury, and death; a pristine paradise of mountains, flowing streams, perpetually producing gardens, and unending ideal weather. This standard utopia is updated for the modern day with hologram libraries and “Real Reality” helmets that eclipse their virtual brethren, allowing one to see what is going on anywhere at any time. These fully enlightened, immortal beings have conquered war, famine, and disease by harnessing powers unknown to us, specifically galactic energies and crystalline technology. Ideas this grandiose appeal to those dissatisfied with their life and who are not just searching for spirituality, but hell-bent on finding it.

Robbins dutifully jots these marvelous messages that will someday bring paradise to Earth, then sells them to others. These mighty secrets haven’t worked yet, Adama says, because an insufficient number of people have put them into practice. Therefore, the key to eternal Earthly bliss, says Diane Robbins, is to buy products from Diane Robbins.

In her FAQ, the only question Robbins gives a comprehensible answer to is, “Do you hold book siginings (sic)?” I’m guessing she meant “signings”; perhaps siginings is a Telosian dialect. One message from Adama was, “We await the great day when we will be able to show ourselves to you.” Robbins previously said she expected to see Telosians in 2012. That either didn’t materialize or they showed themselves only to Robbins. Adama explained what it’s like when these ideas are put into practice.

As relayed by Robbins, the High Priest assures us, “As you think of us, you will feel a heightened sense of being as our energy cascades into you. It is a physical sensation that is unmistakable. Move into it, for it is us making contact with you. You will experience heightened sensitivity and divine bliss. We wait for your call.” It seems these creatures have mastered every technology except the telephone.