Category ►►► Cryptozoological Contretemps

August 17, 2008

Bigfoot Shows Some Leg; Reporters Get the Shoe

Cryptozoological Contretemps
Hatched by Dafydd

So there's these three guys, right? And they're tramping in the woods when they happen to stumble across the corpse of a Bigfoot. And -- no, wait; they were in hot pursuit of an escaped felon, who shot a Bigfoot -- evidently mistaking him for a Fulton County sheriff -- which ran into the forest -- the Bigfoot, not the felon (or the sheriff) -- and these three guys followed hoping to render first aid. Oh, wait a minute; that's a different story. I meant to say these three guys were tracking a herd -- pack -- pod? Tracking a heel of Bigfeet. Bigfoots? And they saw one die, so they quickly stuffed him into the giant-sized freezer they always carry along on backpacking trips.

Yeah, that's the ticket:

[Matt] Whitton, ["an officer on medical leave from the Clayton County Police Department"] and Rick Dyer, a former corrections officer, announced the discovery in early July on YouTube videos and their Web site. Although they did not consider themselves devoted Bigfoot trackers before then, they have since started offering weekend search expeditions in Georgia for $499. The specimen they bagged, the men say, was one of several apelike creatures they spotted cavorting in the woods. [I picture a dozen or so Bigfeet, dressed in English regency costume, dancing a lobster quadrille through the underbrush.]

As they faced a skeptical audience of several hundred journalists and Bigfoot fans that included one curiosity seeker in a Chewbacca suit, the pair were joined Friday by Tom Biscardi, head of a group called Searching for Bigfoot. Other Bigfoot hunters call Biscardi a huckster looking for media attention.

I don't get this, I really don't. I don't understand how intelligent, supposedly common-sensical people like Michael Medved can so passionately believe in cryptozoological hoaxes so inherently implausible: How could a gigantic mammal -- much bigger than a human, about the size of a small bear (which, incidently, is my nominee for what animal, if any, is actually in the Sasquatchic freezer) -- roam the hills and hollers of the American Southeast, Middle West, Northwest, and the frozen Himalayas for all of human history... without leaving a single unambiguous trace of its existence?

No body. No skeleton. No identifiable tracks. No fur scraped off on a tree. No teeth. No poop. No blood, saliva, or DNA. And of course, no clear and untampered video -- that isn't obviously a brown bear balanced precariously on its hind legs, or some fat guy in a gorilla suit, balanced precariously on his hind legs.

And why just those places? I might understand if it were found only in the United States -- but only in the United States and Tibet? Why not Andalusia, the Black Forest, the Amazon, or the French Riviera? Why don't we find Yetis in the casinos of Monte Carlo, Sasquatches in Sierra Leone, and Bigfeet on Brighton Beach?

Whitton, Dyer, and Biscardi (sounds like a cross between an Italian biscuit and a Puerto Rican rum) showed up at the press conference; but they inadvertently neglected to bring the body itself for examination, as they had previously promised. Big surprise.

Instead, they brought an e-mail from "a scientist" (I'm surprised they didn't say "egghead"), which they insisted was clear evidence that they really had found the elusive, hirsuit humanoid... but I'll let our sagacious readers be the jug of that:

Biscardi, Whitton and Dyer presented what they called evidence supporting the Bigfoot theory. It was an e-mail from a University of Minnesota scientist, but all it said was that of the three DNA samples sent to the scientist, one was human, one was likely a possum and the third could not be tested because of technical problems.

For the love of Harry and the Hendersons, didn't those nitwits even read the e-mail before forwarding it to the media? As Charlie Brown would say, "How humiliating!"

By the way, I absolutely love this exchange between Tom "Bigfoot" Biscardi and the press:

Biscardi fielded most of the questions. Among them: Why should anyone accept the men's tale when they weren't willing to display their frozen artifact or pinpoint where they allegedly found it? How come bushwhackers aren't constantly tripping over primate remains if there are as many as 7,000 Bigfoots roaming the United States, as Biscardi claimed?

"I understand where you are coming from, but how many real Bigfoot researchers are out there trekking 140,000 miles a year?" Biscardi said.

Gee, Tom, I don't know. But how many Bigfoot researchers ever shot a Sasquatch in their pajamas?

Why doesn't Tom just answer the questions? Because there is no answer, of course; at least nothing coherent (or sober). One can ask similarly pointed questions about "Nessie," the mythological Loch Ness Monster, which is supposed to be a plesiosaur:

  • How did one dinosaur manage to survive for 65 million years -- wouldn't there need to be a breeding population?
  • Given the paucity of fish in Loch Ness, what does Nessie eat?
  • How does a cold-blooded reptile survive in a frigid freshwater lake in northern Scotland, which in winter approaches freezing?
  • Plesiosaurs don't live forever: Where are all the bloated, floating Nessie bodies and skeletons from the hundreds of generations which must have died just in the last few centuries?
  • Since Loch Ness is only about 10,000 years old, having been carved out by glaciers during the last ice age, where did Nessie(s) live for the 64,990,000 years before that?
  • While we're on the subject, how did cold-blooded Nessie survive that ice age, and the hundreds of previous ice ages, in the first place?
  • Since plesiosaurs were air-breathers, they had to take frequent breaths, as do whales, dolphins, walruses, and every other air-breathing, water-dwelling creature; why don't tourists see Nessie popping up to breathe constantly, day and night?
  • Finally, if Nessie is a plesiosaur, how does it stick its head out of the water? I suspect Wikipedia is probably correct in its Plesiosaur entry:

    "Contrary to many reconstructions of plesiosaurs, it would have been impossible for them to lift their head and long neck above the surface, in the 'swan-like' pose that is often shown {Everhart, 2005; Henderson, 2006}. Even if they had been able to bend their necks upward to that degree (which they could not), gravity would have tipped their body forward and kept most of the heavy neck in the water."

Intelligence is not just cramming a lot of facts into your head or memorizing formulas or somesuch; it also requires synthesizing old information into new information -- or in popular terms, using your head. There is no Nessie; there is no Sasquatch; there is no Mothman and no crashed alien spaceship in Area 51.

We know these creatures do not exist because if they did, we would have found them. The common (and foolish) retort from cryptozoologists is, "What about the coelacanth and the giant squid?" But in fact, this is an argument against the cryptozoologists' position:

We always knew that coelacanths existed; we just thought they were extinct. But we found the first live one 70 years ago, and we have studied them extensively since then (even using submersible vehicles to study them in situ).

And as far as giant squids, we have literally thousands of intact corpses on file in various marine biology labs. So for these two unquestionably extant "monsters," we have ample evidence for them -- including living and freshly dead specimens.

So where are Nessie and Bigfoot?

Unless Messrs. Whitton, Dyer, and Biscardi can actually produce a bona-fide Bigfoot bod, I think we can answer the question above: Their only known habitat is our fevered imaginations.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 17, 2008, at the time of 5:03 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 1, 2007

Don't Mess With Nessie!

Cryptozoological Contretemps
Hatched by Dafydd

So a badly photographed, information-free videotape is released that purports to be the Loch Ness monster... and instantly, Michael Medved touts it as "stunning evidence" that proves "Nessie" exists. Considering his infatuation with Bigfoot, and his belief that, except for a few bitter-enders, scientists all agree that Mr. Sasquatch exists, color me unsurprised.

But I'm a little perturbed that others are taking this so seriously. Honestly, this video is even worse "evidence" than those grainy films that purport to show ghosts or chupacabras or UFOs buzzing us darn near every week. Alas, I cannot find anyplace where I can get embedded code for the video; so you'll have to go to Power Line to watch it (I'll send you there instead of to Yahoo).

I'll wait...

(If somebody will give me a link to embedded code -- you can't put the code itself in the comment, because the filter will just strip it out -- I'll put the video itself here.)

I find it odd and rather disappointing that John Hinderaker would write, "I suppose I could be fooled as easily as the next guy, but the video seems fairly compelling."

Compelling? Would he accept it as evidence if introduced by the other side in a court trial? Let me start with the most obvious problem:

  1. There is no indication that the supposed "monster video" was actually shot at Loch Ness.

It consists of closeups on water, and one piece of water looks pretty much like another. Aside from the stock footage of Loch Ness intercut into the video, none of the actual "monster" clips pans back far enough to give us any indication what lake we're actually at; we have only the word of the people who took the video (and are currently exploiting it) that it was even recorded in Scotland, let alone that particular loch. And since I don't know any of them from Jamie, I'm unwilling to trust their word.

Sorry to be the bird poop in the punchbowl.

But let's give them that point; let's assume for sake of argument that this footage was actually shot at Loch Ness. What does it really show?

  1. Brushing aside the filler footage, the actual supposed "monster video" shows nothing but a dark oblong in or on rippling water.

A faint triangle on the right edge in one second or so of one of the shots could be interpreted as a wake, indicating that the object is moving; but it could also indicate the object is standing still, while the surface water moves across it. But it needn't even be a wake; it could also just be a dark streak under the water or a shadow.

In fact, the dark oblong could itself be a shadow; it's impossible to tell, and I've viewed the video perhaps seven times. It's like looking at a cloud and seeing a duckie, a horsie, or that charlatan, Anton Bruckner, in profile.

  1. We cannot even tell how big the oblong is, because there is no other object to give us a frame of reference. It could be fifty feet -- or a five-foot underwater log. Nor can we tell how far away it is.
  2. And if it were a snake-like creature moving through the water... then why isn't it undulating? Snakes, eels, and even Nessie's neck or tentacles would wriggle, not stay perfectly still, like a propeller-driven cigar.

But there is a large issue here, and it applies to much more serious issues than cryptozoology: This little boomlet of excitement is a perfect example of "the will to believe."

Medved so desperately wants to believe in the existence of "fierce creatures" previously unknown, that he will accept any claim, no matter how outrageous, so long as it feeds his need. But to some extent, and on other issues, we all must fight against that tendency.

The will to believe can blind us to obvious dangers, fallacies, and flaws in our own positions. For example, I truly want to believe that we can "stand up" a reasonably functional democracy in the Arab Middle East, in particular in Iraq; for this very reason, I must tread carefully when evaluating reports of progress.

It would be too easy to dismiss all setbacks or problems as trivial and trumpet every advance as highly significant. Thus, I must always try to put myself in the stockings of my opposite number: Suppose I were trying to prove there was no progress at all in Iraq. How would I attack the positive reports? I try as hard as I can to rip them apart, just as I rip apart arguments I oppose; then I evaluate my efforts.

If I can make a disturbingly good case against, then I'm skeptical of that report. But if my debunking attempt sounds like James Carville on crack, then I'm confident enough to run with the original story.

The test demands a tough, honest effort; however, it's a major reason why my positions are typically so hard for leftists to refute: I myself have already found all the obvious holes and filled them; to disprove me, you have to find the non-obvious argument.

Sometimes I am successful at putting myself in the other guy's moccasins; other times, I stubbornly cling to my will to believe. Worse yet, sometimes I successfully debunk some deeply held belief of mine!

For example, I knew that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ, 65%) had always been a war supporter; but I was convinced for a long time that he was one of those "we need a half million troops so we can colonize Iraq" types. I'm sure I must have said that very thing more than once. So when I read his claim that he was an early proponent of the very same counterinsurgency strategy that Gen. David Petraeus is now using in Iraq, I scoffed.

I began a post mocking him for revisionist history; but then I put myself in the position of a McCain supporter (tough, because I truly dislike him) and tried to knock down my own argument.

And I succeeded. Some basic research coughed up not one but a couple of speeches he gave long, long ago -- at least back to 2005 -- that unquestionably embraced a counterinsurgency strategy, which he distinguished from what we were doing at the time. So I had no choice: I deleted everything I had started writing and instead wrote a piece about McCain's prescience... and admitted my own wrong impression of him.

How many elite journalists ever do that? How many who write about our "collapse" in Iraq or the futility of persevering ever even try to make the opposite case -- honestly try?

If they do it at all, they deliberately make the argument against their position as stupid and illogical as possible. If you point this out, they usually say, "But that's how war supporters argue, because they're all stupid!" (Thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise, you understand.)

Do supporters of the current immigration bill ever try to imagine how they would argue against it, if they drew that side in a debate? I do; I can do it easily -- and better than Hugh Hewitt can -- even though I support the bill. Just as important, do opponents honestly try to make the case for the current bill, just to see if they can? I haven't seen much evidence of it on either side.

Remember, as the Principia Discordia teaches, "convictions make convicts": If you are absolutely convinced of some proposition, you are imprisoned by it; you cannot even see counter evidence, and you are almost compelled to consider everybody who disagrees with you a fool. Since you don't pay attention to fools, how can you ever be convinced?

Oliver Cromwell had more or less the same idea when he wrote, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

So if you really believe in Nessie, try looking at that video through the eyes of someone like Martin Gardner or James "the Amazing" Randi; ask yourself, how would a skeptic debunk this video? Then seriously examine the arguments you come up with and realize how much more compelling they are than that silly, cloud-fantasy video.

And now that we have journeyed from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again, it's time to stop writing.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 1, 2007, at the time of 5:24 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

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