Do you Tet Zoo? Comments contain gem on Bigfoot footprints.

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Do you love animals? I mean love them in the way that I do, by examining the chicken carcass you are cleaning to observe the bones, cartilage, tendons and joints; by checking out road kill to see what it was or stopping to check out the dead bird in the yard; by pulling out your huge Wildlife Treasure animal card file just to learn binomial nomenclature? Yeah, it’s not just pretty pictures of puppies and kittens. This is science, man.

Do you know the difference between a pterosaur, a plesiosaur and a dinosaur? Do you know how to pronounce “azhdarchid” or even know what that is? (It’s only one of the most amazing types of animals that ever lived.) Even if you just want to know those things, you must not miss out on one of the must read science blogs on the web by an actual palaeozoologist! And, best of all, there is CRYPTOZOOLOGY too!

Tetrapod Zoology – the blog by Dr. Darren Naish has turned eight years old this month. Check out the year in review, it’s incredible.

Happy 8th birthday Tetrapod Zoology: 2013 in review | Tetrapod Zoology, Scientific American Blog Network.

Tet Zoo montage by Darren Naish.

Tet Zoo montage by Darren Naish.

When I say there is cryptozoology, there is sound, professional, scholarly, thoughtful, skeptical cryptozoology – in my book, the only worthwhile kind. Check out this statement from Darren that appeared in the comments explaining Bigfoot footprints, which is too good to just leave in the comments of the piece:

People who specialise on sasquatch research often argue that alleged sasquatch footprints record anatomical features that demonstrate the biological reality of sasquatch, or reveal physical parameters (size, mass, stride length) that exceed those of humans. See Krantz’s and Meldrum’s books, for example. Fact is, firstly, the footprints they have in mind represent a tiny number out of the 100s of alleged sasquatch prints that have been reported – the features concerned are most assuredly not present in all alleged sasquatch prints that people see. The majority of sasquatch tracks don’t look biologically plausible at all, at least not to someone who is used to looking at the tracks of real animals.

Secondly, it’s now been shown that all of the supposedly ‘biologically convincing’ attributes of sasquatch tracks can be explained in other ways: the ‘dermal ridges’ are identical to the ripples that appear on plaster and seem to be an artefact of the cast-making process (see Matt Crowley’s work); the supposed mid-tarsal break (= metatarsophalangeal joint) looks either like a push-up pressure ridge (you can make these yourself depending on how you move your foot and throw your weight as you walk), the result of slippage during track-making, or resemble the joint already present in a percentage of humans anyway; and the overhanging side walls of some tracks can easily be explained by sediment slumping – a familiar and expected property of the substrate in which sasquatch tracks are made.

Claims made about toe movement are often vague (ask yourself: how well has this been demonstrated? Have you even seen good illustrations of a trackway where the author demonstrates, to your satisfaction, that toe position really varies from track to track? I’ve heard people say that this toe movement is present, but I’ve never seen it really demonstrated). In any case, the argument that toe movement cannot be hoaxed rests on the assumption that fake tracks are made by inflexible wooden feet. There are reasons, however, for thinking that the tracks are sometimes (or often) made by flexible, silicone rubber tracks (cf 1991 Mill Creek case).

Finally, as goes claims about size, mass and stride length – again, it’s difficult to ever find any data backing up these claims. They’re usually just claims, made without the required data, and without appropriate controls and checks and so on. As anyone who’s walked on soil will tell you, sediment that is soft and pliable at one point in time can be dry and hard at another point, meaning that you might make very deep tracks at one time, and be unable to make deep tracks at another. Any claims about the mass of the trackmaker should therefore be viewed with scepticism. As for stride length, people see great length between tracks and assume that the trackmaker was walking. But, when people trot or jog, their stride length increases, enabling them to easily match the stride length we see in sasquatch trackways.

There aren’t any sasquatch tracks that have really stood the test of time. Grover Krantz stated with absolute confidence that certain tracks were indisputably genuine. In fact, they had been manufactured by a man called J. W. Parker.

Today’s Bigfootology needs beating over the head with a clue stick. This is how you do it.

Wait, there’s more…

And if you like to geek out on Sci/Fi minutia relating to biology, or want to hear smart people pronounce all this nifty nomeclature correctly, but argue about how to pronounce Twitter names, you must check out the TetZoo podcast as well.
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And, I’m happy to say that even though he is so busy, Darren now answers my FB messages or emails, unlike in 2000 when I messaged him and he STILL hasn’t gotten back to me on that…

A ruse by any other name still stinks

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As one who runs a website about weird news, it’s been a crazy start to the year. A number of hoaxes proliferating around the media the first week of this year. They are passed on almost with the same respect as actual news. If you resolve to do anything this year, resolve to doubt the news when it sounds too outrageous or too weird to be true. Because it’s probably not.

There are too many urban legends and popular rumors going around to follow at any one time, but let’s take a quick look at some of the major hoaxes that recently created hype in the media.

Made for TV hoaxes

Not counting the Punk’d and Candid Camera-type practical joke setups that are humorous (if rather mean), several television programs aim their hoaxes at the public, making them realistic, and keeping the background a secret as the bizarre video goes viral across the web.

In July, in Whitstable, Kent, U.K, a video from a medicine shop’s closed circuit television showed a man surprised by a falling box. But before the fall, the camera captures the box defying gravity, levitating off the shelf, hanging there for a moment, then dropping.

Was this paranormal activity? (There were obvious signs that it was not.) It was such a fun video that it was passed around extensively. Finally, in December, it was revealed as a hoax for a TV show. The reveal happened on a broadcast that did not get good ratings. Most people may still assume the video was actual evidence for paranormal activity.

The case of the glowing squid-like mystery creature in Bristol harbor, also in the U.K., didn’t hang on quite as long. People in the harbor sounded amazed to see and film a bright, pulsating animal that did not look like a machine. It looked like something out of this world!

The prank was released on YouTube as part of a marketing stunt by UKTV’s entertainment channel, Watch, to launch the show “The Happenings”. I really wanted that bioluminescent beastie to be real.

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Abominable Science is Cryptozoology Book of the Year

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Who am I to say that? Well, nobody special, really. “Best books” is subjective. My favorite books include National Velvet (because I read it 35 times or so), Watership Down, The Hobbit, and Jane Austin stuff but I won’t quibble if they aren’t yours too.

When it comes to nonfiction works, the criteria is slightly different. Nonfiction can contribute significantly to the body of literature in a field. A commendable piece brings something new and enlightening – a fresh view, uncovered evidence, updated imagery. My choices of best nonfiction have substance, credibilty, and are groundbreaking must-have books to those interested in a particular field.

Thus, some of my favorite books in the cryptozoology/paranormal realm are Ben Radford’s Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal and Tracking the Chupacabra. These were excellent examples of scholarship and much needed in the literature. They also were praised by many others. I also favorite must-have books such as Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World and Origin of Species because of their tremendous insight and inspiration as well as quotable and beautiful language.

You can see the Doubtful News cryptozoology section of our bookstore here.

It’s hard for me to pick favorite books since it depends on the subject area and the mood I’m in that needs to be satisfied. But there is NO DOUBT that one of the most important cryptozoology books ever is Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero. It’s impressive and important – a MUST-HAVE if you call yourself a cryptozoologist. But it was ignored by the Bigfooters (arguable not part of the field of cryptozoology because of their narrow niche) or panned by a small portion of cryptozoology believers who seemed too joyous in ripping it apart. If you haven’t gotten a copy, you are missing out.
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I am so adamant about it because it’s impressive. I had heard about the book around its inception. I caught peeks into the process here and there as Dan and Don worked diligently to produce a high quality volume. Care, scholarship and new information – that counts for a lot in nonfiction. Nature thought so. So did the Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Education. See Publisher’s Weekly, The Scientist, and other reviews here. When was the last time a crypto book got such praise and widespread notice!? Abominable Science was an outstanding accomplishment.

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Doubt and About: Holiday edition with cryptids

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I’m not a fan of holidays. This Xmas thing comes at the time of the year where I’m trying to write up year-end stuff, there are extra activities, this shopping thing and this weather thing is going on and I’m stressed, which brings on gastritis. The Sun? There is still a Sun in the sky? I hardly see it.

The good thing is, the weird news is typically quiet (until the birds are killed en masse by New Year’s Eve fireworks or a cold snap or something nature throws at them).

We are currently running a vote for readers to pick their favorite Doubtful News stories of 2013. Add your vote if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated. It helps us see the interest of the audience as well. We are also compiling our own Top 5′s. Mine will be quirky I think. I’ve prepared a piece about the news year to go into Skeptical Inquirer. I also talk about the top stories of the here in a recent Skeptic Zone podcast The Skeptic Zone #269 - 15.December.2013  A review of Doubtful News over the past 12 months

And I chat about the site on Skeptically Challenged for 11/3/2013 (Also out of Australia – hey I wanna come over to Australia!)

And I venture over to America’s Most Haunted for a special skeptical night from 12/10/2013. 

My favorite topic is cryptozoology. I’ve noticed a generally bimodal distribution of types of people involved in the subject. There are those strictly Bigfooters who are devoted to their cause almost like a religion. These folks are not familiar with the huge amounts of material on cryptozoology as a field and not up on other cryptids except those they hear are reported close by. Then there are the more geeky types who know their cryptids up and down. In that category there are subcategories of believers and more scholarly types. The more scholarly types tend to bend towards the skeptical side. That’s where I am. But if you like the idea of monsters, monster lore and mysterious creatures, why not expand your scope? Learn about new creatures, how they are studied, what has and hasn’t been found. There are two cryptozoology books just out in 2013 that are like nothing that’s come before. I’ve said before that you are no true scholar of the field if you do not read Abominable Science. If you brush off this book, you are a disingenuous researcher because it’s the most important book on the crypto evidence to come out in the past decade. Also, get The Cryptozoologicon and learn what people learned in anatomy, evolution and physiology think about these creatures and how they render them with imagination. Explore some NEW stuff, not the same old tired ground we’ve been over time and time again.

I’m really excited about cryptozoology these days; the emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach from the foundations of biology, zoology, history and folklore is exciting and welcoming to everyone as long as they are willing to carefully examine the evidence. I’m glad to be a part of that scholarly new approach. It’s going to generate some exciting stuff.

Check out Recommended Resources at Doubtful News. There is a section just on cryptids.

Imagineering cryptids: The Cryptozoologicon (Book review)

New cryptozoology book released. It’s a whopper! | Doubtful News.

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Imagineering cryptids: The Cryptozoologicon (Book review)

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It’s not been the best year for the fans of real live cryptids. Not only did we NOT find Bigfoot again, we had a better explanation for the Yeti, and Sasquatch DNA samples that were a bust (Sykes) or a joke (Ketchum). The book Abominable Science inserted itself as the premier scholarly book on the topic. Unfortunately for the “knowers,” who have an indestructible belief that the mysterious creatures are out there, their evidence and conviction clearly suggests otherwise. Serious scholarly researchers are happy to have that excellent resource and now we have another lovely skeptical and highly entertaining book to add to our collection. The Cryptozoologicon by Naish, Conway and Kosmen. It is unique with brand-new original artwork and imaginative writing. I loved it. But then again, I would…

cover“Cryptozoologicon” means the Book of Names of Hidden Animals. This is Volume One. More volumes are possibly on the way (at least one more). The authors seemed to have great fun with this one.

The introduction is cryptozoology in a nutshell, with a smart, skeptical, scholarly point of view – the kind I prefer. Each entry is a summary of what is known or conjectured about the cryptid. Then the authors crank up the fictional biology to 11 and even push the limits of popular cryptozoo-ers (1), while remaining generally within the confines of zoology, to indulge in descriptions and illustrations of the proposed animals.

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No, you are not the new Jane Goodall: My Twitter exchange with Melba Ketchum

Put Bigfoot in your garden Credit:Designtoscano.com
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I had a discussion with Melba Ketchum today on Twitter regarding her continued claims that Bigfoot will be proven true.  Some of it spilled over to Facebook – her favorite communication outlet. I was surprised she responded and it went on for quite a while. For those of you who missed it, good for you. But here it is mostly in its entirety (a few other tweets weren’t worth adding); see what you can glean from this.

For background, note that my site, Doubtful News, has been critical of Melba’s work with good cause (melba ketchum | Doubtful News). I also wrote a chronicle of the history of her project for Skeptical Briefs (which you can see here The Ketchum Project: What to Believe about Bigfoot DNA ‘Science’ – CSI) and in Skeptical Inquirer. I’m not some lone skeptic picking at her claims. She has the entire scientific community against her. She revels in being the maverick, persecuted, pulls the Galileo gambit. I find it distasteful.

This is the first time she responded to me in public. She should totally stop doing that.

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Doubt and About: The silver lining

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The past week was weird!

I have no idea why Deepak Chopra found it necessary to tweet back at me (apparently he has a very thin skin for criticism and nothing better to do than refresh his twitter page). I wasn’t really talking to him, I was praising a brilliant example of exposing pseudoscience. Perhaps he just does not like my Twitter account name. Anyway, here is what happened.

The Deepak shoots but doesn’t score « Why Evolution Is True.

Yeah, I got a few Chopralites chiming in that I didn’t “get it” but mostly I got some new followers out of it. Continue reading

Chronicle of the Lizard Man (Book Review)

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I really enjoyed Lyle Blackburn’s previous book, The Legend of Boggy Creek (reviewed here), so I had to get my hands on his next one about the Lizard Man of Lee County, South Carolina. I knew of the legend and had recently researched it because of continued reports of car damage in various places. (The Lizard Man was known for attacking cars.) What attacks cars but giant lizard men? Well, read to the end…

As with his last book, Blackburn does not attempt to speak on the actual existence of a local swamp monster he is investigating. He aims, and succeeds, to “provide an entertaining and comprehensive account of the creature”. Once again, he gives us a must-have guide to a particular cryptid.

However, there is a lot less meat to this book than what was available for the Fouke monster. The Fouke monster had his own movie; the Lizard Man was likely spawned from the movies. The core of the evidence is, unfortunately, unverifiable eyewitness reports. While some people may take these stories at face value, skeptics are right to be skeptical. It is clear that there is considerable fantasy and funny stuff working in Lee County.

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Bigfoot Files approaches cryptozoology the correct way

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One of the most important aspects of a sound a scientific explanation is how well supported it is. Specifically, we’d prefer to see an array of multiple lines of independently derived evidence that points towards common conclusion. This gives us a theory with predictive power – evolution, plate tectonics are two classic examples in science and now global warming also has converging results from different fields of study. All solid scientific theories have a strong network of these lines of information. It is not just one person’s idea or one or two study results. Sound explanations are multi-directionally supported.

I am pleased to say that a recent special aired on British television regarding the Yeti  did a fine job of using this concept of multiple lines of evidence to support a conclusion. The following has some spoilers although many of you already know – the legendary Yeti has biological origins from bears.

You should have seen me smiling when the show began with EXACTLY the right tone: Dr. Bryan Sykes, geneticist who is heading the DNA analysis portion of the project through Oxford University, is not looking for evidence for the Yeti. He is looking for ANSWERS.

My main beef with amateur researchers looking for Bigfoot, ghosts or UFOs is that they fail to understand the critical importance of the research question. They start off on the wrong foot – by looking for proof of what they want so desperately to be true. That first misstep hopelessly biases any investigation from the start. The question must be “What, if anything, is happening here?” See the difference? By changing the question, the narrow scope has now opened to include the best answer and helps prevent the potential for sham inquiry, which is how I characterize Melba Ketchum’s DNA project.

Host Mike Evans, a vet and a biologist, declares: “Bigfoot believers claim they have evidence to support its existence. The problem is, none of it has ever been properly substantiated.”

Finally! A documentary about a cryptid that focuses on the core problem with the field. Anecdotes by the thousands mean little when they are not supported with something more reliable. This show lays out a careful and refreshingly new path to reach answers about a mystery animal.

I’ll run down some of the bits from it. The show is in three parts, only the first part has aired as of this posting. It covers the Yeti in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet. Further episodes will examine the Sasquatch in North America and the Almasty in Russia.

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Bigfootery and the skeptic, or “Get offa my lawn!”

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I’ve attracted some attention from online Bigfoot forums and blogs lately. The up side of that is that I’ve made connections with super people like Brian Brown of The Bigfoot Show who invited me on as a guest. The show is here and I hope you give a listen because it’s important for what I have to say next. [1]

Recently, the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Org) Facebook group called me out as being antagonistic after posting a news story I wrote for Doubtful News. It was good information,  important to share so I thought, and said nothing about the BFRO. The moderator and maybe four or five others (out of a group of nearly 3500) expressed annoyance with my participation on the forum. They were not familiar with my writing about cryptozoology, they were not aware of who I was or what my purpose is. I got the feeling they categorized me as a “know it all” skeptic who has never had a personal experience and so it was ridiculous for me to even be there. (They questioned my credentials so I posted my bio, but less than 7 people actually viewed it according to my web stats.)

Pointing out my other work in order to help clarify my position was called “self promotion”. One of my comments was deleted and I was told to “be nice” (I was, they just didn’t like what I had to say). So, I left. There was no point in discussing anything there. It was not my goal to be argumentative but when someone directly confronts me on something, I feel compelled to reply if I feel it’s worth it. After I left the thread, a commenter noted that I was ‘trouble’, other forum admins had been warned about me. I’m labeled. Gee, that’s childish. Good to know I can’t “hang out” in Bigfoot forums anymore. I’m crushed. Oh well…

So, a couple of observations here.

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