Category Archives: Cryptozoology
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.
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.
Yeah, I got a few Chopralites chiming in that I didn’t “get it” but mostly I got some new followers out of it. Read the rest of this entry
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.
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.
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. 
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.
Speculating can be fun. But it’s nicer when you aren’t making stuff up out of thin air based on wishful thinking. Scientific underpinning is comforting. That’s why I liked Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology by Matt Bille.
This book was published in 2006 so it’s slightly out of date but the majority of info is still worthwhile for the cryptozoological-minded and it’s far better written than the majority of crypto books out there. It’s sound. It’s solid.
Bille is knowledgeable. This effort took substantial research and it shows. He is also realistic, takes evidence into account and, yet, is hopeful that new, amazing discoveries are out there. This is my philosophy as well. Therefore, I approve of his tone throughout.
The book is a series of short essays organized into four sections: New creatures, In the Shadow of Extinction, Classic Mystery Animals, and Miscellanea. There is so much good information treated in an even-handed and fair manner. Read the rest of this entry
My latest post, regarding the rational vs non-rational response to the new cryptozoology book by Loxton and Prothero, Abominable Science, went live on Huffington Post yesterday.
When critical thinkers approach the subject of Bigfoot (or cryptozoology in general) with a focus on the evidence, they are met with reproach. We are challenging much more than the claim; we challenge their belief. They will resort to what Biblical literalists will do to evolutionists – they demonize, call us names, misquote, pick at small mistakes, and take words and ideas out of context. They create an extreme position and shoot it down (called a “straw man” argument) because it’s a power play to make them feel superior. (Note that some aggressive “skeptics” will do that and it’s not fair play in that case either.) All the while, they skirt the MAJOR flaws in their own conclusions.
Bigfoot-themed and other cryptozoology blogs and forums are typically hostile to skeptics, even moderate ones like myself. They can’t understand why we even want to participate since we are going to “deny” everything. Gee, sorry for being interested in the topic and in getting a good answer for peoples’ experiences. Questioning is not denying, it’s thinking.
A while back I challenged cryptozoologists to read the book and make a fair assessment. Some seem to have read it. Three known men gave it ridiculous reviews. They only read the parts that interested them and presumed judgement on the whole book. That is intellectually dishonest and really shallow, not to mention extremely arrogant, behavior. This is why we can’t take self-proclaimed cryptozoological experts seriously. They treat their subject more like a religion, based on faith.
Since I got back from July jaunts, I’ve taken a little break. I’m not doing Virtual Skeptics for August. So, in my spare time I managed to learn some accounting software (ALWAYS TRY TO LEARN NEW THINGS!).
Speaking of learning new things, the main point of this post is a challenge for people who follow one of my favorite fields of research to try something new.
I’ve been gushing over this book, Abominable Science by Loxton and Prothero, since I got it.
It takes a lot for me to really love a book. I might not read a five-star worthy book in a whole year. But this one is very special. I’m glad to have played a small part in its content. That’s not the reason why I love it. I love it because it reflects some of my own serious thinking about the field and reveals some really important issues that desperately need to be considered. It illuminates a huge problem in cryptozoology – possible the main problem – BAD SCHOLARSHIP. Today’s cryptid researchers forego diligence in examining claims in exchange for bolstering a beloved belief. (For example, authors like Nick Redfern, books series like “Monsters of [U.S. state]“, websites like Bigfoot Evidence and radio shows like Coast to Coast AM). Those are more fiction than nonfiction, fun and not serious (though some people take them very seriously).
It’s assumed that the skeptical view is not desirable. Wrong. People who want answers should logically seek them, not ignore a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.
I am asking any self-styled cryptozoologists to examine this book and tell me what you think. A common trope is that skeptics are not open-minded. Well, practice what you preach. Take a look at this book, which is fully referenced so you can make your own call on the evidence if you are so inclined. I have suspected that it might be ignored by those who prefer to monger mysteries instead of digging into the truth behind them. That’s cowardly. Don’t be like that. Expand your thinking. Question your assumptions.
So that’s the challenge. Read it and let me know what you think. I will happily share your comments with the authors as well because they value critique and feedback, unlike many in the paranormal field who seem to just want praise and a spot on a TV show.
Also, in the interest of respect for your subject area, you also should listen to the podcast Monster Talk. They bring on actual experts to discuss the science behind monsters. Boring? Not in the least. It’s so witty and smart. Yes, it’s a big change from Bigfoot audiocasts that just wax speculatively about the latest rumors and online evidence. But, again, give it a try. Check out the skeptical scholarship. If you want to understand the topic, you must be open to all angles.
OK, that’s that. Here’s more. Read the rest of this entry
About two months ago, it was time for me to finally watch the classic “Bigfoot” movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek. All I remembered hearing about it was that there is a scene of a hairy arm coming through a window. Creepy. But it was an old movie, made in the 1972 so I figured it wasn’t so scary anymore.
It was dated, cringe-worthy at parts, a little cheezy, but fascinating. I could totally understand how kids could be frightened and influenced by the movie that was very popular in spite of its method of being made and distributed. I enjoyed it and recommended it to others with some caution over the outdatedness.
Just after, I listened to Tim Binnall’s interview with author Lyle Blackburn who had written the first definitive book on the Boggy Creek monster, also known as the Fouke monster, The Beast of Boggy Creek (Anomalist Books, 2012). It was a good interview. Blackburn seemed to give sound grounding to the story of the town of Fouke, the episodes they experienced and the making of a movie about it. So, I bought his book. Read the rest of this entry
Strange Pennsylvania Monsters by Michael Newton (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2012) is the second book of this type that I’ve read and reviewed. It is considerably better than 2011′s Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson which I reviewed here.
These local guidebooks to monster lore are commonly categorized by type of animal. Pennsylvania’s most famous cryptids are Bigfoot and the Thunderbird, but we have an array of weirdness.
Even though I, personally, find rather little value in these stories which can’t typically be confirmed and lack any worthwhile detail, I think it’s nice to have a comprehensive volume about the monster tales associated with certain areas with one caveat – THERE MUST BE REFERENCES. This was my major gripe with Wilson’s version to the point where it was almost useless.
Newton’s book has references although some are highly questionable such as personal accounts gained privately or through newspapers. In the section on giant snakes, the stories were not believable. The memories were old and, as we know, memories change tremendously with age into something that may not resemble the original situation at all. These types of stories read more like tall tales and skew the data set of anecdotes by suggesting there are many of these odd animals around and there must be something to it.