What might U Be?

Peruse this in the USA Today’s list of top 10 Haunted hikes.

New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve/Wharton State Forest
“Since 1735, hundreds have seen or heard a yellow-eyed creature with a bat’s wings, a dragon’s breath and a kangaroo’s tail that, according to legend, makes the Pine Barrens its home,” Lankford says. To improve your chances of spotting this UBE (unidentified biological entity), she suggests hiking a section of the Batona Trail, a 49-mile route connecting Batsto Village and Ong’s Hat. “This path ventures deep into prime New Jersey Devil habitat.”

It’s the first time I’ve heard the term ‘UBE’ (unidentified biological entity). I like it!

If you pronounce it “u-be”, as in “What might u-be?” it’s a hoot!

It would be useful to designate something that a witness has seen but can’t identify as opposed to immediately labeling it as a cryptid and saddling it with the cultural reputation associated with that. It appears to leave open the possibility that the entity is a misidentification. However, I fear that it could potentially get a paranormal vibe attached to it (if it doesn’t automatically trigger that anyway).

What do you think about this new term? It seems to have been spawned from EBE (extraterrestrial biological entities) which is used in UFO forums. But are these scientifically accepted terms used in peer-review journals? I can’t find that it is but someone please let me know if they have a reference.

Also, I must apologize that I prattle on about semantics (as I did with ‘scoftic’ and ‘blobjects’). I find it fascinating to think about how people categorize subjects in their minds and with language. The names and connotations that become forever attached to these concepts influence how others respond to them. Just the act of naming a thing or event propels it in to the cultural sphere, making it a meme. [I need to do more reading about this.]

Deconstructing ‘scoftic’

To preface, I’m not against new words. I’ve shared my love of witty neologisms such as the portmanteau words “blobjects”, “blobsquatch”, “blurfos” and the like. In those cases, we can describe ‘something that is not accurately depicted’. And, something that can’t speak for itself.

The buzz on Cryptomundo has developed over using the word “scoftic”, a designation you give to a person with regards to a topic of questionable legitimacy, such as Bigfoot.

From Cryptomundo:
Is ‘Scoftic’ a Useful Term?
Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 28th, 2007

Do you think the term differs enough from “skeptic” to be useful? Do you think the term has demonstrated evolved development of the discussion? Is it demeaning? Dismissive? Definitely useful? Worthy of deployment throughout hominology and cryptozoology? Defensively debatable? Definitive?

A “scoftic” is described as follows: “the programmed skeptic who is defined more by a pre-determined mindset than the results of any thoughtful probing of the evidence”; “a cranky skeptic”; one who displays “unhealthy skepticism”; “someone who…gives witness testimony no weight whatsoever, on ideological grounds, and who asserts numerous other bits of unreasonable dogma, such as that the quantity of reports is insignificant”; one who exhibits “fanaticism behind a pose of reasonableness” and who uses “fine print” and/or “qualifiers” when considering evidence.

Reading the rest of the post and the myriad, varied, well-thought out and some narrow-minded responses, I have my own thoughts.

The term originated with regards to Bigfoot discussions. But, it can easily jump topics and apply to the paranormal biggies – UFOs, ghosts, psychic powers. Since it generated so much response, I have no doubt that, no matter if it’s a useful word or not, it WILL continue to be used. Culture is like that. It’s now a meme, ready to spread, who knows how far.

There are distinct problems with the description. First, when we are talking in these forums about subjects on the fringe of science, or even reality, we mean something specific when we use “skeptic” but not everyones version is the same. Some use the word as a negative connotation, as if to suggest that the skeptic doesn’t belong in this group that pursues more ‘positive’ thoughts. The skeptic is the “non-believer”. And, frequently we all like to be around those who think like us, not those who question or debate.

On the other hand, “skeptic” can be a proud label to hold. True skeptics are critical thinkers and quite often know a whole lot about the multiple facets of the subject they discuss. Doubt is necessary to progress and essential to science. Most non-scientists (and some scientists) have entirely failed to grasp that. Practicing skepticism is scientific.

I’ve been involved in the “skeptical community” for many years. They are the most intelligent, articulate, witty and FAIR people I have ever met. However, there are times when even a good person falls into the trap of ad hominem comments, quick and unfair dismissals and exhibitions of bad temper. We all do it. Since I have spent time in both camps, I have observed that proponent group members are far more sensitive to debates. Any hint of skepticism during discussion triggers a red flag. The skeptic will be immediately marked and potentially censored, even if the talk has been very civil. While we all want to listen to what we want to hear, you must open up to all sides in order to strengthen the foundation of your own. We must consider dissenting views. Scientists are used to criticism and are less easily offended.

False skeptics who love to deny things just because it’s fun aren’t all that pervasive in our discussion forums. They aren’t interested enough to put in the time and effort.

I strongly disagree with allegation that one who gives eyewitness testimony little weight is beyond skeptical. I have said before and no matter what proponents say, anecdotes are not good evidence. If you propose, as evidence, that “I know what I saw”, I will probably scoff because you only think you know what you saw and you can’t repeat it or allow me to reproduce it. It’s only your interpretation. You need more than that to convince me.

This early on, the debaters can’t even decide who is a “scofic”. For example, at first it was used to describe Ben Radford. Then, in later posts, Ben is called a reasoned skeptic, and a considerate one at that. He’s usually welcomed into the debate even if he says things proponents don’t agree with.

Here is my definition of ‘scoftic’ – a person who ridicules a hypothesis or idea while showing a lack of consideration for data, evidence or reasoned conclusions.

Now, there are certainly people who do this. Mostly, these people are ignorant of the topic at hand. But, I can go to a skeptical-themed conference or listen to a podcast and hear the occasional scoffing, especially if the guard is down when you feel like you are among your own kind. I cringe when I hear it and I wish it wouldn’t occur. One point to remember is that skeptics who examine paranormal claims have heard the so-called evidence and related arguments over and over. There is hardly ever much that is new so we tend to have come to a decision on the topic some time ago. We’re still waiting, hoping, to hear about some juicy new evidence.

So, to answer the questions posed in Loren’s blog post:

Do you think the term differs enough from “skeptic” to be useful?
Yes, the terms mean different things.

Do you think the term has demonstrated evolved development of the discussion?
Pardon me? I think it’s going to mean whatever a person wants it to mean. Therefore, it will certainly be used as a derogatory label when a person exhibits outright disagreement with one’s own position.

Is it demeaning?
Not necessarily but it will certainly be used that way.

Yes. One is in all likelihood stating that “I will no longer listen to you because you disagree with my personal stance on the issue”.

Definitely useful?
Not very.

Worthy of deployment throughout hominology and cryptozoology?
No, not if you want to have reasoned debate and discussion. You ought to debate evidence and issues, not label people or their positions.

Defensively debatable?
Sure, we can debate all day and night. We’ll just dance round and round.

No, because we won’t agree to whom it applies. And, we can hardly be definitive about anything regarding these topics. Too many questions are still unanswered. In pursuit of the answers, we’ll get nowhere and no respect if we chose to surround ourselves with a circle of our own making.

New Jersey Blobcat

Check out this story from New Jersey.  More big black cats roaming the suburbs? This one is hard to tell from the pictures, thus, we call it a “blobcat” (another fabulous neologism coined by a comment contributor to Cryptomundo). As I posted before, we can’t make positive identifications from poor records. Though, I would hazard a guess that if this kitty is not an overgrown tabby, it’s someone’s escaped pet. Or, he crossed the Delaware from the PA wilds. Neat stuff. New Jersey seems like a great place to look for all sorts of mysterious creatures.

For more on alien big cats, check out Darren Naish’s excellent posts. British Big Cats, The Lynxes in the Garage, Mastiff Cat. Go there for more.