Bigfoot DNA: Is it Real?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?

Does Bigfoot really Exist?
Description: “Artistic depiction of Bigfoot.”
Attribution: “LeCire”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Melba Ketchum released her eagerly-awaited Bigfoot DNA research paper today…and already it’s looking like a disaster. No academics (just forensic experts) were involved in the research. In order to get their paper published, they were forced to purchase and relaunch their own peer-reviewed journal. The paper, from what I understand, assumes Bigfoot exists and then goes about setting to prove its existence. Ultimately, it concludes with this comment: “The data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendant of modern humans.” I’ve written about pseudoscience extensively. And from the looks of it, this is pseudoscience at its finest.

“Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

The jury is still out on the actual data. But early word is that the results look more like contamination than anything else. Also, there seem to be a lack of rigorous tests done on the data. Here’s more on the Bigfoot DNA paper from idoubtit at Doubtful News:

Melba Ketchum’s long LONG awaited paper on Bigfoot DNA is published today. But you’re not going to see it.

Back in November, Ketchum announced her results: A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.

There was no paper to go along with the results. There is now a paper. With it comes a BOATLOAD of issues that leave this announcement less than spectacular…

(See the rest at Doubtful News)

A “Loch Ness Monster” discovered in Siberia?

A Loch Ness Monster discovered in Siberia?

A Loch Ness Monster discovered in Siberia?
Description: “Hoding stood erect and whirled his axe up against the descending muzzle”
Attribution: Illustration by E.L. Blumenschein for “Thyra: A Romance of the Polar Pit” by Robert Ames Bennet (1901)
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia

Who needs the Loch Ness Monster? Siberia has its own version called the Devil, which actually predates Nessie. And unlike the Loch Ness Monster, there are actually bones here to back it up…or so an underwater scanner says. Here’s more from Mail Online:

Russian scientists claim to have spotted the ‘jaws and skeleton’ of a mystery creature which could be ‘the Siberian Loch Ness monster’. Divers braved temperatures of minus 42C to investigate long-held beliefs that a monster lives at the bottom of the remote Lake Labynkyr 4,500 miles east of Moscow in the Siberian wilderness. And the geologists told local media their underwater scanner found the remains of a jaws and skeleton which could be the rumoured beast nicknamed ‘the Devil’.

‘There have been all sort of hypothesises about what kind of creature it could be: a giant pike, a relic reptile or an amphibia. We didn’t manage to prove or to disprove these versions….. we managed to find remains of jaws and skeleton of some animal,’ Viktor Tverdokhlebov told the Siberian Times…

(See the rest at Mail Online)

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Conducting Pseudoscience?

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are pseudosciences. But that doesn’t mean researchers in these fields can’t use the tools of science to improve their work. How does one practice pseudoscience…using real science?

A giant squid attacks a ship
Illustration in Hetzel version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Drawn by Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pseudoscience – A Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic and it’s taken us several articles to fully cover it. Six days ago, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method. Five days ago, we looked at how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method (answer: not good). Yesterday, we examined the so-called “scientific paradigm” argument that pseudosciences just haven’t been accepted by mainstream science yet.

By now, we’ve established (at least in our minds) that fields like cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are pseudosciences. But that doesn’t mean pseudosciences can’t be practiced in a professional manner. How can pseudoscience researchers use the methods of science to improve their work?

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

The Problem of Falsifiability

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology have two major problems. First, they lack falsifiability. In other words, you can prove the existence of a cryptid, ghost, or UFO by finding one. But you can never prove nonexistence.The lack of falsifiability is a major problem. It’s the primary reason real scientists stay away from these fields. It also helps explain the extremely poor quality of research in pseudoscience fields. Real scientists create hypotheses to explain phenomena and then do everything possible to refute them. Pseudoscientists, unable to refute their hypotheses, are forced to do the opposite.

“Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

The Evidence Problem?

And this leads us to the second major problem. Pseudoscientists generally marshal evidence to support their theories. But most of the “evidence” for cryptids, ghosts, and UFOs is anecdotal and thus, extremely weak.

So, we’ve got two major problems. First, practitioners are forced to use flawed hypotheses. Second, the evidence gathered is weak and used in an incorrect fashion.

Improving Pseudoscience through…Science?

Let’s return to our example from two days ago. Assume you hear reports of a strange ape-like creature roaming the Pacific Northwest. The nature of this creature is a legitimate, scientific question. How do you proceed?

Most amateur cryptozoologists will race to the scene. They’ll camp out and roam around the woods for awhile. Eventually, they’ll give up and go home, leaving an unsolved mystery in their wake.

More experienced practitioners will attempt to utilize the scientific method. They’ll begin with a hypothesis such as: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a heretofore undiscovered animal.” Then they’ll head to the region and conduct an exhaustive investigation. They’ll interview witnesses and create a narrow search window. They’ll scour the area for footprints and hair follicles. They’ll set traps and deploy expensive cameras in the vicinity, hoping to catch an image of the creature. Eventually, they’ll use this evidence to support their original hypothesis.

The second method is preferable to the first one. Eyewitness testimony is used to narrow the search window and evidence is gathered in a systematic fashion. However, the initial hypothesis fails the falsifiability test. Regardless of the evidence, there’s no way to prove the creature doesn’t exist. Thus, the evidence only serves one purpose…to support the original hypothesis.So, how should our hypothetical cryptozoologist proceed? Simple…by doing real science.

A proper hypothesis should follow Occam’s razor, or the principle of parsimony. In other words, the researcher should consider numerous hypotheses and choose the simplest one (defined as the hypothesis that requires the fewest assumptions). Thus, the original hypothesis might be restated as: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a bear.”

The investigation then proceeds as in the second example. Eyewitness testimony is used to narrow the search window and evidence is gathered in a systematic fashion. However, this time the evidence gathered is used to refute the hypothesis. If a bear is ruled out, the next most likely hypothesis is considered. And then the next and then the next and so on…

One Remaining Problem…

So, that’s how one would conduct a real scientific expedition in a pseudoscience field. Unfortunately, that leaves us with one problem. It’s impossible to rule out all alternative hypotheses. And even if a pseudoscience researcher believes he or she has done so, it still doesn’t prove the existence of the monster, ghost, or UFO. Unfortunately, this problem is unsolvable.

There’s only one way to prove the existence of the unknown. And that’s through physical evidence…i.e. an actual monster, ghost, or UFO. Thus, it’s understandable that few people choose to employ the scientific method and rule out alternatives. It’s far easier (and far more fun) to attempt to prove existence via the available evidence, weak though it may be.

This problem is exacerbated by the large population of “true believers.” UFO enthusiasts, for example, believe ardently in UFOs. Nothing can convince them otherwise. They’re not interested in skepticism. Instead, they’re only interested in evidence that supports their pre-determined beliefs. Hence, they provide a steady fan base for pseudoscience research.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution here. Real scientific research regarding monsters, ghosts, and UFOs is possible. However, the best it can do is eliminate alternative theories for a strange phenomena.

Not that this a bad thing. Eliminating alternative theories has value. In addition, the application of the scientific method may have other results, such as leading researchers to do more rigorous and skeptical analysis.

At the end of the day, we believe the best thing a pseudoscience researcher can do is to keep an open mind and to always employ Occam’s razor. It might not be as much fun…but it’s the only way to get closer to the truth.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: A Paradigm Shift?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to them have sprung up over the last few decades. These fields fail the scientific method test due to the lack of falsifiability. But is there a way we can still classify these fields as legitimate sciences? Or are they doomed to be pseudosciences?

Frequency of UFO Reports
June – September, 1952
Source: Appendix I to Project Blue Book Status Report Number 8, ARC Identifier 595542

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will take us several articles to fully cover it. A few days ago, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method. Then we looked at how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method (answer: not good). Today, we’ll examine a counter argument…namely that the only reason pseudoscience fields aren’t looked at as being scientific is due to the current paradigm.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

The Scientific Paradigm

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book entitled, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he divided science into two categories…”normal science” and “extraordinary science.” Normal science operates within an accepted “paradigm.” But sometimes, anomalies occur. If enough anomalies take place, normal science is recognized to be flawed and undergoes a “crisis period.”

In this “crisis period,” scientists begin to do extraordinary science. In other words, they operate outside the paradigm. Eventually, this may lead to new ideas and a resulting “paradigm shift” in which the new paradigm replaces the old one.

A Paradigm Shift toward Pseudoscience Fields?

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Scholars in these fields often call upon Kuhn’s work to support their research. In other words, they think the current paradigm is flawed and controlled by scientists within the paradigm. Thus, the only reason cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are still considered pseudosciences is because they don’t fit into current theories.

However, Kuhn’s concept of a “paradigm shift” doesn’t happen easily. It requires constant anomalies that can be detected in repeatable experiments. And this is where pseudosciences fall short. It’s not that mainstream science refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOs. It’s that such evidence doesn’t exist.

But some Cryptids are Real…Aren’t They?

While no one has ever produced a real ghost or UFO, new animals are discovered every year. Thus, cryptozoology has a leg up in this regard.

That being said, we have to draw a distinction here. The types of animals remaining to be discovered are most likely small and unknown to cryptozoology. In contrast, most cryptozoologists focus their efforts on well-known, highly unlikely creatures (Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster for example). Even worse, they seek such creatures with absolute certainty of their existence. Still, the regular discovery of new animals would appear to hold some hope for serious cryptozoologists.

Most new animals are discovered by accident. However, unknown animals are sometimes known through folklore. Take the extremely rare saola for example. Its existence has been known by locals for many years. Yet, their skulls were only discovered in 1992. To this day, the saola has yet to be observed in the wild. Incidentally, the discovery of the saola wasn’t made by cryptozoologists. Still, it represents how a cryptozoological expedition might work.

Cryptozoology is feasible, but is it real science? No. It still fails the scientific method test, specifically in terms of falisfiability. One might hypothesize the existence of a saola-like creature via folklore. One might even find the creature. But it’s impossible to prove it doesn’t exist.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

The inherent problem with cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology is that either a monster/ghost/UFO exists or it doesn’t. There’s no way to be sure unless something is discovered. Thus, these fields are rightly classified as pseudosciences.

“The only way to prove an unknown “monster” exists is to either capture one or find the carcass of a dead one. That doesn’t require the scientific method. It requires camping out in the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of some unknown creature.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. The Scientific Method?

That being said, when practiced in a scientific manner, pseudoscience fields can produce results. At it’s best, cryptozoology is a study of unknown animals, a mixture of zoology and folklore. Sitting in the woods waiting for an unknown animal to pop up is a poor way to do research. But hunting down old folklore and trying to ascertain its origin could result in a discovery.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how a monster/ghost/UFO expedition might work. We’ll attempt to employ the scientific method and see how one can do good work even in pseudoscience fields.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

The Dinosaur Expedition…What Went Wrong?

The Newmac Expedition, which hoped to investigate the legend of mokele-mbembe, the so-called last living dinosaur, appears to have come to an abrupt end. What went wrong?

“Is a Brontosaurus Roaming Africa’s Wilds?
The New York Herald, February 13, 1910
Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

Mokele-mbembe…the Last Living Dinosaur?

The Newmac Expedition used Kickstarter to raise $28,925 from 750 backers in order to categorize “plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo.” They described the Congo Basin as “a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.”

Most of the publicity surrounding the Newmac Expedition has been centered on its interest in the mokele-mbembe. The mokele-mbembe, or “one who stops the flow of rivers,” is a mythological creature supposedly residing in the swamps of the Congo River Basin. Details vary but most descriptions refer to it as having a long neck, a long tail, and a relatively small head. Some cryptozoologists speculate it might be a sauropod…in other words, a dinosaur…the last living dinosaur.

The Expedition launched on June 26. Three days later, it suffered a major blow when Joe Marrero “decided to completely withdraw from the Newmac Expedition.”

“I am disappointed on how the expedition was managed and found it necessary to severe my involvement in the expedition. I wish Stephen and Sam the best of luck on their adventure.” ~ Joe Marrero

On July 19, we reported rumors that the Newmac Expedition had gone extinct. This has yet to be confirmed.

What happened to the Newmac Expedition?

Two days ago, Marrero posted an article on his website detailing his reasons for withdrawing from the Newmac Expedition. Ultimately, it came down to financial problems.

“Two days before Stephen and Sam left for the Congo, I had begun to suspect that the expedition had financial problems when I was told that a specific purchase was not within the budget. Within two days of the team entering the Congo, I was forced to withdraw from the expedition when I was told that there “wasn’t enough funds for three months.” This was shocking and I was disappointed that I had placed my reputation on the line, only to have someone I trusted disappoint me with their poor financial planning.” ~ Joe Marrero, “So what happened to the Newmac Expedition?”

Marrero also cleared up the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of the Newmac Expedition’s social media platform. It seems he was running the Twitter account as well as the website. When he disassociated himself with the group, he began the process of transferring those things to Stephen McCullah, co-leader of the Newmac Expedition.

Marrero announces Expedition to find Mokele-mbembe

In his article, Marrero stated his intention to launch a separate expedition to search for the mokele-mbembe. He plans to work with a professional hunter named Cam Greig. Apparently, Greig has led dozens of expeditions to Cameroon and seven to the Congo.

As many of you know, we’ve been working on our own expedition here at Guerrilla Explorer. Planning such a trip is no easy task. With that said, we’d like to offer a piece of advice for Marrero and Greig. They may want to consider targeting a different cryptid. If the Newmac Expedition is indeed defunct and ends up forfeiting on its promises, it could prove difficult to gather support for another expedition to the Congo.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

At this point, the rumors of the Newmac Expedition’s extinction are still just that…rumors. Its current and future status remains unknown. But as we mentioned the other day, the team members might experience financial ramifications from this whole affair. Kickstarter funds come at a cost. Project leaders are expected to fulfill certain pre-determined packages based on the amount of the donation.

In the case of the Newmac Expedition, packages range from $5 (which promises daily updates and pictures as well as “a genuine pygmy made string and bone bracelet) to $10,000 (which promises a whole bunch of stuff including having “a chosen species” named after the pledgee).

Based on Marrero’s article, the Expedition is at the very least short on cash. If the rumors are true and they were forced to return to the U.S., they’ll need to fund another trip to the Congo and find a way to fulfill their pledged promises. Either that or they’ll have to give out refunds, which could be difficult if the money has already been spent on gear and other things. The third option is to forfeit on the promises. We’re not sure what would happen in that case.

We’ll keep an eye on this situation for further developments. But for the moment, it appears the mokele-mbembe, if it even exists, is safe from discovery.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of the Newmac Expedition

The Dinosaur Expedition goes…Extinct?

Several months ago, the Newmac Expedition raised $30,000 from private donors to fund a trip to the Republic of Congo. Among other things, they hoped to investigate the legend of mokèlé-mbèmbé, the so-called last living dinosaur. Less than a week ago, the expedition hit a major snag. Now, it appears to have run into more troubles. Has the Newmac Expedition gone extinct?

The Hunt for the Last Living Dinosaur

The Newmac Expedition used Kickstarter to raise $28,925 from 750 backers in order to categorize “plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo.” They described the Congo Basin as “a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.”

Most of the publicity surrounding the Newmac Expedition has been centered on its interest in the mokèlé-mbèmbé. The mokèlé-mbèmbé, or “one who stops the flow of rivers,” is a mythological creature supposedly residing in the swamps of the Congo River Basin. Details vary but most descriptions refer to it as having a long neck, a long tail, and a relatively small head. Some cryptozoologists speculate it might be a sauropod…in other words, a dinosaur.

The Expedition launched on June 26. Three days later, it suffered a major blow when Joe Marrero “decided to completely withdraw from the Newmac Expedition.”

“I am disappointed on how the expedition was managed and found it necessary to severe my involvement in the expedition. I wish Stephen and Sam the best of luck on their adventure.” ~ Joe Marrero

The Newmac Expedition…goes Extinct?

Yesterday, we received an anonymous tip that the Newmac Expedition had returned from the Congo. Supposedly, the group was forced to curtail its 3-month trip. The exact reason remains unclear but we were told that Expedition member Stephen McCullah posted a message on his personal Facebook page about a lack of research permits. We’ve also heard that the Expedition suffered gear losses via theft.

This information has yet to be confirmed. But if true, it explains Marrero’s decision to withdraw from the Expedition. Adding fuel to the fire are the changes made to the Newmac Expedition’s social media platform. Its website has been abandoned. The last Facebook update came on June 21. The last Twitter update, announcing the departure of Joe Marrero, came on July 10. And the last update on Kickstarter (which we are unable to access) came on July 13.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Let’s assume for a moment the Newmac Expedition has gone defunct. What are the consequences? Well, the money raised from Kickstarter wasn’t free. People in various pledge categories (ranging from $5 to $10,000) were promised certain packages. For example, here’s the package for the $5 category:

“Everyone in this pledge category will receive daily updates and pictures of progress- Via text or email, so you will be one of the first to see the findings. Weeks ahead of the media. Furthermore we’ll send a you a genuine pygmy made string and bone bracelet to commemorate the launch of The Project.” ~ Documentary Expedition to Congo- KILLER REWARDS!!!

This package was initially scheduled for delivery in June. According to recent comments on the team’s Kickstarter page, at least some of the backers haven’t received it yet. However, from what we understand the delivery date was switched to October (coinciding with the Expedition’s original expected return date).

The $5 package is the simplest one. For example, people who pledged $50 were promised “an authentic piece of a new species of plant.” People in the $100 category were promised “a DVD collection of the entire trip and a handcarved Spear made by the Baka Pygmy people along with a picture of the person who carved it holding YOUR spear.” And the rewards only get more complicated from there.

If the project is indeed defunct, then this would appear to be a case of over-promising and under-delivery. And according to Kickstarter, unsuccessful projects are expected to be refunded.

“If you realize that you will be unable to follow through on your project after it has been successfully funded, you are expected to offer refunds to all your backers. To avoid problems, don’t over-promise when creating your project. If issues arise, communicate immediately, openly, and honestly with your backers.” ~ Kickstarter FAQ

All along, skeptics have claimed the Expedition was poorly-planned and perhaps ill-conceived. Unfortunately, that now appears to be the case. We’re still waiting for official word from the team. It’s always possible they will attempt to relaunch after they get everything straightened out. In fact, we have reason to believe this is their plan. But for the time being, it appears the Newmac Expedition has gone extinct.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of the Newmac Expedition

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. Science: Part II?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to these topics have sprung up over the last few decades. How do pseudosciences like cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method?

“Your Grave will be Under the Stars”
Illustration by W.T. Benda for “The Ghost at Point of Rocks” by Frank H. Spearman (August 1907)
Source: Scribner’s magazine, Volume 42, August 1907 (Digitized by Google on March 12, 2007)

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will probably take us several articles to fully cover it. Yesterday, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method in scientific research. Today, we’ll see how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

Cryptozoology, Ghost Hunting, & Ufology

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Yesterday, we stated our opinion that few of the researchers in these fields utilize the scientific method. Instead, the vast majority focus their efforts on trying to support their theories, rather than attempting to refute them. However, a few (okay, many) bad apples doesn’t necessarily discredit these fields of study. Can cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology be practiced as protosciences as opposed to pseudosciences?

The scientific method requires one to observe phenomena, ask a question about it, and then form a hypothesis that answers the question. For example, one might hear reports of a strange ape-like creature roaming the Pacific Northwest. A researcher might legitimately inquire as to the nature of this creature. But what hypothesis should he or she form?

One potential hypothesis is: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a heretofore undiscovered animal.” But this is problematic because there’s no way to prove it false. Indeed, forming falsifiable, testable hypotheses is exceedingly difficult in these fields since we can’t be certain whether or not the monster/ghost/UFO actually exists.

Another potential hypothesis is: “The eyewitness reports were caused by sightings of a bear.” This is a falsifiable, somewhat testable hypothesis. This route might allow a researcher to cancel out alternative theories. However, it does nothing to strengthen the case for an unknown animal.

And therein lies the rub. The only way to prove an unknown “monster” exists is to either capture one or find the carcass of a dead one. On the other hand, there’s no way to disprove its existence. Therefore, even the most diligent cryptozoologist won’t be able to make full use of the scientific method. And without the scientific method, a field of study can never reach the level of protoscience, let alone mainstream science.

The Evidence Problem

There’s one more thing to consider. The scientific method requires one to gather evidence that can be tested and verified by other researchers. It would appear cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are sorely lacking in this regard.

As we see it, there are three types of scientific evidence. Physical evidence is something you can see or touch. Second-hand physical evidence includes things like photographs and footprint plasters. Anecdotal evidence is basically eyewitness accounts. Physical evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOs is practically nonexistent. Cryptozoologists have gathered some DNA samples for possible “cryptids.” However, since there’s no possible comparison, the best conclusion one can draw from such evidence is that it doesn’t match certain other creatures. There’s just no way to be certain whether or not it matches a cryptid. Again, the problem of falsification rears its ugly head.

Second-hand physical evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOS is fairly common. However, this evidence is difficult to test or trust. You might be able to eliminate certain possibilities. However, you can never eliminate the possibility of a hoax.

By far, anecdotal evidence is the most common form of evidence gathered by crytozoologists, ghost hunters, and ufologists. Unfortunately, eyewitness testimony has little value, regardless of the purveyor’s social standing. It cannot be tested nor is it falsifiable. Also, most people are untrained observers and thus, make for poor eyewitnesses. They forget details. Sometimes they add extra ones. They can easily mistake one creature for another. As a result, anecdotal evidence is notoriously poor in quality.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology appear to suffer from two major flaws. First, there’s no way to form falsifiable hypotheses that will shed light on the existence of monsters, ghosts, or UFOs. And second, the available evidence for these things is weak at best. Indeed, from a certain perspective, it would appear the aspiring researcher is better off avoiding the scientific method altogether and instead, doing everything possible to get his or her hands on actual physical evidence. Hence, the sorry state of research in these fields today.

Is there a way out of this mess? Perhaps. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the “paradigm shift” theory of Thomas Kuhn. Maybe the problems seemingly inherent to cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology aren’t their fault but rather, the fault of science itself.Or maybe not.

Stay tuned!

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to these phenomena have sprung up over the last few decades. How should we classify cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology? Are they protosciences (emerging areas of study)? Or are they pseudosciences?

“Hoding stood erect and whirled his axe up against the descending muzzle”
Illustration by E.L. Blumenschein for “Thyra: A Romance of the Polar Pit” by Robert Ames Bennet (1901)
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia

Background

For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous pseudoscientific expeditions that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.

As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?

This is a big topic so it will probably take us several articles to fully cover it. We’ll use this first article to present the problem and establish the importance of the scientific method in scientific research.

Superstitions to Science

There are five general ways people attempt to answer scientific questions. They range from superstitions to mainstream science.

  • Superstitions: Superstition is the linking of cause and effect using supernatural forces rather than natural science.
  • Pseudoscience: Pseudoscience refers to scientific-like ideas that fall short of actual science. Usually, research in these areas lacks evidence or the ability to duplicate experiments. As such, the scientific method is not properly employed.
  • Fringe Science: Fringe science employs the scientific method. However, it is highly speculative and its results are widely rejected within the general scientific community.
  • Protoscience: Protoscience also employs the scientific method. It refers to new areas of scientific investigation that have yet to be firmly established. Sometimes these areas fail to pan out and become pseudosciences or fringe sciences. Other times, such as with plate tectonics, they become widely accepted as mainstream sciences. Cryonics could be termed a current protoscience.
  • Mainstream Science: An established and respected field of scientific study.

The issue of what separates science from pseudoscience is known as the demarcation problem. This is actually a difficult problem and remains a point of contention among many researchers. Most scholars believe the scientific method must be utilized in true science. Karl Popper suggested that scientific statements must be falsifiable, or capable of being refuted by a physical experiment.

Arguably, falsification is required when making proper use of the scientific method. Thus, for our purposes, we’ll postulate that true science requires the ability to test hypotheses using the scientific method.

The Importance of the Scientific Method

The scientific method is a self-correcting body of techniques used to gain knowledge. While there isn’t an established procedure, there are several steps which are generally utilized by the scientific community. Here’s one possible iteration of these steps.

  1. Observe phenomena.
  2. Define a question about the phenomena.
  3. Form a testable hypothesis answering the question.
  4. Rigorously test the hypothesis in ways that can be repeated.
  5. Analyze the data.
  6. Either reject or don’t reject the hypothesis (note: not rejecting the hypothesis doesn’t mean accepting it). If hypothesis is rejected, form a new hypothesis and repeat steps 3-6.
  7. Publish results so others can peer-review the work.

Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.

“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes

Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs

Crytozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Practitioners tend to think of themselves as scientists. They’ve even adopted many scientific practices. They use scientific jargon and employ technical equipment in the field. Many researchers join organizations and publish research papers. To the casual observer, it all looks very scientific. Unfortunately, it’s often not even close.

Many researchers in these fields are hopelessly biased. A proper scientific investigation attempts to explain phenomena with hypotheses based on the most logical explanations. Then scientists attempt to refute those hypotheses. However, pseudoscientists often do the exact opposite. They establish pseudoscientific hypotheses and then marshal evidence to support their own hypotheses. Incidentally, we accused TIGHAR of doing this exact same thing recently while searching for Amelia Earhart’s lost Lockheed Electra.

The presence of poor researchers is unfortunate. However, it doesn’t necessarily discredit these fields of study. Can crytozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology be practiced as real protosciences as opposed to pseudosciences?

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Well, that’s it for today. In summary, we believe true science (protoscience and mainstream science) requires its practitioners to make rigorous use of the scientific method. Most cryptozoologists, ghost hunters, and ufologists appear to fail that test. But is that just due to the individuals themselves? Or are these fields of study doomed by their very nature? We’ll take a closer look at that issue tomorrow.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?

 

The Dinosaur Expedition Disintegrates?

Several weeks ago, the Newmac Expedition traveled to the Republic of Congo. Among other things, they sought to investigate the legendary mokele-mbembe, believed by some to be the last living dinosaur. But now, the expedition appears to have hit a major snag. Is this the end of the Newmac Expedition?

Dinosaur Skeleton
Photographer: Harris & Ewing (1913-1917)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Hunt for Mokele-mbembe?

The Newmac Expedition used Kickstarter to raise $28,925 from 750 backers in order to categorize “plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo.” They describe the Congo Basin as “a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.”

Most of the publicity surrounding the Newmac Expedition has been centered on its interest in a strange creature known as mokele-mbembe. The mokele-mbembe, or “one who stops the flow of rivers,” is a mythological creature supposedly residing in the swamps of the Congo River Basin. Details vary but most descriptions refer to it as having a long neck, a long tail, and a relatively small head. Some cryptozoologists speculate it might be a sauropod…in other words, a dinosaur.

What’s New?

The Expedition launched on June 26. Three days later, it suffered a major blow when Joe Marrero “decided to completely withdraw from the Newmac Expedition.”

“I am disappointed on how the expedition was managed and found it necessary to severe my involvement in the expedition. I wish Stephen and Sam the best of luck on their adventure.” ~ Joe Marrero

The remaining members of the Expedition noted his departure over twitter.

“Joe Marrero has withdrawn from the expedition. We wish him the best on his future adventures.” ~ Newmac Expedition, July 10

As best as we can tell, the Newmac Expedition started out with five principals. According to their website, they are now down to three.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

Obviously, we don’t know the full story behind this situation. But the loss of a principal is no small matter. Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for the Newmac Expedition. This whole thing is starting to look exactly like what critics claimed it would be…a poorly-planned and perhaps ill-conceived operation. We’ll continue to follow this story as best we can but for now, the future of the Newmac Expedition appears to be in doubt.

 

The Newmac Expedition: What is the Mokele-Mbembe?

Tomorrow, the Newmac Expedition leaves for the Republic of Congo. Among other things, they seek to investigate a strange legend, centuries in the making. What is the mokele-mbembe?

Is Mokele-mbembe the last living dinosaur?
“Mrs. Tooler-Monde, President of the Fortieth Century club, takes her husband to see the newly restored Prehistoric Monster”
Drawn by Oliver Herford (1918)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Background on Mokele-mbembe

As you may recall from yesterday, the Newmac Expedition used Kickstarter to raise $28,925 from 750 backers in order to categorize “plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo.” They describe the Congo Basin as “a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.”

Most of the publicity surrounding the Newmac Expedition has been centered on its interest in a strange creature known as mokele-mbembe. The mokele-mbembe, or “one who stops the flow of rivers,” is a mythological creature supposedly residing in the swamps of the Congo River Basin. Details vary but most descriptions refer to it as having a long neck, a long tail, and a relatively small head.

“The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable.” ~ German Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, 1913, Published in Willy Ley’s 1959 book, Willy Ley’s Exotic Zoology

What is the Mokele-mbembe?

So, what is the mokele-mbembe? Well, many cryptozoologists speculate it might be a sauropod. Sauropods were dinosaurs. Their ranks included the Diplodocus and the Apatosaurus (better known as the Brontosaurus). Like all dinosaurs, the sauropods are believed to have died out 65.5 million years ago in the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event. Not a single dinosaur bone has ever been found above the K-Pg boundary, which is a layer of sediment in the earth’s crust marking the switch from the Cretaceous Period (K) to the Paleogene Period (Pg). This indicates that non-avian dinosaurs became extinct at or before the creation of this boundary.

There’s no hard evidence proving the existence of the mokele-mbembe. Photographs exist but they don’t show much of anything. And that’s in spite of the fact that various expeditions have scoured the Congo River Basin for decades.

On the other hand, reports of the creature go back a long way. For example, in 1776, a French missionary named Abbé Lievain Bonaventure wrote about strange footprints seen by natives in the Congo.

“The missionaries have observed in passing along a forest, the track of an animal which they have never seen; but it must be monstrous, the prints of its claws are seen on the earth, and formed an impression on it of about three feet in circumference. In observing the posture and disposition of the footprints, they concluded that it did not run in this part of its way, and that it carried its claws at the distance of seven or eight feet one from the other.” ~ Abbé Lievain Bonaventure, History of Loango, Kakonga, and other Kingdoms in Africa (1776), Translated by John Pinkerton in A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World: Volume 16 (1914)

Obviously, the natives have believed in the mokele-mbembe for centuries. However, it’s unclear whether they consider the creature to be a real-life physical animal or some kind of spirit.

Most likely, the mokele-mbembe doesn’t exist. A second possibility is that the creatures eyewitnesses have seen are actually giant monitor lizards. Regardless, we’re curious about this. As such, we’ll be doing our best to follow the Newmac Expedition. Fair warning though…it could prove challenging. They will be traveling through extremely remote areas. Also, it appears daily updates and photos will initially be distributed only through donors. So, news might be rare for the time being.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Incidentally, one of the running themes here at Guerrilla Explorer is our deep skepticism toward most so-called cryptids. Not all cryptids, mind you. But many of the popular, land-based ones.

“If undiscovered megafauna still exist on Earth, the most likely place to find them is in the ocean. After all, in the past twenty years, scholars have discovered eight large previously-unknown marine animals. Thus, from where I stand, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters such as the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent.” ~ David Meyer, Bigfoot Lives…!

It seems highly unlikely that undiscovered air or land-based megafauna like the Thunderbird or Bigfoot are anything more than long-running figments of our imagination. We have slightly more faith in the Yeti and the mokele-mbembe, although not much. The Yeti supposedly lives in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. The mokele-mbembe resides in the swamps of remote, isolated jungles. Few people live in these areas and the conditions make expeditions difficult.

But while we’re skeptical of cryptids, we certainly don’t reject the possibility of their existence. One of the things that frustrates us about modern science is the built-in disdain many researchers hold for fields like cryptozoology. Regardless of our opinions, we must continue to evaluate any and all scientific claims with an open mind…even if its about the legendary Sasquatch or an undiscovered dinosaur living in the Congo. After all, that’s what science is all about.

“What I object to in particular is the knee-jerk reaction that any interest in cryptozoology makes you a crank or a naïve believer in the impossible. Not only are some targets of cryptozoology entirely ‘believable’ (example: new marine sharks and cetaceans), the assumption that people interested in cryptozoology necessarily ‘believe’ in the existence of the supposed targets of cryptozoology is erroneous. Clearly, you can investigate mystery animal reports because you’re interested in what they might tell you about the evolution and transmission of folklore, the reliability and abilities of eyewitnesses, and so on. Furthermore, I always thought that the scientific evaluation of claims of any kind was meant to be a good thing. Basically, there’s definitely science to do here, whether you advocate the possible existence of the respective supposed animal species or not.” ~ Darren Naish, Paleontologist

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of the Newmac Expedition