We commonly believe that “testing” is an intentional process. In fact, we think of the most carefully designed tests as “scientific” tests. Within the commonplace notion of “scientific testing” there is a tacit assumption that it’s intentional. Consider the spectacular success of finding a predicted subatomic particle, the Higgs boson. A giant machine had to be built, the Large Hadron Collider, and it had to be operated by educated people with highly specialized technical knowledge. The intention of the tests at the LHC is to find subatomic particles.
The kind of testing that Mythbusters does is also scientific testing, but with a much lower budget. There again, it’s intentional testing, as unique devices are often built to test the claims that they often erroneously refer to as “myths.”
There are tests that occur which are unintentional, which is why they are non-obvious. Consider Russian dashboard cameras, or “dash-cams.” Their designed function, their intention, is to capture traffic events such as collisions, to guard against fraudulent insurance claims. In a surprising turn of events, Russian dash cams videos were used to help calculate the trajectory of the Chelyabinsk meteor. The unintentional data was valid and scientifically useful. In addition, seismic sensors designed to detect nuclear detonations also provided data that was used to assess the Chelyabinsk event. Again, these seismic sensors were unintentionally testing for events besides nuclear blasts.
There are other “tests” which are as non-obvious and unintentional as dash-cam videos. Consider the question “is there a population of panthers in Florida?” The answer is yes. How do we know this? Well, a variety of reasons, one of them is the sad reality that some members of this population are hit and killed by cars. Roadkill is an unintentional sort of “test” for the presence of animals in an area.
How might this notion apply to skepticism? Consider the central claim of young earth creationism, that the planet is no more than 10,000 years old, and that all species on earth were created spontaneously at one time. If this was the case, there would be tangible evidence of this. This question was settled decades ago, but consider that even now the claim is unintentionally tested on a daily basis. Science learns novel things within branches of science relevant to evolution on a daily basis. If creationism were real, “normal science” as Thomas Kuhn calls it, would be encountering anomalies that suggest creationism EVERY DAY. This does not happen. It does not happen because creationism is false.
The culture of skepticism is often “reactive” in the sense that those who assert extraordinary claims act first and skeptics follow by analyzing or testing those claims. I’ve personally done this in the somewhat reviled area known as “Bigfoot skepticism.” Extraordinary claims were made that certain textures on a putative Bigfoot footprint cast represented “dermal ridges.” I involved myself with testing this claim.
Bigfootery is not seen by most skeptics as being as socially corrosive as creationism, and I would agree with this. Yet even most “Bigfoot skeptics” don’t conceive of Bigfootery as being as intellectually bankrupt as creationism.
I no longer think this way about the subject, and I now conceive of Bigfootery as being as intellectually bankrupt as creationism. Why? Because the Bigfoot proposition, like creationism, is tested on a daily basis. It has failed on a daily basis, and has failed on a daily failed for decades.
How specifically is the Bigfoot proposition tested on a daily basis? First off, as mentioned earlier, roadkill. Bigfoot is asserted to be a real animal, whose range is the entire North American continent. For decades now, drivers travel literally billions of miles on those roads each year. Traffic is constant. Animals of all kinds both common and rare, like Florida panthers, are killed. Not a single Sasquatch. Hikers traverse the wilderness daily, including the alleged habitation areas of Bigfoot. Humans by nature are curious, and anomalous details stand out. A human shaped skull the size of a basketball would stand out, as would virtually ANY part of a humanoid carcass. The natural curiosity of hikers is an unintentional test for all sorts of anomalies, such as aircraft debris occasionally found in the wilderness. No Bigfoot carcass has ever been found in North America. Geologists, road engineers, paleontologists, and others dig and move earth on a daily basis in North America. Though most are not intentionally looking for Bigfoot fossils, anomalous fossils would be noticed, as would all sorts of anomalies. Wildlife photographers capture high resolution, unambiguous photographs of all sorts of animals, including very rare ones, on a daily basis. In 50 years of Bigfootery, the number of clear and unambiguous photographs or motion pictures of Sasquatch produced by non-Bigfoot advocates is zero.
The claim by Bigfoot advocates that Bigfootery is a legitimate scientific question continues to function as effective propaganda because the notion of unintentional testing is non-obvious.
For many years now, creationists have tried to argue that creationism is a legitimate scientific question. “Teach the Controversy” they argue. It’s a subtle form of propaganda. Creationists attempt to stage public “debates” with top scientists. In this way, creationists are subtly attempting to persuade by suggesting the issue is a legitimate controversy, and that the creationist’s argument and evidence is equivalent to that offered by legitimate scientists. Bigfoot advocates engage in a similar form of propaganda, though I suspect that they do so unconsciously.
By causing “Bigfoot skeptics” to continually respond to putative evidence, Bigfoot advocates tacitly position the Bigfoot proposition as a valid scientific question. Furthermore, this obscures the damning flaw of Bigfootery, which is that the Bigfoot proposition is unintentionally tested daily, and fails daily.