Jul 072015
 

A recent local news story featuring a short video of a UFO caught my attention. “Hector Garcia, of North Philadelphia, went outside for a smoke Sunday, looked in the sky, and noticed something blowing in the wind above the corner of 7th and Tioga. He captured video of a nebulous flying blob with his phone and it is attracting attention.”

Garcia’s short cell phone video was also uploaded to YouTube. Being that local news stories, and sometimes YouTube videos, may not stay on the internet for very long, I’ve included two screen captures of his video to illustrate what he saw.

YouTubeUFO

YouTubeUFOTwo

Garcia’s video seemed familiar to me, as on two occasions I’ve seen similar things in the sky. The first occasion was with my friend Alex. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Seattle, and we were standing in Kerry Park enjoying the view and taking photographs. Suddenly I saw a diaphanous blob in the sky, moving westward. I had my DSLR camera on a tripod, and I tried to grab it to take a photo. By the time I got my hands on the camera, the object was gone. My friend Alex had much less of a psychological reaction on seeing it, believing it to be a balloon. My memory was that it was clear, or translucent, which is unusual for balloons, which are often brightly colored. Ultimately, I don’t know what it was that I saw, and is thus (for me) a genuine UFO.

In May of 2014 I was in Missoula, Montana. One sunny afternoon I drove up to Miller Creek, not far outside of the city. I brought along a Canon DSLR camera with a good telephoto lens. It was a nice day, but a bit breezy. I saw a black plastic bag, or perhaps a very dirty plastic bag, tumbling along, just above the tall grasses of an open field. I know it was a plastic bag, because I was close enough to it to get a good look at it. I watched it gain altitude, and I began taking photographs. I probably watched it, intermittently, for perhaps 20 minutes. It’s hard to judge altitude, but I would guess it gained several hundred feet, as it floated aloft and drifted away. It was certainly not a helium balloon, as its shape was irregular. Click on the photos to view them in full resolution.

UFO One

UFOTwoCrop

UFO Three

I strongly suspect that the object Garcia recently recorded was a plastic bag. It moved slowly, its shape was irregular, and it appeared to be either white or translucent. It may have been catching sunlight at different angles during its flight. Being that Garcia used a cell phone, and probably zoomed in, the object may have been slightly out of focus which would enhance the mysteriousness of the event.

Post Script: Mick West, curator of the excellent Metabunk website, has suggested the object is helium foam.

 Posted by on 07/07/2015 Personal History, Pseudoscience, Science Tagged with:  Comments Off on Plastic UFOs
Mar 162015
 

I remember reading John Keel’s book Strange Creatures from Time and Space when I was about nine or ten. I believe I was already familiar with Bigfoot, but Keel’s book introduced me to many more strange cryptozoological entities. Fascinating stuff, especially for a child, but eventually I became very skeptical of most cryptozoology claims, particularly Bigfoot.

Cryptozoology differs from UFOlogy in that animals must follow the laws of evolution. Claims that Bigfoot is a “shape shifter” or “interdimensional being” are marginalized and shouted down within the subculture of “respectable” cryptozoology. This is in opposition to UFOlogy, in which UFOs can be anything at all, nuts and bolts space ships that defy the laws of physics or interdimensional vehicles that got here via worm hole. UFOs can be any size, shape, or color. They can be single or many. UFOs are sort of like gods, in that they can be more or less anything you want them to be!

I had an anomalous animal sighting once, and I believe it’s worthwhile to write down an account of the experience. It occurred while driving at night. I had parked my truck the night before in front of my house. At the corner is a raised concrete traffic circle, intended to “calm” traffic. I think vehicles are supposed to go around it in a counter-clockwise fashion, as seen from above. But it’s a small intersection, a big traffic circle, and my truck has a large turning radius. I sometimes take the sort cut and turn left without going around the circle.

On this occasion I did just that; I turned left without going around. It was windy, but not raining. There are street lights in the neighborhood, so visibility was decent. In front of me and to my right I saw what I believed to be a black rat scurrying across the road, from left to right. For a moment I was upset, as no one wants rats in the neighborhood. But then I realized it wasn’t a rat, that it was much too round. Then I thought it was a raccoon, maybe a baby raccoon, but it was sort of hemispherical, and had no tail. Perhaps it was a turtle, but I’d never seen a turtle move that fast, or in a way that I was witnessing, which was a sort of side-to-side oscillation. My problem was that the sighting was brief, and I had to divert my attention to safely turning the car in the intersection. Had the event occured even ~slightly~ differently, I would to this day be claiming I saw a particularly weird animal that night. Perhaps a new species!

But I had JUST enough time during the event, which was over and done in a matter of seconds, to actually figure out what it was. It was a small black plastic bag, propelled by the wind, which JUST HAPPENED to be fluttering in a way that I initially perceived as a living animal.

I often make the comparison between UFOs and objects in the roadway. I sometimes call them “UROs” or Unidentified Roadway Objects. I see them all the time! Was that a dead animal, a piece of cardboard, a piece of tire, a rag, a dirty shirt, a piece of metal, or something else entirely? There is a common feature seen in both UFO and URO sightings: They are often brief and unexpected. Had we been given more time, better optics, or a chance to examine whatever it was up close and directly, we could most likely discover what it really was. This also illustrates why anecdotal evidence comprised of eyewitness accounts is not hard scientific evidence: It’s simply too easy to be mistaken, misperceive, or misremember what we saw. I certainly did for a moment or two during my sighting!

 Posted by on 03/16/2015 Personal History, Pseudoscience Tagged with: ,  Comments Off on A Strange Creature From Time and Space
Nov 112013
 

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.

 Posted by on 11/11/2013 Bigfoot, Pseudoscience, Science Comments Off on The Notion of Unintentional Testing
Feb 202012
 

There is a sort of “asymmetric warfare” that occurs with arguments in the world of pseudoscience. The idea is that there are stubborn facts that refute and therefore undermine the whole edifice of the opposition’s argument.

I remember encountering such an argument when I was a high school student in the 1970’s. I remember picking up a religious tract at the county fair, a notorious missive by Jack T. Chick entitled “Big Daddy.” As time went on I found other creationist literature that contained one of the famous and much repeated canards against evolution, namely that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.

The science of evolution is enormous, and is becoming even more refined with current advances in genomics and molecular biology. Thus to its opponents it’s a sort of edifice. If you propose that a particular “fact” refutes the entire edifice, that “fact” would be asymmetric in its power. In my opinion this is why creationists like Duane T. Gish promote such fallacies, as they allow an opinion to be formed without having to look at a huge body of work in geology, biology, genetics, and other allied sciences.

The converse of a destructive argument is also possible; the niggling “fact” that MAKES IT ALL TRUE. Some time back an individual named Kevin Buresh aka “Sweaty Yeti” began posting images from the Patterson – Gimlin purported Bigfoot film on various internet forums, including JREF. One GIF image purported to show movement of the film subject’s fingers. The implication is that an actor inside a costume would be incapable of duplicating this feat. Allegedly the arms of the film subject are too long for a human to move the fingers of a costume. This is a form of “asymmetric” argumentation in that if the film subject’s fingers bend and a human actor cannot do this, then it cannot be a human actor in a costume. If it’s not a human actor in a costume, then it can only be Bigfoot. If the Patterson – Gimlin film subject was a real Bigfoot it cannot be the only one, as there must be a population to survive as a species. VOILA! THE FINGERS MOVE, THEREFORE IT’S ALL TRUE!!! Bigfoot is real!

As skeptics do, this assertion was met with a variety of rebuttals. One of the more cogent was a GIF animation created by a man posting as “Dfoot.” It clearly demonstrates that fingers can move, and rather spectacularly so, while wearing a prosthetic glove.

I experimented for myself the very same thing, using a bear skin glove. A glove provides the illusion of a longer arm. One does not need to have fingers all the way inside the glove to cause the fingers to move. It’s obvious that bending fingers are seen with this hirsute glove.

Recently a JREF poster named “Tontar” posted a GIF animation of his own, which suggests that Buresh’s original animation was flawed from the outset by improper arm alignment. Click on the large side-by-side image of the film subject on this page to animate. The GIF animation may load slowly.

Buresh’s arguments are obviously crackpot, yet it’s doubtful that we will see the end of them. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman went so far as to promote them on his Cryptomundo blog.

After 50 years of Bigfootery with no bones, no road kill, no teeth, a certain quasi-religious desperation is sinking in, with asinine arguments like “Bigfoot’s bending fingers” substituting for real science.

 Posted by on 02/20/2012 Bigfoot, Pseudoscience 4 Responses »
Oct 182011
 

When Cryptomundo appeared on the Internet several years ago, I was quite interested, as it seemed like a worthwhile resource for news about cryptid animals. As the years went by, things changed. I started noticing lots more ads, in particular audio “pop-up” ads. One onerous message announced “congratulations, you’ve won” automatically when one logged onto Cryptomundo. At that time, I still hoped that this could be fixed and I sent Loren Coleman an e-mail asking that the audio pop-up ads be turned off. I received a response to the effect that “I just work here, you need to talk to the owner.”

For a time several years ago I posted on a crypto message board also moderated by Coleman. I remember writing a long post comparing John Green’s advocacy of a particular trackway to Ivan Sanderson’s advocacy of 15 foot penguins. Coleman refused to publish this entry. I suspect, but don’t know, that it was refused because calling out Sanderson as a crackpot is a no-no for those promoting Cryptozoology as serious science.

As the years went by, the dual themes of pathological advertizing and Coleman’s repetitive censorship would become apparent to many others besides myself. In addition, Cryptomundo began to really go over the edge into the land of bad taste by linking Cryptozoology to 9-11, and repeatedly posting photos of sexy women. What in the hell does 9-11 or sexy women have to do with unknown animals? It was obvious to me this was a shameless attempt to game the search engine rankings of Cryptomundo, and I’m not the only one who believed this.

Coleman’s reputation took a big hit in 2002 regarding the means in which he obtained photographs from Bigfooter Peter Byrne in the late 1990’s. The damning account was published in 2002 in a Northwest newsletter called the Track Record. Similar accounts were published by Daniel Perez in his newsletter Bigfoot Times in the October-November 2005 issue. But now it’s 2011, and these days Coleman doesn’t have to physically obtain photographs to publish them. He simply finds them on the Internet, claims “fair use” then throws them up on Cryptomundo. I’ve had two photographs of mine “scraped” this way. Note that I’ve included screen grabs of Cryptomundo, as Coleman is fond of historical revisionism, either by editing or redacting information.

Coleman’s “fair use” claim is amusing in light of his own claims of copyright on photos he obtained of what is called the Myakka Skunk Ape:

Coleman’s use of my photographs is galling because Cryptomundo is not just a labor of love, but a for-profit business. One that now regularly functions in a morally onerous way. At one point Cryptomundo even published a topless photo of Natasha Henstridge in an article about the Chupacabra! As is Cryptomundo’s style, the photo was quickly redacted. Then came the chronic begging, or as it’s sometimes known on the Internet “bleging.” If Coleman had lost his leg in ‘Nam, I would have some sympathy, but I really have no idea why he does this.

Today we had another little kerfuffle, though it seems that Coleman has redacted his entry once again! As we see in the Cryptomundo caption in my photo, Coleman likes to label his opponents. Today he lashed out at Sharon Hill as a “scoftic.” What makes this incident rather bizarre is that Cryptomundo linked to an obviously satirical blog entry. Coleman is not stupid by any means, so I find it inconceivable that he wouldn’t notice that it was a parody site. Why would he press on, as if it was a genuine thing? Again, I think it all comes down to SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Here is a screen capture from the yet-to-be-redacted Cryptomundo feed of Bigfoot Forums:

As you can see, we have a large photo of Sharon Hill. I suspect, but cannot prove, that it’s all in the search engine optimization of the photo tags. Here is the result of a simple test I performed today. I entered the term “bigfoot sexy” into the Google Image search. Lo and behold the photo of the sexy woman in the black swimsuit is from Cryptomundo!

How else can one explain why Coleman chose to publish such an asinine blog entry? I’d like to propose that the text around scraped photos of sexy women that appear on Cryptomundo is just so much Loren ipsum…

Coleman has put himself in an untenable position; he wants to be respected and taken seriously as a “Cryptozoology expert” yet at the same time he engages in repetitively pathological moral behavior.

 Posted by on 10/18/2011 Opinion, Pseudoscience 2 Responses »