Skeptic » eSkeptic » July 8, 2015

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine



39 SCIENCE LECTURES FOR $39

With 39 lectures to choose from currently, our Summer Sale subscription rate of $39 on Vimeo On Demand means you only pay $1 per lecture, and you’ll have a full year to watch them all! Or, pay only $1.95 per lecture, and choose only the ones you want to see, when you want to see them!

Learn from these distinguished speakers: Charles Adler, Robert Trivers, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Donald Prothero, Lisa Randall, Carol Tavris, Paul Zak, Michael Shermer, Jonathan Kirsch, William Lobdell, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michio Kaku, Tim Flannery, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Steven Pinker, Sean M. Carroll, Philip Zimbardo, Christopher Boehm, Marc Rayman, Kevin Dutton, Adam Grant, Daphne J. Fairbarn, Leonard Mlodinow, Jennifer Ouellette, Linda Spilker, Thomas Spilker, Svante Pääbo, Edward Slingerland, Chris Impey, Rebecca Goldstein, Katherine Freese, Gregory Hickok, Marcelo Gleiser, Bradley Voytek, and Andrew Hodges.

Find a lecture to rent

Rent one lecture for $1.95 for a 72-hour period.

RENT ONE lecture for $1.95 (reg. $3.95)
and watch it for a 72-hour period.

Rent ALL lectures for only $49 on a 1-year subscription.

RENT ALL lectures for $39 (reg. $49)
on a 1-year subscription.


Mike McRae
A History of Life’s Vital Essence (Part 3): The Twilight of Vitalism

Mike McRae provides a glimpse into the history of two competing systems of biology: life as complex chemistry, and the abandoned theory of vitalism. (Part 3 of 3) This post concludes a three-part series exploring the history of vitalism. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Read the Insight

NEW SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN COLUMN ON MICHAELSHERMER.COM
Outrageous—Why cops kill

The ongoing rash of police using deadly force against minority citizens has triggered a search for a universal cause—most commonly identified as racism. What in the brains of cops or citizens leads either group to erupt in violence? An answer may be found deep inside the brain, where a neural network stitches together three structures into what neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp calls the rage circuit. Read about it in Michael Shermer’s July ‘Skeptic’ column from Scientific American.

Read the column

FOLLOW MICHAEL SHERMER ON
TwitterFacebookInsightThe Moral Arc Blog


Off to The Amazing Meeting!
SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 255

This week on Skepticality, Derek talks a little about his upcoming trip to The Amazing Meeting, and runs some news and updates from the band of Skepticality Contributors.

Skepticality (the Official Podcast App of Skeptic Magazine) is available on the App Store
Skepticality (the Official Podcast App of Skeptic Magazine) is available at Amazon for Android
Skepticality (the Official Podcast App of Skeptic Magazine) is available on Windows Store

The Way of the Mister (Quickey): Redefined

Mr. Deity responds to the redefinition of the terms “marriage” and “religious liberty.”

WATCH EPISODE | DONATE | SUPPORT | FOLLOW | EXPLORE | RENT


In a 1725 copper etching, huntsmen approach a moose felled by epilepsy. (A Compleat History of Druggs originally written in French by Monsieur Pomet, translated and expanded by Mess. Lemery and Tournefort. London, 1725. Printed with permission of the Huntington Museum, Pasadena, CA.) Click image (above) to enlarge it.

About this week’s eSkeptic

Have you ever gone cow tipping, or do you know someone who says they have? Where in the world did this strange idea come from? In this week’s eSkeptic, Pat Linse examines the surprising origins of cow tipping. This article was originally published in Skeptic magazine 20.1 (2015).

Pat Linse is an award winning illustrator who specialized in film industry art before becoming one of the founders of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and the creator of Junior Skeptic magazine. As Skeptic magazine’s Art Director, she has created many illustrations for both Skeptic and Junior Skeptic. She is co-editor of the The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience.

The Legend of the Falling Beast
Cow Tipping’s Surprising Origins

by Pat Linse

Istarted to hear the story as soon as I moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s: “Have you ever gone cow tipping?” the twenty-something guy would brag. “It’s hilarious! You drive out into the country late at night and find a bunch of sleeping cows—they sleep standing up with their legs locked, you know—and wham!—you shove them over before they know what’s happened. Boy, are they surprised!”

Skeptic magazine 20.1 (cover)

This article was originally published in Skeptic magazine 20.1 (2015).

Of course cow tipping is an urban legend as explained in the article above, from from Junior Skeptic # 5, bound within Skeptic magazine issue 7.2 (pages 100–101). Cows don’t sleep standing up, their legs do not lock, and they are generally too big for a puny human to topple. They don’t even sleep at night, resting instead in five minute naps thoughout the 24-hour day.

One of the oddest parts of the cow tipping story is the claim that a cow sleeps standing up “on locked legs” that are so ridged and unbending that it can be easily pushed over. Where in the world did this strange idea come from? It turns out that the story comes from Europe and it’s been around for at least 2000 years. The famous Roman general Julius Caesar recorded this fantastic account of how to hunt easy-to-tip animals that lived in the dense forests that covered what is now southern Germany:

There are also (animals) which are called elks [The animal known as a moose in America is called an elk in Europe]. The shape of these, and the varied color of their skins, is much like roes [deer], but in size they surpass them a little and are destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them. Ceasar’s Gallic Wars—Book 6, Chapter 27 [6.27] about 58–51 BCE

This same hunting tall tale was also told in ancient times about the elephant and the asian tapir. About 100 years after Caesar another Roman, Pliny the Elder, wrote about an animal with a long nose he called an “achlis,” that seemed to have both moose and elephant traits:

The North, too, produces herds of wild horses, as Africa and Asia do of wild asses. There is also the achlis, which is produced in the island of Scandinavia; it is not unlike the elk, but has no joints in the hind leg. Hence, it never lies down, but reclines against a tree while it sleeps; it can only be taken by previously cutting into the tree, and thus laying a trap for it, as otherwise, it would escape through its swiftness. Its upper lip is so extremely large, for which reason it is obliged to go backwards when grazing; otherwise, by moving onwards, the lip would get doubled up. Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, 77 CE.

The story that an elk could be easily captured because it couldn’t get back up after it fell to the ground was passed down through the centuries as part of medical folklore. Books listing medical herbs and magical cures declared that elk suffered from “the falling disease” which we know today as epilepsy. Legend had it that an elk could cure its own epilepsy by striking itself with its hoof, so it was thought that taking powered elk’s hoof as a medicine, or wearing a ring carved from elk’s hoof on your finger, or even wearing a gold pendant set with a scrap of hoof would ward off the disease.

The story that European elk were susceptible to fits of falling made it across the Atlantic to the Americas. As late as the mid-1800s the famous author and medical doctor Oliver Wendal Holmes complained that some superstitious American physicians still prescribed elk’s hoof (or even horse’s hooves) for epilepsy. Did the old falling elk legend inspire the modern cow tipping story? Both are a bragging tale where a large animal is captured at night because of its unusual sleeping habits, but that in itself might not be enough to say the stories are related.

But both stories depend on the same ridiculous idea—that the animals suffer from a weakness that makes them easy prey—that they are easily toppled because of their stiff, unbending legs. Simple observation should have quickly killed this belief off. Just by spending a few minutes watching elk, moose, or cattle, anyone can see that they bend their legs, lay down to rest or sleep, and that they can easily get up again. Did the same mistaken belief—easily corrected by observation— arise twice, and was it twice perserved by being applied to two identical hunting tall tales? More likely the older story influenced the newer one in which urban tale tellers replaced the elk or moose with a more familiar animal. END

2 Comments »

2 Comments

  1. BOB PEASE says:

    If you are going to rum for office it is a good idea to
    tie the cow up as well.

    then you can have a catchy campaign slogan

    **********************************
    Tip a cow now and tie her too

    ***********************************

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall, M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

Copyright © 1992–2017. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.