The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


banner

I Get Mail: Cryptids, Smoke, and Fire

Apr. 18, 2015 by | Comments (10)

In my role as the Editor of Junior Skeptic (and now INSIGHT) I quite often receive email from media, researchers, and general readers about topics I’ve covered. My schedule does not always allow me to respond in the depth I’d like, but I try to be helpful as often as I can—in keeping with the Skeptics Society‘s mission to inform the public. Today I’d like to share a pleasant exchange with an Abominable Science! reader named Karl, who wrote to ask me the following:

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts dealing with Bigfoot and Dogman and the eyewitness accounts can be compelling. Apparently, these two creatures have been seen all over the U.S. and indeed the world. There is a substantial database of accounts by now.

My question:

Do the skeptics believe that ALL of those accounts are attributable to hoaxing or mistaken identity? And if not, what are these people actually seeing?

It seems unlikely to me that ALL of these seemingly sober and earnest people, whose accounts can be vividly detailed, are either lying or mistaken in what they saw and experienced.

Here is my lightly edited reply:

Hi, Karl,

Thanks for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

At this point, it does seem very likely that some cryptids do not exist, in which case mistakes and hoaxes are the best explanations available for eyewitness sighting reports. We know both things happen fairly frequently (mistakes especially) as Don Prothero and I discuss in Abominable Science! There are cases discussed in the book, for example, in which ordinary birds were mistaken for water monsters.

The “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” argument seems very compelling to me and to most people, intuitively. But there’s a flaw in that argument, when we think about it: people see a LOT of different kinds of smoke. Some could well be associated with “fire,” but are they all? I blogged about this issue at Skepticblog in 2010.

For example, there’s a literature of sincere-sounding eyewitness accounts of mermaids, ghosts, dragons, and fairies. Some witnesses describe Bigfoot using psychic powers or emerging from UFOs. Other witnesses have said that spirits speak through them, or that “Ascended Masters” made them invisible and then transported them to hidden Atlantean bases underneath famous American parks, or claim beautiful humans from Venus took them on trips aboard flying saucers. And so on.

Should these claims be accepted? They’re all supported by multiple reports from seemingly sober and earnest people. In every case, proponents raise the “where there’s smoke there’s fire” argument. And yet—surely they can’t all be right? And if we grant that it’s possible that some phenomena described by eyewitnesses are not literally true, how do we decide which claims to accept and which ones to set aside?

What, for example, should we say when enthusiasts, scientists, journalists and skeptics spend several decades looking into those cases, searching hard for the inferred fire behind the smoke, and find nothing but smoke and smoke and more smoke, year after year—as is the case for major cryptids, such as Bigfoot?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Daniel

PS: When a cryptid is reported “all over the U.S. and indeed the world,” as is Bigfoot, this is not necessarily a good sign that those eyewitness sightings reflect a biological reality rather than a cultural phenomenon. Anthropologist Grover Krantz, who was during his lifetime Bigfoot’s best known scientific defender, made this point best:

Many sasquatch enthusiasts seem to think that by finding more widespread [anecdotal and trace] evidence of the species, they are in effect strengthening the argument that the species is real. Up to a certain point this reasoning is valid … But when it is suggested that a wild primate is found native to all continents, including Australia, then credibility drops sharply. Only humans, along with their domesticates and parasites, have distributions that are worldwide; no other land animals even remotely approach this condition. Beyond a certain point, it can be argued that the more widespread a cryptozoological species is reported to be, the less likely it is that the creature exists at all.

— Grover Krantz. [Emphasis added.] Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence. (Hancock House: Surrey, 1999) p. 197

Daniel Loxton

Daniel Loxton is the Editor of INSIGHT at Skeptic.com and of Junior Skeptic, the 10-page kids’ science section bound within Skeptic magazine. Daniel has been an avid follower of the paranormal literature since childhood, and of the skeptical literature since his youth. He is also an award-winning author. Read Daniel’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

10 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Snowfire
May 11, 2015 10:53 am

Where there is smoke there might be fire–or maybe some joker just tossed a smoke grenade!

Brian
April 22, 2015 1:59 am

Your dismissive argument regarding the likelihood of Big Foot et al – “Only humans, along
with their domesticates and parasites, have worldwide distributions that are worldwide..”
etc is not valid since the introduction of intercontinental jet travel. I myself saw – and conversed with – Big Foot recently at Cork Airport (Ireland). At first I took him to be your typical big hairy backed Kerryman, but I caught a glimpse of his passport where he was described as an “International Big Foot”. I asked him if I could take a selfie, but he told me he was on his way to San Francisco where he could go unnoticed. He then expressed the hope that I would have a nice day and ended with the suggestion that I should go and perform an act upon myself which, alas, demanded an element of flexibility no longer feasible with my 75 year old torso.

Jerrold Alpern
April 22, 2015 10:23 am
Reply to  Brian

What country issued the passport?

Ed Graham
April 22, 2015 11:46 am
Reply to  Brian

“…demanded an element of flexibility no longer feasible with my 75 year old torso…” Or, any torso in an airplane rest room.

Snowfire
May 11, 2015 10:56 am
Reply to  Brian

To get to SFO from Cork he’d most likely need to go via Heathrow–good luck passing unnoticed there!

Max
April 20, 2015 5:54 pm

Smoke and mirrors is more like it.

Many ufologists acknowledge that the vast majority of sightings are bunk.
Here’s a random example from the Tennessee MUFON team: “I believe 99% of the cases are explainable or are hoaxes, done for publicity or other reasons,” Steve says. “But, that leaves the 1% of real cases. I would love to be the one who proves, scientifically without a doubt, that UFOs exist.”

But if 99% of the UFO sightings are explainable or hoaxes, then it’s not a great leap to assume that 100% are.

Paul Andreassen
April 18, 2015 7:56 pm

The problem with the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” line of argument is that there isn’t even necessarily any smoke. Cryptid sightings are, effectively, reports of smoke, not the smoke itself. In essence, they’re saying “where there are reports of smoke, there’s fire.” Quit a stretch.

Max
April 20, 2015 6:29 pm

If cryptid sighting are reports of smoke, then what’s the smoke?
I’d say that eyewitness accounts are smoke, and hearsay is a report of smoke.

André
April 18, 2015 5:28 pm

I just have to say that I love all your posts. I enjoy cryptozoology and the paranormal a lot although I’d consider myself a sceptic. Keep it up and thanks for being one of my favorite blog authors!

Juliet
April 18, 2015 2:53 pm

It also doesn’t help when reports become a series of ‘Top this!’ narratives, as if the tellers think they need a ‘hook’ to be taken seriously. So a creature report may start off comparatively plausible, then as the story spreads, the creature becomes more and more impressive and/or vicious.

Get eSkeptic

Be in the know.

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

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 PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

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.

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 can you 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

Mind altering experiences 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.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2020. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.