There are no living pterosaurs, and “ropen” is a stupid fantasy

I was recently getting dunned by kooks insisting that a live pterosaur had been found. I’d love to see a pterosaur, but I’m afraid they’ve been extinct for over 65 million years; I’d also like to have a conversation with my great-great grandfather, John Page Hurt of Saylersville, Kentucky (I’m pretty sure he fought in the Civil War…on the wrong side), but I think we can be realistic about the likelihood of that happening. I took a look at the pterosaur information anyway, though, and discovered something interesting. There isn’t any evidence. There’s just one fanatic.

Here’s the kind of evidence they present. You’d expect a blurry photo of some flying creature, right? Or maybe claw marks, or scattered fewmets…none of which would be particularly persuasive. But no — we don’t even get that much. We get photos like this:

Professor Peter Beach tells Whitcomb how the bright light quickly flew up from the tree

Professor Peter Beach tells Whitcomb how the bright light quickly flew up from the tree

That’s it. Not a picture of the creature, but a picture of a guy pointing to a place where he claims to have seen a glowing light. Or sometimes we get this:

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A generic picture of some trees in Kentucky, where some guy said he saw a pterosaur. Twice, no less.

These stories are terrible and pointless. There is no evidence here.

And then something else emerges — all the sources sound dreadfully familiar. Here’s a list of some of the sites I found, and the authors’ names where available.

Same stories, same pedantic, boring style, same lack of understanding of what constitutes evidence. It turns out that they’re all by the same guy, Jonathan Whitcomb, who’s been busily dropping turds all over the internet to make it look like there is an active community of researchers tracking down the wily pterosaur. There isn’t. And he confesses to rampant sock puppetry!

If you had Googled something like “live pterosaur” in 2005, the first page may have included a site that included the words “stupid,” “dinosaur,” and “lies” in the URL. Yes, it was libel, and that site is probably still out there; but try searching on “live pterosaur” today and you won’t see that libelous site listed on the first three pages of Google. You will find that most of the pages are positive about the possibility of modern living pterosaurs. The few that are negative are at least not libelous.

My purpose in using the pen name “Norman Huntington” differed from that of Alice Sheldon, but is was equally valid. I got around potential bias in readers by using that name instead of my own. The difference is this: I was trying to attract attention to the basic idea of modern pterosaurs, not to my own writing ability. (In fact I altered my writing style for those blog posts using “Huntington.”)

But it’s OK that he’s playing these circular SEO games, because he’s not trying to peddle his writing commercially — it’s just so gosh-darn important that everyone know about these pathetic pterosaur stories, so he’s just got to play these sneaky games to avoid criticism and get his essential story told.

There’s another motive, too: he’s a creationist who thinks finding a ptersoaur would defeat evolution, and he’s using his book and web pages to promote the Mormon religion.

Consider Helaman 5:50, regarding the conversion of many Lamanites, after the miracle in the prison with the brother-missionaries Lehi and Nephi. Lamanites who did not see the miraculous fire believed the words of the eyewitnesses who did see it: “And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.” Latter-day saints rejoice for those who listen to the spiritual testimonies of those who had received confirmation of the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as missionaries may appear, on the surface, to differ from those they teach, eyewitnesses of strange flying creatures are from various countries and cultures, appearing to differ from those who have been raised in Western countries in which universal-extinction ideas are taken for granted for dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Greatness of the evidences, indeed.

There’s also another place where you can find the story of the living pterosaur: the wikipedia article on “ropen”. It’s pure mush regurgitated from Whitcomb’s pages; the only sources cited are from Whitcomb, with the exception of mentioning two paranormal reality TV shows, “Destination Truth” (on SyFy) and “Monster Quest” (on the History channel). It’s a completely credulous and pro-bullshit page, and is a perfect example of why I don’t let my students ever cite Wikipedia. It’s also got Whitcomb’s fingerprints all over it — he was formerly an editor going by the name “jondw”, although he seems to be an ex-editor now. The page that contributes to his PR efforts for the totally fictitious creature “ropen” still stands, though.

Undermining their audience

I just realized that I haven’t tuned into any of the so-called educational channels for years — Nerdy Christie dissects the latest shark week abomination, and I understand why.

Not only is there no support for the show’s entire premise, each of the hypotheses presented are factually wrong or illogical. Sharkageddon’s pointless pontificating doesn’t leave us any closer to explaining why shark attacks occur—or where, or when. Alexander ends on a conservation message, which Discovery, of course, ensures is brief and buried with credits. But this final thought is what Discovery should have focused on all along. Sharks are vital to Hawaiian ecosystems. We don’t need another “documentary” villifying these ecological and culturally important animals—we need one that explains why they matter, what they do for us, and why we should be fighting to save them.

Although SMBC might have an alternative explanation.

Spanking Nicholas Wade

Wade’s li’l book of scientific racism has been repudiated by over 100 scientists working in the fields of evolutionary biology and population genetics.

As scientists dedicated to studying genetic variation, we thank David Dobbs for his review of Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History” (July 13), and for his description of Wade’s misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies.

As discussed by Dobbs and many others, Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not.

We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.

Ow, that has to sting. But I know exactly how the Human Biodiversity wackos will respond: all those scientists must actually be acolytes of the New Creationism.

Did I ever tell you how much I despise Ronald Reagan?

Here, have a nice comic that explains the situation in Lake Erie.

lake_erie_final_jroche_10-6301

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When I was a kid, Lake Erie was a joke: it was a polluted cesspool with rivers that caught on fire. Places like Erie and Love Canal were the punchlines of a national sense of disgust with abuse of the environment, and amazingly, people got together and changed things: new tighter regulations, clean up of the worst cases (well, that was begun but never finished), and in general, we saw a reduction in pollution around the country.

Then…fucking Ronald fucking Reagan fucking fucked everything up. Trees cause pollution. Regulation is bad for the economy. And every Republican since has followed the same script, right up to “drill baby drill”. Even the Democrats are getting in the act.

And the end result is that everything is turning to shit again.

We can always find a reason to kill something

I have never seen a paddlefish in the wild, although I’ve seen young adults and embryos in the lab — they are quiet, secretive beasts, cruising gape-jawed through our regional rivers to dine on plankton, and growing to immense size without ever troubling anyone. They are gloriously weird animals. But they are in danger of extinction because they also produce voluminous quantities of eggs, also known as caviar. A large female can carry $40,000 worth of eggs, so they are fished up, ignominiously slit open and disemboweled, and left to rot on the river bank.

It’s a real shame. Once again, we hunt a spectacular North American native species to extinction, all because of greed.

paddlefish

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

Lenar Whitney, Republican congressional candidate from Louisiana, dared to use that line from Orwell while accusing virtually every climate scientist in the world of lying.

Practically every word in that monolog is a lie, or a product of exceptional ignorance. And the terrifying thing is that she knows it.

… when I pressed Whitney repeatedly for the source of her claim that the earth is getting colder, she froze and was unable to cite a single scientist, journal or news source to back up her beliefs.

To change the subject, I asked whether she believed Obama was born in the United States. When she replied that it was a matter of some controversy, her two campaign consultants quickly whisked her out of the room, accusing me of conducting a “Palin-style interview.”

Unbelievable. But these are the people dominating the Tea Party right now.

By the way, here’s the summary of the recent IPCC report (pdf), if you want to see the data that Whitney pretends doesn’t exist.