5X5 Episode 60

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5X5 Episode 60
5th March 2009

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5X5 59 5X5 61
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5 and tonight we're talking about cryptozoology. The study of mysterious creatures.

R: Like unicorns.

S: Like unicorns and leprechauns and Eskimos.

R: All my favorite creatures.

J: (Laughs)

E: Other hard-to-find creatures, right?

S: So cryptozoologists believe that there are creatures living in the world that we have not yet discovered. Now there's nothing amazing about that; there of course are about 10 million known species. However, there are many unknown species and every time scientists go into a new corner of the jungle or to a new trench in the deep ocean that we haven't been to before, we find a plethora of new species. But cryptozoologists believe in species of animals that are unusual; that defy the ordinary methods of exploration and investigation. For example, Sasquatch or Bigfoot. A large primate living in North America, the Pacific northwest, some believe in Canada or even in the east coast such as Pennsylvania. They believe that a Bigfoot may have unusual properties that allows him to evade capture or detection.

R: Perhaps an invisibility cloak of some sort.

S: It gets truly bizarre at the paranormal fringe. That he can teleport; that they're psychic; that they can turn themselves invisible; that they can travel extra dimensionally. But even if you put aside the paranormal stuff, the cryptozoologists go through elaborate special pleading in order to explain away all of the lack of evidence that one would expect to have if such a large mammal were in fact living in North America.

B: And that would include things like very large breeding population that would be absolutely required in order for these beasts to exist, unless, of course, you posit that there are only a few remaining, which is just another form of special pleading. And then typically people will say is that, "oh you'd think somebody would come across a corpse lying around every once and a while"; somebody would hit one with a car or that you would find one that just died naturally. None of that has ever been found.

J: There's not that many scientists that would even doubt that there are thousands and thousands of unknown animals out there. They particularly would say there are a lot of invertebrates out there that we haven't discovered yet. But we're talking about insects and things like that. They go for the big showy creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and, as Steve mentioned, Bigfoot.

B: Yeah, and not only are they big, Jay, but they're also in areas that people have been living in; going through for many many generations so it's not the undiscovered trench or valley in a remote area of Indonesia; it's in the mid-west of the United States. It's kind of silly.

E: There are always stories and accounts of these creatures and that's all we have go to by. There's no scientific evidence; there's no physical evidence left behind. All there is are the stories that people tell and the occasional either blurry photo or shaky old film of something such as the famous Patterson film of Bigfoot all those years ago. But there's never actually any evidence. And that's why it is and always will be pseudoscience, not real science

S: Although, to clarify, there are those who claim that there is physical evidence for many of these creatures. However, what you mean is that there is no compelling or verifiable physical evidence. So yeah; sure, there are people who claim there are hair samples of Bigfoot but on close inspection they always turn out to be either not hair at all or the hair of another animal, like a bison, for example. Or they claim that there are footprints and they've taken moldings of these footprints, but there's nothing about them—the footprints—that could not have been hoaxed, for example. So in and of itself, it is not definitive evidence that these creatures exist; it does not require the existence of this creature. But what cryptozoologists never come up with is the creature itself and that is the actual gold standard within biology. If you are going to propose to the world that there is a new species of creature in existence, then you need some specimen. And without a specimen it doesn't exist.

B: Alive or dead.

E: That's right. Rubber suits don't count.

R: Yeah and course whenever a specimen of some creature thought to be extinct or gone or to have never existed—whenever such a creature is found it's always by actual working scientist. Not the amateur cryptozoologist who are brushing around digging through their back yards looking for Bigfoot.

J: And one last thought: Where other biologists would have given up, cryptozoologists never give up.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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