Smithsonian Attacks Ropen “Myth”

While writing about the pterosaur interpretation of Marfa Lights and the “Huntington Hypotheses” for one sighting of those mystery lights of Texas, I came across a Smithsonian blog post by Brian Switek. I do not question the honesty of Mr. Switek; in fact I agree with his point that an amateur video of a Frigate bird is not evidence for a living pterosaur, namely the cryptid called “ropen.” Nevertheless, a number of problems appear and they are serious.

. . . the chief advocates of living dinosaurs turned out to be hucksters, overly-credulous wildlife enthusiasts, or young-earth creationists intent on somehow disproving evolution . . .

The moderate length of that blog post is insuffient to adequately cover more than one of those three seemingly related ideas, but Mr. Switek avoids getting into details, instead criticizing a Salem-News article for mistaking a Frigate bird for a pterosaur. Of course that was a serious blunder in that report by Terrence Aym (and there were other errors in that Oregon news report, errors that Switek seems to have missed), but the error is Mr. Aym’s, not errors of the living-pterosaur investigators Switek soon mentions. A careful reading seems to indicate that Switek is trying to use this to discredit anyone who proposes pterosaurs live in Papua New Guinea.

The fifth paragraph actually names recent living-pterosaur investigators, but Switek seems to use bulverism rather than reasoning:

Then there is the problem of Aym’s sources. Both Blume and Woetzel are creationist explorers who have tried to promote the existence of living pterosaurs and dinosaurs. In fact, Woetzel has gone as far to propose these living pterosaurs as the “fiery flying serpent” of Isaiah 30:6 in the Bible . . .

Switek gives no evidence against any of this, apparently only mentioning the religious nature of Woetzel’s beliefs, as if that were enough to dismiss his ideas about living pterosaurs. I suspect Switek has never thought about Isaac Newton’s relationship to this, for Newton had religious beliefs similar to those of Woetzel.

I suspect Switek is also oblivious to critical responses to paleontologists like Darren Naish, for Switek then says:

Paleontologist Darren Naish has debunked many of the famous ones at Tetrapod Zoology . . .

The problems with this post are numerous, with no room here for many details; but since Switek seems to rely on this post by Naish, consider part of this response to live pterosaur criticism from Darren Naish:

The paleontologist Darren Naish has said, “Fossil evidence demonstrates overwhelmingly that pterosaurs did not survive beyond the end of the Cretaceous.” He fails to realize that no group of fossils can overwhelmingly demonstrate the extinction of any species in any time frame, let alone all species of a general type. That is not what fossils can prove, even if paleontologists were able to recover all fossils that were ever formed.

Rather than delve into any particular eyewitness reports, Switek delves a bit into origin philosophies. He does not use the word “philosophy,” however, using the phrase “science of evolution,” and disparaging creationist philosophy. But in defending traditional ideas about evolution he makes the common reasoning-mistake of protecting his beliefs from every possible outcome, revealing that he is really protecting his philosophy. He states that modern descendants of pterosaurs should not be expected to resemble their ancient ancestors (therefore modern sightings of such creatures he believes must be wrong somehow). Then he immediately turns around by saying, “even if a long-tailed pterosaur were found it would do nothing to undercut the science of evolution.” In other words, whatever happens Switek’s philosophy is correct. I think that reasoning, if it could be called reasoning, is too convenient, revealing that it is a philosophy that is being protected, not science. True scientific reasoning does not include “whatever the outcome, whatever the evidence, my idea must be correct.”

large image of the back cover of the 3rd edition of Live Pterosaurs in Ameridca

9 Replies to “Smithsonian Attacks Ropen “Myth””

  1. This mistake in reasoning is, unfortunately, too common: “True scientific reasoning does not include ‘whatever the outcome, whatever the evidence, my idea must be correct.'” This has become so blatant that anyone who seems to believe in literal events in the Bible is commonly condemned as being “unscientific.” It is sad that this lack of reasoning is so common now.

    In fact, those with different world views (basic origin philosophies) view the same evidence as valid evidence, but they interpret that evidence differently. This is not a case of “science versus religion” but a case of conflict between competing philosophies.

  2. Switek seems to be relying on the popularity of the General Theory of Evolution, rather on reasoning, in the way he dismisses the activities of Jim Blume and David Woetzel. How can he be free of religious bias or bias against the ideas of those who have a world view different from his? He says nothing about the eyewitnesses who were interviewed by Blume and Woetzel, and those eyewitnesses of living pterosaurs are critical: That is the critical evidence.

    I suggest that Switek try to keep to the point rather than just disparage an idea that seems to contradict or threaten his own world view.

  3. As crazy as this may sound but I live in Florida. When I was 11 my brother and I were star gazing one night and we saw one. Looked like a dragon engulfed in red flames. I’m 37 now and looking back over the years I think it might have been biolumenince and not Fire as it appeared. It had to be much bigger than a commercial plane! Well they are real and I’m still on the search for other eyewitnesses. Now I never open my door without my camera on. I bet as soon as there’s proof ..they will hunt them down and kill them for museums.

  4. well as you said some people would rather go out of they’re way attacking anything that goes against their infaliable world view, while I do however find it interesting is how everyone seems to attack the believer, yet never the overly conservative skeptic. but in the end who cares, they know who’s correct, you’ve interviewed the witnesses, and went on expeditions, who’s a good for nothing armchair scientist to tell you that your wrong. I also love the bitter irony on how they disagree with your religious views, yet they throw their philosophical views into what they say and call it honest science.

  5. Thank you, Terry, for sharing your experience, your night sighting of what could very well have been a creature related to the ropen of Papua New Guinea. Yes, these kinds of creatures (I believe them to be modern pterosaurs) do appear in North America, and more often than most Americans would imagine. The one you
    saw was very likely glowing with a bioluminescence that may be new to science. It is becoming more obvious that these cryptids deserve more investigations, serious looking-into by not just cryptozoologists but by biologists.

  6. Thank you, Lincoln, for sharing this with us. Yes we need less thoughtless (or narrow-thinking) criticisms of long-standing investigations. This research and these investigations (I’ve lost track of the number of expeditions) started around 1993 and they have become more intense in recent years, with more participants.

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