Foxes, paleontologists, and cryptids

Posted on Posted in Fossils, Home

Please understand my intentions with the following humor, for I do not downplay the importance of paleontologists; they are essential, the experts in learning from fossils. But the fox has his or her own specialty and the paleontologist likewise. The point? Cryptids are outside paleontology and an apparent lack of fossils in certain categories of strata should not be viewed as strong evidence for extinction of a general type of organism.

What’s the difference between a fox and a paleontologist? After a successful hunt, one is lick’n bones of chicken; the other is pick’n bones of therizinosaurus. It makes no rhyme, but a paleontologist is not usually associated with light verse: Don’t confuse Darren Naish and Ogden Nash.

How else is a fox like a paleontologist? When fully mature, neither one should be mistaken for a playful puppy, else you may be lick’n your wounds. More important, both of them can sometimes roam outside their proper place.

One Monsterquest episode involved an expedition to New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. On the surface, it appeared to be a search for giant nocturnal flying creatures that some cryptozoologists believe are modern living pterosaurs (in reality, it was a dramatic production project to make an intertaining show; it was not a scientific investigation). Of all the potential explorers to take with them, Monsterquest chose a paleontologist. What’s wrong with that? It’s like inviting a fox to inspect an electric-fence security system for a chicken yard; you know that the fox will advise you to immediately stop wasting electricity on the worthless contraption. Likewise a paleontologist will be totally predictable, regardless of eyewitness evidence that a cryptid is a “living fossil.”

That brings up another similarity between a fox and a paleontologist: They both have to eat. I condemn neither of them for the need to survive. But I must point out that crytozoology is far outside the realm of paleontology, and any apparent or real lack of known fossils in any particular series of strata is not evidence for the non-existence of life. The world of living organisms is far bigger than all the fossils ever found. When paleontologists dismisses a large number of eyewitnesses with insinuations of misidentifications and improper motivations, those paleontologist have gone far outside the special field in when they are experts. They have no more right to ridicule those specific eyewitnesses than a fox has a right to eat chickens in a specific chicken yard.

The paleontologist Glen Kuban has been associated with a mild case of bulverism because of his web page criticizing the concept of modern living pterosaurs. I have known of some non-paleontologists who seem to be trying to defend traditional models of that field by using extreme bulverism. I invite all critics to keep to the issues involved: Avoid personal attacks such as insinuations of lies. Kuban has at least used a number of examples of eyewitness cases, even though he has avoided the more important cases. His portrayal of problems in the objectiveness of investigators or their lack of clear thinking seems to be in the background rather than the foreground, so I classify his page as using mild bulverism.


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