By the cryptozoology author Jonathan D. Whitcomb
In my recently published nonfiction book Modern Pterosaurs, I referred to a critic who wrote a long online article “that attacks the possibility of extant pterosaurs: bampp (big anti-modern-pterosaur page—but you won’t find that label or phrase on the page itself).” That critic has edited bampp a lot in recent weeks, making it difficult for me to refer to it directly without committing myself to constantly updating my online writings with less relevant details. I now refer to him as Wampp (writer of the anti-modern-pterosaur page), and I acknowledge that he may end up revising bampp as I point out errors in it.
This skeptic has made many mistakes, and appears, to me, to have fallen into both confirmation bias and belief perseverance. As I cannot read his mind and he has not responded to my request for him to investigate the possibility of confirmation bias on his part, I’ll take the general case: Skeptics in general have been misguided by generations of indoctrination into 19th century dogmas, including the idea that all species of pterosaurs became extinct long ago. Yet I’ll begin with myself.
Did Whitcomb fall into confirmation bias?
Wampp has said, “his own approach and arguments seem to entail large doses of [confirmation bias],” when referring to me, yet he gives no explanation or example of it. I will do so, although he may not like it, for it points in a completely different direction from what he tries to portray in bampp.
Ptp photograph: folded wings of the animal: evidence that this was a real pterosaur
I began my passionate investigation, of eyewitness reports of apparent pterosaurs, in 2003, and yet I knew about the Ptp photograph for many years, possibly as long ago as 1968. Yet I never wrote, between 2003 to 2012, about my belief in its authenticity, for I had little confidence that it was a genuine photograph of a modern pterosaur.
If I was afflicted with “large doses” of confirmation bias from 2003 to 2012, why did I not believe this photo was authentic? To the best of my memory, when I first saw this image I was bothered by the wings, for they reminded me of canoes, or of the possibility that the soldiers had cut a canoe in half to make a model of a monstrous flying creature. I eventually thought about how long this photo may have been around. During my youth and young adult years, why had I read nothing about any scientist who had pronounced any support for evidence of a modern pterosaur, if the photo was authentic?
Before 2003, I had assumed that scientists were objective (at least some of them) and that a genuine photograph of a modern pterosaur would eventually be recognized and officially acknowledged as authentic, if the photo had been around for many decades. After I began my investigation in this narrow field of cryptozoology, I again saw the image. I looked at it with the negative bias I had from earlier years, however, and the apparent lack of support from any scientist led me into a confirmation bias. I saw that apparent lack of scientific support as if that in itself were evidence that I had been correct in thinking that the photograph was a hoax.
So yes, I did fall into a confirmation bias, but I have recovered, and how greatly it differs from what Wampp would have guessed! My conversion came, in part, from an email I received from a canoe expert: He told me most plainly that the wings in the Ptp photograph are not a canoe or two halves of a canoe.
Did Whitcomb fall into belief perseverance?
If I had been subject, at that time, to belief perseverance, I could have resisted the words of that canoe expert and held onto my previous opinion that the photograph was a hoax. Instead, I looked more closely at the image and soon phoned my friend and associate Cliff Paiva. I did not realize, or had forgotten, when the canoe expert contacted me, that Paiva had studied the Ptp photograph for a number of years and had confidence that it was authentic. After all the above had occurred, I concluded, in agreement with my associate in science, that Ptp has a genuine image of a modern pterosaur.
So no, I did not fall into belief perseverance at that time. Contrary to what skeptics might guess, it was not very convenient for me to publicly give my support to this photograph. My specialty in cryptozoology is reports of living pterosaurs in general, but the great majority of the sightings appeared to have been of ropens. To the point, the flying creature seen in Ptp appears to be a Pterodactyloid pterosaur rather than a modern Rhamphorhynchoid (ropen), although I’m not 100% positive about that. A minority of eyewitnesses report that kind of pterosaur, some even using the word “Pteranodon,” yet it would have been much easier for me if I had received a photo of a pterosaur that appeared more like a ropen. After all, my biggest book is Searching for Ropens and Finding God.
Do skeptics fall into confirmation bias?
I believe they do. When someone has been indoctrinated, for years or decades, into believing all dinosaurs and pterosaurs became extinct many millions of years ago, that person may be surprised at the Ptp photograph. But confirmation bias takes place when that person sees something out of the ordinary, perhaps in the way one or more of the soldiers is standing, and takes that as if it were evidence that the whole photo is a hoax.
In other words, skeptics want to believe in anything that seems to point to a hoax, even if it is far removed from the image of the animal itself. For example, one skeptic mentioned the darkness in the tree background when compared with the darkness in the shirt of one of the soldiers in Ptp. This was publicized as if it were evidence that the photo was a hoax. Yet anybody can look at other Civil War photographs and see many dark shirts of Union soldiers and see how much darker they are than areas in trees in the background.
Belief perseverance also comes into play in the thinking of skeptics. Some of them have, for years, proclaimed that no credible photograph exists with a modern pterosaur. After Clifford Paiva and I made our announcement, in January of 2017, at least one of the skeptics (Wampp) has fought against the mounting evidence being found, in Ptp, for its authenticity. He is still holding onto the 19th century dogmas that my associates and I consider to be unscientific. I call that belief perseverance.
Both confirmation bias and belief perseverance appear to have been involved in regard to the Ptp photograph, but in ways that skeptics probably have not thought of.
The scientist Clifford Paiva has uncovered additional evidence that the Civil War pterosaur photograph called “Ptp” is indeed as old as it appears at first glance: It was probably taken before about the year 1870.
That brings up the subject of confirmation bias.
This coming July will be the ten-year anniversary of Scott Norman’s sighting of an apparent nocturnal Pteranodon in California. . . . he used the word “Pteranodon” in his report of his mid-2007 sighting, and the head of the animal in the Ptp photograph definitely looks like it belongs to a Pteranodon or a similar pterosaur.
Astonishing discovery by two scientists: Clifford Paiva and Jonathan Whitcomb
In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions . . .
When Americans see something in Ptp that looks unusual to them, like in the way one or more soldiers are standing or in the way one soldier’s shoe is on the beak of the apparent animal, they allow that to turn them away in disbelief, thinking that they have found evidence that the animal itself is a hoax of some kind. That is confirmation bias.