Friday, 5 August 2011

New paper on memory has important implications for cryptozoology

Finally, a blog update. Only a quick one, but it’s a start nevertheless. A really important psychology paper was recently published by Simons & Chabris (2011) in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. It shows, basically, that the public’s perception of memory is pretty much at odds with what is actually known about memory. Ed Young at Not Exactly Rocket Science has, as usual, written a very good review of the paper, which you can read here:

But this paper has a huge number of applications in cryptozoology. Irrespective of what some people say, it really doesn’t matter how certain eyewitnesses are about the accuracy of their statement, the fact of the matter is that the mind plays tricks on you (not literally). Eyewitness evidence can basically be ignored, unless there is a large enough pool of data with which to analyze it scientifically, and to tease out the most commonly reported characteristics which are thus the most likely to be on the animal itself. The authors are not cryptozoologists, and have not written a paper designed to help cryptozoologists, but the findings of said paper should be of real interest to everyone. And yes, by everyone I do mean the 10 people who are actually going to read this blog entry. So, in order to see this paper get more hits from Googlers in the future, I will now pepper this with key words:

Psychology; Cryptozoology; Big Cats; Memory; Evolution; Cryptozoology; Simons & Chabris; Psychology; Loch Ness Monster; Eyewitness; Cryptozoology; Montauk Monster; Memory; Gable Film; Cryptozoology; Psychology.

That’ll do. So, to reiterate, the paper is open access, which means that everyone with an internet connection can download it and read it. The more hysterical people within the cryptozoological community who claim that somehow mainstream science is trying to exclude outsiders from sharing in the latest discoveries shouls take note. The cryptozoological community (and indeed the police) and anyone else reliant on eyewitness testimony? should consider these findings closely.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A novel sea monster report. Or not...

This newspaper report was originally published on Saturday the 16th of October, 1725, in Farley's Bristol News. I have copied the report below:

"Bristol, the 16th. Last Wednesday morning, when the Fishermen went to take up their Nets at Fosset-Point, they found entangled in them, and dead, a Fish call'd a SEILE, or Sea Dog, being 4 Foot 4 Inches long, very fat, as big in Body as a Man; the Head much like a Calfe's without Ears, the snout like a Lion's, but the under Jaw and set of Teeth like a young Mastiff; his fore Legs short, but thick and strong as Lion's, having 5 Tallons on each Foot, shap'd like a Christian's Hand, it's hinder Legs are Finny, and the Feet like a Goose, with 4 strong Tallons in each, and near a Foot wide; the Tail like a Deer's Skut, and Fundament like a Dog-Bitch, being full of Young; with a Navel like a Christian's, and a Skin as fine as Velvet, full of mottled spots; above a Hundred Weight; the like hath hardly ever been taken in or near our channels. It was brought up to Town the same Morning, and ever since expos'd to publick view."

At this point, with a normal "sea-monster" report, you, dear reader, would be allowed to make up your own mind on what the animal was. This time, I am not giving you that luxury: the animal is blatantly a common/harbour seal Phoca vitulina.

Yes, I know, the report calls the animal a Seile, but still, that description is pretty blatant. Apart from the references to "thick and strong" forelegs, the calf head, the lack of reference to a "Finny", taloned forearm and the missing digits on the hind limbs, the description is clear.

But the report is still really interesting, even if no sea-monsters are described within. What, for instance, is up with the repeated references to Christians? Can you tell a Christian apart from other people by their hands or navels?

But really, if you try to imagine the animal as the article describes you do come up with something that does look like a seal, but a very strange one with well developed, strong human-like forearms.

It does go to show: its probably best not to look too deeply into old newspaper reports of sea-monsters. People do have a colossal tendency to "monsterify" even fairly mundane discoveries.

And as to how I found this article? Its long and complicated, but once again I have to thank the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Review: Moa Sightings by Bruce Spittle.

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Paua Press Limited; 1st edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0473153564
ISBN-13: 978-0473153564

ISBN-10: 0473153572
ISBN-13: 978-0473153571

ISBN-10: 0473153580
ISBN-13: 978-0473153588

Once in a while, I get my hands on a book which makes me think “why on earth don’t more people write like this”? Most cryptozoological books are, basically, rubbish. Yes, there are a number of great books out there, but an awful lot just rehash previously covered stories, or dive into the paranormal and sensationalism to increase sales. This book is about as far removed as one can get from these works of tripe.

Split across three volumes, “Moa Sightings” is a real behemoth which, due to its high price tag, will not sell many copies. But anyone with a great interest in moas or New Zealand’s cryptozoology should sell a portion of the family silver and buy the whole set. In five words, the three books are incredible.

Hardback with full colour printing throughout, the books are very high quality indeed. The front cover, I feel, looks a little basic, but that really does not matter. Upon opening the book, you are greeted to a wonderful range of maps (there are probably hundreds of maps between the three volumes), portraits and biographies of most of the witnesses, drawings of skeletons and huge numbers of photographs of the areas in which the sightings occurred. This is a book which draws you into New Zealand. The maps and photographs help you picture the areas vividly in your mind; whilst the long and detailed discussions of each sighting help you assess the circumstances in which the sighting event occurred.

The analysis of the Freaney photograph for instance is 283 pages long. That is enough for a book alone on the photograph. Though the analysis is generally very thorough, and the photographs clear, I would have liked to have seen more photo measurement analysis, perhaps comparing the measurements and angles to a deer. This is a slight weak link in the book, and because of this it does not change my opinion that the photograph shows a young red deer, but in reality, this is pretty much the only negative point (and it did really make me consider my initial opinion). If Mr. Spittle published his analysis of the Freaney photograph as a separate, much smaller and more affordable book, I think he would do the world of cryptozoology a huge favour.

This book then is exactly how cryptozoology should be done. Has is changed my opinion on the Freaney photograph? No. Has it changed my opinion that there are no large (4ft tall+) species of moa still alive? No, I remain sure that they are extinct. Has it changed my opinion that there are no small species of moa still alive? Sort of I suppose; I think there is a high chance they lived until the 1800’s, but I don’t think there are any left alive.

To finish this review then, I am going to quote Mr. Spittle on why he formed Paua Press Limited in 2007: “Just as a paua [Haliotis, a species of New Zealand abalone] appears dull and nondescript on the outside but is of compelling interest when the surface dross is taken away, I am hopeful that the books my press publishes will have, at their centre, something of substance for the reader.” He is absolutely correct, this is an incredible book, “On The Track...” for moa enthusiasts. For God’s sake ask for it as a birthday present...


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

TAN 10 appeal

Due to the ongoing success of The Amateur Naturalist magazine, I have decided to make our tenth issue a special covering Europe. European animals, European conservation, and European news. European species in the exotic pet trade are sometimes seen as being boring, presumably due to the assumption that animals from distant lands must be more interesting than common or familiar animals here in Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth...

If you feel you would like to contribute to the next issue, please email me ( with your idea. The deadline for submissions is somewhere is the start of February.