Credibility of a Photo of a Modern Pterosaur

By the living-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb (started this post about Jan 13, 2017)

Introduction

By about 2006, at least one or two skeptics had criticized our investigations with words that included this:

If it’s big and flies then it must be a pterosaur

Yet even when my associates and I were beginning our research, even before our two ropen expeditions in 2004, we were acting from a larger set of eyewitness reports than a typical skeptic would have imagined. Whatever bias we may have had many years ago, the skeptics’ declarations about it were greatly exaggerated.

Please bear with me, for this introduction is essential to understanding the value of photographic evidence for modern living pterosaurs. The credibility of an individual piece of evidence is one thing; overall credibility is something else. We’ll get to a photo of a non-extinct pterosaur soon enough.

After my Umboi Island expedition, I returned from Papua New Guinea with a determination to publicize what I had learned from the native eyewitnesses. I had always disbelieved in Darwin’s philosophy that life originated from evolution, yet my own perspective on eyewitness testimonies of apparent living pterosaurs—that did gradually evolve a bit. But that particular limited evolution was not toward overall doubt or belief: It was partly an increased awareness that I did not need to come any firm conclusion with every sighting report. I became completely convinced that some pterosaurs are still living on this planet, regardless of the credibility issues with new eyewitness reports.

I came to see the difference between the credibility of one eyewitness report and the overall evidence from all the reports. Early in 2013, I finished compiling much data from some of the more-credible sighting reports up until the end of 2012. Each eyewitness account I judged to be more than 50% likely to have come from an actual encounter with a modern pterosaur. That’s when I came to understand why I had become so firmly convinced of the reality of non-extinct pterosaurs: Those were 128 reports. Using my judgment that each report was more likely than not to have come from a valid sighting, the overall case was overwhelming. From a statistical perspective, it was practically impossible that none of those 128 sighting reports were from an actual living pterosaur. It’s basic math.

I know that a skeptic may attack my judgment regarding the value of individual reports. But this is cryptozoology, after all, not a biologist stooped over a laboratory table, measuring the wing of a recently-deceased Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur.

No matter how a skeptic may feel about it, I am one of the world’s leading experts on sighting reports of apparent pterosaurs. A skeptic may assume, consciously or not, that he or she is objective while ridiculing me, but I am the expert here. Along with all the skeptics, I am human. Yet I have spent over 10,000 hours, in the course of over thirteen years, investigating this controversial subject, with eyewitness reports coming to me from five continents, mostly in emails but with some significant phone conversations and face-to-face interviews.

With all that said, it’s now time for a photo.

A known hoax-photo: non-pterosaur

Let’s begin with what we know, practically for sure. The following image is from a television production, a staged performance that has been said to be an imitation of another, possibly much older, photograph.

fabricated photo - Civil War reinactment

A staged performance, NOT actual Civil War soldiers

Once we know that the men shown above are actors, it easier to see that the thing at their feet is not actually a dead animal but a cheap imitation of one. Details about the television-show episode have little relevance here, but the production decisions that caused this particular staging—that can be important: This appears to be an imitation of an older photograph. I may go into details in another post.

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possibly genuine photo of a 19th-century pterosaur

Photo of a possible 19th-century Pteranodon (although maybe labeled “monster”)

Until four years ago, I had mostly avoided using the “Pteranodon photo” in my writings. Part of my reluctance was in thinking that it appeared too good to be true: After all, for this to be genuine, it would have to have been around since about the middle of the 19th century. Most people in the United States appeared to still believe in ancient dinosaur extinctions, and pterodactyls are thought of as flying dinosaurs. If we got through all the 20th century still believing that way, despite this old photo, then how could this image be what it appears to be? How could it be genuine?

Then I started looking deeper, and guess what: The “Pteranodon photo” is actually far more credible as evidence for modern pterosaurs than we had assumed. It really does deserve a closer examination.

Skeptical Look at the “Civil War Soldiers and Flying Monster” Photograph

One skeptic mentioned a man who pointed out three evidences that this was manipulated using Photoshop. One big problem jumps out here: Some persons report that they remember seeing this photo in the 1960’s or 1970’s. That was long before anything like Photoshop existed.

But it’s the first “red flag” that especially caught my attention:

“. . . the lack of fingers grasping the rifle held by one alleged soldier” [spelling corrected]

Woops! That detail (appearing on the surface to damage the photo’s credibility) actually might shoot down all three of the red flags, indirectly strengthening the case for the authenticity of this photo. The skeptic accidentally shot himself in the foot.

If anyone wanted to create a realistic hoax, for whatever reason, that appeared to be a photograph of a modern pterosaur, what would be needed? Create a realistic-looking pterosaur. The people standing around a recently-deceased pterodactyl—they would be far less important, hardly worth any trouble.

Why would anyone paste an image of a rifle onto a photograph of Civil War soldiers? Those guys already had rifles. Look at the whole picture, noticing the six soldiers holding rifles. It shows eight hands grasping those six rifles. What is the best explanation for that one hand that apparently has no fingers in front of the rifle? Take your pick, but it’s definitely not from anybody trying to create a fake pterosaur.

Notice that this hand is by far the closest (of those eight hands) to an edge of the photo. Maybe the development process had not become completed near that edge. Maybe better photographic development would have allowed those fingers to show up. But we have other possible explanations.

Is it hard to imagine that one out of eight hands holding rifles would actually have no fingers going around a rifle? Maybe one soldier had a blister on one hand.

A skeptic has pointed to those missing fingers as if evidence that the whole photograph is a hoax. If it proves anything, it is more likely the opposite. But coming to a knowledge of the truth sometimes requires digging into the details, using “the little grey cells.”

Look again at the soldier on the far left. Why would any man hold his arm out like that, as if he had a rifle, if he did not have a rifle? It doesn’t matter if he’s a real Civil War soldier or an actor imitating one. The man obviously had a gun when the photo was taken, regardless of where he put his fingers.

The skeptic said that this apparent Civil War photograph had multiple red flags indicating the “almost certain work of photoshop.” The first “red flag” is that hand that does not show any fingers. Now consider why a person would manipulate a photograph in such a way that those fingers would accidentally go missing. The obvious purpose would be this: to remove those fingers from a genuine photo so that it could be made to look like a hoax photo.

The implication we get from the skeptic who mentioned that “red flag” is this: that the fingers were in an original photo but Photoshop manipulating accidentally made those fingers disappear. How does that work? Pasting a rifle onto the image. Why would the careless Photoshop hoaxer ever paste a rifle onto a photograph that had a man holding out his arm? Because a rifle was missing and needed to be put there artificially. And that brings us back to the critical question: Why would any soldier ever put his hand out to his side and only pretend that he was holding a rifle?

When the impossible has been eliminated, what is left, however improbable, is the truth. What appears at a casual glance to be damning evidence of a fraud is, in reality, evidence of shallow thinking, and the most impressive case against the authenticity of this photograph of an apparent Pteranodon—that skeptic’s case—falls apart.

Those men, appearing very much like Civil War soldiers, and their rifles—those are genuine, with no significant doubt. But it brings up something else, a double-agent sort of counter-hoax possibility.

If Photoshop was used to tamper with this photo, it was most likely done to make the genuine photo look like is was tampered with. In other words, a genuine photo was messed with in a way to allow a person to “disprove” it by showing that Photoshop was used. I am not saying this is what happened, but it shows how weak is the skeptic’s “red flag” and that he should have thought about this more carefully. If he continues to insist that Photoshop was used with those missing fingers, then he may find himself becoming a suspect in a different kind of hoax: Messing with a genuine photo of a modern pterosaur to try to deceive people into disbelieving the photo.

So how does shooting down the first of three “red flags” shoot down the other two? The first shell was explosive, not blowing off human fingers but decimating the credibility of the skeptic. The other two “red flags” have their own problems, but that has been covered in one or two of my previous posts.

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Pterosaur Sightings and Photos of . . . Whatever

A critical support for the concept of modern living pterosaurs is the accumulation of sighting reports of those flying creatures. Direct eyewitness testimony of a pterosaur sighting is essential, even if we have to wait many years for photographic evidence.

Pterosaurs Alive

The account in the book continues, “I know what it was. It wasn’t a heron; it wasn’t a vulture; it wasn’t an albatross.” The eyewitness was shocked to see that the creature had both a head crest (common in Pterodactyloids) and a long tail with a “diamond tip” (common in Rhamphorhynchoids).

Ropen Sightings

  • The Big Picture of Modern Pterosaurs
  • Reply to Misidentification Conjectures
  • Rhamphorhynchoid Pterosaurs and Ropens
  • Ropens in Western USA
  • Big Flying Creature in Utah
  • Recent Ropen Sightings
  • Non-Ropen Pterosaur Sighting in Papua New Guinea
  • Van Meter Flying Creature

The Fiery Flying Serpent and Living Pterosaurs

. . . How does all that relate to “The fiery flying serpent and the geologic column?” It’s the dogmatic assertion that all species of pterosaurs should have become extinct many millions of years ago. If the problem were with only one paleontologist, I would not delve into the matter. But the problem is much deeper.

Introduction to Living Pterosaurs

Jonathan Whitcomb introduces basic concepts in living-pterosaur investigations

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