Confirmation Bias and Living Pterosaurs

By the modern-pterosaur author Jonathan Whitcomb

Glen Kuban has written a long online article: “Living Pterosaurs (Pterodactyls)?” I now acknowledge that he often revises that page, and details that I publish, including quotations, may be seen by him, resulting in corrections that he will make in it. If things continue as they have, in the months of March, April, and May, of 2017, however, the most serious problems in “Living Pterosaurs” will not be much affected by his changes. Why? He continually falls into confirmation bias.

In keeping with his tendency to fall into this kind of error, he has recently fallen into confirmation bias in his writings on the Ptp photograph that the physicist Clifford Paiva and I have been examining. He mentions that the animal in this photo resembles a Pteranodon (apparently meaning it gives some persons that impression), but he gives two lists of reasons why the animal differs from what is now known to paleontologists from fossils of the Pteranodon. He gives those two lists as if they were evidence against that animal being a modern pterosaur.

In reality, Paiva and I have not declared that it must be a species of Pteranodon. We simply suggest it appears similar. In other words, we have stated something very similar to what Kuban states or implies: It gives some persons the impression that it is like a Pteranodon. In compiling those two lists, Kuban believed he was giving people evidence that the animal seen in that photo was not a modern pterosaur. In reality, his two lists are completely irrelevant.

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possibly genuine photo of a 19th-century pterosaur

Kuban himself uses the word “Pteranodon” in his page of criticisms

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The Nature of Confirmation Bias

When a person wants an idea to be true, he or she can be misled by wishful thinking. The person may stop gathering information when the evidence already gathered appears to confirm the views or prejudices he or she would like to be true.

From an objective perspective, a piece of evidence may have a number of possible interpretations, but when someone falls into confirmation bias, that person looks only at an interpretation that fits what he or she wants to be true.

Even when one piece of evidence is actually more likely to fit a person’s desire, it can lead to confirmation bias if that person then refuses to look at any other evidence that could contradict what he or she wants to be true.

Let’s look at one example:

“Very Relevant” Blunder in Glen Kuban’s “Living Pterosaurs” 

The skeptic mentions the use of the word ropen in the village language of the PNG native Jacob Kepas, a Baptist minister. Papua New Guinea has hundreds of local languages. In the village tongue of Pastor Kepas, “ropen” means  bird.

But the skeptic Glen Kuban makes a big mistake in his online article: “This seems like a very relevant piece of information.” It’s more like the opposite: totally irrelevant, unless you believe that a hippopotamus must be a horse that lives in a river.

In the real world, one language often takes a word from another language, but that word can easily change its meaning in the language doing the borrowing. That seems to have happened with the Kovai language of Umboi Island and the local language of the natives of the village where Kepas lived as a child. Which language was first to use the word ropen is unknown, but the other one likely did the borrowing, unless a third language was involved.

For anyone wanting to carry Kuban’s insinuation to its destination, answer this question: Do almost all trees have human hands growing out of them? The answer: No. Since “ropen” in one language means bird, must the word ropen in another language mean bird? No.

As a bird very slightly resembles a modern pterosaur of Umboi Island, a human hand very slightly resembles a branch of a tree. In the Tok Pisin language of Papua New Guinea, the phrase “han bilong diwai” means a tree branch, but word-for-word it appears to say “hand of a tree.” (Han comes from the English word hand.) In other words, that connection between two languages is not evidence that the nocturnal flying creature that glows as it flies over Umboi Island is a species of bird. It is completely IRRELEVANT to the controversy in the Western world over interpretations of eyewitness accounts of apparent modern pterosaurs.

Glen Kuban has again fallen into confirmation bias, expecting to find evidence against extant pterosaurs in modern times, finding something that looks like it may be such evidence, and jumping to the conclusion that it is. Publishing it online, in the long article “Living Pterosaurs”—that practically proves that he did fall into confirmation bias, regarding the word ropen existing in two different languages.

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Confirmation Bias in a Skeptic of the Ptp Photograph

I suggest the writer of that page [BAMPP] has fallen into both confirmation bias and belief perseverance. The combination of the writer’s bias and the extreme length of his online page can cause readers to assume that there must be serious problems with living-pterosaur investigations.

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Pterosaur in an old photograph

I don’t know if the Ptp photograph was from Vicksburg in 1864; that appears to be just an online rumor. But Clifford Paiva and I have examined evidence that it was recorded before about the year 1870 . . .

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Skeptical responses to the Pteranodon photograph

The winged creature with a Pteranodon-like head shown in Figure-1—that was officially declared to be a genuine pterosaur by Clifford Paiva* and me, Jonathan Whitcomb, on January 14, 2017.

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Photograph in the book Modern Pterosaurs

My friend and associate Cliff Paiva suggested I write this little book, after we agreed that the image of an apparent Pteranodon, in an old photograph, was a real animal.

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Are Modern Pterosaurs “Pseudo-Dragons?”

This is a reply to the post “The Pseudo-Dragons of Genesis Park, Part 13” by Owosso Harpist. For the most part, it’s a scathing attack on the online writings of my associate David Woetzel. Yet it refers to living-pterosaur investigations in general and accuses me and my associates of being not only delusional but potentially dishonest, so I must respond.

I am not replying to the whole post, for it is long, but certain mistakes need correcting. I point out these errors, not to imply that everything that Owosso Harpist has written is faulty, but simply to put as much truth as I can before as many online readers as possible.

To the best of my knowledge, Owosso Harpist (a pen name) is an amateur harpist who works part time as a janitor. I do not relate this to ridicule O.H., for I myself worked as a janitor in my younger years. In addition, as a young adult I once played a wind instrument in a duet, for a wedding prelude, in which my sister played a harp similar to the one now played by O.H.; I respect this musical instrument and those who seek to master its use. I relate these things because that’s about all that I know about this person except for the critical writings that include this post “Pseudo-Dragons . . .”

Point by Point Reply to Part of the Post by O.H.

Q: Are creationists deluded, thinking any large flying creature is a pterosaur?

A: Do an online search with apparent pterosaur. Notice that the vast majority of pages are either written by me, Jonathan Whitcomb, or are about one of my books about modern pterosaurs. I often use the phrase “apparent pterosaur” because I recognize that an individual sighting may have come about from something other than a pterosaur.

I have also noticed that some of my associates have also shown caution in their conclusions about individual sighting reports, at least sometimes. I don’t know where O.H. got this idea about extreme bias among creationists, but it appears this critic has not done enough research, at least not with an open mind to the possibility that my associates and I might not always be entirely wrong.

Q: Do “details” in reports indicate sightings are of NON-pterosaurs?

A: O.H. mentions no details, in the first part of her post, but I will do so now: Patty Carson saw a featherless winged creature at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in or around 1965. That flying creature had teeth and a long head crest. It also had a flange at the end of its long tail. Here is the sketch she drew of what she encountered:

sketch by Patty Carson: long-tailed featherless flying creature

If this critic uses the word pterosaur only for precise species known from fossils, I can understand why she might think that eyewitness report details differ from what we know from fossils. But I and my associates use the word pterosaur in a more general sense, meaning we include those modern flying creatures that appear to be descended from pterosaurs that were related to the ones that left fossils that paleontologists have already discovered.

Q: Is “every” report of a living pterosaur “without proof of evidence?”

A: Eyewitness testimony is a form of evidence. In fact there would be no science or scientist without testimonies of human experience. What O.H. may have been thinking about is physical evidence to accompany testimonies.

Yet even there, this critic seems to be thinking only in a narrow sense: a dead or living pterosaur or an egg, perhaps. But the greatest weakness in this critic’s statement about “every” report is this: Owosso Harpist probably has very limited knowledge of the actual sighting reports. Why did she fail to mention the name of Patty Carson or the following names?

  • Brian Hennessy
  • Jacob Kepas
  • Sandra Paradise
  • Eskin Kuhn
  • Peter Beach
  • Evelyn Cheesman
  • Sherry Cooper
  • Professor Steven Watters

Q: Is “every” report “likely” to be from a native who is plagued by superstition?

A: Where does O.H. get that idea? Has that critic observed and listened to my videotaped interviews with natives on Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea? I see nothing on this particular post (Pseudo-Dragons . . . Part 13) that supports that possibility. I learned about native superstitions in some villages of Umboi Island. I interviewed natives in three villages, including Gomlongon and Opai. Almost without exception, those witnesses reported details to me that were not part of their superstitions. They simply told me what they had seen.

Q: Have natives “likely” been paid by creationists to give a particular kind of report, in other words “false reports?”

A: Where is the evidence? Where did O.H. get that idea? That may be not far from the worst possible form of bulverism.

Q: Were natives “likely” “coerced” into giving a particular kind of testimony?

A: This speculation has the same weakness as the previous accusation and deserves to be dismissed.

Accuracy in the Duane Hodgkinson Report

Owosso Harpist does point out a real weakness in one of David Woetzel’s web pages. My associate quotes from a book by James B. Sweeney, A Pictorial History of Sea Monsters (1972), which has many mistakes that are not immediately corrected by Woetzel. (See the above link.) But even with all of those mistakes, a person is more likely to learn the truth from those words than from much of what I have seen in the post written by O.H.: “The Pseudo-Dragons of Genesis Park, Part 13.”

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Are Pterosaurs “Still Dead?”

I consider much of these criticisms to be bulverism, which involves changing the subject by trying to point out another person’s weakness. I would be happy to write only about the concept of modern pterosaurs, but the accusations against me need to be addressed.

Dr. Donald Prothero and “Fake Pterosaurs”

For those who go to that link in question, it may become obvious that I was not trying to deceive anybody concerning reports of modern living pterosaurs, including the flying creature called ropen; for those who read only that post by Prothero, however, it can seem like I’ve tried to deceive people about the ropen and that I did so almost single-handedly. Let us look deeper.

A Modern Pterosaur

Countless eyewitnesses, in many countries  across the planet, have pondered what it  was they had seen. But ropens continue to  fly overhead, continuing to shock humans  who had assumed that all pterosaurs had  become extinct millions of years ago.

Ten Year Anniversary of a Ropen Expedition

A few weeks after my expedition on Umboi Island, David Woetzel and Garth Guessman arrived in Papua New Guinea. It’s now been ten years since our two expeditions in 2004, but what we learned from interviewing natives—that still needs more publicity, for few Americans have heard about our discoveries in cryptozoology.

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Biology Professors and Living Pterosaurs

The biology professor who is a critic of reports of modern pterosaurs made it clear: “The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.” I will not mention his name here (nor link to his page), but the post in question, on his personal blog, was dated August 17,2014, and titled, “There are no living pterosaurs, and ‘ropen’ is a stupid fantasy.”

One of the web pages that caught this professor’s attention was my post “Bioluminescent Pterosaurs in Southwest Washington State.” We need to be clear about the differences between two professors, for Peter Beach has also taught biology but he has no doubt that modern pterosaurs live in the state of Washington and elsewhere.

Critic who Teaches Biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris

  • Is upset about the many web pages written by Jonathan Whitcomb
  • Proclaims himself an athiest
  • Has written a blog post very critical of Whitcomb’s writings
  • Teaches at the University of Minnesota, Morris

Peter Beach

  • Supports the modern-pterosaur idea shared by Whitcomb
  • Believes in the Bible and in a Divine creation
  • Wrote the foreword in the first edition of my book Searching for Ropens
  • Used to teach biology at a local college (He lives near Portland, OR)

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Peter Beach explains flying light by Yakima River

Peter Beach interviewed at sighting location in southeast Washington state

Scientific Approach or Name Calling?

I would not label the online publishing of ideas by those with whom I disagree “dropping turds.” I never dreamed a biology professor would do that. Since one professor of biology (NOT Professor Beach), has referred to my online writings with that label, I will respond: Reason on ideas, if you would attract wise readers (feces attract flies and dung beetles, as most biologists will tell you). I am grateful that Professor Peter Beach is infinitely more kind than that other professor of biology.

From the first two pages of the introduction in the third edition of my Searching for Ropens and Finding God:

Responding to a strange idea by negatively labeling its advocate—that can blind us or at least blur the border between truth and error, even if our concept is better. When in human history has one person always been wrong? And when one pearl is found in the mud of an old oyster bed, expect another.

. . . If each of us listens more thoughtfully to those with whom we have disagreed in the past, what an accomplishment! This is not a “how to win friends” book, yet I will continue to keep that concept in mind as I write; please keep it in mind as you read. Each of us needs to listen—to learn to listen much better, for some of us.

The living-pterosaur critic did some searching online, apparently, and said, “There isn’t any evidence. There’s just one fanatic.” He then pointed out that many of the web pages were written by me. He might have hit closer to the target if he had said “one fanatic writer,” however, for although I seem to have written far more on this subject than anyone else, as an investigator of living-pterosaur sightings I am hardly alone.

I have several associates, including Professor Peter Beach and Milt Marcy, who fully agree with the concept of modern living pterosaurs. In addition, we have several American explorers who have searched remote jungles in Papua New Guinea, looking for those elusive nocturnal flying creatures. Yet we have much more: countless eyewitnesses, from around the world, who have seen these wonderful animals. I have estimated that between 7 million and 128 million persons now living, at some time in their lives and somewhere on this planet, have seen a living pterosaur. Call me a “fanatic,” if you like, but I have explained those number on pages 304-305 of my book Searching for Ropens and Finding God. Regardless of how some persons label me, and regardless of how critics may cry out that I have exaggerated with “between 7 million and 128 million,” I am not alone.

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No “Ropen Myth” in Washington State

. . . it was in the late morning . . . [in late May of 2010].  My wife and I were coming back from . . . on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.  At the time we lived in the Portland Oregon area, and we were driving back west on I-84 to get home.

. . . coming left to right across the highway about 100 yards (give or take) in front of us came the most odd looking thing I have ever seen flying.  My wife and I both immediately said “what was that?”   It was flying pretty low to the ground probably only about 30 feet or so off the ground, and we only had about 2 seconds of visual on it . . .

It had a longer neck, crested head, big curved wings that connected at the back of the body, and a long tail.  Out of all those things the tail is what really stood out to me.  The tail was longer then the animals whole body from tip of head to base of tail. . . .

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“Dinosaur Found Alive”

Few newspaper professionals are willing to stand up for an idea that many readers would find unbelievable: modern living pterosaurs. But Terence Aym has done just that, with an article in the Salem-News (August 12, 2010): “Dinosaurs Found Alive.” I am grateful for his support of these investigations in cryptozoology.

But I found a number of problems in his article, serious inaccuracies.

Regarding Jim Blume and David Woetzel, Mr. Aym said, “both men have personally witnessed the soaring creatures—and Woetzel even shot some video footage of one.” Actually neither Blume nor Woetzel saw any form or features of anything that directly suggested a living pterosaur, and Woetzel never videotaped a ropen, not even the glowing object that he saw flying towards Lake Pung on Umboi Island.

I am grateful that Mr. Aym put a link to my web page on David Woetzel’s 2004 sighting of a ropen light. But I don’t know how he misunderstood the reference to video. Mr. Aym wrote that Woetzel “recorded images with his video camera.” But my web page (that he uses as a reference for his declaration) says, “My sighting was so quick that it was impossible to get a video . . .” That’s a quotation, the words that David Woetzel used to explain why he was UNABLE to get a video.

I appreciate Mr. Aym’s enthusiasm, but he seems to have gotten carried away with his desires for our success.

Refering to those who explored in Papua New Guinea, searching for the ropen and interviewing eyewitnesses (I am one of those cryptozoologists, although I am not mentioned in the article), Mr. Aym wrote, “they have seen them firsthand.” Well, most of the American explorers have seen what we call a “ropen light,” that is true, but what American or Australian has seen the form and features of a ropen? At least up until recently, not those who were searching for ropens.

In general, it’s those Americans or Australians who were just fortunate enough to witness one of them because they happened to be at the right place at the right time. Searching for ropens for two or three weeks has not yet rewarded us with the clear sightings, those encounters that make it obvious that the ropen is a pterosaur.

If you want to witness a clear sighting of a living pterosaur, spend most of your time outdoors, watching for them, for the rest of your life, near where you live. That will make it more likely you’ll see a ropen than if you travel to Papua New Guinea to search for them for two or three weeks.

Of course there is a quicker way to encounter living pterosaurs. Consider eyewitness reports, with an open mind, for of the billions of humans on this planet, a tiny portion of them have both witnessed an obvious pterosaur and reported it to a cryptozoologist, and that portion of our species makes a significant number of reports.

C-14 Dating of Dinosaurs

The discovery that bones from an Acrocanthosaurus and a Triceratops, not to mention several other types, were alive and part of living dinosaurs only tens of thousands of years ago—that astonishing discovery was met with immediate . . . censorship.

Manta Ray or Live Pterosaur?

The misidentification of a Manta ray oceanic fish does not adequately explain any significant pterosaur sighting . . . The skeptic implies that Mr. Kuhn was mistaken about almost everything, but that he was correct about the general shape of the wings. How unscientific!

Terrence Aym’s 2010 Newspaper Article

I am grateful that some news professionals have written and published some details of living-pterosaur investigations. Whether in a prodigious newspaper like the Houston Chronicle or a small weekly community paper like the Antwerp Bee-Argus . . .

“Ropen Myth” Article by Brian Switek

A Smithsonian blog post (Oct 16, 2010) by Brian Switek dismisses both the ropen of Papua New Guinea and any hope for any living dinosaur or pterosaur. He does so with the phrase “ropen myth,” ignoring all major evidences that favor a living animal.

How can Modern Pterosaurs Remain Hidden?

Not many months ago, a flying creature was observed in Southern California. This time it was nothing like any pterosaur, nothing like a news story. It was a fledgling mocking bird, not yet able to fly. It was trying to hide in the flower garden near the front door of a family child care facility. Strange to tell, that baby bird was seen by only one person that week, although many parents and children had walked past that part of the flower garden, countless times missing the fledgling; the bird was only inches from people who overlooked it. And it was not a large flower garden, by any means.

Sometimes I read comments from skeptics, sometimes resembling, “How could modern pterosaurs remain hidden?” I ask a different question: “In a society that teaches the universal extinctions of all species of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, how could any species of uncommon nocturnal pterosaur be officially discovered in that society?”

Modern pterosaurs remain hidden, in the United States and in other Western countries, for many reasons, one of which is that they have so many places to hide in so many large wilderness areas. If a baby bird can remain hidden from almost everybody passing within inches of it, a large pterosaur can remain hidden in hundreds of square miles of forests and other wilderness areas.

Quoting From an Upcoming Cryptozoology E-Book

Darwin emphasized extinctions. In time, the concept of many extinctions in the distant past was accepted by many scientists. That created an atmosphere unfriendly to any eyewitness account of a live pterosaur, to put it mildly. What scientist would have believed it? The pterosaur-extinction dogma pre-dated Darwin. But if an eyewitness referred to a flying dragon, then “dragon” would have sounded too unscientific. Whatever an eyewitness said, before the twentieth century, any report of anything like a pterosaur would have been rejected by most scientists.

On that point, I have found many rejections of eyewitness testimonies to be far from objective and far from mild-mannered. One skeptic, a non-scientist, built a whole web site to ridicule the concept of modern dinosaurs and pterosaurs, putting the words “stupid” and “lies” into the URL address of the site. We now understand something of what eyewitnesses feel and why some of them probably never report their encounters.

New Book on Live Pterosaurs

“. . . The first discovery of a pterosaur fossil by a Western scientist, in 1784, was decades before Charles Darwin began writing about his ideas on extinctions and evolution. Before Darwin, Western scientists had assumed that all species of pterosaurs were extinct for a simple reason: Those who discovered the fossils had no experience with any similar animal that was living.”

Cryptozoologist Replies to a Newspaper Article

Over the past seven years, I have received emails (from eyewitnesses of apparent living pterosaurs) from various parts of the world: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. But most of the reports come from Americans: Many sightings have been in California, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, and in other states. More reports come from California and Texas than from any other two states.

Pterosaur News Hoax

. . . the original newspaper article included . . . the creature’s image being found imprinted in the rock formation. I see several bits of evidence that point to a hoax . . . With no original source available, we can safely assume that this story is a hoax.

Are the ropens always nocturnal?

In August of 2009, a university student in Papua New Guinea sent me an email. Here is part of it: (minor English corrections for grammar and spelling, etc)

Hi. My name is Rex Yapi. I’m a second-year business-accounting student at the PNG University of Technology in Lae City. [The city of Lae is on the mainland, many miles from Umboi Island (called by these people “Siasi”), where this sighting took place and where I, Jonathan Whitcomb, explored and interviewed eyewitnesses in 2004.]

I just want to [tell] you of the current sighting of the dragon named “Ropen.” I was on an out-board motor as early as 9 a.m., when we saw a giant creature floating along the coast line near Bunsil Bay.  Its body was submerged under the sea but its tail was emerged. I saw that its tail is about 6-7 meters long with a sharp diamond-shape. It was an awesome scenerio and I started pointing to the others towards the object. It was floating 10 meters away from the boat and its color was brownish-dark without any form of hair.

Being in fear, we stopped the boat to let it pass by. Later I was told that Bunsil Bay Coast Line up the Goosh River is the normal route which Ropen takes when it’s coming into Umboi Island from the mainland of PNG. . . .

It seems that the ropen does appear in daylight, on rare occasions. Thus we have eyewitness accounts with detailed descriptions, including detailed estimates of tail length. This consistent description of a long tail refutes the criticism that the ropen is just an unclassified species of bat, rather than a pterosaur. Critics consistently ignore reports of long tails.

Around 2004, the paleontologist Glen Kuban wrote a web page (revised, apparently, through 2007) criticizing the belief that any pterosaurs are still living. He says, “A number of large birds, as well as large fruit bats, can present pterosaur-like shapes, especially if seen from a distance or in silhouette.” But his web page says nothing about any long tail reported on an apparent modern pterosaur. A sketch of a long-tailed pterosaur he displays, as well as two photos of the giant Flying Fox fruit bat (those bats appear to have no tail at all). Why speculate about sightings in the dark? Some daylight sightings of ropens reveal a long tail.

The only instance of the word “tail” on Kuban’s web page is on a caption of a photo of a pterosaur fossil. Why ignore the testimony of the American World War II veteran Duane Hodgkinson? He made it clear that the creature that flew up from the clearing, in plain view in daylight, had a tail “at least ten or fifteen feet” long.

Why did Mr. Kuban write a long web page, with dozens of paragraphs, to disuade people from believing in reports of living pterosaurs? He seems to be most concerned about protecting the standard models of geology. He did not, apparently, conduct any objective research to evaluate and report the most relevant details from the eyewitness reports that so strongly suggest that Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs live in Papua New Guinea.

See also: The nonfiction pterosaur book about sightings in the United States

See also: Problems with a bat interpretation