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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“Monster” in a Civil War Photograph

By the extant-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb

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, according to the photographic practice of using props to keep people motionless.

Paiva and I have not made any statement supporting the idea that the photo was taken during the American Civil War or that it was in Vicksburg, Mississippi. We do maintain, however, that this is valid evidence for an extant pterosaur in the 19th century.

I can see how somebody would call the animal in Ptp a monster, for that head is indeed frightening, at least it was to me many years ago, before I started investigating the eyewitness accounts of apparent pterosaurs that appear worldwide.

possibly genuine photo of a 19th-century pterosaur

The Civil War “Monster” photograph Ptp, declared genuine by Paiva and Whitcomb

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Confirmation Bias and Modern Pterosaurs

A critic recently wrote that my writings exhibited significant amounts of confirmation bias, yet he gave no example, no evidence to support that. He did point out that I had once had my doubts about the authenticity of the Ptp photograph but that I had changed my stand in 2017. That looks to me like evidence of absence of confirmation bias on my part, since he wrote that in the middle of his paragraphs attacking the possibility that Ptp is genuine. In other words, on the subject of the Civil War pterosaur photo in question, I displayed a significant lack of confirmation bias.

How is that? It requires an introduction.

I saw the Ptp photograph many years ago, possibly as long ago as 1968 (although it was not known by the name of “Ptp” until early 2017). I began investigating eyewitness reports of apparent modern pterosaurs in 2003. Since then, I have written a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal of science (on the subject of reports of modern pterosaurs), four nonfiction books (in nine editions) on the subject, and well over a thousand relevant web pages and blog posts.

In other words, I was aware of Ptp during those many years of writing in support of the concept that some species of pterosaurs are still living. Yet I had doubts about Ptp, doubts that went back many years: I got the impression that those long pointed wings looked a bit like two canoes or a canoe that had been cut in half. That image was shot down, however, early in 2017, and the canoe idea no longer holds water.

How does that relate to confirmation bias? I wrote a few blog posts on Ptp, in 2013, expressing my feelings: I was in limbo, about halfway between believing it had a genuine image of an extant pterosaur and believing it was some kind of hoax. If I was subject to confirmation bias, during those many years in which I wrote in support of the reality of extant pterosaurs, surely that tendency would have caused me to find some little clue that Ptp was genuine, and I would have completely supported the idea. In reality, I came to change my mind only after a canoe expert had convinced me that the wings of the animal in Ptp are not halves of a canoe.

Did I immediately rush into a writing campaign in support of the idea that Ptp had an authentic image of a modern pterosaur? No. I contacted the physicist Clifford Paiva, who informed me of the research he had been doing, over a period of years, on that photo. Then I looked more carefully at the photograph, coming to my own conclusions before writing about my convictions that Ptp is not a hoax.

In other words, I was not at all acting under confirmation bias in coming to the conclusion that Ptp has an authentic image of an extant pterosaur. If I had no confirmation bias then, when did I have it? The critic gives no details, failing to provide even a clue that would support his idea that I have acted from confirmation bias.

Do an online search with “apparent pterosaur” (in quotes). Notice that hundreds of results come up with Google. The first few pages show blog posts and web pages over a period of years, almost all of which were written by me. Yet look deeper and you’ll see that the phrase “apparent pterosaur” is used by me when referring to eyewitness reports that I have received, over a period of years. In other words, when I get a report from a person who has seen what that person believes could have been a living “pterodactyl,” I keep an open mind, referring to it as an “apparent pterosaur.” That means I am not subject to confirmation bias in my investigations in general, for my work in living-pterosaur investigation relates largely to those sighting reports.

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Potential Bias in a Photograph of a Modern Pterosaur

. . . 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.

Monster or pterosaur in a Civil War photograph

The Ptp photo has been around for a long time, apparently long before Freakylinks episodes and decades before Photoshop existed. The physicist Clifford Paiva (California) has examined this older photo in detail, finding a number of clues that this was a real man with his foot on the beak of a real animal.

The Bible and the pterosaur photograph

Clifford Paiva, a scientist living in California, this past January suggested I write a small book about what we have discovered in an old photograph. I just finished writing the nonfiction Modern Pterosaurs, which supports a Biblical timetable regarding the Flood of Noah.

Six American Civil War Soldiers and a Pterosaur

For the past three months, I’ve been looking carefully at the old photo that we now call “Ptp,” which has what appears to be six Union soldiers from around the time of the American Civil War. More important, it also has what appears to be a recently-deceased Pteranodon, which is a type of Pterodactyloid pterosaur, supposedly extinct.

 

Don’t Shoot Down That Pterodactyl

For the past three months, I’ve been looking carefully at the old photo that we now call “Ptp,” which has what appears to be six Union soldiers from around the time of the American Civil War. More important, it also has what appears to be a recently-deceased Pteranodon, which is a type of Pterodactyloid pterosaur, supposedly extinct.

possibly genuine photo of a 19th-century pterosaur

“Ptp” photograph, now declared genuine

Don’t shoot down that photo yet, however, just because it shows what many Westerners assume is impossible. Also, don’t be distracted by those who make careless criticisms of the images of the soldiers, taking attention away from the animal. Even if those skeptics don’t intend to employ a magician’s trick (distraction), the result is the same. We need to first look at that apparent Pteranodon.

The head of that apparent pterosaur (what many Americans would call a “pterodactyl”) is indeed like what would be expected of a Pteranodon, although not exactly so in every detail. But why should it be 100% like what paleontologists know from Pteranodon fossils? There is no scientific reason that a 19th century pterosaur should be exactly like what is known from fossils, so why should any skeptic object?

Compare Ptp with the Haxan Films Hoax Photo

Now compare Ptp with the television-show fake photo:

fabricated photo - Civil War reinactment

“Freakylinks” hoax photo (imitating Ptp)

The television-show promotional photo is a hoax, made in imitation of Ptp. It was made to look old, probably with something like Photoshop, but the Haxan Films trick-photo actually originated around the year 2000.

Shadows Under the Shoe

One skeptic has said that the shoe (of the soldier standing in front of the animal) does not make any shadow on the beak. That is contradicted by the physicist Clifford Paiva, who has shown us quite clearly that the shoe does cast a shadow on that beak:

shadows in this photo show this is real

Shadows (especially shown by the lower arrows) in Ptp photograph

Yet that skeptical remark caused another web site to mention an apparent lack of a shadow under the shoe. The original non-shadow comment is totally false.

What also see, from magnifying that area of Ptp, evidence that the photograph is indeed old. Paiva noticed a tree branch under the animal’s beak, indicating it was used as a prop. When was that technique used in photography, to keep a person or object still? Before about the year 1870.

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A Shocking Discovery: Nonfiction Modern Pterosaurs

The scientist Clifford Paiva suggested, in January of 2017, that I write a little book about a photograph that has been around a long time. I wrote Modern Pterosaurs in a nonfiction-cryptozoology genre, although it supports a Biblical time-table . . . Yet religion is almost entirely in the background, with an emphasis on what some persons call the “Civil War pterodactyl photo.”

Credibility of a Photo of a Modern Pterosaur

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.

Book About the Pteranodon Photograph

Before getting into the new book, Modern Pterosaurs, about the Ptp photograph, let’s consider the hoax image that has caused confusion: The Freakylinks photo.

Glen Kuban, a critic of living-pterosaur investigators for years, made a mistake regarding Ptp in his long online publication “Living Pterodactyls.” (He also made many other errors in that page, so it will not here be linked to.) As recently as March 26, 2017, one paragraph includes, “Alas, the photo has since been exposed as a hoax—a promotional stunt for a Fox television series.” Alas, that paragraph is next to a small image of Ptp, the photograph that is NOT associated with that television series (Freakylinks).

Civil War pterodactyl or hoax

Someone looking for evidence of Civil War reenactment may have little difficulty noticing one or more problems with the photo on the right. That’s a hoax-photo, made to promote the Freakylinks TV series that aired on the Fox Network from 2000-2001. The photo on the left, however, is older, apparently seen by many readers of a book in the mid-20th century.

Pteranodon in an old photo

On January 14, 2017, Clifford Paiva (a physicist in California) and I spoke by phone and agreed that the following photo has an image of a real animal, with real wings. We stopped short of insisting that it must have been a species of Pteranodon, but it has obvious similarities . . .

Photographie d’un ptérosaure moderne

(in the French language): “Deux photos sont similaires. Un seul est une blague.”

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A Pteranodon in a Civil War photo

“Uncommon bits of information” certainly fits a 19th century photograph of a recently-deceased pterosaur. Long viewed as a paranormal image, the old photo has now become the subject of a book, a nonfiction publication at that: Modern Pterosaurs.

Was a Pterodactyl Shot During the American Civil War?

The [photo] on the left, labeled “Ptp,” has been declared by me and by the scientist Clifford Paiva to have an authentic image of a real animal. In other words, we proclaim that a real animal was photographed, notwithstanding the head greatly resembles that of a Pteranodon . . .

Modern Pterosaurs

Who am I to write about the overall credibility of sighting reports of living “pterodactyls?” After all, this kind of flying creature is said to have become extinct by many millions of years ago.

Live Pterodactyl

Modern living pterosaurs are not confined to remote jungles or wildernesses, although many sightings are reported in Papua New Guinea.

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