From time to time, Skeptical Inquirer refuses to publish certain critical letters, which make good points, on such unfortunate grounds as lack of space. It is my intention to publish such letters here. In order to receive publication here, the letter author must be able to document the rejection from Skeptical Inquirer and the official reason given for that rejection, the letter must be clearly written and well-reasoned, and must point out something of significance published in Skeptical Inquirer that was in error, misleading, or unfair. If I (Jim Lippard) also reject publication, you can put that up on your own web site.
To submit letters for publication here, please send a copy along with your rejection letter to [email protected].
From: [email protected] To: [email protected] Subject: Re: When will this letter be published? Date: Fri, Apr 7, 2000, 9:08 AM Book reviews are book reviews and the opinion and judgment of the reviewer. We have no plans to publish your letter, I am sorry to tell you. Also, I believe it arrived after our close date for the issue in question. Sorry. We received many times more letters than we have space to publish. Ken Frazier -------------------- Begin Original Message ------------------------------ From: Loren Coleman
On the internet and in publication, in January 2000, the Skeptical Inquirer published a book review entitled "The Flawed Guide to Bigfoot" by Benjamin Radford. The following letter-to-the-editor (January 26, 2000) is for publication in the Skeptical Inquirer: ------------------------------------------------------------------------ To the Editor, The Skeptical Inquirer: Wretched Review of "Flawed Guide" As you might imagine, we were disappointed with your review of our book, The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. We were not surprised that your reviewer, Benjamin Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, did not like the book. What disappointed us is that he passed up a golden opportunity to compose an intelligent reply to our thesis, the mainstream version of which appeared as a cover story in the January 2000 issue of Scientific American. Instead he chose to nit-pick and poke fun at our book, making numerous errors and embarrassing gaffs in the process. Though Radford prefers to label the book an "illustrated catalogue," a "field guide" is exactly what it is, given the limits of our material. But we can let that one pass. After all, in the beginning many people felt that Roger Tory Peterson had just drawn some pretty pictures of birds. Radford seems to fault us because "the entries are largely culled from previous books on cryprozoology." But this is no more or no less than what is done in any scholarly work of analysis. We surveyed thousands of years of source material, hundreds of books and articles, to extract the overall models and best sighting examples for use in the field guide. Besides, original material and first-hand interviews are included in our treatment, including some groundbreaking new material from scientists-as-eyewitnesses. Your reviewer then states that "because a creature has a name does not imply that it actually exists." While we do not think that the media-driven model of "Bigfoot" as a single unrecognized primate species represents the truth, we do not believe that multiple names of these undiscovered animals translate into hundreds of kinds of animals either. In fact, the whole point of our field guide was to identify approximately nine classes of unrecognized primates worldwide. Radford would have people think that we are foes of Dr. Grover Krantz, when, instead, we call him one of the leading scientists who has bravely studied Sasquatch, at great sacrifice to his own career. Just because we disagree with his single-species premise does not mean we are not allies on the bigger questions of the existence of these mystery primates. We discuss both positions (our admiration and differences) in the book. Your reviewer also faults us for treating "eyewitness accounts, folklore, legend, footprint finds, and depictions in native art together as if all have equal weight and credibility." Of course, when Radford throws up straw arguments like young children, dead eyewitnesses, unnamed sources, and third-hand sources, leaving out the named and degreed individuals that have seen these animals, he is pandering to the Jerry Springer mentality loose in the land. Some people who have had good sightings die, yes. One or two cases may involve children, as well as their parents, yes. As to third-hand sources, we are not so sure there are any in the book. But the point is, Radford is looking for gaffs, items to throw into the wind and make fun of the book. The burden of history, reaching into many people's lives, legacies, diaries, and family traditions, is that these animals have been seen and encountered. They are not wisps of smoke. The case of Beowulf is another matter altogether. Contrary to Radford's statement, we are not recommending that people be on the lookout for hairy giants in Denmark today. He is being foolish at our expense. What he wishes to pass off on his readers is that the poem Beowulf is some wholly fictional account. But as we clearly state in our book, this poem, literature and historical scholars alike tell us, appears to contain the factual retelling of an encounter with a hairy giant, named Grendel in the traditions, even though the story constructed around it may contain fictional elements. The story merely demonstrates a simple truth, that Denmark at one time may have hosted a population of hominoids similar to Grendel and his mother. Radford then goes after us for including the story of the "Minnesota Iceman," saying that there is "strong evidence that it was simply a rubber creature designed by a top Disney model-maker." In an incredible leap, Radford elevates a jester to king, by using San Francisco's former storefront Bigfoot & UFO Museum owner, bad-boy, and class-clown Erik Beckjord as his Minnesota Iceman "expert." Beckjord has been arrested at, banned from, and thrown out of almost every serious scientific Sasquatch and cryptozoology meeting he has attended. Beckjord even took to wearing an alien mask at one such gathering in 1999. And this is the Skeptical Inquirer's expert criticizing Vietnamese, French, Scottish, and American researchers for investigating the Minnesota Iceman scientifically? Radford goes on to complain that our drawings often don't match the descriptions, and that one map shows aquatic creatures in the desert. In fact, the drawings are composites. Our illustrator used combined descriptions of the types within a specific region to draw his sketches, and we chronicled each type illustrated with one case description to highlight the fact that credible witnesses see these unknown hominoids. Likewise with the maps, the "ranges" are rough approximations; we never stated that any aquatic creatures live in any deserts. Radford's "oh wow" exclamations of what hunters might say about killing a Bigfoot are more silliness on his part. As we note throughout the book, the individuals who have killed Almas and others usually had other things on their mind, like survival, or winning a war. Hunting Yerens or Yetis was not their mission, and unfortunately, saving a body was not their objective either. Finally, Radford can't seem to read bylines very well. Loren Coleman has not co-authored the other field guides in this series. Patrick Huyghe, the series creator, has. We are sorry that Radford failed to recognize that our book is the product of some highly critical, analytical thinking. If this review represents the level of criticism CSICOP must stoop to "light a candle in the dark," then Carl Sagan must be spinning in his grave. --Loren Coleman, Portland, Maine; and Patrick Huyghe, Putnam Valley, NewYork
In Lett's discussion of falsifiability, he states several times that claims that cannot be falsified are meaningless, and that this is so because "it is impossible--logically impossible--for any claim to be true no matter what." Note that this sentence refutes itself. If it is logically impossible for any claim to be true no matter what, then it is logically necessary that all claims be falsifiable. But if this is a logical necessity, then there is no possible evidence that could falsify it.
A further problem is in Lett's discussion of "multiple out," the use of "excuses" to save a theory from falsification. The problem is that science does this too. What distinguishes science from pseudoscience is the nature of the "excuses." In a pseudoscience, the excuses are ad hoc, while in science they are independently testable in some fashion. (A good discussion of "naive falsificationism" may be found on pp. 42-50 of Philip Kitcher's book Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, 1982, MIT Press.)
Lett's sufficiency rule contains the statement that "evidence based upon authority and/or testimony is always inadequate for any paranormal claim." This is much too strong a statement. One needs to compare the probability of the testimony being false against the probability of the event being true. For anomalistic events, the standards are higher, but this does not eliminate the evidential value of testimony completely. After all, if many independent scientific laboratories agree with each other in observing some phenomenon contrary to accepted scientific laws, that is good reason to think there must be something wrong with accepted scientific laws. If such testimony counted for nothing, science would never change.