Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Bubble physics

I'm going to ask you for a favor, and yes, this applies even to anyone reading this who is a non-science type: before you post and/or comment excitedly upon the latest popular-media article about some scientific research, go to the original research and see if it's really what the popular media are claiming it is.

I mean, at least read the abstract.  That's often enough to convince yourself that no, NASA hasn't developed warp drive yet; no, almost no reputable astronomers think that the mysterious light-intensity wobble from "Tabby's Star" is due to an alien megastructure; and no, the Yellowstone Supervolcano is not going to have a cataclysmic eruption soon (unless you consider "some time in the next 100,000 years" soon).

All, by the way, claims that I've seen posted on social media in the last month.

The latest example of this, however, comes from some research published a couple of months ago by physicists at the University of Rochester, in which they are said to have "created a device that generates 'negative mass.'"

This resulted in a number of near-hysterical articles about antigravity and "unknown forces in nature" and "rewriting everything we know about physics."

To which I respond: just hang on a minute.

Let's go to the original paper itself, which has the remarkably unsexy title, "Anomalous Dispersion of Microcavity Trion-Polaritons," which appeared in Nature: Physics.  Here's the abstract:
The strong coupling of excitons to optical cavities has provided new insights into cavity quantum electrodynamics as well as opportunities to engineer nanoscale light–matter interactions.  Here we study the interaction between out-of-equilibrium cavity photons and both neutral and negatively charged excitons, by embedding a single layer of the atomically thin semiconductor molybdenum diselenide in a monolithic optical cavity based on distributed Bragg reflectors.  The interactions lead to multiple cavity polariton resonances and anomalous band inversion for the lower, trion-derived, polariton branch—the central result of the present work.  Our theoretical analysis reveals that many-body effects in an out-of-equilibrium setting result in an effective level attraction between the exciton-polariton and trion-polariton accounting for the experimentally observed inverted trion-polariton dispersion.  Our results suggest a pathway for studying interesting regimes in quantum many-body physics yielding possible new phases of quantum matter as well as fresh possibilities for polaritonic device architectures.
Got all that?  Frankly no, neither did I, and I have a degree in physics.  But if you go through it carefully, and look up a few terms like "exciton" and "polariton" and "optical cavity," you find out that the researchers didn't invent a new sort of matter with "negative mass," as at least some of the popular-media summaries claimed.

It turns out that an "exciton" is related to a concept I ran into when I was taking a course in electromagnetism as an undergraduate; that you can treat the absence of an electron -- a "hole" -- as an actual particle, map how it moves, interacts, and affects other electrons or holes in the vicinity.  No physicist claims that these holes are actual things; simply that you can model how electrically-charged particles act by treating them as if they were.

In that sense, they're a bit like bubbles rising in water.  You can model the behavior of bubbles as if they are made of some exotic negative-mass object being repelled by gravity, and come up with completely consistent physics about their behavior; that doesn't mean they actually have negative mass.

They simply behave as if they did, so it's convenient to look at them that way.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

The problem, of course, is that this is not nearly as thrilling to the general public as saying that bubbles represent some strange new form of matter that experiences antigravity and will lead to Star Trek-style transporters and faster-than-light travel.  And since clicks and/or subscriptions are what keep popular media in business, you can be certain that they're going to characterize it whatever way it takes to make you click the link.  The vast majority of media outlets honestly don't give a damn what happens after that, up to and including whether you actually end up understanding what you read.

So please, please go to the source.  Look, it's not like I'm perfect in this regard myself all the time.  I get carried away by wishful thinking and confirmation bias, especially with regard to warp drive, which I really really REALLY want to be real.  But try to hold your preconceived notions in abeyance for at least as long as it takes to find the original research and see if what's being claimed is what the scientists actually said.

Then, and only then, decide whether you want to share the link.

My guess is that this would cut the amount of spurious media sharing by about 90%.  Of course, it's not like I've done any research on this myself.  Only a supposition based on no particular empirical evidence.

I.e.  I pulled the 90% figure out of my ass.

So please don't quote me on that.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Climbing Mount Stupid

So the long-awaited "Fake News Awards," intended to highlight the "most DISHONEST and CORRUPT members of the media," were announced yesterday.

Or at least, Donald Trump attempted to announce them.  Under a minute after the announcement was made, the site crashed, and last I checked, hadn't been fixed.  But a screen capture done before the site went down lets us know who the winners were.  They seem to fall into two categories:
  1. Simple factual misreporting, 100% of which were corrected by the news agency at fault after more accurate information was brought forth.
  2. Anyone who dared to criticize Donald Trump.
Unsurprisingly, this included CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.  The tweetstorm from Trump hee-hawing about how he'd really shown the press a thing or two by calling them all mean nasty poopyhead fakers ended with his mantra "THERE IS NO COLLUSION," which is more than ever seeming like "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

So far, this is unremarkable, given that accusing everyone who disagrees with him of lying, while simultaneously claiming that he is always right, has been part of Trump's playbook ever since he jumped into politics.  But just last week a study, authored by S. Mo Jang and Joon K. Kim of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, brought the whole "fake news" think into sharper focus.  Because their research has shown that people are perfectly accepting that fake, corrupt news media exist...

... but that people of the other political party are the only ones who are falling for it.

The study, which appeared in Computers in Human Behavior, was titled, "Third Person Effects of Fake News: Fake News Regulation and Media Literacy Interventions."  The authors write:
Although the actual effect of fake news online on voters’ decisions is still unknown, concerns over the perceived effect of fake news online have prevailed in the US and other countries.  Based on an analysis of survey responses from national samples (n = 1299) in the US, we found a strong tendency of the third-person perception.  That is, individuals believed that fake news would have greater effects on out-group members than themselves or in-group members.  Additionally, we proposed a theoretical path model, identifying the antecedents and consequences of the third-person perception.  The results showed that partisan identity, social undesirability of content, and external political efficacy were positive predictors of the third-person perception.  Interestingly, our findings revealed that third-person perception led to different ways of combating fake news online.  Those with a greater level of third-person perception were more likely to support the media literacy approach but less likely to support the media regulation approach.
Put more simply, people tended to think they were immune to the effects of fake news themselves -- i.e., they "saw through it."  The other folks, though, were clearly being fooled.

Probably the only reasonable explanation of why everyone doesn't agree with me, right?

Of course right.

It's just the Dunning-Kruger effect again, isn't it?  Everyone thinks they're smarter than average.

All this amounts to is another way we insulate ourselves from even considering the possibility that we might be wrong.  Sure, there are wrong people out there, but it can't be us.

Or as a friend of mine put it, "The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is that you don't know you belong to Dunning-Kruger Club."

Jang and Kim focused on American test subjects, but it'd be interesting to see how much this carried over across cultures.  As I've observed before, a lot of the American cultural identity revolves around how much better we are than everyone else.  This attitude of American exceptionalism -- the "'Murika, Fuck Yeah!" approach -- not only stops us from considering other possible answers to the problems we face, but prevents any challenge to the path we are taking.

It'd be nice to think that studies like this would pull people up short and make them reconsider, but I'm guessing it won't.  We have far too much invested in our worldviews to examine them closely because of a couple of ivory-tower scientists.

And anyway, even if they are right, and people are getting suckered by claims of fake news when it fits their preconceived notions to accept them, they can't mean me, right?  I'm too smart to get fooled by that.

I'm significantly above average, in fact.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

It is a good day to die. Or to be a tourist. Your choice.

It is with great pleasure that I announce to you that the world's first Klingon tourist center is opening in Stockholm on February 3.

It's called "Visit Qo'noS," which is a good thing, given that it only contains one word in Klingon.  Otherwise you'd have to feel sorry for the receptionist, who would have to answer the phone, "Good morning," and then make noises sounding like a water buffalo being examined by a proctologist.  Klingon is a true language, invented by linguists hired by the people in charge of the Star Trek franchise; it has a real syntax, phonetic and morphological structure, and so on.  So, even if it's not exactly euphonious to human ears, it deserves recognition as one of the only complete synthetic languages (a distinction it shares with J. R. R. Tolkien's Elvish, John Quijada's Ithkuil, and only a handful of others).

And now, there's a visitor center were you can go to celebrate all things Klingon.

I don't want just to learn to speak Klingon, I want to learn to stare like Gowron.  It would be very useful in my classroom.

Apparently Klingon culture is a big thing in Scandinavia.  There's the Klingonska Akademien, based in Uppsala, which teaches classes in the language, and in fact published the world's first Klingon dictionary.  I have not heard whether they sponsor such events as Bat'leth Tournaments, wherein combatants attempt to sever their opponents' valuable body parts with a double-pointed sword.  In researching that, however, I did find out that you can buy a Bat'leth on Etsy, eBay, and Amazon, and if you don't want the real thing -- and I'm using the word "real" guardedly -- you can buy a Bat'leth letter opener from ThinkGeek.

I have to say that despite my poking fun at this Extraterrestrial Extravaganza, there's a part of me that thinks it is pretty awesome, and it's not because I'm some kind of closet Trekkie (which I'm not; I'm completely out of the closet.  I love Star Trek, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, several episodes of which I can quote virtually in toto from memory).  But even beyond that, my appreciation for this has to do with how awesome it is that the linguists hired by the original show have created a language that is complex and rich enough to spawn a tourist center and a language academy.  C'mon, don't you think that's cool?  You can even take college courses in Klingon. I'm not making this up. The University of Texas/Austin, which has one of the most prestigious Linguistics Departments of any college I know of, has a course in Klingon and other invented languages (or conlangs, as they're called, from "constructed languages").  If you're more serious about your studies, you can attend the Klingon Language Institute, in Flourtown, Pennsylvania (motto: "qo’mey poSmoH Hol," which means "language opens worlds, or else crushes them into dust if they dare to resist").  There, you can achieve fluency, which will no doubt impress your friends, coworkers, and potential lovers ("I know that sounded like I was gargling with yogurt, but it actually means 'You are extremely hot' in Klingon.").

And if you're really into it, you can attend "qep’a’ cha’maH vaghDIch," which is the 25th Annual Klingon Language Convention, being held July 19-21 in Indianapolis.

Okay, I know I'm kind of waxing rhapsodic about this, but it's a particular fascination of mine.  For some years, I have offered an independent study class at my high school in Intro to Linguistics, and the final project for this class is to create the rudiments of a synthetic language.  I assign this project, in part, because it gets students to understand how complex language actually is; I've found that they learn more about English syntax by trying to create a synthetic one than they would from any number of English grammar classes.  They are supposed to submit, as part of the project, a lexicon of at least a hundred words, and a passage from English that has been translated into their language -- my last group translated The Very Hungry Caterpillar, an accomplishment that was far harder than it sounds and of which they were, very rightly, proud.

It's always interesting to see what happens when the reins are loosed on human creativity.  We might laugh about a Klingon Tourist Center (and better to laugh about it than directly at it -- when you laugh at Klingons, they tend to rip your arm off and beat you to death with it).  But it really is pretty cool that such a thing could happen.

I realize I am opening myself up to some serious ridicule here for saying that, but I don't care.  So, to anyone who is going to give me grief about this, I say: "Hab SoSlI' Quch." ("Your mother has a smooth forehead.")

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Templar satellite

It is a never-ending source of amusement to me how easy it is to get the conspiracy theorists' knickers in a twist.

The latest example of this surrounds the launch on January 12 of a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying the top secret NROL-47 satellite.  From this you can see that the phrase "top secret" is a bit misapplied, here, given that everyone up to and including the folks over at Mysterious Universe knows the satellite was launched.

On the other hand, nobody much knows what it does, so the sobriquet is appropriate at least in that sense.  "NRO" stands for "National Reconnaissance Office," which is a branch of the Department of Defense that oversees the network of spy satellites, but other than that, not much is known about it.

So far, no problem, given that the United States launches surveillance satellites pretty much every other week.  But what sets this one apart -- and what has the conspiracy theorists experiencing multiple orgasms -- is the logo for the mission:

Well, to a conspiracy theorist, this is considered tantamount to an admission by the NRO that "we are an arm of the Illuminati."  On the other hand, the slogan, "Mali Nunquam Praevalebunt," is Latin for "Evil Shall Never Prevail," which sounds to my ears like a pretty positive message, for Fiendish Agents of the New World Order.

Maybe they're trying to improve their image.  I dunno.

Paul Seaburn, over at Mysterious Universe, weighs in on the topic:
[T]he logo shows a Knight Templar waving his sword as he battles with a dragon...  Why a Knights Templar symbol and what evil is this high-flying knight being sent to battle?...  Why, if it’s a secret spy satellite, would the NRO call attention to it with the sinister slogan and symbol?  “Evil will never prevail” has obvious biblical connotations — here’s a similar passage in Psalms 21:11: “Though they intended evil against You and devised a plot, They will not succeed.”  Then there’s the Knights Templar – warriors of the Crusades , protectors of the finances of the Catholic Church and possible guardians of the Holy Grail.  Who is the NRO sending this kind of message to? 
The dragon is an obvious symbol of China and that country has been launching spy satellites of its own recently, but so have Russia, Japan and India.  What’s on THEIR mission patches?  Could it mean something else?  Are these nations building a satellite wall against some ‘evil’ dragon flying in from somewhere else?  In the galaxy?  Or beyond?  Why are they calling it “evil”? 
And why in Latin?  Have the powers that be already received an alien message in Latin?
Okay, just hang on a moment.

There are a variety of questions I have about this claim, not the least of which is, "Is your skull filled with cobwebs and dead insects?"  Here are a few that I can think of right off the bat:
  1. Are you aware that the fleur-de-lis is not the symbol of the Knights Templar?  The Templars went into battle wearing white with a red cross in the middle.  Some of the members of the Knights Templar who were also French had a fleur-de-lis on their coat-of-arms in addition to the red cross, but the two really weren't interchangeable.  So the knight on the seal doesn't appear to be a Templar.
  2. Second, why is "Evil Shall Never Prevail" a "sinister message?"  Would you prefer, "You're Screwed, Evil's Gonna Win?"
  3. Third, do you seriously think that the NROL-47 satellite was launched in order to fight dragons?
  4. And fourth, that these dragons might be coming from "the galaxy... or beyond?"
  5. Last, why the hell would we expect that aliens would speak Latin?  As Eddie Izzard established, speaking Latin didn't work out so well for the Romans trying to fight Hannibal, so it's kind of a stretch to think that an alien race would spend their time teaching their children "Amo, amas, amat" and the proper uses of the dative case.  I can say from personal experience that it's hard enough to get Earth children to study ancient languages, although it did help when I taught a group of students how to say "you have a nice ass" in Ancient Greek.  (And then I taught them how to say "thank you," because obviously, if you have one, you need the other.)
You know, the insignia of this mission makes me wonder if the Department of Defense knew perfectly well what kind of effect this would have on the Alex Joneses and David Ickes of the world, and decided to do it deliberately.  In other words, they're fucking with us.  If this is the case, all I can do is doff my hat in their direction, and bow down to their superior trolling ability.

But even if that's not the case... you people really need to calm down.  Whatever NROL-47 is about, I can pretty much guarantee that it's not a Templar weapon to combat an evil Latin-speaking Chinese dragon from outer space.  Maybe I'm going out on a limb saying this, but I'm feeling strangely confident about it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Down the hole

By now, everyone has certainly heard that Donald Trump allegedly referred to a variety of Third-World countries, and the entire continent of Africa, as "shithole countries."

I append the word "allegedly" to this statement not because there's any particular doubt that this is how he looks at the world.  I'm just trying to be as even-handed as possible, given that Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said yes, Trump said that, while Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia said no, he didn't.  Trump, of course, denies it categorically, but given that Trump could say something on-air in front of millions of viewers, and five minutes later state with a straight face that he never said it, and his diehard supporters would believe him both times, I'm not inclined to put him either in the "yes" or "no" column.

What I want to address here, though, is a response that I saw posted on social media shortly after the whole incident hit the media.  The initial post I saw showed photographs of slums in Nigeria and Haiti -- two of the particular "shitholes" Trump referred to -- with a text basically saying, "See, he was right."

Of course, the problem here is that if you're selective, you can do that with anywhere.  For example [all images in this post courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons with the exception of the last two, which were taken by me], take a look at the following:

Figure 1: The United States of America 

Or this one:

Figure 2: Also The United States of America 

Or this one:

Figure 3: Yup, This Is The United States Too

And before you get your dander up, I'm not using these to prove that the USA is a horrible place, only that if you cherry pick your data points, you can prove damn near anything.  (If you're curious, the first photo is from Detroit, the second from Camden, New Jersey, and the third from Rand, West Virginia.)

What really torqued me about the social media post, however, was one of the responses to it.  "Far as I've seen, it hasn't been proven that [Trump] actually said that," the comment went.  "But if he did, he's right."

It blows me away how quick people are to use some idiotic internet meme as incontrovertible support of what they already believed.  It's like taking confirmation bias and raising it to an art form.

But really, think about what that person is saying.  That the continent of Africa -- which is the size of the continental United States, China, India, and Europe combined -- can be lumped together under one derogatory epithet and summarily dismissed.  A continent that contains places like this:

Pretoria, South Africa

And this:

Point Lenana, Mount Kenya, Kenya

And this:

The Cape of Good Hope

And this:

Waterfalls in Angola

And has faces like this:

Woman from Gambia

Yes, I know there's terrible poverty and corruption in Africa.  The thing is, there's terrible poverty and corruption everywhere.  By looking at the United States as some kind of pinnacle -- and by claiming that what Trump and his cronies are doing is "making America great again" (merciful heavens, I am sick unto death of that phrase) -- you are ignoring both the beauty in other parts of the world and the problems we have right here in our own back yard.

So for cryin' in the sink, before you throw your opinion in with a guy who is an unashamed racist (yes, I said the word), try breaking out of your own comfortable little bubble of smug certainty and travel to some of these countries that Trump and his supporters have dismissed with a single word.  You see, I have.  I've been in places like Belize and Ecuador and Trinidad and Malaysia.  Yes, I saw poverty, and I saw some people in terrible living conditions.  But I also saw this:

Pacha Quindi, Ecuador

And this:

Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

So my advice: stop falling for comforting overgeneralizations.  Get up off your ass and travel to some of the "shithole countries," talk to the people who live there, and realize that the rest of the world is just as varied -- both in good and bad ways -- as the United States.  Listen to Mark Twain, who said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

After that come back and we'll talk.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pod people

There are some days that I feel like I should just give up and let natural selection take its course.

The most recent occurrences that have resulted in my wanting to step back and let humanity turn into one big Darwin Award revolve around two completely separate situations in which people have decided that it's a smart idea to voluntarily ingest detergent.

In the first, we have the latest idiotic thing that teenagers are daring each other to do, which is to swallow laundry detergent pods.  The so-called "Tide Pod Challenge" -- which was checked out by Snopes, and is actually a real thing -- is further evidence that all you have to do is add the word "challenge" to something, and people will be lining up to do it, often having their friends filming them at the time.

This has led to a number of incredulous public figures stepping forward and saying that no, you shouldn't eat laundry detergent, even if your bro dares you to.

"I can’t even believe I have to say this right now," said Diane Macedo, of Good Morning America.

No, Diane, I can't either.  But evidently we do.

Macedo added, "They are brightly colored and they’re very nicely wrapped, but these Tide pods are not candy or pizza toppings or breakfast cereal—they are not edible."

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski concurs.  "What the heck is going on, people?" Gronkowski said.  "Use Tide Pods for washing.  Not eating.  Do not eat....  I’ve partnered with @Tide to make sure you know, Tide Pods are for doing laundry.  Nothing else!"

[image courtesy of photographer Mike Mozart and the Wikimedia Commons]

I'm always hesitant to jump on the middle-aged curmudgeon "Kids These Days" bandwagon, but seriously; I do not recall during my childhood that anyone had to make a special point to me not to drink Windex or eat my dad's shoe polish.  And although I did many dubiously intelligent things after hearing the magic three words -- "I dare you" -- I can say with some pride that snorting Comet tub and tile cleaner was not amongst them.

On the other hand, an article that a loyal reader of Skeptophilia brought to my attention a couple of days ago indicates that neither laundry supply consumption nor being a complete fucking moron is territory occupied solely by teenagers.  CBC News British Columbia featured a story last week about a Canadian couple who are facing dozens of charges in court surrounding their sale of a "tonic" containing sodium chlorite -- better known as laundry bleach -- to cure everything from AIDS to autism.

Stanley and Sara Nowak are accused of breaching the rules of the Food and Drug Act by selling their cure-all, along with the claim that it can "eliminate pathogens."  Which, strictly speaking, is true.  Sodium chlorite is pretty good at killing germs.  The difficulty, of course, is that it will also kill you, but your corpse will be delightfully germ-free.

It's the usual problem with people claiming that some random compound will destroy viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, or whatever, in vitro.  That doesn't tell you a damn thing about whether it will (1) work in vivo, or (2) be safe to consume.  After all, you can kill cancer cells in vitro by pissing in the petri dish.  But that doesn't mean that it's a good idea to ingest urine.

Oh, wait, there are people who do that, too.

The Nowaks are completely unrepentant about selling gullible sick people laundry bleach.  "It has an effect on you," Nowak said in an interview.  "I can't see how they can stop this from going in the same direction it's been going for the past ten years... it's working."

Well, yeah, if by "working" you mean "stupid people are buying it."  As far as curing anyone of their illness, however, not so much.  And given that "death" certainly is "having an effect," I guess that's not an outright lie, either.

So there you have it.  And in case I haven't made this clear enough: don't eat your damn laundry products.  That is not what the adage "a clean mind in a clean body" means.  Although if you have to wait for your favorite football player to point this out, maybe you're the person Darwin was thinking about when he came up with the idea of "low evolutionary fitness."

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Clothes make the monster

In new developments in cryptozoology, today we consider: when Bigfoot wears clothes.

The reason this comes up is because of an article by the ever-entertaining Nick Redfern over at Mysterious Universe, which has the title "Further Accounts of Clothed Monsters."  My first reaction was, "Further?  I didn't know that was a thing in the first place."

But it turns out that this isn't the first time Redfern has considered the possibility, and he references an article he wrote a year and a half ago called "When Bigfoot Gets Stylish," which begins thusly:
Without doubt, one of the most bizarre aspects of the Bigfoot phenomenon is that relative to nothing less than clothed Bigfoot!  It’s one thing to encounter such a creature.  It’s quite another, however, to see it fashionably attired in pants and shirts...  Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman says: “In the 1960s and 1970s, reports from the American West would occasionally surface of hairy bipedal Bigfoot being seen with tattered plaid shirts and ragged shorts on their bodies.  In some research, there were intriguing attempts to relate these to files of paranormal encounters with sightings of upright entities said to be wearing ‘checkered shirts.’  (Within parapsychology, there is a subfield of study regarding ‘checkered shirted ghosts.’)  Investigators generally did not know what to make of these Sasquatch wearing plaid shirts, but dutifully catalogued and filed them away, nevertheless.”
I have three questions about this:
  1. Where does Bigfoot get his clothes?  I mean, I can accept seeing Bigfoots wearing shirts and pants, but you very rarely ever see them in the clothing department at Macy's.  Maybe they order them online or something.
  2. There's a "subfield" of paranormal studies specializing in ghosts in checkered shirts?  That seems like kind of a narrow field of study, as if a psychologist decided only to use test subjects who were wearing argyle socks.  You'd think it'd limit your access to data pretty considerably.
  3. So Bigfoots like plaid, eh?  No pinstripes or paisley or hoodies or NFL jerseys or anything?  Someone really needs to work with them on their fashion sense.  Not that I have anything against plaid (or, honestly, have that much room to criticize), but if that's all you wear it becomes a little monotonous.
The more recent article, though, gives us some additional examples, such as a family in Colorado whose car was attacked by "a hairy man or hairy animal... (who) had on a blue-and-white checkered shirt and long pants," a woman in Barnstaple, England who saw a "large black dog... (that) walked on its hind legs... and was covered in a cloak and a monk's hood," and a woman in Kent, England who saw a "hulking figure... (who) had a loincloth around its waist and furred boots."

So that's kind of alarming.  Not that monsters are adopting clothes, but that given the choice, they're deciding to wear blue-and-white check, monk's hoods, loincloths, and furry boots.  I mean, it's not that I'm expecting them to wear Armani suits, but even by my own dubious standards of sartorial elegance, this seems a little odd.

It also occurs to me, apropos of the plaid-wearing Bigfoots, that we might be talking about... people.  I say this from personal experience, given that my mom's family comes from the bayou country of southeastern Louisiana.  You know those folks on the This No Longer Has Anything To Do With History Channel, on the show Swamp People?  Yeah, those folks are all cousins of mine.  Seriously.  I have a photograph of my great-grandfather, along with his wife and ten children, wherein he could easily be mistaken for a Sasquatch in overalls.  I have heard from the older members of my family that he was a genuinely nice guy, but he certainly had the "hirsute" thing taken care of.

In any case, the whole thing throws us back into the realm of "the plural of anecdote is not data."  Unfortunately.  Because it adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the field of cryptozoology.  It's also nice to think that in a harsh winter, the Sasquatches have some woolens to keep themselves warm, when their pelts, loincloths, and cloaks aren't enough.