I’ve gone and got my panties in a twist again (What? They feel nice against my skin…). I’m just really bloody tired of having to do other peoples’ thinking for them. Now before you get all excited and puckered-up about that statement, let me explain myself. Across a gamut of topics on Facebook ranging from radioactive tuna to chemtrails to bad science, I have discovered a disturbing trend; I call it Post First, Ask Questions Later (or possibly not at all). If you’re here often, you might have noticed that I tend to get a little, shall we say, pissy when otherwise intelligent and educated folks just swallow outrageous claims without so much as an ‘Are you sure about that?’. An article doing the rounds on Facebook this week has proven to be the turd to break my otherwise calm demeanour.
The article, posted to pop anthropology website Ancient Origins, details a peculiar case of South American elongated skulls. Traditionally associated with ritual head-binding, Ancient Origins goes on to explain that DNA testing has revealed that the previous occupants (?) of these skulls had some very weird genetic mutations, apparently never-before seen. The implication is, of course, that the skull deformity is genetic and not due to head-binding. It’s an interesting story, convincingly and authoritatively written.
And so begins an object lesson in skeptical inquiry and critical thinking. Although the two terms are all too often used interchangeably, they are in fact two different, if strongly correlated, concepts. The former involves questioning the veracity of claims and is the fundamental duty of anyone with an open mind who cares about the truth (a sadly tiny sub-section of the population, apparently). The latter is the process by which we go about making judgements about said veracity. One can be a skeptic without being a critical thinker (see anti-evolution, climate change denial etc.), but being a critical thinker necessarily implies skepticism. I will leave it to you to have a read of the original article and move on to how we apply these two methods of ascertaining truth. First, skepticism:
There are a number of claims made in the article, almost always with some sense of authority – an authority which clearly fools the majority of readers – so I’ll run up a list of the ones that should get your skeptometer twitching:
It is claimed that the skulls could not be the result of cranial deformation because it is not possible to alter the volume or weight of a skull by that method, while the Paracas skulls have a larger volume and are considerably heavier than ordinary skulls: Is this really true? Are they really larger and heavier, and if so, is it really impossible for head-binding to produce this change?
The cause of the elongation is claimed to have been a ‘mystery for decades’: Has it been a mystery for decades? Why hasn’t anyone heard of this mystery?
The samples were sent to a ‘geneticist’, but they are never named and only ever referred to as ‘the geneticist’ which is kind of odd, as the results are their work. You’d think they would want to be credited for it. Why is this being announced by an ‘expert’ (Brien Foerster) rather than by the actual scientist (who would presumably be more credible). And why doesn’t he provide the actual data, instead of just giving his ‘expert’ interpretation of it?
Foerster claims that the samples had mtDNA “with mutations unknown in any human, primate, or animal known so far”, and that they indicate “a new human-like creature, very distant from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans”. Really? Those are some extraordinary claims right there. How come this isn’t all over the news? I mean, this is paradigm-changing stuff!
More claims from the shadowy ‘geneticist’: “I am not sure it will even fit into the known evolutionary tree”, and further that they were likely unable to inter-breed with humans. Well, that only requires the demolition of evolution in its entirety! This is exactly the kind of evidence Darwinists have been saying is needed to disprove evolution by natural selection. But is it true?
Now, with our brains reeling from the onslaught of unsubstantiated claims, we can take our handful of queries and hammer away at them on the anvil that is critical thinking. Sadly, without access to costly research papers and with Google’s search engine chock-full of reportage on these ‘unbelievable’ (quite) findings, it is pretty hard to determine the veracity or otherwise of the claim regarding the ‘impossibility’ of cranial deformation, but the simple fact that there are hundreds or thousands of documented cases from all over the world where it has been deliberate, and clearly appears to have altered the volume of skulls, should be an indication that the claim may be false.
In any case, it is irrelevant to the process we shall use to work through this muddle. The first question one should ask of this article (and any article, for that matter) is: What are the sources of this information? In this case, we find a solitary source: Brian Foerster, ‘expert’ in Elongated Skulls. No stated qualifications, which is odd because you’d have thought they would add to his credibility if he had any. So, let’s check him out, shall we? A quick Google search reveals that Foerster is an author on the subject, runs a site called ‘Hidden Inca Tours‘, talks a lot about ancient aliens’ favourites like Puma Punku and Tiwanaku and has a regular column on Graham Hancock‘s website. So, in this instance, ‘expert’ appears to mean ‘unqualified author and historical revisionist/fabricator’. Hmm…
But what of his intrepid ‘geneticist’? After a little digging, it turns out that the samples Foerster procured were handed over to one Lloyd Pye. Another quick Google later and it turns out that Pye, amongst other batshit craziness, had (he is now deceased) been the number one proponent of the wholly discredited ‘Starchild Skull’. But not to worry! Pye was not the ‘geneticist’; he handed over the samples to… (a little more digging) Dr. Melba Ketchum (Oooh, she’s a Doctor!). The next question should be obvious – what kind of Doctor is she? Well, not a geneticist, that’s for sure; she is in fact a Veterinarian. She does have a company called DNA Diagnostics Inc. – The Better Business Bureau has granted her business a rating of ‘F’ for various consumer complaints and it should be noted that they deal with cat and dog DNA, not human! She has also made claims regarding supposed Bigfoot DNA, which have been roundly destroyed. There is much more (including the ultimate scientific faux-pas of falsifying peer-review), but you can look that up for yourself.
And so ends our lesson. I think the conclusion ought to be manifestly obvious to anyone with a brain. If it isn’t, then you may be subject to a little confirmation bias – that is, you want to believe in alien-human hybrids because of some pre-conceived notion and, as this fits the bill, it must be true! That, my friends, is expressly not critical thinking or skepticism.
To summarise: Question the central claims, research the claims, find the sources, check the sources (do they say what it is claimed they say? Are they reliable and/or peer-reviewed?) and, finally, come to an objective judgement of the merits of the claims.
So, for humanity’s sake, will you Facebookers out there PLEASE START DOING THIS so we don’t have to waste any more of our time doing it for you!
And for those of you chomping at the bit to claim scientific bias and the destruction of evidence and conspiracies of silence and government secrecy and
the destruction of reputations by the ‘MainStream Media’, well, I’ll deal with you lot another day…