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Skepticism

The Round Rock Bigfoot footprint

You know, it’s been too long since we had a good Bigfoot story to talk about.

Steve Austin knows the truth

[Last] Saturday, the Round Rock Parks and Recreation Department released photos of foot prints found on various trails and parks in the Austin suburb. Officials have called it an “unexplained phenomena” and are urging anyone who knows about the origins of the footprints to contact them.

Compared to a park ranger’s foot, the mysterious foot print seems quite large. Some have speculated that it may be Bigfoot, the mythical creature that some have said they’ve seen in Texas.

But at least one local Bigfoot hunter was not impressed.

“I’m leaning towards not real at least on the top one,” Russell Miller told Chron.com after checking out the pics posted online. “Too narrow at the instep.”

Any further analysis of the images was difficult without a better view, the Baytown Bigfoot hunter added.

“Would love to see more pics and something for scale.”

Boy, wouldn’t we all? You can see the Facebook post with the pictures here, and I will leave the rest to your judgment. Just know that people can be tricky about this sort of thing. The Statesman has more.

News flash: The Bigfoot exhibition was a fake

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Steve Austin knows the truth

After a falling out with his Bigfoot crew, master tracker Rick Dyer, whose new title may be “con artist”, admitted that the 8-foot tall body named “Hank” that wooed crowds last month in Houston is a prop made to look like a Bigfoot.

The crew, including spokesman Andrew Clacy, had an apparent rift in Daytona last week with accusations, lawsuit threats and resignations that led to Dyer announcing “the truth” on Facebook, and Clacy emailing a statement to the San Antonio Express-News on Monday, admitting that the body was a prop.

“From this moment on, I will speak the truth! No more lies, tall tales or wild goose chases to mess with the haters!” Dyer said on his Facebook, which has since been deleted. “I never treated anyone bad, I’m a joker, I play around, that’s just me.”

[…]

Chris Russell, of Twisted Toy Box in Washington, admitted to manufacturing the prop, which Dyer named “Hank”, of latex, foam and camel hair last year at Dyer’s request in an interview with a Bigfoot blogging site Sunday.

It is unclear how much Dyer paid to have the prop made, but a full-body mummy suit on the site is more than $700, although a custom prop the size of the Bigfoot was significantly more expensive.

Dyer’s post said that nationwide tour that charged people $10 to see the fake body pulled in close to $60,000, with Clacy making more than $12,000 in cash, meals and entertainment, or 20 percent.

See here, here, and here for the background. You have to admit, that was a pretty good return on his investment. One wonders what Dyer could do with an honest idea if he put his mind to it. He’s still claiming to have shot a Bigfoot despite this admission of fakery, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to come up with an honest idea. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do for his next trick. I just know I won’t give him any of my money to see it. Thanks to Hair Balls for the link.

Where to see Bigfoot

And by “Bigfoot”, I mean whatever the huckster Rick Dyer has faked up to look like a “Bigfoot”. Be that as it may, the place to go is the Alamo Drafthouse.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Anyone who doubts a Texas man’s claim that he shot Bigfoot near San Antonio will have a chance, two actually, to check out the carcass at close range.

Rick Dyer, who says he shot the ape-human creature in 2012, is scheduled to make two evening appearances later this month at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24, Dyer will be at the Mason Park location, 531 S. Mason Road in Katy, and at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25, he will be at the Vintage Park site, 114 Vintage Park Blvd., in northwest Houston.

The $20 admission includes a “mystery” Bigfoot movie to be announced and a 30-minute Question-and-Answer session with Dyer, to be moderated by a comedian, said Alamo Drafthouse programming director Robert Saucedo.

“We’re guaranteeing audience members are going to get their money’s worth in entertainment and have an amazing time,” Saucedo said Thursday. “We’re going to go all out to make sure no stone is unturned to offer up a fun event. After that, it’s up to the audience member to make up their own mind, whether Mr. Dyer is (for) real or not.”

Saucedo said he hadn’t yet seen the Bigfoot carcass, which Dyer described as being in a glass coffin.

“He’s talked about how he has some kind of refrigerated trailer,” Saucedo said. “I still need to work out the details about how we’re going to display it in our theater. I know the audience will have a change to get up close and take a look at this creature.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the Alamo Theater’s take. They’re selling this as entertainment, and I can’t argue with that. If anyone reading this does go, by all means tell us about it afterward.

So you want to see Bigfoot?

He’s coming to your town, Houston and San Antonio. Or at least, whatever the huckster Rick Dyer is trying to pass off as a Bigfoot carcass is coming to your town.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Dyer, 36, says he killed an 8-foot-tall Bigfoot in San Antonio in 2012 with a 30-06 rifle after he lured “the beast” near his tent with a set of Wal-Mart ribs he rubbed with a secret ingredient.

“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true,” said Dyer, who is coming back to the Alamo City and Houston in February to showcase his catch.

He tows the corpse behind a 40-foot coach in a trailer across the country to show folks just how real Bigfoot is.

“A lot of times they don’t believe it,” he said. “You can show someone something that is real, but they won’t, or can’t, believe it because they think it doesn’t exist.”

Dyer killed the mysterious creature in a wooded area near Texas 151 and Loop 1604, he said Sept. 6, 2012.

After getting “leads” from homeless locals, Dyer set up a tent in the woods and booby trapped trees around his tent with ribs he purchased from Wal-Mart, who in fact does have the best ribs for Bigfoot-huntin’, as well as the best return policy.

“I woke up to the sound of bones crushing,” Dyer said. “I knew it was a Bigfoot eating the ribs I hung, so I grabbed my cell phone and filmed it.”

Snopes helpfully reminds us that Dyer made a similar claim in 2008, and his “Bigfoot” turned out to be a rubber ape costume. But don’t worry, even though he won’t give any tissue samples for testing Dyer assures us that some university he can’t name because of “nondisclosure” is doing some testing for him, so we can totally trust him this time.

OK, we all know this guy is a carny barker, and he’s doing this to scam a few bucks off of the gullible. I’m sure he’ll succeed at that. What’s more, I’m feeling strongly tempted to see his “carcass” for myself, so I can get a good laugh out of it. I’ll probably hate myself afterward, but I’m still feeling the pull. Someone please talk me out of this.

To their credit, Texas wildlife officials have the right idea here.

“We don’t acknowledge that one exists, but if you wanted to shoot and kill a Bigfoot in the state of Texas you would just need a hunting license,” Major Larry Young, game warden with Texas Parks and Wildlife, joked Tuesday.

Young said that although it’s legal, he doesn’t exactly think it is moral.

“It’s kind of like shooting a person,” he said.

“We can’t prohibit anyone from hunting fictional characters, including Sasquatch, Chupacabra and other urban myths,” said Steve Lightfoot with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

And just in case this story isn’t weird enough for you:

The folks at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals don’t think that Bigfoot is real, but do feel strongly about those that would shoot something exotic for sport.

“The bottom line is, when someone sees a rare, exotic animal their first instinct shouldn’t be to shoot and kill it,” said PETA spokesperson Lindsay Rajt. “Just because you see something pretty, that doesn’t mean it should be mounted on your wall.”

If anything the hunting and killing of a fictional animal teaches a lesson about hunting culture in general. According to Rajt, the popularity of hunting for sport is in decline, and has been since the late 1970s.

“Wildlife watching is gaining popularity over hunting,” she said.

“As an organization we do oppose hunting of any kind. It’s cruel and unnecessary and can damage populations and ecosystems,” Rajt said.

Yeah, we wouldn’t want to have to put Bigfoot on the endangered species list, right? I got nothing.

Who shot Bigfoot?

The correct answer is “no one”, since Bigfoot doesn’t exist and all that, but this guy claims to have done it.

Yeah, that’s not Bigfoot

Nearly a year ago a self-described professional Bigfoot hunter claimed to have shot and killed one of the creatures in San Antonio.

The alleged incident was featured in a documentary released last year that left more questions than answers.

[Last] Thursday Rick Dyer finally released pictures of the alleged beast’s body (see below).

“Bigfoot is 100 percent real — there’s no question about that,” Dyer said.

Dyer claims he shot and killed the mythical creature in a wooded area on the northwest side near Loop 1604 and Highway 151 in early September 2012.

Until Thursday Dyer never provided any proof beyond a grainy video clip he shot of the big beast outside his tent. More video was included in the documentary “Shooting Bigfoot,” but it failed to impress skeptics.

[…]

Despite a history of past Bigfoot hoaxes, Dyer insists he’s not fooling around this time.

“Bigfoot is not a tooth fairy — Bigfoot is real,” Dyer said. “The most important thing to me is being vindicated, letting people know that I am the best Bigfoot tracker in the world and it’s not just me saying it.”

Dyer plans to hold a news conference in the coming days, where he will show the full body and release the test results.

I’m sure he’ll allow an independent DNA analysis on his find. As the Bigfoot Evidence blog (the World’s Only 24/7 Bigfoot News Blog, because of course such a thing is needed) notes, Dyer most recently claimed to have shot a Bigfoot in Georgia in 2008, which he later admitted was a hoax. But this time he totally means it, y’all, even if his Bigfoot picture kind of resembles a dwarf from “Lord of the Rings”. Hey, you go to the media with the Bigfoot you have, not the Bigfoot you wish you had, am I right? Just show me the DNA test and we can settle this amicably.

Yeah, that’s still not Bigfoot

You can’t fool the SciGuy, y’all.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Bigfoot is smarter than humans. Bigfoot roams from the Arctic to the equator. Bigfoot has a sixth sense.

And most importantly, Bigfoot is very, very, very, very real.

That was the message Tuesday from group of lay researchers who made the rather audacious claims at a sparsely attended news conference at a Dallas recreation center.

“This is a serious business,” said a straight-faced Adrian Erickson, an investigator who spent five years tracking Bigfoot across the land and collecting evidence. “We don’t have a mountain of evidence, we have a mountain range of evidence.”

Billed as offering never-before-seen “Hi-def Bigfoot video,” the event drew a few local TV stations from Dallas as well as the Houston Chronicle’s science reporter, who has spent the last year probing the Bigfoot issue.

The video, alas, proved a disappointment.

The story mentions a character and some alleged Bigfoot DNA that we’ve encountered before. Needless to say, the evidence hasn’t gotten any better with subsequent retellings, and the video evidence is, well, less than overwhelming. Read the story, and the accompanying SciGuy blog post and see for yourself.

What’s the difference between a rock and a fossilized Bigfoot skull?

Less than you might think, apparently.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Todd May, of Ogden, dropped by the offices of the Standard-Examiner to see if someone would be interested in a story about a fairly impressive fossil find. After showing off a couple of digital photos, May offered six even more compelling words — “Do you want to see it?” — followed by the motherlode of sentences: “It’s out in the trunk of my car.”

In the trunk of your car? Do I want to see it? Does Bigfoot make in the woods?

May proceeded out to his car, where he popped the hatchback on his Nissan 300 ZX. Peeling back an American flag draped across the cargo area of the vehicle, he hefted a black piece of luggage that resembled an oversized bowling-ball bag, lowering it to the asphalt of the parking lot with a clunk. He struggled to pull a noggin-sized, seemingly ordinary rock out of the bag, held it up and turned it over.

A face.

The rock looks vaguely like a smaller version of one of those Easter Island heads. Pronounced forehead. Large, flattened nose. What could only be described as a chiseled chin and jaw line.

It’s been about six weeks since May found the rock near the mouth of Ogden Canyon.

“I was looking for some fossils,” the 49-year-old “semi-retired” private investigator explains, “and I was kind of drawn to something in the ground.”

It was a rock, sticking up out of the dirt.

“So I went and dug it out, and you couldn’t tell what it was ’cause the head was face down; all you could see was the back of it,” he said. “But when I dug it out you could see the face, perfect.”

May believes his weighty prize — it tips the scales at 70 pounds — is a fossilized Bigfoot skull. What compels him to make such a claim? Because he says he has seen a couple of the non-fossilized, live skulls — attached to their monstrous, hairy bodies — in recent years.

[…]

The Standard-Examiner sent a photo of the rock to several paleontologists for an initial opinion on May’s find.

In an email interview, paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter said what May found is interesting, but it definitely is not a fossilized skull.

“I’ll admit that it is the most head-like rock I have seen,” said Carpenter, director and curator of paleontology at Utah State University Eastern’s Prehistoric Museum in Price. “However, there is no doubt that the object is a natural phenomenon. Basically, it is just the odd way the rock has weathered.”

Carpenter said there are several key features of a real skull that are missing — eye socket, nose opening, and teeth among them.

“The object looks more like a head than a skull,” Carpenter wrote. “When a human head starts to decompose, the first areas to go are those soft tissue high in water, namely the eyes. Thus, even if the eyelids are closed, the eye socket is seen as a collapse of the eyelid into the socket. Scavengers, including coyotes, rodents, insects, etc., feed on tissue. For them it is an easy meal. That is why murder corpses in the outdoors are little more than bones.”

Carpenter also said the structure of the material suggests it’s a rock.

“If a piece is knocked off, you’ll find that it is rock all the way through,” he said. “Bone when it fossilizes still retains its structure, even at the microscopic level. … IF this were a fossilized skull, then knocking a chip off should reveal bone structure inside.”

Brooks B. Britt, paleontologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, says he gets these sorts of calls regularly.

“This happens all the time,” he said in a telephone interview. Rarely, however, do such leads result in an actual fossil.

“I’ve been doing this since I first started at BYU, and only once did something turn out to be worthwhile,” he said.

Most of the time, Britt says, it’s just a rock that looks like something interesting. He has seen people bring in rocks shaped like hearts, kidneys, fingers, eggs — all sorts of anatomical parts.

“It’s just the way the rock weathered naturally,” he said.

Britt says despite explaining this to the finders, he can never convince them otherwise.

“They just won’t listen to anybody,” Britt said. “He’s always going to believe it.”

Yes, I suppose he is. All I know is that you can’t get DNA from a rock. And speaking of DNA, SciGuy updates us on that geneticist from Nacogdoches who claimed to have Bigfoot DNA:

I agreed to be an intermediary between [geneticist and purported Bigfoot DNA owner Melba] Ketchum and a highly reputable geneticist in Texas, whom I trusted and knew personally. I also knew that this geneticist was first and foremost a scientist, and if there was even a 1 percent chance the Bigfoot evidence was real, he’d want check out the story. I asked, and he was willing to approach the evidence with an open mind.

(Why am I maintaining my source’s anonymity? Because some of his peers would question his engagement on such a topic, believing it unworthy of valuable research time. But make no mistake, he is a top-notch scientist at the top of his field.)

The deal was this: I would hold off writing anything until this geneticist had his lab test the DNA samples obtained by Ketchum that were purportedly a novel and non-human species. If the evidence backed up Ketchum’s claims, I had a blockbuster story. My geneticist source would have a hand in making the scientific discovery of the decade, or perhaps the century. Ketchum would be vindicated.

In short, we would all have been winners.

Alas, I met my geneticist friend this past week and I asked about the Bigfoot DNA. It was, he told me, a mix of opossum and other species. No find of the century.

Alas indeed. Apparently, Dr. Ketcham didn’t care for this result, but that’s the way it goes when you use actual science. Better luck next time, Doc.

Bigfoot DNA update

I apologize for being so remiss in reporting on this.

Steve Austin knows the truth

As you may recall last November there was a bit of a to-do about a Texas geneticist from Nacogdoches, Melba Ketchum, who claimed to have sequenced DNA from a Bigfoot. That’s quite a feat considering this a creature that does not exist in the real world.

At the time I reported on a number of significant issues with the claims Ketchum was making.

Now she has finally found a scientific journal to publish her manuscript — a journal, DeNovo, that happened to not exist until this week.

Anyway, here’s the paper’s abstract:

One hundred eleven samples of blood, tissue, hair, and other types of specimens were studied, characterized and hypothesized to be obtained from elusive hominins in North America commonly referred to as Sasquatch. DNA was extracted and purified from a subset of these samples that survived rigorous screening for wildlife species identification. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing, specific genetic loci sequencing, forensic short tandem repeat (STR) testing, whole genome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) bead array analysis, and next generation whole genome sequencing were conducted on purported Sasquatch DNA samples gathered from various locations in North America. Additionally, histopathologic and electron microscopic examination were performed on a large tissue sample. vel non-human DNA.

And here’s the news release announcing the paper’s publication. It all sounds science-y and stuff, doesn’t it?

Too bad it’s almost certainly Bigfoot scat. The big question is why Ketchum would pick this journal to publish findings that if true would be monumental. It would be the scientific discovery of the decade, at least.

And she picks a brand-new journal? Smells a little fishy, no?

Eric “SciGuy” Berger subsequently received a copy of the paper and solicited some feedback from geneticists, who reacted about as you’d expect they would. At this point it’s just a matter of a credible person testing the samples and letting us know what they’re really from. But until then, now you know where things stand.

So you say you have Bigfoot DNA

I have one thing to say about this.

Steve Austin knows the truth

A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.

The study was conducted by a team of experts in genetics, forensics, imaging and pathology, led by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum of Nacogdoches, TX. In response to recent interest in the study, Dr. Ketchum can confirm that her team has sequenced 3 complete Sasquatch nuclear genomes and determined the species is a human hybrid:

“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.

Hominins are members of the taxonomic grouping Hominini, which includes all members of the genus Homo. Genetic testing has already ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA. “The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual,” explains Ketchum.

“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA.”

If they really have Bigfoot DNA – and if you read the whole press release, at the bottom it says “Full details of the study will be presented in the near future when the study manuscript publishes”, so we’re just taking their word for it, as if there were any doubt about that – then send it to Oxford and let the boffins over there have a go at it. If you’ve really got what you say you’ve got, then a Nobel prize is surely in your future. If not, well, no one should be surprised. Via SciGuy, who treats the announcement with all due respect. For more on why we already do know the truth about Bigfoot, see this Slate article, and for more on the reactions to this particular claim, see TM Daily Post.

Got any Bigfoot DNA?

Please send it to Oxford if you do.

Steve Austin knows the truth

In a project announced this week, Oxford University and Lausanne Museum of Zoology scientists appealed to museums, scientists and Yeti aficionados to share hair samples thought to be from the mythical ape-like creature.

New genetic tests will be done on just a few strands of hair and should be completed within weeks. Even if the sample is judged to come from an unknown species, scientists should be able to tell how closely it is related to other species, including apes or humans.

Bryan Sykes of Oxford University said the group had already received many offers of samples to test, including blood, hair, and items supposedly chewed by Bigfoot. Sykes and colleagues plan to sift through the samples for the next few months before deciding which specimens to test. They will then publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Other experts agreed recent advances made in DNA testing could theoretically solve the Bigfoot question.

“If the Yeti is real and somebody has found bits of their hair, you should be able to tell from the DNA in the hair if this is actually a Yeti,” said Mark Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London. He is not connected to the Bigfoot project.

But Thomas was unsure how likely it was anyone might have actual Yeti hairs. Some scientists theorize Yetis are either a distinct hominid species, or a mix between homo sapiens and Neanderthals or other species. There is already evidence of interbreeding between homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

“If Yetis have survived for the last 30,000 years, they have probably had a pretty miserable existence and are a small population vulnerable to extinction,” Thomas said. “It’s not as insane an idea as many might think, but the chances are pretty small.”

Yeah, I’m one of those who thinks it’s insane, but at least this will be an objective result. Obviously, I don’t think it will amount to anything, but how cool would it be if it does? LiveScience and Slate have more.

More on those police “charities”

Nice story in the Statesman about those law enforcement charities that call you for donations.

The first time he got the call last year, Rodney Shaheen thought one of his children had been in a bad car crash.

The name on his phone said “TX State Troop,” and the caller claimed he was a state trooper, Shaheen later told the state in a written complaint.

But the call wasn’t from any official police department, and it wasn’t about an accident. It was a request for money — a chance to help troopers and the loved ones of fallen officers, Shaheen recalled.

“The caller … (said) that 100 percent of what I donated would go to the families of officers killed in the line of duty,” he wrote.

Soon after, he heard a public service radio announcement from the Texas Department of Public Safety warning against giving to organizations over the phone “so I knew it was a scam,” Shaheen wrote in the complaint — one of many like it in recent years. The attorney general in December sued the Texas Highway Patrol Association, the group that called Shaheen, contending that it defrauded donors and that officials used contributions for personal reasons — an allegation they deny.

Driven almost entirely by telephone solicitations generally outsourced to professional fundraising companies, charitable giving to organizations representing or claiming to represent law enforcement officers is a multimillion dollar operation in Texas. In 2009 alone — the most recent year with complete data — three of the largest among more than 20 law enforcement organizations using telephone solicitations in the state reported annual proceeds of nearly $7 million total, much of it from phone donations.

The industry often plays on the public’s sympathy for the work of officers in maintaining law and order, sometimes using names that sound like official law enforcement agencies to raise money for emotional causes such as the families of fallen officers. Yet in many cases, the nonprofits using phone solicitors to raise money for police causes are actually professional law enforcement associations or labor unions, and the vast majority of donations can go to pay the private telemarketing companies.

Supporters say there are many legitimate organizations that raise money for worthy law enforcement causes and that do not pay large amounts to professional fundraisers. But critics point out that even those organizations that use telemarketers to raise money for direct donations to officers may be asking the public to support a cause that is already well-funded by taxpayers.

See here and here for more. Reading this story reminds me of a time about 20 years ago when I got on the call list for one or more of these groups. I made a donation the first time, and it seemed like I got called every couple of months after that for years asking for more. Which I didn’t give, because I was fresh out of grad school and still not exactly living large, not to mention the fact that it became obnoxious real fast. Anyway, it’s a good read, so check it out. Via Grits

It’s (almost) 2012, and Bigfoot still does not exist

Which will not stop stories about Bigfoot and the fools who keep looking for him from being written.

The Finding Bigfoot crew has not visited Texas yet, but something is out there deep in the Big Thicket, say members of Texas groups dedicated to hunting the beast.

Ken Gerhard of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization has never seen one, but he thinks technology will help solve the mystery.

“I have been immersed in Sasquatch research for a number of years, and I can tell you in my mind a mountain of evidence supports the existence of these creatures,” Gerhard said. When hunting season ends, he will return to the woods to look for tracks, hair and habitations and to listen for vocalizations at night.

There have been sightings along the Trinity River corridor, and a cast of a suspected Bigfoot track was made in Sam Houston National Forest, said Gerhard, a San Antonio cryptozoologist who co-wrote Monsters of Texas (CFZ, $16.99) with Nick Redfern.

Texas is in the top 10 states for Bigfoot sightings, Gerhard said, outranked only by Washington, California, Oregon, Ohio and Florida.

“Eventually someone is going to come up with some evidence, although it is very frustrating that we have not found a body yet,” he said. “And it is a very good argument against Bigfoot’s existence.”

Exactly, said Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which discounts the idea of Bigfoot running around the woods. Someone would have found some verifiable piece of evidence by now, TPWD biologists contend.

“The theory is that with as much traffic as there is in East Texas that sooner or later a Bigfoot would not stop, look and listen and make the mistake of walking out into traffic and become the victim of a hit-and-run,” Cox said. Or a hunter would mistakenly shoot one.

I’ve written about Bigfoot several times. In that last link there’s a guy claiming there are as many as 7,000 of the beasties tramping about across the country, apparently in complete isolation from the human population. I’m going to save myself some typing and just quote myself from one of my earlier posts:

You don’t have to catch an actual Bigfoot to make me believe. Just find a body. Or a bone. Or hell, a DNA sample. All over North America, there’s evidence of animals that lived thousands and millions of years ago, and you expect me to believe we can’t find one Bigfoot skeleton? Please.

It’s interesting. With the relentless expansion of human development into the traditional habitat of various animals, we see story after story of unfortunate encounters between people and alligators, people and bears, people and mountain lions, all taking place in what was once the exclusive domain of those animals. Where are the stories of human encroachment on Bigfoot territory? Why has no one been forced to kill a Bigfoot to defend family, property, or self? Is their domain so wild and so remote that no exurban real estate speculator has ever set sight on it? Or is there perhaps a more prosaic explanation?

I said that five and a half years ago, and I don’t think I can say it any better today. I will note, however, that this story points out one more aspect of Bigfoot-hunting that I hadn’t previously considered:

[Vaughn M. Bryant, professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University]’s specialty is paleo nutrition and the study of coprolites, or fossilized feces.

“Quite frankly, I have tried to get out of the Bigfoot-poop business because it is very time consuming and didn’t really lead anywhere productive,” Bryant said. At A&M he is studying excrement found in the Paisley Caves of Oregon that is 12,000 years or older.

If you can’t even find Bigfoot poop, what does that tell you?

Beware the Texas Highway Patrol Association

A public service announcement from Grits for Breakfast:

This morning Grits received a solicitation phone call from a telemarketer who said he was from the “Texas Highway Patrol,” calling because “we’ve lost two troopers recently” and they wanted to “raise money for their families.”

“So you’re from the Department of Public Safety?,” I asked. He evaded, repeating that he was calling from the highway patrol. “So you’re calling from the Department of Public Safety,” I repeated, “because the highway patrol is part of DPS?” At first he said “yes,” he was from DPS, then backtracked and equivocated. I pressed and he told me he was paid by a museum in San Antonio. “So you told me you’re from the highway patrol raising money for families of dead troopers but really you’re from a museum in San Antonio?” He said “No, that’s why I said at the beginning I’m calling from the Texas Highway Patrol Association.” He had in fact never said the word “association” before that moment. At that point I told him I wouldn’t be giving him any money and he should tell his supervisor to expect a complaint to the Attorney General. I’m certainly not giving a dime to somebody on the phone who I’ve caught in a bold-faced lie.

Click over and read the rest. The Attorney General is already well aware of this group, which spends about 90% of the funds it raises on fundraising. It’s a scam, so if they call you don’t give them anything.

Perry blames God for oil leak

That sure is what this sounds like to me.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Monday offered a stern warning against halting oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of a massive oil leak, and he raised the question of whether the explosion was an “act of God.”

The Republican governor, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, warned against a “a knee-jerk reaction” to the spill and said the government doesn’t know what caused the leak, which took 11 lives and threatens the Gulf coast’s vast fishing industry.

“We don’t know what the event that has allowed for this massive oil to be released,” Perry said alongside several other governors on a panel Monday. “And until we know that, I hope we don’t see a knee-jerk reaction across this country that says we’re going to shut down drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, because the cost to this country will be staggering.”

Perry questioned whether the spill was “just an act of God that occurred” and said that any “politically driven” decisions could put the U.S. in further economic peril.

“From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented,” Perry said.

I’m sure I know as much about this sort of thing as our Governor, but I don’t think it would ever occur to me to call a mechanical failure an act of God. I mean, as Juanita asks, does that mean that the explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City back in 2005 was an act of God, too? Honestly, I have no idea what he’s getting at here. The radical cleric Pat Robertson has claimed that Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti were acts of God; specifically, acts of God’s wrath against us for our sins. Would Perry care to venture a guess as to what God was punishing us for with this?

Still searching for Bigfoot

You have to give these guys credit for persistence, if nothing else.

Two men who claim to have stumbled across a Bigfoot corpse in the woods of northern Georgia indignantly stood by their story at a news conference in Palo Alto during which they offered an e-mail from a scientist as evidence and acknowledged they wouldn’t mind making a few bucks from the “find” they have kept stuffed in a freezer for over a month.

“Everyone who has talked down to us is going to eat their words,” predicted Matt Whitton, an officer on medical leave from the Clayton County Police Department.

Whitton and Rick Dyer, a former corrections officer, announced the discovery in early July on YouTube videos and their Web site. Although they did not consider themselves devoted Bigfoot trackers before then, they have since started offering weekend search expeditions in Georgia for $499. The specimen they bagged, the men say, was one of several ape-like creatures they spotted cavorting in the woods.

I’m not sure which video is theirs, but you can certainly find plenty of them on YouTube, including some pretty funny spoofs.

As they faced a skeptical audience of several hundred journalists and Bigfoot fans that included one curiosity seeker in a Chewbacca suit, the pair were joined Friday by Tom Biscardi, head of a group called Searching for Bigfoot. Other Bigfoot hunters call Biscardi a huckster looking for media attention.

Biscardi fielded most of the questions. Among them: Why should anyone accept the men’s tale when they weren’t willing to display their frozen artifact or pinpoint where they allegedly found it? How come bushwhackers aren’t constantly tripping over primate remains if there are as many as 7,000 Bigfoots roaming the United States, as Biscardi claimed?

“I understand where you are coming from, but how many real Bigfoot researchers are out there trekking 140,000 miles a year?” Biscardi said.

Sorry, but explanations for why no one has found convincing evidence of a Bigfoot are as weak and pathetic as ever. Plenty of dinosaur remains have been found by amateur enthusiasts. If they’re out there to be found, someone will find them. Until then, they don’t exist. Sorry, fellas.

And in other news, water is wet

From the “Headlines That Write Themselves” Department last week: Lack of evidence stalls investigation of UFO sightings. Never would have seen that one coming!

Whether a UFO visited two Central Texas towns will remain a mystery – at least for now.

“All the video that we’ve analyzed hasn’t provided substantial proof,” Ken Cherry, Texas state director of the Mutual UFO Network, said [last] Sunday. “Without definite evidence, we’re left with the word of our witnesses.”

I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Uri Geller bends copyright law with his mind!

As Kevin Drum says, this is yet another reason to hate the DMCA.

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s probably remember a popular psychic named Uri Geller, who was always on TV back then, bending spoons with his brain, correctly guessing the content of people’s doodles and generally blowing the audience’s mind. But who could have guessed that his powers would eventually warp free speech and copyright law in the 21st century?

Geller got rich insisting that his supernatural abilities were real, so a number of magicians and skeptics — most notably James “The Amazing” Randi — mounted a campaign to discredit the performer. Randi exposed Geller during numerous TV appearances, demonstrating that his mental feats were nothing more than trickery. These old clips, including a NOVA program called “Secrets of the Psychics,” have recently begun appearing on YouTube and other video-sharing websites.

This has gotten the alleged psychic, well, all bent out of shape.

Over the last year, he and his business associate have successfully removed many of these clips from the Web by charging that they violate his copyrights. In the 13-minute NOVA program, Geller only claims ownership of eight seconds, yet that was enough for him to file a “takedown” demand with YouTube, using — or abusing, depending on how you view it — the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.

The DMCA protects sites like YouTube from copyright infringement claims if, and only if, they quickly comply with takedown requests from copyright holders. These sites have an itchy trigger finger when pressured, often not even asking for proof of ownership. The NOVA program most certainly isn’t owned by Geller, nor has he provided proof that he controls the eight seconds in question. He just said that he did.

Using the DMCA, aggressive litigants like Geller and such copyright-hoarding companies as Viacom and Disney can simply make your work disappear if they do not like what you have to say, something that was much more difficult in the pre-digital world.

I know it’s naive of me to even ask the question, but if we get a Democrat in the White House to go along with the presumed Democratic House and Senate, can we please fix this abomination? The DMCA happened on President Clinton’s watch. Maybe the next President Clinton can atone for that sin. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I can dream, can’t I?)

Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July on behalf of myself and I’m sure Kuff as well. This week, my feed reader has been full of calls for impeachment and a general lack of patriotism. I know a lot of us have a difficult time being proud of what’s going on in Washington (or Austin, or downtown), but this post by Rick Overton at Huffington Post caught my eye because it offered a slightly different perspective:

I love my little Honda Civic. If out of nowhere a psycho steals my car and rams an outdoor café, killing innocent people, I’ll be devastated to have been in any way connected to such a horrible thing. But of the many emotions I will feel, one of them won’t be a sudden hatred of my car. Someone evil took it and did harm.

I’m not sure that I really agree with Rick, but it’s food for thought while you eat hot dogs and watch fireworks. Have a delightful, safe (and hopefully dry) holiday, everyone!

Loch Ness Monster

Well, I don’t know what this footage of something in Loch Ness shows, but until I see a huge red eye and a long sharp tooth, I’m not conceding anything.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45-feet (15 meters) long, moving fairly fast in the water,” said Gordon Holmes, the 55-year-old a lab technician from Shipley, Yorkshire, who took the video this past Saturday.

He said it moved at about 6 mph (10 kph) and kept a fairly straight course.

“My initial thought is it could be a very big eel, they have serpent-like features and they may explain all the sightings in Loch Ness over the years.”

[…]

Nessie watcher and marine biologist Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness 2000 center in Drumnadrochit, on the shores of the lake, viewed the video and hopes to properly analyze it in the coming months.

“I see myself as a skeptical interpreter of what happens in the loch, but I do keep an open mind about these things and there is no doubt this is some of the best footage I have seen,” Shine said.

He said the video is particularly useful because Holmes panned back to get the background shore into the shot. That means it was less likely to be a fake and provided geographical bearings allowing one to calculate how big the creature was and how fast it was traveling.

[…]

[T]here have been more than 4,000 purported Nessie sightings since she was first caught on camera by a surgeon on vacation in the 1930s.

Since then, the faithful have speculated whether it is a completely unknown species, a sturgeon — even though they have not been native to Scotland’s waters for many years — or even a last surviving dinosaur.

Shine doubts that last explanation.

“There are a number of possible explanations to the sightings in the loch. It could be some biological creature, it could just be the waves of the loch or it could be some psychological phenomenon in as much as we see what we want to see,” he said.

Maybe it was just Bigfoot doing the backstroke.

Is that a Bigfoot foot?

You all know how I feel about claims regarding Bigfoot. Am I about to be proven wrong?

When the foot turned up at the Spotsylvania County, Va., landfill, the first thought was that someone had committed a brutal crime. Deputies began sorting through mounds of trash in a grim search for body parts.

Now, the foot is a phenomenon.

The hairless 8-inch appendage isn’t human after all. But no one knows yet what species — known or undiscovered — it is. And that has led to some wild conjecture.

Spotsylvania sheriff’s officials have said the foot might have come from an “ape-like species,” leaving Bigfoot-believers across the country wondering if there might finally be proof of the creature.

Bob Hagan, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, said speculation about the owner of this left foot has become a game.

“We did see a suggestion that it might be a Yeti or a Sasquatch, and that might be why they call it Bigfoot instead of Bigfeet,” Hagan joked.

Tom Biscardi, who runs Searching for Bigfoot Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., posted an image of the foot on his Web site, www.searchingforbigfoot.com. Biscardi doesn’t know if this foot is a Bigfoot’s foot, but he is certain the creatures are real.

“I have no doubts in my mind,” Biscardi said. “I’ve had six encounters over the past 34 years. Not in my dreams. Up close and personal.”

He supports DNA testing to find out one way or another.

It’s not always clear how much lag time there is on these wire stories the Chron prints – this one has a WaPo dateline on it. A little time with Google News quickly reveals that this is much ado about nothing.

Russell Tuttle, a University of Chicago anthropologist who specializes in primate locomotion, thinks the appendage is the skinned hind foot of a bear. He said the quest for Bigfoot is “an escape from the realities of life, like focusing on soap operas and the personal life of often-pathetic celebrities.”

He added: “I pray this does not start an armed search for Bigfoot in the area. One is more likely to shoot a person in disguise, a person hunting, oneself, someone’s farm animal.”

But Bigfoot hunters consider themselves realists. William Dranginan of Manassas, who heads the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization, admits that his heart fluttered at the possibility the foot belonged to a Bigfoot. But he also thinks it’s a bear’s foot.

Matt Moneymaker, president of the California-based Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, said one of his group’s 200 members is a world-class hunter who has skinned more than 200 black bears.

“That hunter, in British Columbia, is certain that this is the skinned left hind foot of an Ursus americana,” or North American black bear, said Moneymaker, whose quest for Bigfoot has been documented by National Geographic.

Jeffrey Meldrum, an Idaho State University anthropologist who is a proponent of Bigfoot’s existence, said bear remains are commonly mistaken for humans. Like others who have seen photos of the foot, he said it appears the ends of the toes, including the claws, were probably removed and remain with the pelt.

[…]

Idaho State’s Meldrum said officials should have publicly cleared up the matter by now. “The handling of the situation, as it’s been portrayed in the press, has been extremely clumsy,” he said.

Yeah, you could say that. Better luck next time, fellas.

The new face of reform

which, I’m sure you must have read, is a major concern for House Republicans these days

House Republicans Try to Get Back on Course
Boehner seen as face of change in house
GOP picks a ‘fresher’ face
House GOP’s new face
Going beyond damage control
Post-Abramoff Mood Shaped Vote for DeLay’s Successor
News Analysis A Cry of Concern by Republicans at Voter Unease
Boehner chosen to lead House GOP in break with DeLay era
Reformer in upset win as Republican leader in US House
Ethics at heart of GOP leadership race

No, not the reform. The new face.

And there they’ve chosen well, because Mr. Boehner is one of the few remaining members of the leadership that enacted damage control without any real reform when their criminally unethical leadership derailed the revolution before this one,* and he wasn’t too fastidious about it back then either.

(more…)

Randi’s Encyclopedia

James Randi’s Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural is now available online. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about hokum and its hucksters, complete with Randi’s snarkery. Check it out. Via Jim Henley.

Randi versus John

Anyone catch “Primetime Live” this past Wednesday, when they did an hourlong story on a so-called “faith healer” in Brazil called “John of God”? You want a non-political example of how our “bad not biased” media (tm, Greg Wythe) fails utterly to serve the purpose of truth? Listen to radio host Paul Harris as he interviews magician, debunker, and all-around smart guy James Randi and find out entertainment won out in this story. Randi will have more on his website this Friday. Via Mark Evanier.

Psyche!

You know, I’m not actually sure whether the new TV show about the psychic who fights crime will have a higher gobbledygook quotient than the new TV show about the mathematician who fights crime, but doesn’t it just give you a warm fuzzy to know that there’s finally a show that portrays the psychic community in a positive light?

Laurie McQuary of Lake Oswego, Ore., appreciates Court TV’s approach to featuring the psychic as another investigation tool. “It’s being presented as not only credible, but also accepted by law enforcement,” she said. McQuary is often featured on Court TV’s Psychic Detectives, and tonight’s episode, “Hollywood Mystery,” details her work on a Los Angeles case of a missing model. She has made 61 TV appearances, and after her last chat with Larry King, her workload tripled.

“I am absolutely ecstatic every time I find a missing person, or if I even make a confirmation in a case and where I know I made a difference.”

DuBois, the woman upon whom Medium is based, seems pleased with the NBC series because it helps break the stereotype that psychics are nutty.

“The story rings true to my life and how I experience it,” she said. “The best part is that other people will be able to have a glimpse at my life from my perspective. Hopefully it will help people to relate to what I do and that there really is another side after we leave this world.”

How nice for you. And how nice for us that a leading local psychic has given some of her predictions for 2005:

• An increased coupling of western medicine and holistic treatments will begin eradicating many forms of cancer.
• Osama Bin Laden will be found dead and much of the terrorist movement will disintegrate.
• U.S. fighting in Iraq will continue all through 2005.
• Discovering that Iran does have nuclear weapons and is developing biological and chemical weapons, the U.S. is likely to begin military operations there.
• Boxer Muhammad Ali and Monaco’s Prince Rainier III will die.
• Several hurricanes will hit Florida, but with less damage than in 2004. Texas will not see any hurricanes, but will see heavy summer rains.
• Moderate earthquakes will shake California in January or February, and a level 3 quake will shake up Los Angeles in the spring.
• The stock market will get stronger, especially in energy fields. Interest rates will rise.

Heavy summer rains in Texas? The stock market will go up? She really goes out on a limb, doesn’t she? Maybe she just wants to do better than the other leading psychics did in 2004. I’ll check back in a year and see.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, leading psychicbusiness columnist Shannon Buggs thinks the picture is a bit murkier for energy stocks in 2005.

Paying taxes: Not optional

This article about the IRS taking the fight to tax evaders contains one of the best bits of unintentional comedy you’ll see this year:

Also last month, a federal court in Nevada held Irwin Schiff, a well-known promoter of what the Justice Department called “frivolous tax evasion excuses,” liable for more than $2 million in taxes and penalties in a case involving unpaid taxes for 1979 through 1985.

Schiff argued that penalties shouldn’t apply on the grounds that he suffers from a “chronic and severe delusional disorder” that resulted in his irrational and incorrect beliefs about to the federal income tax system. The court rejected that.

This is the tax-avoider’s version of the guy who killed his parents and then begged the court for mercy on the grounds that he’s an orphan. You’ve got to hand it to these guys, they don’t know the meaning of the word “quit”. (Or the word “shame”, or the word “chutzpah”, or the word “bogus”, or…you get the idea.)

That so-called liberal media

Good grief. I had no idea about this. Read it and be amazed.

Felo de spam

Here’s a new variant on malevolent email that I at least haven’t seen before:

Dear user of “Offthekuff.com” mailing system,

Your e-mail account has been temporary disabled because of unauthorized access.

Advanced details can be found in attached file.

Have a good day,

The Offthekuff.com team

Now, obviously, if my email account had been disabled, I wouldn’t be able to log in and see this message. Plus, all the stuff from my webhost is very clearly identifiable as coming from them, and more specifically from their domain. Still, it took me a second because the message is a bit shocking, and it’s not like I’ve never experienced mail issues before.

The attachment is a PIF file, which those of you who don’t remember the Win 3.1/DOS days may not realize is basically a command file for DOS. I didn’t bother looking too closely, but it probably does something pleasant like delete a bunch of files or some such. Many corporate email servers block PIFs because of this.

So consider this a public service warning. You’ve probably heard it often enough to block it out completely, but never open an attachment in email unless you know what it is and why it was sent to you. Don’t be the cause of your PC’s implosion.

Lee Harvey was a friend of mine

The History Channel has asked three historians to review the credibility of a documentary that claims LBJ was behind the assassination of JFK.

The History Channel aired the documentary, The Guilty Men, in November as one of several programs exploring conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s death. Johnson was Kennedy’s vice president.

Former aides to Johnson, along with former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and Johnson’s widow, Lady Bird Johnson, sought an independent probe of the claims in The Guilty Men.

Meeting last week with executives from the TV station were Larry Temple, special counsel in the Johnson White House and president of The LBJ Foundation; journalist Bill Moyers; Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America; and Tom Johnson.

After the meeting, Tom Johnson said the executives expressed concern that the issue had been “ratcheted up” by letters from Ford, Carter and Lady Bird Johnson to the chief executives of NBC, Hearst Corp. and The Walt Disney Corp., which own A&E Networks.

“Nothing is more important to The History Channel than the integrity of our programming,” Dan Davids, executive vice president and general manager of The History Channel, said in a statement. “We take their concerns about historical accuracy and fairness very seriously and are taking appropriate action.”

That’s nice. Here’s a thought: Maybe the next time they bat around the possibility of airing something like that, they might get the historians on board with it before the actual broadcast, instead of after it. You know, what with them being the History channel and all.

Temple, who now works as an Austin attorney, said he was inclined to act when viewers began calling and sending e-mails and letters to the LBJ Library.

“Unfortunately, many of them were from kids who believed what they saw on TV,” Temple said.

“The theme was always: ‘Why do we have this memorial for murder?’ and ‘Why do we have this library to honor a man who killed a former president?’ It was such an egregious distortion of anything that is right or fair, we had to do something about it.”

Well, kids, at least you learned something from all this, even if it wasn’t what the History Channel intended for you to learn.

Not really on point but worth your time to read: Columbia Journalism Review’s Campaign Desk on defining conspiracy theories down.

You pay how much?

When I first glanced at the headline of this Chron op-ed piece, which reads “Why should hospital district cover illegals?”, I figured it would be the standard-issue ignorant nativist rant, and I started to prepare some responses as I read through it. About midway through, I realized there was no point in arguing with it, because it was such a poorly written muddle that I had no idea what author Eric Yollick was actually talking about.

Then I got to this paragraph, which stopped me dead in my tracks:

The real beneficiaries of illegal immigration are the businesses that employ them illegally. You and I pay approximately 72 percent of our disposable income to taxes — local, state and federal — in many different forms — income, ad valorem, sales and use. Illegal immigrants do not pay nearly those amounts. Employers get the benefit of these employees. Why, then, should they not bear the burden instead of spreading that burden across all taxpayers, rich and poor alike (which is what we do through the ad valorem taxes that MCHD assesses)?

Emphasis mine. Seventy-two percent? Of disposable income, which to my mind means the money you have after you pay for the things you have to pay for? Jumping Jehosaphat, what planet do you live on? Even the guy who draws “Mallard Fillmore” only claimed he was paying “more than 50%” of his income in taxes.

I’ve seen statistics pulled out of the air before, but this one takes the cake. Eric Yollick, if you’re reading this, I officially triple-dog dare you to document that 72% figure. Feel free to drop me a note or leave me a comment. In return, I’ll recommend a few good accountants for you so you can bring that burden down a tad. It’s the least I can do for you.

This post may or may not have been written by F. Bacon

I see from my referral log that this post about Michael Drosnin and his moronic Bible Code has served as a starting point for this longer and more elegant post about the persistent belief that Francis Bacon was the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays. Take a moment and check it out, it’s well worth it.

Finding terrorists in the Bible

Unbelievable. The man responsbile for writing the long-discredited book The Bible Code, Michael Drosnin, gave an intelligence briefing to the Pentagon and has reportedly given others to the Mossad. This article suggests that the officials didn’t know what a loon he is and were just polite, but Drosnin has written a letter to the editor claiming that they did in fact take his advice.

Drosnin’s book claimed that there are a bunch of “hidden messages”, of the form “Kennedy Dallas” and “Clinton President”, that can be found in the Hebrew Bible, and that this is proof of the existence of God. He claimed that similar messages were not there to be found in the King James Version or in other works of literature.

It didn’t take long for his outlandish claims to be thoroughly and spectacularly debunked. The whole story is here in these two articles in Skeptical Inquirer magazine, plus Brendan McKay’s work finding similar “messages” in Moby Dick.

Frankly, I’d have thought that this would have been more than enough to send him scurrying back into obscurity, but apparently people like Drosnin have no shame and no capacity to learn. The next time you hear the name Michael Drosnin, just laugh. He deserves no better.

Links to original NYT article and Drosnin’s letter via Atrios.

Psychics get it wrong again

The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal has published its annual lookback on how tabloid psychics did in predicting the just-ended year. As has always been the case, the psychics went 0 for 2002. Here’s something I didn’t know:

[M]ost of the tabloids that still publish forecasts have now resorted to using “psychics” who may not even exist. They don’t show up on Internet search engines. That turns out to be true for the Sun and Weekly World News. The best known tabloid, the National Enquirer, gave up its tradition of publishing beginning-of-the-year psychic predictions a few years ago.

Things have sure gone to hell since Jeane Dixon died, haven’t they? Better luck this year, guys.

UPDATE: Nice to know that at least one well known “psychic” is still willing to publish actual predictions. Not exactly Elvis and Princess Di stuff here, but we’ll take what we can get.

Test your hoax IQ

The Museum of Hoaxes has a quiz to test your knowledge of hoax photos. I got seven out of ten on both Level One and the harder Level Two. Try it for yourself. Via Mark Evanier.

A few words about polls

First, go read what Dr. Limerick has to say about margin of error. Next, consider the following excerpt from this article from the Wilson Quarterly about polls:

Although the public displays no overt hostility to polls, fewer Americans are bothering to respond these days to the pollsters who phone them. Rob Daves, of the Minnesota Poll, says that “nearly all researchers who have been in the profession longer than a decade or so agree that no matter what the measure, response rates to telephone surveys have been declining.” Harry O’Neill, a principal at Roper Starch Worldwide, calls the response-rate problem the “dirty little secret” of the business. Industry-sponsored studies from the 1980s reported refusal rates (defined as the proportion of people whom surveyors reached on the phone but who declined either to participate at all or to complete an interview) as ranging between 38 and 46 percent. Two studies done by the market research arm of Roper Starch Worldwide, in 1995 and 1997, each put the refusal rate at 58 percent. A 1997 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found statistically significant differences on five of 85 questions between those who participated in a five-day survey and those who responded in a more rigorous survey, conducted over eight weeks, that was designed to coax reluctant individuals into participating.

Much more research needs to be done on the seriousness of the response-rate problem, but it does seem to pose a major challenge to the business and might help to usher in new ways of polling. (Internet polling, for example, could be the wave of the future–if truly representative samples can be constructed.) Polling error may derive from other sources, too, including the construction of samples, the wording of questions, the order in which questions are asked, and interviewer and data-processing mistakes.

I’ve seen poll numbers all over the place for various candidates. Right here, we’ve got polls showing Ron Kirk and John Cornyn in a tight race and polls showing Cornyn with a ten point lead. I look at the number of people surveyed, and while I know that it’s sufficiently large to be a representative sample, I have to ask: What assumptions are the pollsters making about turnout? Are they taking into consideration extra efforts in the candidate’s hometowns? Is there an axe being ground somewhere?

Fortunately, I have MyDD to tell me about the demographics of the DMN poll as well as the biases of various national polling companies. And it’s not just liberals who have been complaining. Conservatives have made many of the same points about sampling error, nonresponsiveness, and pollster bias.

The only poll that really matters is the one taken on Election Day. Early voting has begun. You know what to do.