By the living-pterosaur expert Jonathan Whitcomb
This is a response to an attack, by a vocal critic, against the credibility of recent investigations into reported sightings of apparent modern pterosaurs, yet we can here cover only a small number of problems in the lengthy publication by that skeptic. In fact, we have space to closely examine only one problem: one aspect of the testimony of Duane Hodgkinson.
I do not mean to imply that everything in “Living Pterosaurs” by Glen Kuban is without merit. In particular, the following points made in that long online article can be useful, when taken alone:
- The mid-19th century newspaper article in the Illustrated London News was surely a hoax
- Some sightings of frigate birds have been misinterpreted as modern pterosaurs
- Most scientists [as of early 2017] believe pterosaurs became extinct long ago
The big problem with Glen Kuban’s “Living Pterosaurs” (GKLP), however, is that the article as a whole was apparently written under a cloud of confirmation bias and belief perseverance. It is riddled with both factual errors and misleading statements.
I do not accuse him of dishonesty, but those mistakes and misleading declarations need to be addressed, for they are numerous. I acknowledge that he has made corrections in the past, when one or two errors of fact were pointed out to him (perhaps more often), but he then added many new paragraphs that were misleading.
A lengthy page of skepticism
I can here respond to only a fraction of the errors in GKLP, for that online publication is very long and full of mistakes. The version that he published early on May 22, 2017, appears to have over 31,000 words, longer than some print books.
I’m glad that GKLP does not include the word liar, for my name (Whitcomb) is mentioned 262 times. By comparison, some other online critics have accused me of dishonesty or insinuated that I have not been honest. Kuban does not sink to that unwholesome approach.
Compare the length of GKLP to other skeptical online publications on this subject: Kuban mentions my name (Whitcomb) 262 times, while some critical web pages may have a total word count of less than that. In other words, GKLP is over 100 times longer than some sites that have a similar purpose.
The general nature of the skeptical “Living Pterosaurs” publication
GKLP is not specifically aimed at modern-pterosaur investigations of recent years, nor about mistakes or potential errors by those who have recently written about sightings. It is a multi-shotgun approach to cutting down anything that seems like it could give credence to the possibility that not all species of pterosaurs became extinct millions of years ago.
Duane Hodgkinson – eyewitness of a ropen, a modern pterosaur
1944 ropen sighting in New Guinea
The late Duane Hodgkinson (DH) reported his “pterodactyl” sighting long before Garth Guessman and I began interviewing him. Concerning our interviews, many details can be found online and in my book Searching for Ropens and Finding God. In that book, I mentioned that he had remained silent about his sighting for many years, yet that deserves more explaining: He told people about his sighting at first but got so much ridicule that he stopped mentioning it for many years. In 2004, Guessman and I began communicating with him.
The following problems are found in the early-May-22-2017 version of GKLP:
- “he did not get a good look at it” is a poor description of the actual view of the tail
- The other witness was NOT a biology professor
- That other man did NOT deny seeing a “pterosaur” but refused to talk about “it”
- [Whitcomb] never said that man might have been distracted (and so saw nothing)
- There apparently never was any “testimony” from the friend of Duane Hodgkinson
- Kuban seems to imply that DH’s friend was a scientist, which is very doubtful
- Kuban seems to ignore that the friend never said that it may have been a bird
- GK never mentions the fact that DH was a weather observer for the field artillery
- Do scientists always accept and celebrate reports of “living fossils?” No.
- [Whitcomb] was not hiding any “denial” in the video (regarding DH’s friend)
- No coverup was involved, in online publications [by Whitcomb]
- “less than objective” fails to take into account what was actually done
- No heron or other bird can reasonably account for a wingspan close to 29 feet
- GK fails to mention [Whitcomb’s] explanations involving a comic strip
- GK fails to mention the close relationship this has with the Hennessy sighting
- GK fails to take into account how this could relate to the Lake Pung sighting
- He also fails to consider how it could be tied to the Perth, Australia, report
- He seems oblivious to how it could relate to Jonah Jim’s ropen sighting
I do not imply that Kuban almost always reports inaccurately what my associates and I have written. On the contrary, he often correctly reports what we have said. But the nature of the above mistakes is consistent with the kinds of errors I have seen in other area of his long online publication. They point to confirmation bias and to one or more other problems in reasoning.
Misleading account of Duane Hodgkinson’s sighting
Let’s here focus on one aspect of the 1944 sighting that was just west of Finschhafen, New Guinea: the reaction of the army buddy of DH. We’ll call this American soldier “BDH” (buddy of Duane Hodgkinson).
The most reasonable explanation for the depth of Kuban’s mistake in this area is that he suffers from an extreme case of confirmation bias, for I have explained this before, and I believe that he has had access to that explanation.
I never said that BDH was a biology professor, even though Kuban declares that it is in my book Searching for Ropens and Finding God (SFRFG). Kuban (GK) needs to search again. “Professor” is not in that part of the book, and nowhere in SFRFG does it say he was a professor.
Since BDH seems to have never spoken to anybody about that encounter in the jungle clearing, after the day it happened, we need to examine what actually took place immediately after the sighting. That’s when BDH said something. All we have is what Hodgkinson (DH) said about his communication with BDH right after the sighting, so let’s look at that.
Contrary to what GK may imply in his long skeptical page, BDH never said that they saw something other than a pterosaur or “pterodactyl.” The two soldiers had an argument, right there in that jungle clearing, right after the animal had flown out of sight for the second time. The nature of that argument reveals much more than GK admits. The following is from SFRFG, page 26:
For Duane Hodgkinson and his friend, seeing-is-believing proved only half true, for when Hodgkinson mentioned the word “pterodactyl,” the other soldier’s response was complete denial. According to Hodgkinson, his friend was “so steeped in conventional thinking,” that he denied they had seen what they had seen. “Well, George, we saw it,” was answered with, “No, we didn’t!
Kuban never interviewed DH. Guessman and I, on the other hand, interviewed him a number of times, each of them being independent interviews. Never did DH mention anything suggesting that his army buddy had ever suggested that they had seen something other than a pterosaur.
When that is taken into account, the meaning of the brief communication between those two soldiers, in that jungle clearing in 1944, becomes obvious to me. BDH had not the slightest desire to tell anybody that they had seen a living pterodactyl with a wingspan of a small plane.
Kuban portrays my approach to that subject as if I were hiding a soldier’s “denial” of a sighting of a modern pterosaur. In reality, it always takes me many sentences to properly explain that concept, so I don’t usually include that when I report the 1944 sighting. Consider the next paragraph in SFRFG:
Later the apparent benefits of denial became obvious: When Hodgkinson told his story, listeners thought it sounded crazy. Somebody asked, “What were you drinking?” He was not drinking; he has never been a drinker.
That makes it clear why BDH wanted to keep quiet about the sighting: He did not want to be ridiculed. I have found, after getting eyewitness reports from around the world, including Western countries like the USA, that people hate to be ridiculed. BDH choose the easy way out.
How else can anyone reasonably account for that argument in that jungle clearing in New Guinea in 1944? Any possibility of a misidentified bird would have made it easy for BDH to say, “bird.” Any fruit-bat possibility would have allowed BDH to say, “bat.” Anything other than an obvious pterosaur the size of a small airplane—that would have allowed the army buddy of Duane Hodgkinson to say it was that. The fact that BDH insisted that he would deny that they had seen anything at all—that fits perfectly with the testimony of Mr. Hodgkinson.
This is a long post that defends the living-pterosaur investigations against an attack from a much longer anti-modern-pterosaur online article.
At one time, he owned a Piper Tri-Pacer, an airplane with a wingspan of twenty nine feet. In an interview with cryptozoologist Garth Guessman, in 2005, Hodgkinson answered questions about his 1944 sighting in New Guinea . . .
The cryptid seen in New Guinea, by Duane Hodgkinson in 1944 and by Brian Hennessy in 1971 . . . Similarities between the descriptions given to me by these two eyewitnesses struck me as too much for coincidence. In each of our interviews (in different years), they both responded to my visual survey-forms, resulting in composite images of the heads of the creatures observed.
We acknowledge each other’s writings, having greatly disagreed on many points. We sometimes communicate, always in friendly terms, but our basic perspectives do not seem to change much over many years: He believes that no species of pterosaur has survived into the past few centuries; I believe that a number of species live today.
“Skeptics have found apparent faults with the old photograph that we now call Ptp, the “Civil War pterodactyl photo.” Yet under closer examination, those supposed weaknesses evaporate. It seems that either confirmation bias or belief perseverance (or both) has played a role in how some persons have interpreted the photograph.”