The improbable life and science of cadborosaurus

Paleozoologist Dr. Darren Naish exposes the bad science the created and sustains Cadborosaurus. Discussions with cryptozoologists is a frustrating business.

The Cadborosaurus Wars

Michael Woodley, Cameron McCormick and myself recently argued that an alleged ‘baby Cadborosaurus’ was very likely no baby sea-serpent at all [via Bousfield and LeBlond], but rather a mangled and half-remembered description of a pipefish. We tabulated the various observations reported by the witness (William Hagelund), compared them to lists of characters compiled by examining numerous candidate species, and showed as clearly as possible that the pipefish identification is the one that best matches Hagelund’s observations. In other words, we did our best to examine the identity of the alleged creature in an empirical, critical fashion.

But after receiving a series of emails from an apparently frustrated Ed Bousfield, I feel it’s time to say publicly that the published work on ‘Cadborosaurus’ is terrible science and more to do with the imagination and preconceptions of the protagonists than anything to do with actual biology.

Frankly, I’m tired of being told that I and my colleagues are the ones with the ridiculous ideas, the ones who aren’t thinking things through in proper scientific fashion, or the ones who are failing to recognise the true phylogenetic affinities of organisms reported by eyewitnesses.

…all in all, the published research on ‘Cadborosaurus’ involves improbable conclusions, a lack of critical analysis, and a lack of the conservatism and restraint that’s normal in scientific research. It’s just bad, bad science. Furthermore, the primary supporters of the alleged reality of ‘Cadborosaurus’ have displayed a frustrating arrogance, lack of humility and stubborn attitude whenever their ideas are – quite justifiably – placed under scrutiny.

Source: @TetZoo (Darren Naish) on Twitter

This piece does a fine job of taking you through the history of how Caddy came into being. With plenty of illustrations, also noted are all the other MANY things the sea creature could be besides a surviving population of plesiosaurs as Bousfield and LeBlond have alleged. The article highlights a number of problems inherent in cryptozoology – use of eyewitness accounts, later creative interpretation of these accounts, unwarranted assumptions made from photographs, their lack of ability to argue at a high scientific level and, probably most critically, their habit of defending the more extraordinary conclusions. This can be seen in Bigfoot circles possibly more so than sea cryptids. Because peer review is a key component of doing science, these bad habits hinder the field from being credible as a branch of biology/zoology. I’ve argued before about cryptozoology and paranormal investigators, if the evidence was any good, then someone WOULD take you seriously. Many skeptics aren’t dismissive, we are curious (that’s why we keep up on the subject) but we not going to fall for a just-so story.

Claimed "Cadborosaurus willsi" carcass from October, 1937

As one commentator notes: “I wish that more cryptozoologists would stop taking any challenge to their conclusions as personal attacks or attempts by the “closed-minded” to dismiss their work.” Real scientists have to face criticism and answer for shortcomings. Instead, cryptozoology proponents have closed off skeptical criticism even when it is supported by a sound foundation in what we already know to be true. I’m very entertained by this exchange between the sides that has come out in print.

  10 comments for “The improbable life and science of cadborosaurus

  1. jim
    April 16, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    the “baby” cyptid is, to me, perhaps the most depressing new trend in cryptozoology. size is suddenly an irrelevance when identifying and describing wildlife. “is that an iguana, or a baby velociprator?” i blame matt moneymaker for popularizing it, of course, although it is quite possible that loren coleman saw a human baby in the supermarket, and theorized that cryptids might also grow progressively bigger over time, thus lending credence (somehow!) to their existence. i don’t care enough to research it.

  2. Massachusetts
    April 16, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    Interesting–I always thought the critter in the Jacobs photo was facing away, but the drawing overlay has the cub’s face pointing toward the camera. That’s a whole different view for me.

  3. Massachusetts
    April 16, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    There’s also the “New York Baby” footage showing an acrobatic ape / monkey frolicking in the trees. A lot of people think it’s someone’s pet gibbon I believe, though Bigfoot enthusiasts believe it’s a baby Sasquatch.

  4. Massachusetts
    April 16, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    Oh…is “MM” Matt Moneymaker hence referencing the NY Baby already? Sorry if I missed that.

  5. April 17, 2012 at 1:00 AM

    That is a fantastic article, and I think demonstrates

    - how this should be done
    - And why anyone who actually does some critical thinking stays away from these topics other than as possible anthropological research.

    The sort of awfulness Darren points out is prominent in the Caddie case for a couple of reasons, but really can be applied to so many other “researchers” in these “fields.”

  6. Nekoninda
    April 17, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I, personally, have seen several species of the cardboardosaurus on multiple occasions, and have seen convincing photographs on many others. They are easy to discover and verify by any “skeptic” with an open mind, who is willing to search for them in their natural habitat, the elementary school play/theater. What? Oh, did you say “Cadborosaurus”? OK, never mind.

    • April 17, 2012 at 9:12 PM

      Good one. Don’t get those guys wet though.

  7. Jim
    April 19, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    Cryptozoologists don’t really care what real scientists think as long as they can make money on their ridiculous ideas.

  8. April 22, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Note on this story. It originally had a lovely graphic of a depiction of Cadborosaurus. I was contacted by Jason Walton of Caddyscan who asked me to take it down and I did as soon as I read the email (time change difference).

    However, he made a remark that the U.K. authors of the study “may have degrees but they are uninformed” because they did not have the eyewitness reports from the locals. That is, the response was not to have a counter to the argument, just rely on special information subjectively obtained – another example in line with the observations in the original article. Reliance on eyewitness accounts to make such a claim is not good science.

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