Tassie tiger expedition aims to “prove science wrong”. Silly way of phrasing. (UPDATE: No good evidence)

In an update to this story, the Center for Fortean Zoology is keeping hope alive to find the Tassie Tiger.

Zoologists hunting Tasmanian tiger declare ‘no doubt’ species still alive | World news | theguardian.com.

It had been considered extinct for nearly 80 years, but the Tasmanian tiger has been declared alive and kicking by an intrepid group of British naturalists.

A team of investigators from the Centre for Fortean Zoology, which operates from a small farmhouse in north Devon, is currently in Tasmania hunting down clues to prove the thylacine, commonly known as the Tassie tiger, still exists.

The group claims to have gathered compelling evidence of the thylacine’s presence in remote parts of Tasmania’s north-west, despite the last known animal dying in Hobart Zoo on 7 September 1936.

They have eyewitness reports and possible scat and BUCKETS full of faith and wishful thinking. But that isn’t enough to show it’s there. They have nothing concrete so far but do a good job at feeding the press bits of hopeful news.

The leader of the expedition, Richard Freeman, is convinced it’s out there still. The article quotes that he “plans several return trips to prove mainstream science wrong.”

“I’ll be coming back again and again,” he said. “The people who say they’ve seen it have nothing to gain and everything to lose. I’d say there is a population of at least 300 of them.”

But there is NO CURRENT BASIS for his thoughts on this. I am not a fan of the way Freeman approaches such expeditions. To “prove science wrong” tells me he is doing it wrong. Science tells us about the world around us based on evidence. The evidence is not there that the thylacine still exists. Good luck to them as they try to find it but if they do, THEY ARE CONTRIBUTING TO SCIENCE. So to say “proving science wrong” is an absurdity and presents a ridiculous view of cryptozoology to the public.

UPDATE: (15-Nov-2013) They have returned empty handed, more or less, with just additional anecdotes, not much more than was had to begin with. Ever the optimist, though.

After scouring Tasmania’s rugged north-west, a hot spot for the animal according to the team, expedition leader Michael Williams says he is satisfied with the outcome.

“No we don’t have a thylacine in the boot, we don’t have anything on camera of any great interest, but it’s a roaring success because there’s more witnesses than I thought there’d be and there’s more areas of interest in a smaller defined area than I thought there’d be,” he said.

A bit of cognitive dissonance going on? I would not call this a “roaring success” but I tend to hold my evidence bar pretty high. Cryptozoologists – not so much. Their belief sustains them.

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  14 comments for “Tassie tiger expedition aims to “prove science wrong”. Silly way of phrasing. (UPDATE: No good evidence)

  1. November 11, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    They are contributing to sensationalism. Science has nothing to do with it.

  2. Eve
    November 11, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Freeman’s Wikipedia entry lists cryptozoological expeditions he has led. I couldn’t find the list of new or (previously thought) extinct species he has discovered. Perhaps I’m not looking closely enough.

  3. Chris Howard
    November 11, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    People’s attitude about science closely mirrors their attitude about law enforcement.

    When they’re on your side they’re a good thing, but when you’re wrong they suck.

  4. Dave Bailey
    November 11, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    The thylacine is probably my favourite animal of all time, a great example of convergent evolution, and just all around cool. And I would love to have evidence that it still exists. Hell, I even support the efforts to clone one. But I’ll wait for something from a decent group of zoologists before I’ll get hyped up over anything from this bunch of ‘investigators’.

  5. BobM
    November 11, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Proving science wrong is what science DOES :-).

  6. November 11, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    What do you have to do to declare yourself a zoologist? Freeman writes about cryptids but that doesn’t make him a zoologist, anymore so than Charles Berlitz was an aeronautical engineer because he wrote about UFOs.

  7. November 11, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    Why do I have this terrible foreboding that the thylacine, aka the Tassie tiger, will become extinct sometime in 2014 when an expedition, led by Richard Freeman of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, accidentally kills the last species while attempting to trap it and bring it back to civilization to prove science wrong?

    That, od ccourse, is assuming that the Tassie tiger is hiding out somewhere in the remote parts of Tasmania’s north-west, and that these guys aren’t actually hunting for a mare’s nest.

  8. November 12, 2013 at 2:48 AM

    As Bob writes, science is always ‘wrong’ sooner or later. Freeman may have faults but good luck to him, I agree that it would be wonderful if this animal had not become extinct.

  9. spookyparadigm
    November 16, 2013 at 8:23 PM

    If we redefine cryptozoology as poetic folkloristics or speculative travel writing, then I concur he had success. That’s something of a mean comment, but not entirely.

    In fact, there is probably a market for such an approach. The NYTimes did a positive piece on a certain ufologist a few years ago, before his credentials imploded. There is a history of positive critical success for authors willing to view Bigfoot from a more mythic perspective as a symbol of nature rather than a biological one. One could even still use some of the frisson of “is it real,” just not the whole REAL GENUINE 100% ALIVE carnival barking act.

    Heck, one could argue that’s basically what Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson have been up to.

  10. Rebecca Lang
    November 21, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    I would like to point out that the statement ‘prove science wrong’ was not uttered by Richard Freeman or anyone else on the team, and is not included in quotes in the news story. It is a journalistic assertion attributed to Freeman.

    In relation to the comments around ‘success’ there was no cognitive dissonance going on – perhaps only by the journalist, and the blogger. The journalist made the quote up (Wow, really? Never!). Her original question was “So it wasn’t a roaring success, was it?” His reply: “If you judge the word success as having a body or video of the animal as success, then no, our trip was not a success, but it was successful in that we collected many recent eyewitness statements and some scat for analysis.” (Not verbatim, but you get the drift.)

    This trip is merely the first stage in a series of largely self-funded trips to be conducted over the next two years to gauge whether there is sufficient evidence of the Thylacine’s survival.

    You can read our aims here: http://www.cfzaustralia.com/2013/10/toyota-backs-biggest-search-yet-for.html

    I’d be careful to judge the team’s activities or position on the Thylacine from media reports as, like many other issues, journalists often embellish, omit or just plain get it wrong. They are, after all, only human :-)

    And let’s bear in mind that many of the great zoological rediscoveries of ‘Lazarus’ species have been made by everyday people, including naturalists (surviving night parrot population), fishermen (coelacanth, subsequently handed to a museum curator), the Bermuda petrel (15yo boy, and subsequently a naturalist and ornithologist), and the Takahe (bushwalker who also happened to be a doctor of medicine).

    I wouldn’t write off the amateurs – the more people in the field the better, surely, especially if they’re funding their own searches.

    • November 21, 2013 at 7:53 PM

      Thanks for the clarification. But I would qualify that this is not the same as those examples of Lazarus species. There are an awful lot of people looking for this distinctive creature and the evidence is not strong that it is there. (No one was looking for the coelacanth UNTIL they found it. It’s not a cryptid.)

    • BobM
      November 22, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      If all you’ve done is collected eyewitness reports essentially you’ve done nothing. (It will be interesting to see the DNA analysis of the scat, but I’m not holding my breath.) Eyewitness reports are essentially meaningless, because people tend to see what they want to see, or the eye is fooled. There is rather a good documentary on the various sightings of large cats in Britain. They did the very sensible thing of getting an actual tracker to comment and look at the evidence. All the actual evidence was – wait for it – dog. But of course the guy who’d spent much of his life looking for the Beast of Bodmin, who had a folder full of “evidence” and a specially designed van which enable him to range the whole countryside was not convinced. Of course not – what on earth would he do with the van?

  11. Rebecca Lang
    November 21, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    No one was looking for the coelacanth, correct, but there was a search on for unusual-looking fish at the time. The coelacanth falls more into the Lazarus taxa and ‘living fossil’ camp. I don’t believe I mentioned it was a cryptid, but I know it is often referred to as such. I think these types of species are better described as ‘survivors’.

    In the case of the Thylacine, while the physical evidence may not be strong, the mass of quality anecdotal evidence is compelling enough to pursue.

    And the Thylacine would of course only qualify as a Lazarus species if it was rediscovered.

  12. November 22, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    I find it strange that it was possible to trap, shoot and poison the thylacine to extinction with comparative ease. It goes without saying that at the end there were not many around, but it was still possible to kill the last ones. Now we are told they did survive but are so shy and elusive people can spend decades in the bush looking for them without success. Funny that.

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