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Why Are Skeptics Such a Negative Bunch? 74

Makin Waves asks: "Skeptics are very good at 'disproving' things that can't be proven in the first place, so, how about offering me a reasonable, rational explanation for all the cattle mutilations in Argentina instead? (200 at last count). A decent explanation must include the following...Where did all the blood go? What portable instrument does the cauterized cuts? Why won't scavengers touch the dead bodies? Why are there no tracks or blood around the bodies? Why do they take tissues that have a lot of nerves? Last but not least, if not aliens....then Who, Why and How? A Google search will get you all the info you need. For the lazy, this place has a lot of stories. C'mon skeptics, put your money where your mouth is. Maybe it was 'auto-suggestion' eh?"
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Why Are Skeptics Such a Negative Bunch?

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  • by whatever3003 ( 536979 ) <<AliceViaWonderland> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @08:21AM (#5637267)
    I did. Im a Robot Vampire, created by extremist Argentinian environmentalists that foresaw the need to control the number of cattle, lest they eat all of their fodder and starve themselves. I use an array of surgical tools, of which are in place of my arms. These tools are far beyond the known scope of human science. These dangerously hot and pointy tools are used to remove tissues with a high density of nerves so that I may graft them to my metallic facade in order to pass for human one day and drink from the fount of human life, and not have to feed from bovine blood (which is of course processed and used by by my bio-mechanic innards). Scavengers wont touch my leftovers because of the keen and smelly scent I leave behind, untraceble by humans and their petty, near useless senses. ... Aliens are more interested in probing, silly. With all of that probing, who has time for messy endeavours such as analysing what robot vampires eat for dinner?
  • God told me to do it :-)
  • Most sceptics I know don't have a scientific approach to these problems. For instance they say that aliens don't exist because it's never proven they exist. That is of course a crappy argument. I also feel that some/many people don't want to admit they don't have answers to all questions. Like it's a defeat to admit you don't know something.
    • I can't prove that invisible pink elephants don't exist, but is that also a crappy argument?
    • Of course it's crappy thinking to say that if aliens are unproven, aliens don't exist. But in fact many people skeptical of alien cattle mutilations support SETI research, because they're open-minded on the question of aliens.

      On the other hand it's also crappy thinking to say that if there is something unexplained going on, then the explanation is probably something Big that subverts the dominant paradigm and will make all those smug science people humble when they realize that an ordinary person had the
  • Sigh (Score:2, Informative)

    by Guspaz ( 556486 )
    A bunch of cows die and nobody claims responsibility, so it MUST be aliens? Please.
    • > A bunch of cows die and nobody claims responsibility, so it MUST be aliens? Please.

      I'll bet you're a curmudgeon who doesn't think aliens make crop circles, either!

      BTW, I read somewhere that in the USA cattle mutilations follow county lines. If a sheriff writes them up as insurable losses they continue in that county, otherwise they stop after the first couple of incidents. Funny behavior for aliens, if true.

      Maybe aliens want to wreck the insurance industry before their assault troops land.

    • The jury is still out on whether El Chupacabra are aliens. They maybe a result of genetic tinkering, or a yet undiscovered species, but those cattle mutilations are El Chupacabra for sure. The worst parts are that El Chupacabra can breed with dogs, [uncoveror.com] and that a Chupa Pup has been on a rampage in New England! Read more, [uncoveror.com] and more, [uncoveror.com] and still more. [uncoveror.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've had some experience with these types so I'll try to lay it out:

    1) They have poor people skills and lack tact. They usually are obsessional and highly impassioned over their chosen field, and wish to bulldoze anything in their way.
    2) They hold their values/ideals/theories as personal mojo brownie points, they don't truly care about they truth or any 'scientific method', all they're interested in is warping and ramming in everything to fit in with what is fashionable in the accidemic establishment in th
  • well... i'm the typical sceptic, and my sceptical answer is that it is simply a lie. No cattle has ever been drained of it's blood. anyways, i won't belive it until i see it...
  • Use Occam's razor when you have many theories to choose from. Use common sense when you do not have any.
    • Sorry, my wife used Occam's razor to shave her legs over the weekend. It's a little dull now, so it must have been the aliens
    • Yes, it probably is a hoax (and a bloody one at that), but you, like many poeple, seem to have a misunderstanding of Occam's Razor. It says that a theory should not be more complicated than needed to explain a particular phenomenon. Many people, including one of my physics professors, seem to equate complex with uncommon or hard to believe. It does not even say that the simplest theory is ALWAYS true, but that we should lean toward the simplest theory if it explains something as well as a more complicate
  • Link (Score:4, Informative)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @08:47AM (#5637342) Homepage
    By the way, the link doesn't work. Try this [crystalinks.com].
  • Tell me how I, as a skeptic, have any more information about this to base an opinion on that you? You are the one trying to show that there is some extraordinary reason for what is happening to the cattle. That requires extraordinary proof, proof that you just aren't giving us. But you are the one trying to prove something here, not us. Your failure to convince us is your shortcoming, not ours. (Oh, and happy April 1st! ;)
  • by moonboy ( 2512 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @08:50AM (#5637348) Homepage

    ...it's Cowboy Neal.

  • I'd just like to not clarify my skeptical position, should I have one. Basically, I don't believe in everything, but phrase it in the negative. For instance, "How do we know cattle mutilations are not the work of extraterrestrials?" In other words, "How do we know cattle mutilations do not have terrestrial causes."

    If you're confused, just remember, you're not confused. Figure that one out, brainac.

  • by ReidMaynard ( 161608 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @09:06AM (#5637412) Homepage
    You are viewing controversy in black & white.

    When a new "unknown" is discovered (like this cow thing) people put forth theories (aliens, vampire robots, etc). A skeptic is someone who is unwilling to agree to your theory without evidence.

    I think the statement "we earthlings are being visited by extraterrestrials" demonstrates this point nicely. While there is much antidotal testimony to support such a statement, there does not appear to be evidence (no alien corpses washing up on Miami beach, no alien spacecraft shot down by Syrian shepherds and on display).

    Many skeptics also understand that usually the first theories about something are, in fact, incorrect.
  • by dschuetz ( 10924 ) <david@d a s net.org> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @09:09AM (#5637439)
    Skeptics don't really disprove anything (I'm generalizing here). They simply prove that a proponent of an extraordinary claim are not able to prove that claims.

    It's a "put up or shut up" argument. Are there dead cows on the side of the road? Sure, I suppose occasionally a cow dies here or there. And occasionally teenagers go out and kill a bunch on a lark (I'm guessing).

    Are there cows with no blood, cauterized wounds (why cauterize them if the blood has been drained?), and that no longer appear appetizing to vultures? Hm. That's interesting. Where are these? How many? And, most importantly, have they been independently verified?

    Skeptics are, as a rule, willing to believe. But nobody who's come forward with an incredible claim has been able to show that they were what was claimed in the first place. It's easy to say that you've been abducted by aliens. Anyone can do it. It's difficult to prove that you've been abducted, and without some kind of proof, skepticism is the only proper response.

    It's been said by many (and I've already seen it mentioned here) that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." That's what it comes down to.

    If you can document, with careful undoctored photographs of dead cows, medical examinations of their drained bodies and cauterized wounds, surveilance of un-vultured corpses (with additional surveilance of other dead animals in the region at the same time to be sure it's not just a vulture holiday), and bring all that, properly reported and analyzed, then a skeptic might be willing to say that something weird's going on.

    But bring them all that information, and then say "see, aliens did it!", then not only will you have an unprovable claim, but you're likely to cast a shadow on otherwise proper research. (good tip -- if you're trying to be an authority on cattle mutiliations, don't pose for a photo in a crop circle.) And don't forget, no matter how well-performed your research, it's still possible you introduced an unintentional bias in the methods or results, and the report that the deaths are "weird" might itself not even be valid.

    I might also mention that the vast amount of bad science in the field of paranormal studies strongly discourages real scientists from getting into the field, so the posssibility of real, controlled, precice research into any of these is only hampered by the wackos complaining that nobody's listening to them.

    So, no, skeptics aren't a "negative" bunch. To paraphrase Fox Mulder, many "want to believe." But to be comfortable in that belief, they need something more than badly-designed web pages and the Weekly World News.
    • FWIW, the, uhh, classical source (in western "civilization", props to Gandhi) of the argument about the strength of testimony required to establish an extraordinary claim stems back to David Hume. Amongst his diverse interests were arguments concerning the existence of a deity, and here's his encapsulated response to attempts to establish the existence of a deity by appeal to testimony about miracles:

      That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not just as plausible that some occult tribe uses cattle in it's rituals? And yes I am a sceptic, especially when I'm supposed to take something unproven for a fact.
    • Im from Argentina, and the only tribes left here are soccer fans.
      Beside, its very hard to HIDE in the flat, treeles pampas.
      Wait, maybe theres an UNDERGROUND tribe. That would explain everything.

      Have I been trolled?
      If so, cheers.
  • Unvultured corpses? That's simple: So many people believing in aliens walk around the things and make noise no sane vulture would get anywhere near it.
    • Vulture 1: Hey, look, free cow!
      Vulture 2: Dude---haven't you heard?
      Vulture 1: What?
      Vulture 2: Aliens touched that cow!
      Vulture 1: Huh?
      Vulture 2: Aliens. They're these short, smart humans who make guest appearances in X-files episodes.
      Vulture 1: X-files? I saw that once! There was some guy, and everybody thought he was a Fox or something but he didn't even have a tail, and then there was some lady named Scully, and she kept getting taller and then shorter.
      Vulture 2: Yeah, that's the one. Anyway---
  • by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <slashdot@gerlich.nl> on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @09:25AM (#5637527) Homepage

    Where did all the blood go? What portable instrument does the cauterized cuts? Why won't scavengers touch the dead bodies? Why are there no tracks or blood around the bodies? Why do they take tissues that have a lot of nerves?

    That's a lot of questions. Add to it, Did the blood really go? How robust was the research into scavengers? Has there been any research into whether the meat was edible? Why are you talking about "they"?

    Now, let's try "it were aliens" as the answer. How many questions have we answered? None. Do we get any new questions? Yes - How can aliens come to earth, How come no-one noticed them even with extremely refined rader equipment etc, and Why in heck would they do a thing like this.

    An answer that answers nothing and only poses new, rather hard questions is not a very good answer.

    Unfortunately the link is Slashdotted. I'd look into the facts first - how thorough was the research that makes those claims?

    Last but not least, if not aliens....then Who, Why and How?

    Those have to be answered if you argue it was done by aliens, too.

    • So, original questioner, there is clearly a discrepancy between relativity and quantum mechanics. I claim that the existance of tortilla chips in the world is the cause, and if they were all eliminated, the discrepancy would vanish.

      Are you skeptical of my claim? Well then by your logic, *you* are now responsible for proving me wrong, presumably by removing all tortilla chips from the world and demonstrating that the discrepancy still remains.

      By your logic, if you don't then you'll just have to accept my t
    • An answer that answers nothing and only poses new, rather hard questions is not a very good answer.

      Without delving into the rest of the quagmire of this thread, I have to say something here...

      You are correct that the "aliens" explanation provides no answers, yet raises questions. No argument there. But on a philosophical note...Answers to questions that raise more (and harder) questions are the best ones. It happens to me all the time. Whenever I do an experiment and get a good answer, 10 more great qu

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The problem with your challenge is as usual, you're asking for an explanation of "facts" that aren't true. In every case when claims like these are investigated the premises collapse.

    For example, you ask for an explaniation of the "surgical tools." Who says there any cuts at all, much less of "surgical precison."? Who says surgical tools are required? Whether the evidence is of anything "surgical" is a judgment call and it turns out that the judgment is wrong.

    I'd like to know how you leap from "You can

  • by jhealy1024 ( 234388 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @09:52AM (#5637649)

    C'mon skeptics, put your money where your mouth is.

    You obviously have never heard of James Randi [randi.org]. He (and his foundation) have offered a $1,000,000 prize to anyone who can scientifically prove claims of the paranormal [randi.org].

    Guess what. Nobody has ever collected. In fact, nobody has ever passed a preliminary screening test for the prize.

    I don't have a copy of Randi's An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural [amazon.com] with me at work, but I'm sure there's an entry about cattle mutilations. You might borrow that book from the library sometime (or any of Randi's other books, or a tape of his PBS Nova special [pbs.org]). It would definitely give you some perspective, even if it didn't answer your questions about dead bovines.

    Skeptics are skeptical because we believe that there are a set of rules to follow when observing phenomena and formulating explainations for them. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to believe. Just because I can't readily provide a rational explanation for dead cattle doesn't mean that "aliens must have done it." If that sounds like a cop-out, consider it this way: just because I can't provide a rational explanation of how a magician appears to levitate somebody on stage doesn't mean that he has supernatural powers. Most of us know that magicians don't have super-powers, yet most of us can't explain how their tricks work (at least, the good ones).

    Add to that the fact that many people want to believe in the supernatural, even if they're proven wrong! Many people still believe that crop circles are made by visitors from another world, even though it has been shown (many times!) that all you need is a 2x4, some surveyor's tape, a few buddies, and 6 hours in the dark.

    So skeptics aren't negative, they're just less easily excited. That may make them seem like party-poopers, but it's really just the fact that many people are waaaaaaaay too willing to believe.

  • It's a tautology? (Score:3, Informative)

    by HughsOnFirst ( 174255 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @10:47AM (#5637920)
    skeptic also sceptic

    1. One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
    2. One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.
    3. Philosophy.
    1. often Skeptic An adherent of a school of skepticism.
    2. Skeptic A member of an ancient Greek school of skepticism, especially that of Pyrrho of Elis (360?-272? B.C.).

    [Latin Scepticus, disciple of Pyrrho of Elis, from Greek Skeptikos, from skeptesthai, to examine. See spek- in Indo-European Root

    Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    On an entirely other angle, I grew up on a farm and have seen a lot of dead things.
    These cattle mutilations always sounded a lot like a few dead cows and some insect scavengers. It's pretty amazing how some insects will completely devour one organ and leave the rest.
  • Well duh, the answer HAS to be space aliens.

    Anything that doesn't immediately present itself as obvious to you HAS to be space aliens.

    Or super-intelligent mind reading mice.

    You have to be kidding me. It scares me that there are so many retards that are allowed to live out there... worst yet they post on slashdot. You are probably even allowed to drive.

    Go out and buy Carl Sagan's "A Demon Haunted World" and read it from cover to cover.
    Then do the world a favor and beat yourself to death with it.
  • Earnest: I really like you.
    Skeptic: What? Nooo, you don't reeeally. Do you?
    Earnest: I want to have your baby.
    Skeptic: Hahaha. I don't believe you can have babies. But you almost got me there.

  • As legitimate a question as this Ask Slashdot is, and as worked up as people are getting, I can't help noticing the post date:

    Tuesday April 01, @07:00AM

    And other Ask Slashdot topics today, including "Why do some CDRs smell like Almonds?" and "How Much Are Tongues Worth?"

    Perhaps the editors are trying to get back at us for our spelling and grammar skills by phrasing silly questions as legitimate avenues of inquiry and seeing what happens. Just a thought.

  • I can possibly answer one of the questions - but I probably won't be believed because I don't have much to back it up:

    The question is regarding the portable instrument used to make cauterized cuts. I remember back in the early 90's seeing in a Popular Science or Popular Mechanics magazine a blurb in the "new technology" section about a handheld laser device, about the size of a flashlight, being developed by DARPA for in-field surgery needs in time of war. It seems like a possible thing to build, though I w

  • "Mutilation"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mcglk ( 10840 )

    I, for one, would be fascinated if animal mutilations---heck, even one---turned out to be of metaphysical origin. But having seen a whole bunch of pictures of alleged mystical occurrences (whether caused by aliens, satanists, radioactive ants, whatever), I gotta tell you, the metaphysical theories just aren't all that compelling.

    Take this photo [crystalinks.com], for example, taken by an Alabama police officer in 1993. The website [crystalinks.com] says, "There is no evidence of scavenging birds, but rather a precise oval incision which r

  • I've never heard this stupid story, but I'll try an explanation anyway:
    • kill them with some poison injected in large quantities (bleach...), this way predators won't touch them.
    • after some time (a few days), cut them open. There won't be any blood coming from a long dead animal.

    Why don't you try it on your neighbor's pet ?

  • This is a coded message. It is a uncrackable encrypt. Attempt no to read. Send Commander Juenovix. Now!

    GGur uhznaf ner ba gb hf. Gurl ner fgnegvat gb nfx irel hapbzsbegnoyr dhrfgvbaf nobhg gurve sbhe-yrttrq oerguera. Bhe cynaf gb hfr gurz nyy nf fynirf naq zrng pbhyq tb njel. Pbzzrapr vainfvba va avar beovgf bs guvf fuvgubyr zhqonyy nebhaq vgf cngurgvp, htyl lryybj fgne. Vzcbegnag! Ercrng: Vzcbegnag! Gur qnatrebhf fvgr xabja nf Fynfuqbg zhfg or fnobgntrq! Bajneq, Unyvgbffnevna Rzcver! Unvy gur Terng Yrnqr

  • Religious Zeal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sl3xd ( 111641 ) on Tuesday April 01, 2003 @04:48PM (#5640286) Journal
    For an explanation of how this may be possible: Never underestimate the zeal of a devoted 'follower' of a faith (this is not to say that I think there is anything wrong with such zeal; unless it involves the death, torture, humiliation, etc. of other human beings.) It may seem completely irrational to go to the troubles described by the article; but rationality is almost always based on the understanding of the observer.

    There may be some odd religious group that has some kind of ritual or rite which requires (or at least, results in) these cattle-mutilations. Or, it could be a group that has a quasi-religous zeal in suckering people into believing a lie.

    The fact that you can't explain it, or know what tools are necessary to do such a thing, is by no means proof that there is no simple explanation.

    Ever think that the cattle may be exanguinated in such a way that no blood is lost? Many, many religions require the reclamation of a sacrifice's blood; there are such religions native to south and central america, as well as the rest of the world. Cauterizing helps control the bleeding, so that every possible drop can be reclaimed. The Egyptians once removed the heart, liver, intestines, and other vital organs as part of their death rites (even when mummifying non-humans, such as cats and cattle. Blood was also drained from the corpses. The bible speaks of King Solomon sacrificing thousands of bullocks for the dedication of the temple he built, and the draining of blood is part of the sacrificial ritual. In fact, it's rare to find a culture that did not at one time or another have animal sacrifices, and even more rare for one of those cultures to not include bloodletting (and collection) in such sacrifices.
  • If aliens are among us, why are we not finding dead aliens washed up on our shores? Why have we never found a dead alien?

    Well, duh - you overlook the obvious: WE HAVE!

    Why isn't blood involved in these "cattle mutilations?" Because these vampire cows don't have blood! These are the very bodies you are saying we never see! Why don't vultures feast on the carcass? Because these alien bodies are inedible! Even animals know better than to eat poisonous carrion, so they avoid these rotting space aliens like the
  • The way I heard it was:

    Rancher Bob has a sick cow. That cow cost a lot of money to raise.

    Now ignore the fact that the cow was sick. Rancher Bob sees some strange lights out back one night. And then, one of his cows his horribly massacared on night. It must have been aliens! THe cops come and agree that it was strange alright.

    Rancher Bob then submits an insurace claim on the cow. Left as an exercise for the reader is which cow died...
  • where's the beef?
  • One of the best resources I've found for general healthy skeptism is skepdic.com [skepdic.com]. Here's their entry on cattle mutilations [skepdic.com]. The site is effectively a catalogue of all kinds of phenomenon; I suspect even non skeptics would enjoy browsing through it.

    In regards to skepticism in general, I have a thought on that. The first thing skeptics do is question the essentials of any situation. In the vast majority of cases, it is simply the initial information that is wrong and the impossible scenario never occured

  • Imagine humans make it to another planet. I'm sure that we'll spend decades doing nothing more than mutilating cattle and leaving cryptic clues to our existance in the middle of convieniently placed fields. ESPECIALLY if there is someone else there to talk to. We would never want to see what another intelligent race would think, we would only be interested in their agriculture.

    That's what any highly advanced race which has spent untold generations, money, and effort building machines to travel such larg
    • And everything to do with culture. If you are invading a planet, where do you hide while infiltrating their species? You hide in the form of the dumbest animals in direct contact with the species. Dogs and cats are no good since they are either pets or pests. Cows are the perfect form because they are in direct contact with humans, yet live in remote rural areas where anyone talking about space ship traffic will not be credulous.

      It's the perfect ruse...

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis