Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The skulls speak

Given that everything in the news yesterday made me want to turn off the lights, curl up in a ball in the corner of my office, and whimper softly, today I'm taking a day off from more serious topics.  Ergo: we're going to look at: alien skeletons, and the DNA evidence thereof.

For years there has been buzz in the woo-woo world about the Nazca skulls -- a set of humanoid skulls with frontally-flattened foreheads and elongated craniums.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

To be sure, they're weird-looking, and demand an explanation.  The stick-in-the-mud, fuddy-duddy old scientists have claimed for years that they're humans that were practitioners of (or victims of) artificial cranial deformation, which is known to have been relatively common amongst the natives of Central and South America.

On the other hand, there are lots of people who think they're not human at all, that this is the best evidence we have for aliens.  An advanced extraterrestrial race, they tell us, visited the Nazca area centuries ago, leaving behind not only these skulls but the "Nazca lines," a set of elaborate and huge drawings, the designs of which are really only clearly visible from the air, that some woo-woos (for example Erich von Däniken) think are ancient landing strips for alien spacecraft, even though it's hard to see how you'd land a spacecraft on a landing strip shaped like a monkey.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But as far as the skulls go, scientists now have a way of settling these kinds of questions -- DNA analysis.  So last month they got samples from the Nazca skulls, and also from a mummified body from the same area, studied the DNA, and found out...

We skeptics are absolutely reeling with shock, let me tell you.  The woo-woos, on the other hand... well, let me put it this way: the link I posted, from Disclose.TV, gives you the impression that they were extremely reluctant to tell us the outcome of the tests.  Nigel Watson, a British UFO researcher, still thinks they're aliens, just "extremely closely related to humans."  Dr. Konstantin Korotkov, who made a name for himself a few years ago for claiming that he'd photographed a soul leaving the human body (he hadn't), also weighed in, said that "the DNA didn't come from a chimpanzee or a monkey, but it may not be human, only human-like."

Whatever that means.

The problem with taking that stance is that it fails the test of falsifiability.  A fundamental rule of science is to consider what it would take to prove your claim wrong.  If the answer is "there's nothing that could prove it one way or the other," or -- as in this case -- that any contrary evidence you get, you immediately brush aside as sorta kinda supporting your claim if you tilt your head and squint at it real hard, then you're not looking at a falsifiable claim.

In other words, it's not science, it's confirmation bias and hand-waving speculation.

In any case, for most of us, this conclusively settles the point -- the Nazca skulls, and other frontally-flattened skulls, are 100% certain to be humans whose skulls were squashed as infants, for some unknown reason.  The UFO and extraterrestrials cadre, including the devotees of wingnuts like von Däniken, are going to have to look elsewhere for evidence.

Although given their rather loose definition of the word "evidence," I'm sure they'll find something to fall back on.  They always do.

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