I’ll not here mention the name of any critic of living-pterosaur (LP) investigations. One skeptic has been especially vocal in attacking my writings. I don’t accuse him of dishonesty, and I appreciate his care in also avoiding that kind of stand when he writes about me. (He has mentioned my name hundreds of times in his online criticisms of LP-relevant research in cryptozoology.) But he seems to have fallen into a severe combination of bias issues including both confirmation bias and belief perseverance, regarding his ideas about the old photo that is now known as “Ptp.”

Before getting into the old photograph, which has an image of an apparent pterosaur, let’s consider problems that can get in the way of learning the truth. Let’s examine the bias of belief perseverance.


Pterosaurs seen by Eskin Kuhn

Two pterosaurs observed in Cuba in 1971


A Jumping Fish Falls Flat

He is certainly not alone, falling into these kinds of errors. Another vocal skeptic once jumped to the conclusion that a sighting of an apparent pterosaur, a creature seen flying over a city, was just a fish leaping out of water, something like a stingray. How did that other critic of LP investigations make that mistake? After all, I was the cryptozoologist who received the original report from the eyewitness, and I was well aware that the thing was observed flying over a city. This requires explaining.

At first, this other critic read only a partial account of the sighting. That short version said that the eyewitness went to some fishermen who had also seen that kind of flying creature, yet it included almost no details about the sighting made by the man who later reported it to me: It said nothing about flying over a city. The skeptic who read that account then concluded that it was only a ray-fish of some kind, jumping out of water.

When I informed the skeptic that the full story included a description of a creature flying above a city (not over water), he refused to change his opinion that it had been only a fish. He seems to have become too attached to that one link (fishermen) that had formed a story in his imagination.

To me, that sounds a lot like a case of belief perseverance. To better understand this particular case, we need to be aware that the critic of my investigation had already formed a hypothesis about some reports of apparent living pterosaurs in Africa. He had concluded that they had come from stingrays, and similar fishes, jumping out of water. In other words, he had become enamored with jumping stingrays before he encountered the short-story version of the sighting report from the Philippines.

I don’t mean to imply that his conjecture never flies at any time, never over any body of water on or near any continent on the planet. On occasion, somebody might make a mistake like that.

I also don’t imply that those fishermen never made any mistake, either in their own previous sightings or in their comparing their encounters with the one that was reported to me. I do suggest that this kind of misidentification is much less frequent than he imagines and that he allowed himself to be caught up in biased thinking, after he read something about some fishermen. Taking all the above into account, this appears to be a classic case of belief perseverance.

Sightings of Apparent Pterosaurs in California and in Texas

Another skeptic took that idea of jumping fish and also ran with it. He said that many reported sightings of apparent pterosaurs in the United States are in California, Texas, and South Carolina. He implied that some of the encounters could have been this kind of misidentification: seeing a fish leaping out of water and mistaking it for a modern pterosaur.

Several problems jump out at me here. For one, California and Texas have two things in common other than their having oceanic coastlines, and both of them are very relevant. For the 48 Contiguous states, those two are the largest in both human population and in land area. In other words, if anybody sees almost anything flying in the USA, it may be possible for them to see it in California or in Texas. In both of those states, we have plenty of land area for flying creatures to live and plenty of people to see them.

The big problem with the jumping-fish conjecture, however, is that the great majority of sightings are over land. In addition, some of them involve flights over trees, with some observations measured in minutes instead of seconds. No, the jumping stingray fails to fly in the vast majority of cases.

Confirmation Bias

The skeptic who mentioned sightings in California, Texas, and South Carolina may have fallen into a confirmation bias. With data that could be interpreted in more than one way, he was attracted to one line of thinking. He latched onto the jumping-fish because it appeared to be another way to explain away sightings of apparent pterosaurs.

If he had insisted that the fish conjecture was correct, he would have involuntarily signaled that he had fallen into that kind of bias. He did not insist on that, but look at the big picture.

The way he brought up that idea did suggest to me that he had failed to be objective. If it was not a mild case of confirmation bias, it was something similar, a problem in reasoning that prevented him from thinking clearly about sighting reports of apparent pterosaurs. We can only see this when taken in perspective:

He wrote about the jumping-fish conjecture inside a very long online article he had published, with every part of it orchestrated to try to convince people that no species of pterosaur is still living. It seems that he had read about the other skeptic’s ideas about jumping stingrays and he grabbed onto it, flying with a flimsy conjecture, even if it was only a flight of a few seconds.

Objective or Biased With the “Civil War” Photo

I had come to a firm belief in modern pterosaurs ten years before I first examined details in the photograph that is now called “Ptp.” I began my living-pterosaur investigation in 2003 and took my first close look at Ptp in 2013. That puts up a small window to look at how I was thinking at the end of those ten years.

If I had suffered from any kind of severe bias, in 2013, I would surely have quickly concluded that the photo had an image of a real pterosaur, for I had already concluded that modern pterosaurs were indeed real. Yet after my initial examination of details, I found myself lingering about halfway between belief and disbelief, regarding the possibility that the animal was an actual pterosaur.

Ptp photograph - Civil War soldiers - pterosaur

The Ptp photograph from about pre-1870, confirmed in early 2017 to be genuine

Only after communicating with two experts, in January of 2017, did I eventually come to fully believe that Ptp had a genuine image of a modern pterosaur, and that was a process in which I analyzed the photo in detail in a number of places and in a number of ways. (The two men were the canoe expert Tom Payne and the physicist Clifford Paiva.)

Even after January, I still allowed a doubt to creep in, because of the apparent possibility that one wing may have been duplicated and reversed and used, through digital image manipulation, in making the other wing. I investigated that possibility with an open mind and found that it was not so: One wing was not made from the other one (as in the case of a potential Photoshop hoax).

In other words, my approach to this photograph has been impartial, with all possibilities open to evaluation. I do not declare that every aspect of my new book, Modern Pterosaurs, is without fault in covering all relevant details, but it surely must be better than no book on this subject. It was written quickly, in this first edition, so why would anyone expect it to be close to perfection?

The Critic of the “Pterodactyl” Photograph

The skeptic in question, however, has railed against my book and against all potential evidences that may appear to favor the possibility of any species of pterosaur still surviving. I have reasons for not mentioning his name in this post on The Bible and Modern Pterosaurs and feel no need to explain.

For years, he had the Ptp photo on one of his web pages. He declared that it was a known hoax associated with a television show. Only after I had informed him of his mistake did he make a correction, showing both the Ptp photo and the TV-show hoax photo together for comparison.

Yet his first thought, when I had informed him of his mistake in confusing the two photos, was to wonder if Ptp was also a hoax that had been constructed by the same TV production company. That by itself does not prove that the skeptic had fallen into belief perseverance, but he continued with similar thinking.

After I communicated with him, he added tens of thousands of words to his online attacks against evidences for modern pterosaurs. Part of that vast accumulation of paragraphs was an attack against the authenticity of Ptp.

In other words, he seems to have jumped from thinking Ptp was a TV-show-hoax-photo to knowing it was not that photo but assuming it was also a hoax. That sounds, to me, like greater evidence of belief perseverance.

Yet he seems to have continued in that kind of bias, for his criticisms remained the same from before the publication of Modern Pterosaurs to after he had read the book. If he had been truly objective, he would probably have mentioned at least one of my points in some kind of positive light. Yet he continues to mention Ptp only as if it were perfectly worthless in giving any credence to the possibility there is any species of modern pterosaur.

I agree in one general point that this critic has made: We need to beware of extreme claims. Yet my associates and I have not declared that Ptp, in all the details in all of its parts, is perfect scientific evidence for a species of modern pterosaur. This critic, however, has continued his attacks (which started many years ago) in the most extreme way of writing, with only one point of view allowed: absolute extinctions of all species of pterosaurs.

Does Whitcomb Exaggerate the Extreme Position of This Critic?

We could look at a number of examples, but let’s conclude with the following. He ridicules the lack of details regarding the origin of Ptp. I agree that a copy of a mid-20th-century book in our hands, with a clear image of Ptp, would be far better for the case made by me and Clifford Paiva than our present lack of knowledge. But look at how he describes the failure that Paiva and I have had over the past few months: He refers to the origin of Ptp as being “untraceable.” In reality, Paiva and I have not given up on finding a copy of the book that many persons remember seeing in the mid-20th century. What is more extreme than saying that the origin of a photograph is untraceable?


Copyright 2017 Jonathan David Whitcomb


A partial reply to Glen Kuban

Last month, I contacted the writer Glen Kuban, informing him of his long-standing mistake in assuming that there was only one Civil-War-soldiers-with-a-dead-pterodactyl photograph. . . .


Is “Modern Pterosaurs” a Creationist Book?

. . . if you’re looking for a new book about Biblical Creation in general, this might not satisfy you. What about the greatest scientific discovery of recent decades, one that supports the literal Flood of Genesis? That’s another story, and it’s in this nonfiction book.


Confirmation bias and a photograph of a modern pterosaur

. . . the critic may have then fallen into belief perseverance, or something like it, assuming that Ptp was also a hoax. A person can sometimes fall into both confirmation bias and belief perseverance.


Glen Kuban and Confirmation Bias

In keeping with his tendency to fall into this kind of error, he has recently fallen into confirmation bias in his writings on the Ptp photograph that the physicist Clifford Paiva and I have been examining. He [Glen Kuban] mentions that the animal in this photo resembles a Pteranodon (apparently meaning it gives some persons that impression), but he gives two lists of reasons why the animal differs from what is now known to paleontologists from fossils of the Pteranodon. He gives those two lists as if they were evidence against that animal being a modern pterosaur.


Monster head in a “Civil War” photograph

This is a brief history of the living-pterosaur investigation of the American cryptozoologist Jonathan Whitcomb, who is one of two scientists who proclaimed, early in 2017, that an image of an apparent Pteranodon in an old photo is a genuine image of a real animal.



Nonfiction book in harmony with the Biblical Flood of Noah

The new nonfiction cryptozoology book Modern Pterosaurs

“A scientific discovery in harmony with the Bible” (from the copyright page)



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