Third Round: The Chupacabra is Real
In this round I will be focusing on two issues which have become important in this debate: the question of how to choose between or among different
explanations of phenomena, and the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
I) Occam’s Razor
FSBlueApocalypse wrote in his last round:
An answer to my opponents questions on Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor states that an explanation make as few assumptions as possible. For
instance, if you go out drinking at a bar and walk home, if you wake up with a bruised and scraped knee, which requires more assumptions, that you
fell in your drunken stupor or that you were abducted by aliens? It works the same way with the chupacabra. Either everyone ha s seen a creature
totally new to science, which may or may not be an experiment of the government or extraterrestrial pet, or that people are simply lying to get on TV
or mistaken. Which makes more assumptions?
My problem with this presentation is that I don’t agree with the either/or paradigm that my opponent has erected. To me the most unlikely assumption
is that all the eyewitnesses are acting with the same motivation or have had the same experience.
In other words, I think it is most likely that a few people have seen something that has not been identified, a lot of people have been mistaken, and
some people have lied.
Occam’s Razor is usually used to distinguish the more likely of two explanations. Given the two explanations that my opponent has presented, clearly
it is more likely that everyone is mistaken that that a brand new beast has mysteriously appeared from central Russia to Michigan to Puerto Rico to
Chile, looking different in each place and with no regard for the differences in climate, spent a couple months exsanguinating goats and chickens, and
then disappeared for months or years, apparently without further need for nourishment.
But there is no need for this explanation. Real world situations seldom have only two possible explanations, and this is one with many. Occam’s
razor must be applied over and over again, with reference to each sighting and each possibility, if we are not to overlook the truth.
By way of illustration, I will return to my opponent’s story about a woman walking home after a night of drinking and waking up the next morning
with a bruised knee. He claims that the reasonable explanation is a stumble on the walk home rather than an alien abduction. Indeed if I were in that
situation I would assume I had stumbled. But what if I then found that my bag was missing, with my cash inside it? It is still quite possible that I
stumbled, and that I dropped the bag in the stumble. Or I could have forgotten the bag earlier, and stumbled on the way home. But another possibility
begins to emerge also, and I don’t think it would be too unreasonable of me to wonder if I might have been mugged.
II) Eyewitness Testimony
There are two major types of eyewitness testimony involved in accounts of the chupacabra. The first and more obvious is that of people who believe
that they have seen the beast itself. It is this testimony on which my opponent has focused his arguments about the unreliability of eyewitnesses and
I will address this first.
Unfortunately for my opponent, studies about the reliability of eyewitnesses tend to be concerned with identification of humans in a court of law,
which makes their results very hard to apply to the case of identification of species of animal. There can be really no comparison between trying to
identify which of several similarly-featured men one saw on a rooftop, and determining whether the animal in the yard is of a type one is familiar
with or not. This was the point that I was trying to get across with my Socratic Question, and my opponent has answered:
So, if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, and I got a good look at the animal, yes I believe I would be able to identity it without
He offers as a cautionary tale a story of the escape of bearcats in his hometown:
Hundreds of calls claiming sightings were phoned in. Know what 95% of those calls turned out to be? People misidentifying common animals such
as raccoons for the bearcats.
Again, the situation is not really the same. These people were not asked to describe an animal that they had seen clearly – in all likelihood, most
of the calls were from people who had done no more than seen some motion in the woods and wanted to make sure the authorities checked it out. I would
expect people under those circumstances to be calling in every strange noise or glimpsed stray.
What we have in the matter of the chupacabra is not only people who heard something, or saw something, and called for help. We have people who say
they had an unimpeded view of a creature they had never before seen or heard of, in some cases stationary and in daylight. While it is possible that
such identifications are mistakes, it is nowhere near as likely as when one has nothing to go on but a tail vanishing into bushes at midnight.
The second sort of eyewitness testimony is the accounts of people who found the victims of the chupacabras. While it would of course be more
convincing to have the bodies of the animals killed to test in a laboratory, we cannot simply ignore the fact that hundreds of animals have been
reported slaughtered, with the defining characteristics of the attacks being puncture wounds to the neck or head, exsanguination and occasional organ
removal, and disinterest in the rest of the meat.
Even though the physical description of the Chupacabra varies among eyewitnesses, what has been dubbed as "the hallmark" of this beast is its
style of attack. The carcasses of its victims are left intact, except for one thing--the puncture wound.
The most disturbing fact in these attacks is the purpose of the wound. The wound is the way the beast sucks all the blood out of the animal.
My opponent has complained that the eyewitnesses were predisposed to see something unusual, and that this prejudice caused them to mistake a common
animal for a chupacabra. But he is forgetting that they had already become eyewitnesses before they saw the beast – eyewitnesses to the abnormal
slaughter of their animals. The reason they knew to look for something unusual was that they already had unusual evidence.
Detail from a screen capture
from MonsterQuest: Chupacabra
With this in mind, let us turn to the show that FSBlueApocalypse cites, and look at it as a case study in eyewitness accounts of unusual livestock
predation. Bear in mind that this is a case that has apparently been solved to everyone’s satisfaction, the predator in question having been
captured in a cell phone photograph and identified as a cougar.
The story begins fifty years ago, with reports of farm animals and domestic dogs being killed by a beast that is never seen, but is capable of
“crushing skulls and draining blood.” The beast is never found, and eventually the animal deaths end.
In 2007, over a 200-mile swath of territory in North Carolina, similar killings are reported. Livestock, including goats and sheep, and dogs – even
healthy, stocky pit bulls – are killed with ease, their necks gouged or crushed, and sometimes gutted. There no references specifically to
exsanguinations – the attention-grabbing name “the Vampire Beast of Bladenboro” is given to the unknown predator because of its resemblance to
the 1950s terror.
No one can explain this new rash of killings. Another dog or a wild canine could possibly cause the injuries seen, but not without a struggle, and not
without alerting neighboring dogs, and not over such a large area. And there are no other logical possibilities: as my opponent pointed out in his
opening, the cougar is known to have been extinct east of the Mississippi River and north of Florida for decades.
Now, the show reports:
Witnesses have described a dark brown beast, four and a half feet long, with a face like a cat, claws like a dog, and teeth like a
(MonsterQuest: Vampire Beast
, at about 2 minutes into the segment)
Experts in wildlife, animal behavior, animal tracks, animal sounds, are all consulted. Trackers are hired and video cameras and traps are set to no
avail. It is not until someone happens to catch sight of the predator and take a snapshot with his cell phone camera that the unexpected is accepted:
the animal is a cougar.
Cougar Fact Sheet
An adult cougar can range in length from 42 to 54 inches, with a 3-foot-long tail. Adult males weigh up to 200 pounds, and adult females up to 120
Like all members of the cat family, cougars have five digits on the forepaw and four on the hindpaw. Each digit is equipped with a claw, which the
cougar sheathes while walking, but which it uses with deadly effectiveness when grasping its prey.
So we have a situation in which there is a rash of frightening and seemingly inexplicable animal killings are followed by eyewitness descriptions of a
beast that are more or less ignored as impossible. And in the end, those descriptions are remarkably accurate – a brown animal, cat-faced, with
fangs and claws, about four and one-half feet in length.
Perhaps eyewitnesses are not so unreliable in these situations after all?