Thursday, December 01, 2011

Places Where Bigfoot Might be Hiding: The Internet

Because apparently it is a poorly explored place.

Bigfoot blog finds amazing article on translation of ancient texts discussing 10th century communication between Chinese Imperial scholars and Yeti.

Blog post actually links to the original source

But apparently, this, and the name of the author (Tim Pulju) was not sufficient to show that the source is in fact, a satirical publication, a The Onion for linguistics.

I mean, that would require looking to the fourth-down return if you google "Tim Pulju"

To be fair, many of the comments on that blog post guess that it is likely satire but others suggested it could be a real journal article,or some sort of misunderstanding. While I approve that some were able to recognize the satire, that no one even bothered to take 15 seconds and actually find out, is the real problem. You don't even need to type if that is too much effort, just copy and paste and click.

I have heard professors say they don't like their students to use internet sources for their work. I think this is an excellent example of why they should be using the internet, under the guidance and training of a professional researcher (as any professor is).

In my classes, especially my introductory classes, I have decided to do two things in addition to the standard curriculum of whatever the class is.

1.) If at all applicable, address pseudoscience and mysticism that routinely gets associated with anthropology and archaeology (the subjects I teach). They are so intertwined in the popular imagination, it seems like we have a professional obligation to hit this stuff head-on, not ignore it and hope it goes away. That didn't work for evolutionary biology, it won't work for us.

2.) Have my students use the internet to look things up, especially early on in the class, and to critique how they found information, identify warning signs a site is not reliable, and suggest productive alternative strategies and practices.


Trey Jones said...

When I first came across your blog post I was worried that I had found another site to debunk. If folks want to believe in bigfoot and yetis, that's their business. But to use satirical linguistics material written more than 20 years ago by a then-undergrad linguist-to-be as evidence of a vast conspiracy does not lend them much credibility. Like you said, it is easy to find out the true nature of SpecGram. I put it right on the home page: "Speculative Grammarian is the premier scholarly journal featuring research in the neglected field of satirical linguistics." It's on the reader to look up words they don't know. So, thanks for spreading the good word on skeptical use of the internet.

ahtzib said...

I see you commented on the Bigfoot Evidence post, and they updated it (as did Davis).

You've been pulled into this little Twilight Zone by happenstance, but before you flee back to the safety of the light, let me just say, if this were the only such poor credibility moment, the world would be a better place. And that you might find some surprising aspects of sociolinguistics in paranormal culture, especially the use of "sciencey" language when actual science is scarce. There are other aspects too (like taking the fairly neutral words like anomaly and unidentified or inconclusive, and giving them strong connotations). Though to my knowledge no one has ever done a serious linguistic analysis of paranormal discourse (I played at one as part of a class project years ago when I was sitting in on a discourse class).

So thanks for the kudos, and keep up the work in Yeh-teh semiotics.

Trey Jones said...

Well, at least they were polite about making the changes. I also called them on the copyright violations, since they both reposted the entire article.

I'm constantly amazed at what people will believe without thinking about it. You hear of people taking articles from The Onion seriously every now and then. This isn't the first time a big foot researcher thought that article was genuine, either.

I had someone who was not an academic comment on this one as if it were real:

And I had a real academic (English was not his native language, though), fall for this one, hook, line, and sinker:

You just never know what will slip past people's rational defenses—though some people defend their minds better than others.

ahtzib said...

I worry about some "edutainment" posts I make, where I basically (and openly) use the methods of pseudoscientists to both amuse and enlighten. My blog Miskatonic Museum is intended to be a discussion of science, scholarship, and history through the lens of the fictional Cthulhu Mythos created by horror author H. P. Lovecraft. Most of the posts are straightforward, but some explore real-world science and history by blending it into this fictional paradigm, such as this.

While it has a disclaimer, I am waiting for the day when someone takes it seriously.