The strangest non-stories in science from 2012
It would have been nice if Bigfoot had been proven or aliens had made their presence known this year, but it was not meant to be.
Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 12:55 PM
A lot of things happened in 2012, including scientific breakthroughs, a presidential re-election, and a tragic school shooting. But a lot of things didn't happen this past year.
We realize it's a little strange to discuss things that never occurred — after all, countless things didn't happen in 2012, from an asteroid hitting Earth, to Justin Bieber marrying a supermodel, to Abraham Lincoln climbing out of his grave to praise Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" as being more historically accurate than "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
But there were a handful of stories that made the news, often with a splash, promising big news, and turned out to be non-stories, non-events. Here are a few.
Eagle snatches baby in Canadian park
It was a bizarre, terrifying sight seen by millions of people: A large bird videotaped in the skies above a Canadian park suddenly swooping down and snatching a baby. The bird drops the child a few seconds later, flying away and leaving shocked bystanders. A day after the video went viral, students at an animation school, Centre NAD, admitted that they had created the hoaxed video. A statement issued by the school credited (or blamed) three of its students and explained, "both the eagle and the kid were created in 3D animation and integrated in to the film afterwards." As interesting — and scary — as the event was, it turned out to be a non-story.
According to many, Dec. 21, 2012, was to be the end of times. Or the beginning of the best of times, depending on who you talked to. 2012-inspired folks tended to fall into one of two categories: The gloom-and-doomers expected global cataclysm involving death, fire, planetary collapse, pole shifting, and other unspecified natural (or even supernatural) disasters. The second kind were more optimistic, expecting Dec. 21 to usher in a new age of cosmic peace, harmony, and global enlightenment. Scholars patiently explained that despite dramatic claims to the contrary, the Mayans didn't actually hold much significance for the date, and they certainly didn't think the world would end on that date. Their calendar did not, as many assumed, "end" on that day; it was simply the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.
Much of the hype and concern over the date originated not from ancient nor modern Mayas, but instead New Agers. Neither doomsday nor world peace broke out, leaving some people relieved, others confused, and many amused. [Oops! 11 Failed Doomsday Predictions]
Bigfoot proven through DNA
This was also to be the year that genetic testing confirmed the existence of Bigfoot. According to a press release issued by a company called DNA Diagnostics detailing research by a Texas veterinarian, "A team of scientists ... confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called 'Bigfoot' or 'Sasquatch,' living in North America," the release reads.
Not only that, but Bigfoot is a half-human hybrid that had sex with human women approximately 15,000 years ago — or so the theory goes. If it all sounds a little dubious, it should: there was no evidence offered at all. The evidence, which has allegedly taken five years to collect and analyze, has yet to be published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. Until and unless scientists are allowed to examine the evidence, Bigfoot DNA will remain a non-story.
UFOs invade Denver
In November, an unusual video of mysterious dark objects moving very quickly and erratically over the skies of Denver, Colo., caused a national stir. An anonymous UFO buff showed KDVR Fox News reporter Heidi Hemmat home videos he had taken from an open field during the past summer of "strange objects ... nobody can explain."
The UFOs, it was claimed, seemed to be taking off and flying over the Mile High City at around Noon on many different occasions. The TV report featured an aviation expert named Steve Cowell who stated categorically that in his opinion the objects he saw in the video were not airplanes, helicopters, nor birds. Many people favored the flying saucer theory, though none were able to explain why no one in Denver had noticed the extraterrestrial spacecraft that repeatedly flew over their city at midday. Skeptics noted that the objects caught on film moved a lot like insects flying in the air, and that the cameraman probably simply recorded bugs. With no further evidence of aliens, the buzz about the Denver UFO finally faded away. [UFO Quiz: What's Really Out There]
Denver wasn't the only city to have its skies lit up with alleged UFOs. A single week in December saw strange illuminated objects hovering in the sky above San Francisco and Brooklyn, N.Y. The dancing lights, it seems, were likely the usual UFO fare: some sort of floating object with a light. "It looks to me like it could have been balloons, carrying lights," Bing Quock, assistant director of the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, told CBS San Francisco, of the San Francisco lights. Another idea: Chinese floating lanterns, which have spurred at least one other, now-debunked, UFO sighting.
A foursome of lights above Lebanon, Mo., in May, shown in a shaky night-vision video, also sparked a UFO report. While the videographer Jim Barnhill was sure the sight was of extraterrestrial origin, it seemed to have all the makings of an Earthly aircraft: blinking strobe lights characteristic of known aircraft; and a flight altitude, pattern and speed characteristic of known aircraft.
It would have been nice if Bigfoot had been proven or aliens had made their presence known (and not nice if an eagle had snatched a baby or the world ended). But there's always next year...
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of "Skeptical Inquirer" science magazine and author of six books including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries." His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
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