by Steven Novella via Skepticblog
These make for light-hearted posts, but occasionally it’s fun to deconstruct viral videos purporting to show something fantastical on the internet. Most such videos are one of the big three – ghosts, UFOs or Bigfoot (or some other cryptozoological creature).
The current video is in the cryptozoological category – a video purporting to show a dragon flying through the skies of Truro England.
Obviously the prior-probability here is vanishingly small, and so it would take a very compelling video to have any chance of being taken seriously, and this video does not come close. Before I take a close look at the video itself, let’s explore the plausibility of the claim.
Dragons are gigantic flying predators, at least in their current Western cultural image. Such creatures if they existed would be voracious. Flying is a high-energy activity and animals pay for the benefits of flight by needing to eat incredible amounts of calories. Bald eagles, for example, eat about 10% of their body weight per day. If we extrapolate that to a dragon, even if light for its size so it can fly, would require hundreds of pounds of food per day.
Each dragon would require a large hunting territory. If there is even a minimal breeding population of dragons, they would frequently be seen in the skies hunting for prey or carrion. Saying they live underground or are stealthy hunters, first is an argument from ignorance to explain a lack of evidence. Further, it is not plausible such creatures could survive under ground (and why would they fly), and you can only be so stealthy when you are that size.
There are also the usual objective to cryptozoological creatures – why are there no specimens of such creatures, no bones, no carcasses, no nests, scat, or remains of their eating? We can invent a special reason why each bit of evidence is lacking, but Occam favors the conclusion that these creatures just don’t exist.
We also have the historical record of dragons, meaning their existence in culture, as a guide. We can clearly see the image of dragons evolve over time, going in different directions in different cultures. Real creatures have a more stable representation in art over time – the artistic style may evolve, but a lion is always a lion. (Here, of course, I am talking about historical time frames of hundreds of years, not evolutionary time scales.)
It is reasonable to conclude from existing evidence that dragons probably do not exist (as cool as it would be if they did), but let’s take a look at the video with an open, but critical, mind.
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