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Of aquatic apes and ignorant congressmen

29 Apr 2013, 19:11 UTC
Of aquatic apes and ignorant congressmen
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Old Tarzan movies aside, elephants don’t really have a secret burial ground, to which old animals travel when they are ready to die. It’s a romantic notion, but completely unsupported by evidence: elephant bones lie where the animal died, wherever that happens to be.
The elephant secret burial ground is an extreme example of a type of wishful thinking that can lead us all into mental traps. We humans want to believe, and seem to be attracted to certain notions, because they feel right in some way. There’s also a tendency toward wanting to give ideas a fair trial, even if those ideas are a bit on the fringe: if they sound plausible to us, we’ll listen or even promote them. Thus, otherwise reasonable people will promote concepts like the non-biological origin of petroleum (which would mean oil is actually not a finite resource after all), cold fusion, or the “aquatic ape” hypothesis.
Elephant graveyards aren’t a damaging myth (at least as far as I can tell), but those others have real-world consequences. Energy policy in the light of global climate change requires understanding where our fuel comes from, so we can make long-term plans. (See Maggie Koerth-Baker’s excellent book ...

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