Oct 21 2013
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.
As many have already pointed out in the comments to the video, the claim that it was taken in the UK is probably not accurate. The person heard speaking in the video has an American accent. In itself this is not definitive, he can be a visitor or ex-pat. The telephone lines, apparently, are also American and do not follow a UK structure.
This does not directly relate to the alleged dragon, but does relate to the overall veracity of the video. Another problem with the credibility of the video itself is its short duration. Why does it end where it does? It is common for what is made public from such videos to be the best segment, and the bits that would clearly give it away as a fake are edited out. Short duration is therefore always suspect. To be fair the video ends when the “dragon” flies behind the house, but if it were me I would have run around the house with the camera.
Also, if this event occurred – where are all the other videos? Where are the hundreds of cell phone videos we would be seeing? And, where are all the witnesses to corroborate the video?
The two most likely possibilities that need to be definitively ruled out before we should entertain the notion that this video is of a real dragon are: is the video itself a fake, or is the video real but the dragon is fake?
The video itself can certainly be fake. Digital technology these days is sufficient to create such a video, and the quality is not such that major studio resources would be required. Desktop digital animators would do. I do not personally have the expertise to explore this possibility technically. I will leave it for others to do so.
I do think that the possibility that the video is real but the dragon is fake is high. The reason for this is the way the dragon moves. Its wings to not flap like in any realistic manner. Flying creatures tend to have characteristic wing movement patterns, varying flapping and gliding, for example. One almost universal feature, however, is that their wings bend on the upstroke to minimize wind resistance, and then flatten on the downstroke to maximize wind resistance.
The wings of the dragon are stiff and simply move up and down in a regular pattern – just as if they were the rigid wings of a mechanical model. The creature itself also moves in a stiff way, and does not appear to be flying realistically.
It is possible that the dragon, therefore, is a flying model. Another possibility, however, is that both the video and the dragon are fake – meaning that the dragon is a model that can “flap” its wings, but cannot really fly, and so the video of the dragon suspended from wires was added to the rest of the video to make is seem like it was flying in the sky.
These days, of course, there is a good chance that such viral videos are deliberate ad campaigns. Maybe this was made to promote a video game like Skyrim, or an upcoming movie. If so, then we should hear about it eventually.
In any case, there is one thing this video is not – compelling evidence that dragons are real.
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