A Skeptic Goes to Gotham

The following is a story and dialogue concerning a recent trip to Gotham City to collect samples from the Gotham Natural History Museum. They have an amazing collection of chiropterans, which have a very poor fossil record, and while there I had an interesting discussion with a local Gothamite.

 

I stepped out of the cab excited to be in Gotham. The Natural History Museum housed exactly the kinds of specimens I was hoping to sample. However, I was more than a little concerned, because these samples had a high value and Gotham City is known as a place where things of high value often have trouble staying with their rightful owner. Fortunately, I had a docent from the museum assigned to me for the duration of my stay. A local who could keep me company, lend a hand in collections, and even escort me to my hotel if I ended up staying past closing time.

And the other thing that made me nervous about being in Gotham was of course, The Batman. An urban legend designed to quell fear and discourage criminals, but honestly a rather silly notion to anyone who stopped to think about it. I really hoped it wouldn’t come up. I know myself well enough to know I can be opinionated (to put it mildly) and I was worried my dismissal of this city’s local hero, fictitious or not, could engender ill-will on the part of my hosts.

It was then with dismay that I noticed I had overstayed daylight while sampling specimens on my very first night in town, my enthusiasm for science having gotten the better of my sense of time. My chipper elderly docent mentioned in a matter-of-fact way, “Don’t worry, this is the hour that Batman is actually patrolling in this area of town, the thugs know to stay away so we can just walk together, no problem.”

I bit my tongue for less than a block.

“So… The Batman, you think he really exists?” I tried my best to sound curious rather than confrontational.

“Of course he exists! Why would you think he doesn’t?”

“Well no reliable witness has ever seen him, and there’s not a lot of hard evidence–”

“No hard evidence!” The docent shrieked. I was in for it now. “There’s all kinds of photos from all over the place. Just search online and you’ll see them clear as day.”

That’s just the thing. I had searched online. The pictures 0f  ‘Batman’ were about as convincing as a photo of Bigfoot or a UFO, i.e. not at all. In a world where every cell phone comes with a digital camera it seems less and less likely that not one solid photo exists. I relayed this point to my host, trying my best to keep my voice at an even and non-confrontational tone.

“The photos are always blurry because it’s dark out and Batman ain’t exactly standing around to pose. Blurry photos are entirely consistent with his modus operandi.”

Ouch, score one for the Gothamite. His logic was sound, if bordering on a conspiracy mentality.

“And you mentioned that the witness were unreliable,” he continued, “well it’s not just the crooks that see him but the people he’s saving too! Is their eyewitness account worth nothing?”

My empathy sense tingled. Not only was I dealing with an obvious true-believer, but I had a suspicion that he may be referring to an eyewitness he knew. Me and my stupid mouth, it was time to tread carefully.

“Not nothing, but I wouldn’t say their testimony provides especially compelling evidence.” Magnamoious enough, I hoped. “More and more courts are leaning away from relying on eye witnesses, but why? Think about what’s happening to the victim in the scenario. They’re already freaked out because they’re being mugged or whatever, then the mugger is attacked in a blur leaving nothing but a stunned and confused victim. Memory is malleable and unreliable on a good day, but in a high stress situation like that it can be shaped into any sort of tale that fits the brain’s preconceived notions, i.e. if I believe in The Batman, then it was The Batman who saved me. It’s not an logical deduction!”

“But you just admitted that something saved the person from being mugged! Who would that be if not Batman?”

We had both stopped walking at this point.

“Well clearly something weird is going on in Gotham. People are being saved. I’m just saying we don’t know who or what is saving them. So to go from ‘I don’t know’ to ‘They’re definitely being saved by a man in a bat costume waging a one-man war on crime’ makes no sense! It’s a classic argument from ignorance. For all we know, they could be getting saved by Superman!”

“Now wait just a minute!”

“No! Think about it! The same time as Superman shows up in Metropolis, getting photos taken, giving interviews, and all that; The Batman shows up in Gotham. Isn’t it possible that this city realized it needed some form of protector, even a fake one, to keep the fear in the hearts of criminals? The police figure it’s cheaper to buy a spotlight for their roof then actually get more funding, so they do that, spread a few rumors around the holding cells and VOILA! Caped crusader terrorizes superstitious and cowardly criminals!”

“That’s preposterous, not even Superman can be in two places at once!”

“And yet The Batman is able to patrol the entire city every night by himself?”

“Y’know what?! I’ve had just about enough of you. I think this conversation is over. Why don’t you just walk yourself home and if you get mugged just tell that guy your theories and I’m sure they’ll run away scared.”

“FINE!”

I knew I had just made a fool of myself, but there was no point in turning back now. I stormed off down the street in the direction of my hotel. I hadn’t made it a few blocks before, sure enough, a dark figure emerged from the alley, pistol in hand.

“Hand everything over, no funny business.” It had been one day and I was already sick of this place.

“OK, OK. Let’s just be cool. Here’s everything I hav–” At that very moment something flew out of the alley and stuck my assailant in the hand, causing him to drop the gun. BAM! Then a figure swept out of the darkness kicking the mugger square in the head. BIFF! They moved so fast I saw nothing but a flash of red. POW!

Then there she was, standing atop the fire escape. “You alright?”

“Uh… yeah, I’m fine.” I said trying not to show that I was shaking.

“Good. Call the cops, they’ll take it from here.” She turned to leave.

“I will.” Then a thought occurred. “Wait! I have to know, is it really only you?”

“Are you kidding? Gotham is a big town, you do the math.”

I couldn’t help smiling a little. I reached into my pocket for my phone to dial 911. My camera! I fumbled to unlock my phone and barely managed to snap a quick photo before she was completely gone. I checked how it turned out. It was dark, no flash, shaky hand, and she was moving: blurry. I couldn’t help but laugh.

But I was at least a little right, it wasn’t a BatMAN, and whoever they were, they weren’t doing it alone. All the same, I made sure to apologize to the docent the next day before heading into collections to look at more chiropterans.

 


Ryan Haupt is a scientist who sometimes does travel to museums to look at bones. Usually his walks back to the hotel are not this exciting. Hear him talk more about science, logic, and occasoinally superheroes, on the podcast Science… sort of.

Comments

  1. Please, PLEASE do this sort of thing more often, Ryan. Brilliant, quite simply.

  2. Loved it!

  3. Now that was a fun and interesting read. By the way, just where did you get that blurry picture of Batman?

  4. Pure Awesomeness! More articles by Ryan!

  5. Good stuff.

  6. I kins of wish this was the opening for the new Batgirl book. Fantastic stuff, Ryan.

  7. See?

    That’s more like it.

    Well done.

  8. > a dark figure emerged from the alley, knife in hand.

    Then…

    >At that very moment something flew out of the alley and stuck my assailant in the hand, causing him to drop the gun. BAM!

    That does it. I want a knife-gun too.

    All kidding aside, this was great. I’d love to see more of these on here!

    • Hahaha! Good catch. I thought knife at first but the BAM sound effect didn’t make as much sense so I changed it. But I didn’t change both of them, obviously. Done now. Thanks.

  9. I’m also amazed at how much the building in the photo looks like the Hall of Justice. Is that a real building? I’ve never been to Gotham, or NYC.

  10. Ha! Nice! I love it, Ryan!

    The building is Union Terminal in my beautiful hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio! One time train station turned museum.

    The reason why it looks like the hall of justice is because the hall of justice is modeled after it.

  11. Great article, Ryan!