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Cat Child Found in Cave!

Posted in Skepchick by Skepdude on February 25, 2009


Or, maybe not?

Vikki Thomas, intrepid journalist for The Sun, reports that “A CAT-BOY has stunned medics with his ability to SEE in pitch black with eyes that GLOW in the dark.” All the preceding CAPITAL LETTERS are THE SUN’S, possibly designed to FREAK YOU THE HELL OUT because OMG CAT-BOY WILL DESTROY US ALL!

Young Nong Youhui was supposedly brought to a hospital by his dad Ling, who claimed that the boy’s freaky blue eyes gave him the power of superior night vision and thus allowing him to read in pitch blackness. Amazingly, the article also claims that the boy can see perfectly well in the daylight.

I say BULLSHIT. Yeah, I can use capitals, too.

First of all, cats can see better in the dark due to eyes that operate in a very different way from humans’, thanks to a very long history of evolving along completely different tracks. For instance, cats have pupils that narrow to slits and grow much larger than yours to let more light in while hunting in the dark. They also have larger lenses to absorb even more light, and they even have an extra part called the tapetum lucidum that bounces light back and forth to give them another chance at seeing something in the dark (that’s what causes the gleam when you shine a light at a cat’s eyes). Cats also have more rods, the photoreceptors that benefit night vision.

Even if the boy somehow managed to procure similar eyeballs to a cat, all those attributes come at a cost. A cat cannot, as the article states, see “as clearly as most people do during the day.” In exchange for better night vision, the cat gives up the ability to focus on near objects and the handy tool of depth perception (edit: sorry, I meant “good depth of field” – kitties can’t focus on anything outside things at just the right distance). Their greater number of rods results in fewer cones, removing their ability to see sharp detail and rich color.

The point is: you can’t have your night-vision cake and eat it in broad daylight, too.

Here’s where else your bullshit detector should have rung. The Sun’s only offered explanation for this eerie happening is the following sentence:

Experts believe he was born with a rare condition called leukodermia which has left his eyes with less protective pigment and more sensitive to light.

Leukodermia, also known as vitiligo, isn’t associated with cat-like super-vision – it’s most often associated with Michael Jackson, since it happens to be that disorder in which you get blotchy patches on your skin and hair.

A study of 100 patients with the disorder did find a strong correlation with vision problems, so if anything, the kid would be worse off. The article suggests that the disorder makes one more sensitive to light, which is true, but not in the idiotic way that The Sun suggests. “More sensitive” means that it is painful for people with certain ocular disorders to see in daylight, which impairs their vision, not helping it.

So what’s the real explanation?

Well, it’s hard to say, since the article doesn’t give us the name of the hospital, the doctors involved in these “medical tests,” or even a god damned picture of the mysterious glowing eyeballs. Oh, and this is the very same newspaper that previously brought us a story on the Lost City of Atlantis with a photo of Patrick Duffy and a sidebar written by Plato, the deceased philosopher. (Turns out, it was just the path of the boats used to collect the data. Whoops!)

More likely? It’s a hoax propagated by a poor family looking to make a quick profit by selling a cheap parlor trick to a laughably gullible journalist.


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