New cryptozoology: less credulous, more scientific

There is a stereotype about Bigfoot and Nessie devotees. Typically, they are middle-aged or older men, often with facial hair. They seem obsessed and the public might see them as a bit “off”.  It’s true that there is not that much diversity in the list of monster researchers. But, cryptozoology is changing.

Today’s researchers are examining questions from a new perspective. They can organize and communicate better thanks to the internet. There are new types of books and media. I feel positive about the future of the field of cryptozoology and excited for new things to come. At The Amazing Meeting 9 (TAM 9) in Las Vegas in July, gathered together was a group of people that had everything to do with my positive attitude.

All the people in this photo contribute to moving the subject of cryptozoology away from the stereotypes and the paranormal realm and into the circle of popular cultural and scientific understanding. This group is no less excited by the idea that cryptids are real, unknown animals. It’s just that we are realistic about it. We don’t assume the stories can be taken at face value because we know mistakes are made. We do not come in with a presupposed notion about what a person saw. Our scope is larger; our conclusions are based on what we know is likely true, not what we wish to be true.

From left: S. Hill, B. Smith, B. Radford, D. Prothero, J. Nickell, M. Crowley, K. Stollznow, D. Loxton

Photo by M. Crowley

Everyone in the picture comes from a unique background and converged upon one of our favorite topics – monsters. None of us are zoologists. Some of us are scientists or have scientific training. (And, all of us know what the “null hypothesis” is.) Our outlook is based on critical thought and creativity.

The new cryptozoology is more investigation-oriented, actively examining the questions. No more credulous collecting of stories. We examine  the culture (the popular depictions of monsters, the psychology of monster hunting, and the activities of people who search for them) and the events (sightings, purported evidence) in books, magazines, blogs and podcasts.

Scanning the top 50 “cryptozoology” books at Amazon, it’s heavy on the relatively new genre of crypto-fiction. There are still many of the standard “unexplained mystery” books and cryptozoology field guides and/or compendiums that have little if any new material in them. We don’t need any more of those.

A rare beast is the book that takes a scientific and skeptical look at these subjects to reveal new information never considered before. We have those now (Radford’s Tracking the Chupacabra, Nickell’s Tracking the Man-Beasts and Nickell and Radford’s Lake Monster Mysteries). And there is more to come.

Another on the horizon is by Donald Prothero and Daniel Loxton. From this preview, Dr. Don tells us he has looked not just at the idea of cryptozoology but the people involved. Similarly, Brian Regal has done the same in Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. I’ve spoken with both gentlemen to relate my own research into amateur investigation groups and how they use science as a mark of credibility. Regal explores the relationship between amateurs and professional scientists in his book. Don and Dan comment on the pseudoscience label for cryptozoologists in their forthcoming work. I continue to examine how this lack of true scientific ethos may affect the public’s idea about how science works. On this blog and in various other places, cryptozoology is an example I use to illuminate sham inquiry and “scientifical” actions.

Cryptozoology is a little behind in not having a decent dedicated forum or reliable news site. It’s getting better. I see new sites coming along *  The most respected crypto site (which isn’t really one at all) is Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology. When Darren does cryptids, he does it right. I’m encouraged by this kind of attention to the subject led by Darren and others. Join the Monster Talk Facebook group for fun links. The best forum for high-functioning discussion of cryptids, especially Bigfoot, is the JREF forum. It’s not for the weak-willed. They will shred a shoddy claim faster than you can put on costume and run through the background of your family’s vacation videos. Critique is critical! The field has lacked publically accessible, smart critique for too long and now we are getting that. You can actually now find the others sides of the story.

Monster Talk, is the best crypto podcast. Featuring B. Smith, K. Stoltznow and B. Radford. (The Minnesota Iceman episode featured M. Crowley, other episodes featured Darren Naish, Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero and Joe Nickell), they look at the evidence and see how it fits in with our already established knowledge about nature. No fantastic speculation, except in jest.

Junior Skeptic magazine, an insert in Skeptic magazine, produced by D. Loxton, frequently features cryptids. It’s aimed towards those of us with the MOST passion for learning about monsters – kids. How I would have loved to have this when I was a kid!

What’s to come? Well, I hope the nonsense dies down. Unsupported speculation, a weekly blobsquatch, hoaxes, hype, commercialism, “professional” research groups, and TV for the incredulous (Finding Bigfoot) cheapens the subject. Yet, we observe that people WANT to hear about monsters as real entities. They tune in to a TV show that claims to have proof or they pass on news articles that appear to show monsters in our midst. It’s hard to balance that wonder and excitement about mystery with a rational examination that almost always gives us a more mundane or disappointing result.

“But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing. “ – Thomas Paine

At least now, the options and outlets for ideas and news are greatly expanded. That’s an excellent thing.


Follow cryptozoology news on Twitter by saving the search for the hashtag #cryptozoology

Addition (16-Feb-2013) I original had links here to crypto sites. Many have changed significantly since I wrote this piece. For the worse. So I deleted all of them. For the top of the line crypto news, go to Doubtful News. I promise not to miss a real story.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.