Chupacabra gets a necropsy: Ben Radford’s new book does the dirty work

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We were given a teaser of the stunning new findings about the chupacabra in Ben Radford’s preceding book Scientific Paranormal Investigation, which I reviewed here. I was excited to dig into the entire story in Tracking The Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore.

The book has high praise and positive reviews already. Of course, I loved it – not because I love every monster book. I don’t. Most popular ones are quite terrible since they rehash the same old stories without references or critical thought. I loved it because this was a unique and comprehensive look a very “pop culture” monster. There was a ton of new stuff in here.

I’ll not give away the details of the stories, you simply should read it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say EVERY person interested in the paranormal and paranormal investigating should read this book to see what a thorough investigation really looks like. You are not going to get any answers by assuming monster (or any other wild) stories are literally true; one needs to question and go under the surface, pick it apart, perform a necropsy.

That entailed a trek into the Latin American jungles, uncovering that a witness can’t tell fact from fiction and examination of a frozen severed head. Eeewww. Nasty stuff.

To summarize, Tracking the Chupacabra is about a lot of things:

  • vampires and other blood-eating animals
  • folklore, mass hysteria, cultural influences and socioeconomic factors
  • sarcoptic mange and canid genetics
  • how animals die and what happens after they lie there for a time
  • getting out in the environment and verifying reports
  • the trouble with eyewitnesses and making unsupported assumptions.

It is comprehensive!

I have Scott Corrales’ Chupacabras and other Mysteries. It’s a great reference, but when I read it years ago, I was confused. Nothing made sense and he did not attempt to extract meaning out of the information. I recall Ben once said he told Scott that “investigation” does not just mean “translating” but that is all Corrales seemed to do. It was a plate piled high with a jumbled mess of tales that smelled rank. Radford’s book is NOT that.

He exposes the shabby scholarship by reporters on the chupacabra story and the sensationalism that followed in the media. I was struck by the cultural genesis of the creature. The name was generic, in a sense meaning “scapegoat”, anything weird you can’t explain. The act of naming the creature and the first depiction, an amalgam based on sightings by witnesses Tolentino and Perez, brought it into being. It simply did not exist before this. (Radford has a current challenge to anyone who can provide evidence that disputes this.)

I want to focus on one area of the history I found astounding but, upon reflection, turned out to be not too surprising. It is a point that should resonate with those who provide sound, logical explanations for seemingly paranormal explanations…

People don’t want to hear the truth.

Witness and victims of livestock predation believed something out-of-the-ordinary had happened to them. When testing and solid evidence showed that their chupacabra carcass was a sickly coyote, or that their animals were most likely killed by dogs, they rejected that explanation. Instead, they sought only confirmation of their belief. They embrace the bizarre tale of a unknown hybrid creature or government coverup. Some prefer to blame the visiting extraterrestrials or Satan himself. Sometimes, they even made shit up. When a person has a lot invested in their story, they will not readily exchange it for a mundane explanation. Facts be damned – they know otherwise.

I think THIS is the hurdle we face everyday, in every situation, as scientific skeptics. My idea of good evidence is different than the other person’s. In a key passage on page 141, Radford lays it all out there: if cryptozoologists (or any paranormalist) acknowledge that eyewitness accounts are erroneous (which they indisputably are), much of their “evidence” evaporates. Tracking the Chupacabra is only for those willing to give up their current favorite chupacabra origin story for a more legitimate one. If you aren’t willing to do that, this book might just make you mad.

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