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.

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Http://SharonAHill.com

6 thoughts on “New cryptozoology: less credulous, more scientific”

  1. The group pictured above seems identical to the way you described past stereotyped Bigfoot and Nessie Devotees, most people pictured are middle aged-men and even two of the members have facial hair. There are a number of past and present Bigfoot researchers that have scientific or technology backgrounds and even some of those have facial hair. Many Bigfoot researchers including myself have been following up and documenting Bigfoot sighting reports for years. We have been using the internet for discussion and communication since 1995 and possibly earlier. There are groups, individuals and TV shows like Finding Bigfoot out there that take away from the many hard working individuals that have been conducting research for many years. The new group sounds like a great idea, but that new group has already existed out there for years in the many dedicated researchers that take this work seriously. I agree there are many “colorful” people out there and not just in the Bigfoot community but in all research areas like Ghosts, Sea Monsters and UFO’s. Casting aside all the past dedicated researchers and their data in favor of a new “better” group is a little extreme!

    William Dranginis
    Manassas, VA.
    http://www.VirginiaBigfootResearch.Org
    Bigfoot eyewitness -75 feet away.
    Middle aged/ bearded and proud of it!

    1. Well that’s not really what I said. My point has been to improve upon the current procedures undertaken up until recently. Time to think in a different way, not do the same thing of collecting stories.

      How has the evidence improved over this time? Is there better evidence? Has the knowledge advanced? (I would qualify that to say confirmed knowledge because speculation and making stuff up is not the same).

      I would argue that the people in this group do not resemble the amateur groups in their thought processes at all. Thus, my statement about the null hypothesis. It’s what must be assumed until the evidence can overcome it. That’s the scientific approach and the most reliable one.

  2. Collecting stories and sightings has and will continue to be a very important part of this research. They provide a glimpse of what the witness observed during their chance encounter. It’s possible that many sightings are just misidentifications of known animals or someone dressing up in a suit, but there are many sightings of the Bigfoot creatures that should not be cast aside. Many stories and sighting reports are a very important tool to move this research forward. If you intend to improve on current procedures I would first advise that you evaluate many of the historical sightings and spend some time interviewing a number of the past and present day researchers so you don’t repeat history.

    Has evidence improved over time? No. But I will bet you that there is already evidence of the creatures existence in Museums scattered around the globe. Some of the scientists that work at these Museums have no right working there in the first place. I’m sure existing evidence of these creatures has been misidentified by the very people that claim to be experts in their fields. I know this for a fact as I went through the “scientific process” of having some possible Bigfoot hair tested. The hair was tested by “scientists” at the Smithsonian, then on to a PhD that conducted hair mineral analysis, then onto Seattle Washington for more hair identification testing then finally to having the hair tested for DNA by a world class Laboratory. Guess what, the Smithsonian misidentified the hair, the hair mineral analysis was way off base, the two “expert” scientists that studied the hair in Seattle were wrong. It all came down to the DNA, the results indicated the hair came from a wolf. So you see, I followed the scientific process in reaching out to have the hair identified and unfortunately, all the so called experts were dead wrong with their identification results. So just because a “scientific expert” puts there stamp on a piece of evidence, it may be something totally different. I do agree the scientific approach is the right way to go, but it’s not always right.

    Has physical evidence improved over time? Not really, but research techniques and technology have drastically improved over the last several years, as we gain more knowledge from field work, we can combine new emerging technologies to help gather new evidence. This research has not been easy especially with the new Animal Planet television show featuring the BFRO group where everything is Bigfoot related. It’s very unfortunate that some members of the BFRO and Animal Planet have contaminated future evidence collection by stating that the Bigfoot creatures knock on trees for communication or almost every call from the forest belongs to a Bigfoot creature, where is the evidence that proves that? I have received many reports of people walking into the woods banging on trees trying to lure the creatures in, the reports are coming from their own neighbors that heard the tree knocking thinking it was done by a Bigfoot creature. They thought this was true because they watch the Animal Planet TV show. Now I just tell the people to send their reports to the BFRO.

    I wish you the best of luck with the new group and hope you’re up to the challenge. We’ll be watching to see how things progress!

  3. Great article. Looking forward to the new batch of Cryptozoologists. Thanks for the recommending Bigfoot Lunch Club. We try give everyone a voice regarding the subject of Sasquatch. Keep up the great work!

  4. Are the people in the photo skeptics or cryptozoologists? I don’t see them as the latter, even representatives of a new generation of the latter, particularly Hill and Radford, whose work I’m most familiar with. I see them as commenting on and critiquing the work of cryptozoologists in an important way, applying high standards and excellent critical thinking skills along the way, but I don’t see them as cryptozoologists. I think the distinction is worth emphasizing. For example, art historians are not studio artists, nor are art critics, but good art historians and art critics can help influence studio artists in a positive way. I see a similar relationship here.

  5. Sorry if I stated the obvious but I felt there was room for confusion there, especially among those who aren’t very familiar with these topics. If I misunderstand please let me know where I went astray. Thanks

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