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Cryptozoology is “the study of hidden animals” (called ‘cryptids’). More precisely, it is the pursuit of animals that science does not recognize as existing and, in some situations, be considered ‘monster hunting’ in comparison to the ghost hunters in a forthcoming discussion.

Like the closely related field of UFOlogy, cryptozoology can accurately be described as “a simulacrum of systematic rationality…quite impressive to many…nonbelievers.” [1] In order to become a cryptozoologist, one needs no special training, just an interest in and knowledge of the jargon, and reverence of the self-appointed experts.

To establish evidence for the existence of these mystery creatures, there is little zoology involved. Researchers rely heavily upon anecdotes, historic tales, and circumstantial evidence of alleged sightings. A cryptozoolgist will frequently set up a false dichotomy, especially to the media: either an eyewitness saw something mysterious or he/she is lying. Anecdotes are taken at face value – it is assumed that the eyewitness knows what she saw. Better explanations, like mistakes, misidentification, exaggeration and confabulation, are lightly regarded. One cannot reasonably analyze data at face value when misperception, fraud and expectations are so common [2].

Though thousands of eyewitness sightings have been documented, remarkably little data exists for scientific scrutiny [3]. The best evidence that has been obtained for hundreds of mysterious creatures claimed to exist on land, in the water and in air is considered to be print casts, photographs, video and a few biological samples. All are controversial. No bodies exist, not even parts.

Cryptozoologists have a classic love-hate relationship with the scientific community. This field has a history of interest from credentialed scientists including anthropologists, zoologists and wildlife biologists who commendably make repeated attempts to insert their work into conventional scientific journals and conferences. The crypto-community is warm and welcoming to professionals that are sympathetic but show blatant disdain for scientists and investigators critical of their claims.

Cryptozoologists revel in examples of new species discoveries (made by actual zoologists, not part-time scientists), citing “Cuvier’s rash dictum” in response [4]. They enjoy exploding the (erroneous) concept that “science knows everything” and “the world is fully explored”. These tenets serve as inspiration that one day, a cryptid body will be found.

All skeptics are a token ‘straw man’, lumped into the bin of debunkers. Cryptozoological skeptics are characterized as ridiculing eyewitnesses, refusing to look at evidence and dismissive of cryptid existence. Those of a critical mindset, who wish to examine the evidence of cryptozoology, are treated with disdain, as noted by Radford (2008), who states that investigators are denied the opportunity to view collected samples. Evidence is hoarded. Close scrutiny is disallowed except to select few.

In researching the existence of unknown animals, the cryptozoologist, by definition, has made the assumption that an unknown creatures exists. In the mind of the cryptozoologist is a preconceived notion of the creature they aim to find.

Speculation is rampant and forms the basis for the majority of media content. A prime example is Coleman & Huyghe’s The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide (published by Anomalist Books). Field guides carry an assumption that one can locate such creatures in the field. Though science has never recognized any of these mystery primates, this descriptive guide explains their natural history which amounts to complete conjecture far beyond what any evidence can support. Cryptozoologists have proposed not one large unknown mammal species existing in the modern world, but several.

Locating an animal in the woods is difficult and takes patience and skill. Yet, we do find rare and secretive animals. Trail cameras have been successful in finding animals like the wolverine and jaguar returning to areas from where they had been previously eradicated. Fishermen dredge up new species or some just wash up on shore. The cryptozoologist has not captured unequivocal evidence and so will instead engage in special pleading: animal ‘X’ is so rare, in remote habitat, very smart, with enhanced senses to avoid people. When these excuses are strained, they might even propose that cryptid behaviors and abilities transcend normal biology making them paranormal, not subject to natural laws. Cryptids are commonly closely associated with other paranormal concepts like UFOs and demons. In the cryptid community, there is an argument between those that would blend these concepts and those that wish to retain a semblance of scientific professionalism by excluding paranormal explanations.

Leaving out important considerations and telling only one side of the story without disclosing the weak points is intellectually dishonest. Mystery mongers seem satisfied with retaining mystery and will not attempt to seek a reasonable explanation. Radford (2008) likens the behavior of cryptozoologists to obstructing justice.

A confounding factor with cryptids arises with the spectrum of creatures that may be included under this label. They range from actual animals, now presumed extinct to clearly mythical creatures that make sense culturally, but not biologically.

Accepting the idea of unknown animals in our midst has a strong component of faith. The public will consider whether they “believe” in the reality of Bigfoot or other cryptid without consideration of the actual evidence. Mystery is fun and the idea of monsters in our midst is exciting. Cryptozoology claims success when some unknown creature (even a mundane one), previously described by a culture, is recognized by science. New species are not found by cryptozoologists out investigating tales of sightings. While they truly want to do science and be accepted into that circle, in the final analysis, cryptozoology is essentially about pursuing a belief, being immersed in a mystery, and feeling important.

References

Carroll, R. T. (2003). The Skeptic’s Dictionary, John Wiley & Sons.

Coleman, L., J. Clark (1999). Cryptozoology A to Z, Fireside.

Daegling, D. (2004). Bigfoot Exposed, AltaMira Press.

Levitt, N. (1999). Prometheus Bedeviled, Rutgers Univ Press.

Radford, B. (2008). “Problems with Cryptozoology.” Retrieved April 30, 2009, from http://doctoratlantis.com/wordpress/?p=9.
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[1] Levitt, p. 84
[2] Daegling, p. 72
[3] Ibid., p. 61
[4] Coleman, p. 16-18

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