Cryptozoology – Sham Inquiry

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.


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

[1] Levitt, p. 84
[2] Daegling, p. 72
[3] Ibid., p. 61
[4] Coleman, p. 16-18

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10 thoughts on “Cryptozoology – Sham Inquiry

  1. The lumping of cryptozoology with other “pseudosciences” is incorrect for a very simple reason: cryptozoology, unlike the study of ghosts, UFOs, etc., deals in testable hypotheses. For example, either there is a large unknown animal in Loch Ness, or there is not. The means to test the hypothesis may not be available (e.g., a definitive sweep using the most modern naval sonar gear and hydrophones may be something no one can afford) but the hypothesis is, nonetheless, logically testable and thus scientific.
    There is no arguing with the statement that many people involved in cryptozoological research, mainly amateur enthusiasts, are too quick to conclude an unknown animal is real based on inadequate data. The implication in your article that searching for unknown animals is fruitless, however, is absurd.
    New mammal species alone described in scientific literature in the last 15 years number 408, including cetaceans, deer, van Roosmalen’s tapir and dwarf manatee, and other creatures of substantial size. This doesn’t mean there is a huge ape stalking the Northwest forests, and indeed (in my opinion, at any rate) ecological and other factors indicate it is unlikely that one will be discovered. Yet this does not invalidate cryptozoology as a field of inquiry any more than disproven claims of cold fusion invalidate nuclear physics.
    It’s proper to demand that, to be accepted, creatures propounded by cryptozoologists must meet the universal scientific standard of a type specimen. In many cases, though, species which have been thus established did not fall into the lap of science. They were found when researchers (both academically qualified and amateur) followed the kind of evidence cryptozoologists collect – historical accounts, footprints, local stories, etc. – until a type specimen was obtained.
    You can argue convincingly that many overly enthusiastic cryptozoologists overreach the data in their claims for particular species. You cannot, however, argue that the search for unknown animals – a search being validated by the description or collection of new type specimens every single day – is scientifically void.

    Matt Bille
    Author, Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology (Hancock House, 2006)

  2. Hi Matt. I have your Rumors of Existence. I liked it very much and I appreciate your comments. I strongly disagree that cryptozoology as a field is of a quality that can be defined as science. There are a few professionals that consider themselves scientist-cryptozoologists but the majority of the field is amateurs. These are not the people who make major zoological discoveries. Those that make great attempts to visit remote areas and look for animals based on folklore are sadly, poorly equipped and funded. They might succeed if they could spend years there but they can’t. Some researchers do spend years in the field and come up with new species. However, I would argue they don’t conduct research with a preconceived notion about a certain animal they would find.

    I was commenting primarily on the most obvious, popular, public versions of cryptozoologists, (ghost hunters and creationists). This is the view the public sees and they believe it is science. The point of the series is how easily the public is fooled by sham inquiry, not understanding or appreciating the high standards that scientists must face through professional journals, criticism, etc.

    Your understatement was that cryptozoologists overreach. They do in almost all cases that come to light and they make foolish mistakes. I’ve been watching the community for years and its reputations is tarnished more lately due to the hoaxes and pathetic ado about nothing. It makes me sad because I really want their to be sea serpents and lake monsters and hairy hominids. But the evidence is simply not there to think it is so.

  3. I grant your point that cryptozoology, as often practiced, falls short of the standards of a science. It remains true, however, that it’s a valid subject for scientific inquiry. We may never find a reclict hominid or a “sea serpent” (although I won’t be surprised at all if some elongated sea creature, perhaps a giant eel or frilled shark, turns up.)
    I’m glad that you liked Rumors of Existence. You might enjoy Shadows of Existence, in which I take what I hope is a balanced look at the “star” cryptids as well as presenting more of the lesser-known discoveries and mysteries. It is the continuing discoveries and rediscoveries that validate the concept of searching for hidden animals. The Vu Quang ox, the megamouth shark, the living ivory-bill, and the dwarf manatee were major surprises. There are, no doubt, others still awaiting discovery.

  4. Agreed. It is open for scientific inquiry and that is not practiced to high standards – thus the “sham inquiry”. Yet, they say they are scientific. I’m bothered by the appeal to science and yet failure to achieve the results and reliability. I could have used UFOlogy or astrology as examples too.

    I have your book on my list of things to get. Have you read the new release “Anatomy of a beast” by M. Macleod? I’m interested to see how it is. Drop me a line — idoubtit00(at) and thanks for commenting.

  5. I’ve not read the Macleod book yet, but it’s been recommended and is on my list.

    The fields you consider are not all comparable:
    UFOs: no testable hyptoheses
    Ghosts: no testable hypotheses
    Parapsychology: some testable hyptoheses, some disproven, some still unresolved – disputes over what constitutes signficant test results
    Astrology: Some testable hypotheses, which have been disproven

    Cryptozoology: All hypotheses are testable. Some proven, some disproven, most still unresolved due to inadequate resources to test them.
    As to what I’m calling “proven” examples, keep in mind cryptozoology is not simply the monsters, but any theorized new animal whose existence is hypothesized by cryptozoologists – who may nor may not have the same opinion as “mainstream” scientists on a given possibility.
    – Cryptozoologists, like many ornithologists, long theorized the ivory bill was still alive, for example.
    – Cryptozoologists have long argued the Eastern cougar survived when very few non-cryptozoologists agreed, and evidence is swinging strongly in the cryptozoologists’ direction.
    – Van Roosmalen’s giant peccary (sorry, I typed in “tapir” earlier for this species) is a good example of a new species cryptozoologists hypothesized about before it was confirmed.

    Thus, the common example of whether there is such a beast as sasquatch – a hypothesis some cryptozoologists aregue for and others argue against – does not invalidate cryptozoology no matter which way it is finally determined.

  6. Trained biologists and zoologists are scientists. Perhaps they use a method touted by cryptozoology (such as using clues from what is “ethnoknown”) to guide their search but CZ does not have a unique scientific process on its own – it is (or should be for all the animals you note) the same as the zoologist. But cryptozoologists, self-annointed in this speciality are out looking to confirm that a wishful animal (or non-specific type of mystery animal) exists. They want to make the big discovery and prove science wrong. The entire field has been hijacked by wishful thinkers. Matt: I know where you are headed with this and I don’t think we disagree too much. But, I fail to see CZ as valid in and of itself. It’s either a false category of researchers – enveloped within valid naturalists – or those who want to call themselves something fancy to feel special. I’m calling out the media mongers, money makers and ego-boost seekers who want to feel important but aren’t doing anything much beyond misguiding people in the wrong direction – all in the name of a “scientific field”.

    That said, I LOVE cryptozoology. It’s one of my very favorite topics. I love the stories, the ideas, the imagery, the psychology, even the hoaxes. But, I don’t put faith in it. It’s more folklore than science. And, I don’t disparage people who seek to discover what the hell they think they saw. But, they shouldn’t assume they saw a new creature. And, they should be cognizant that they might have made a mistake.

  7. I’ve been enjoying that, Luna1580! Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to post a reply for 2 days and it never shows up! I’ve had an account there for a while but must not be a “cleared member”. Thx.

    Update: see new post on this blog

  8. I will grant that cryptozoology is not really very scientific at the moment. I’m not sure whether that is necessarily bad, since if it *were* properly scientific, it would not exist! In other words, I don’t believe a truly scientific cryptozoology is possible, at least when we are talking about the popular cryptids like bigfoot, the chupacabra, New Jersey devil, etc. Speaking of bigfoot research only, certainly the evidence isn’t there to convince the hardened skeptic, and 50 years of looking for it has produced very little beyond anecdotal evidence, which is not sufficient in itself.

    However, I think this point you made is much weaker than you realize:

    “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.”

    I can’t speak for anything beyond bigfoot research, but there, researchers *often* have had sightings themselves, many of them at such a close range that mistakes and misidentification are very unlikely. I refer you to this post:

    Here, the researcher, Dave in KY, was close enough to know what he was looking at. There are many others who have had sightings this close, and some much closer. We cannot waive off these witness reports as misidentifications, and these are the sightings I’m referring to if I ever say, “Either an eyewitness saw something mysterious or he/she is lying.” The only option left, if we insist that they did not have the experience they say that they had, is that their story is a deliberate lie.

    Beyond this, one might say that the witness has suffered from some kind of delusion. But this explanation is as interesting as the hypothesis that bigfoot exists as a real living animal. It would be every bit a much a mystery to us and would deserve our study.

    Now, as to whether Dave in KY was lying or not — I knew that his case was remarkable and that others would have to take this line, so I collected as much evidence from him as I could. I have pictures of his dashboard with the bullet hole in it, and a copy of the work order, with the correct dates and the correct work done. The materials jibe with everything he says in his account.

    Some will still insist that Dave is lying, but they do so without any evidence. Their position rests upon the fallacy “bigfoot cannot exist, therefore if he says he saw a bigfoot, he is lying.” Researchers are correct to point out that this is an absurd position, and that it is patently unscientific.

    I do not know what the bigfoot phenomenon represents, but I do know that real people have these experiences and report them accurately. Yet there continues to be no unassailable evidence. This represents an anomaly that I believe deserves some attention.

  9. I enjoy the folklore and psychological aspects of cz. That can be scientific (however myths can be studied scientifically, I’m not too certain how that works). That makes it a pertinent field on its own perhaps?

    I agree that it’s quite fascinating to figure out just what people saw. I did not get to develop the idea in that piece about what people might have seen if they are not delusional, exaggerating, lying or mistaken. It did focus on popular cz view although there is not much difference between the Monster Quest folks and the academics involved.

    I seriously don’t know what to say about some truly bizarre encounters. I’m not closed to the idea that there may be something undiscovered out there. But, the evidence is currently against that. It’s OK to say we don’t know. It does not mean that a cryptid is the best explanation.

    I don’t accuse people of lying. In fact, even if they are not telling the truth, they might very well believe they are! No doubt that people have unexplained experiences. I liked a Daegling quote in his book about people being skeptical of Bigfoot when they are in their living rooms but it’s not the same out in the middle of nowhere in the dark. (I’m butchering it but you get my point.) But, I am rarely impressed by the stories. Stories can lead you to an interesting search but better evidence must be found. Frankly, a body must be recovered. No less will do.

    You know, Blobsquatcher, I don’t think we are arguing here. Same thing happened with Matt B. This is reasonable skepticism. I like.

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