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Cryptozoology? No Need for an Apology

Posted by: KryptoKelly on February 28th, 2013

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Claims of mysterious creature sightings dominate cryptozoology – but where is the evidence? Chi-Yun

All forms of science are reliant on facts, hard evidence and statistics to maintain relevance and credibility. But what of the legitimacy of the so-called “pseudosciences”?

A warning: I’m going to pick on cryptozoology here – the study of hidden, extinct or mythical creatures.

Creatures dear to the cryptozoologist’s heart include: the kraken, ogopogo, Nessie, the chupacabra, yowies, mermaids, orang pendek, and the coolest of them all, the Mongolian Death Worm. If you’re interested in these and others, Wikipedia will keep you busy for hours.

Despite the (lack of) plausibility, one of the main criticisms levelled at scientists is that we won’t investigate cryptozoologists’ claims. As Australian cryptozoologist Rex Gilroy said:

Go and search for the evidence rather than be critical. I have struck a lot academic criticism over the years by people who stick to a textbook and who are glued to their office desk.

Why not go and search?

I can already hear the dull chanting of Carl Sagan’s “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. But this is not why we don’t investigate strange ideas.

To publish or not to publish

Scientists consider strange ideas all the time. Indeed, we make up most of them. If we lived by Sagan’s mantra, scientific inquiry would never happen.

The reason research is not done on extraordinary claims is quite simple: “publish or perish”.

Let me explain.

If you want to be a professional scientist, you need to do science. This means formulating questions to answer, doing the research, and then, publishing the work.

As you can imagine, doing research costs money. This means going on bended knee to those holding the purse strings. They evaluate your project and your ability – that is, your published research – to carry out the project.

It is basically a catch-22 situation. Without a good publishing history, you will likely not get funded. But you can’t do much research without the funding. And around we go.

Hence the phrase, publish or perish.

You would think then that making a big discovery would be great for a scientific career. It absolutely is!

No scientist, ever, would turn down discovering a new species, especially something such as Bigfoot. It would be an instant publication in a major journal, and research funding would flow like the Amazon River.

As such, scientists are not shying away from strange claims because they don’t want to make discoveries. They shy away because of the plausibility and probability of making the discovery.

Let’s take Bigfoot as an example.

Bigfoot, a 500-kilo bipedal primate standing 3.0 metres, is biologically possible. Other than the bipedal locomotion, a primate from South-eastern Asia, gigantopithecus, would have fit the bill – if it hadn’t gone extinct 100,000 years ago.

But given biogeography and population biology, such a species is not plausible.

Bigfoot’s biggest bunions are his biggest supporters, the Bigfoot hunters. Sightings of the creature have come from all over North America.

Yet any species with a huge distribution would consist of a large number of individuals, and therefore, we would have plenty of physical evidence.

Proponents justify this lack of evidence by claiming Bigfoot is low in numbers, and they bury their dead, and …

Whoa Nelly! You’re telling me in a country where there are 88 guns for every 100 people no one has shot and recovered the body.

Until 2009, there were no sightings of pygmy hippos in all of Australia, nevertheless a NT hunter managed to shoot one.

You can’t have it both ways. The Bigfoot population cannot stretch across North America enabling sightings every other Tuesday, and be in such low numbers that solid evidence never materialises.

In Bigfoot’s case, scientists don’t look because he is simply not plausible.

At the end of the day, it’s encouraging that passionate, amateur zoologists are out looking for animals. I, for one, would rather they look for Bigfoot than sit at home watching Big Brother. And if they find solid evidence, a scientist will always be keen to have a look.

When it comes to scientists conducting research, it boils down to a simple calculation that everyone recognises:

What do we spend our finite resources on?

Odd animals may exist, but there are certainly many that need our attention now. And in the meantime, let’s see what else we come across.

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About KryptoKelly


14 Responses to “Cryptozoology? No Need for an Apology”

  1. Cutter Onefang via Facebook responds:

    Science,for the most part has lost it’s sense of wonder. It no longer seeks knowledge “no matter what”. The Spirit of Inquiry is trapped within the parameters of accepted reasoning.

  2. DWA responds:

    Bigfoot is precisely the worst example he could have chosen to make his point.

    It’s an animal that a number of people with highly relevant credentials consider all but verified (hint: google John Bindernagel), the specimen being virtually immaterial in light of the great volume and depth of the evidence. (Orang pendek and yeti lag behind, but not by all that much.) Our friend piles assumption upon assumption, a major no-no in the hard sciences. All he would have to do is actually pay attention to the science being done, science that hasn’t yielded a specimen because that requires time in the field with that being the specific objective.

    All this does is highlight the need for mainstreamers to pay attention. That hint above is only the first.

  3. springheeledjack responds:

    Thanks for the insights from another perspective. There is always plenty of bureaucracy that keeps things from happening when people think it should or how it should. I have no doubt the publish or perish “law” is in full swing.

    I think a lot of the frustration is more that mainstream science scoffs or rolls their eyes at “pseudo” sciences like cryptozoology without even considering it. Science is always about discovery, and I’d be willing to bet a lot of research starts with idea about how the world works leading a scientist to believe a force or property or organism might behave in a particular way.

    From the cryptozoologist’s perspective–and here I’m talking about true cryptozoologists who are looking for answers, not the believers-at-all-costs or even the complete naysayers–and we can use bigfoot here again: people are seeing a hairy bi-ped in all kinds of places and the cryptozoologist is looking for what is going on. It’s not at all different from coming up with a theory and then trying to put together models and data to either support the theory or shoot it down, modify or change the theory.

    The same is true of cryptozoology. In the case of Bigfoot, there has been a huge amount of discussion on what possibilities are for what people are encountering, whether it’s a hairy bi-ped, misidentification, hoaxes, or something else entirely. And it changes all of the time, based on what is observed.

    To those deeply entrenched in cryptids, mainstream science is always going to get flack for not investing money and time into it–the same is true for anyone who has an idea and thinks it is great if only the rest of the world sees it the way they do. And I get the publish or perish rule. And I also get that even giving creedence to ideas of cryptids can get a scientist in trouble with their career–I think that is probably still a strong deterrant for most scientists to look at cryptozoology with anything but disdain (correct me if I’m wrong if those attitudes are changing).

    I won’t bother with arguments for the big guy or any other cryptids–we hash that enough around here:).

    However, what I want and what all cryptozoologists want is just a little common courtesy and respect. We may be chasing phantoms, or maybe simple folklore and collective memory, but if we are, it’s the scientific process of discovery and sooner or later truth will win out.

    Cryptozoologists are hunting phenomenon outside of a laboratory and trying to find answers. That is muddied by zealots on both sides who hurt the science as a whole because it’s the frauds and the zealots that make the ten o’clock news, not the methodical persistent investigator.

    We just want credit for acting in good science and pursuing investigation of as yet discovered animals without the sarcasm and the condescension. Give us a little respect for following in the model of good science practices-for those of us that do.

    What I’m saying is don’t buy into the stereotype you see on the sci-fi channel movies with the cryptozoologists in them or the hoaxers that get their fifteen minutes of fame for pulling some stunt. Cryptozoology is much more than that, and so are we.

  4. DWA responds:

    SHJ:

    Right.

    Where those of us who are serious about this see that mainstream science isn’t serious is that it focuses ridicule on the woo-woos …OK, those whose propositions aren’t exactly testable by science yet…and ignores the serious work of serious scientists that is going on here.

    I can understand caution. I can understand cowardice even, to a point.

    But when it gets couched in unfounded ridicule, I am gonna smack you around a little.

  5. Fhqwhgads responds:

    @Cutter Onefang

    Right now we have the Messenger probe ($450 million) orbiting Mercury, giving us the first extended and full view of that planet. There are two operational rovers on Mars (Curiousity: $2.5 billiion), together with several orbiting satellites. Cassini ($3.26 billion) continues to return new insights into Saturn and its moons — most notably Titan, which was scarcely more than a fuzzy orange spot before Cassini arrived. The Juno probe ($1.1 billion) is en route to Jupiter. Dawn ($446 million) has finished mapping and measuring the giant asteroid Vesta and is on its way to do the same for the dwarf planet Ceres. New Horizons ($650 million) headed for Pluto to give the first good look at a Kuiper belt object — one which has recently been discovered to have at least 5 moons.

    But, “Science,for the most part has lost it’s sense of wonder.” Riiiight.

  6. DWA responds:

    Fhqwhgads:

    “But, “Science,for the most part has lost it’s sense of wonder.” Riiiight.”

    Not lost it utterly. Just that some segments of it have very badly misplaced it, in some very odd places. But then again, it’s one of science’s most common sins. It doesn’t happen everywhere at once, just here, here, here, and over there, from time to time, ever since science has been science.

    One would think that with all the great work astronomy – arguably the most dynamic and imaginative of the hard sciences – is doing, zoology might not want to let itself get shown up so badly. But hey, that’s not me.

  7. springheeledjack responds:

    And yeah, bigfoot was a bad example because there’s so much more going on with Bigfoot than it being “not plausible.”

    So many assumptions were made about evidence that it gives me the idea that it was looked at from a TV model like Finding Bigfoot–which is not real investigation. It’s a reality show, pure and simple. That has little to do with Bigfoot.

    It would be easy to take apart all of the arguments above against BF, but as I said we spend plenty of time on that here.

    The point of this thread is and should be mutual respect–mainstream science should be content in the enthusiasm of others to hunt for phenomenon and creatures that they can’t get the funding for because of “publish/perish” and money, not ridiculing other like minded people simply because they choose to explore and investigate topics that aren’t cool or mainstream enough. We’re not in high school anymore…

  8. Fhqwhgads responds:

    Dustin Welbourne is right.

    There is no compelling argument to spend research time or money looking for Bigfoot. It doesn’t matter that this is my judgment or that it is not yours; this is the judgment of the people who make those decisions. Live with it.

    Knowing what kind of blog this is, though, let’s say you disagree with those who set the priorities for scientific research. The first thing you have to decide is if a proper scientific study in the near term is important.

    Some of you will think it is not important. You may enjoy the smug feeling of being one of the few people “in the know” that Bigfoot is a reality. Or you may think that an amateur (or at best semi-pro) Sasquatch hunter will turn up the decisive hard evidence, and this time it won’t be a Chewbacca mask or a suit in a Georgia freezer. Or maybe you expect a random event, maybe a roadkill Bigfoot, to be decisive.

    If you think it is important, though, you will need to secure funding for the research. You might do this by applying political pressure. That is the after all the only excuse for NASA hosting workshops on “breakthrough” propulsion: they know a sizable proportion of the electorate are science fiction fans who believe the basic ideas of what they see in the movies. Or, you might become a billionaire yourself, or maybe convince another billionaire to privately fund the research. All these are long shots, though; it’s not easy to become a billionaire or to talk a billionaire out of his money, and government funding for the sciences is going to be scaled back due to fiscal realities (and unrealities).

    There is one more thing you could do, though, if you want real scientists to look for Bigfoot, and that is learn how to play the game. When the Voyager “Grand Tour of the Outer Planets” was proposed, it was rejected as too optimistic. They removed that part of the proposal (without changing the trajectories) and concentrated only on Jupiter and maybe Saturn, and they got funding. So if you want scientists in the woods, for Pete’s sake don’t say you want them looking for Bigfoot. Say you want a comprehensive survey of all the wildlife in Olympic National Park (or some other suitable location). Play to the political agenda: say it is important to have a survey now, and another survey in ten years, to monitor how wildlife are adapting to climate change. By doing this you don’t have to sell anyone on “the plausibility and probability of making the discovery” of Bigfoot; you just put them in the right area and hope for a “serendipitous” discovery.

  9. Fhqwhgads responds:

    “But hey, that’s not me.”

    It’s not me either. I’m a scientist, but not a zoologist.

    At the same time, I follow general developments enough to know about Homo floresiensis, the Denisovans, and new understanding being gained about Neanderthals, including evidence that they (maybe) most people alive today have some Neanderthal ancestry. So even within zoology, and yes, even within the zoology of close human relatives, it looks to me like the “sense of wonder” and curiosity are doing just fine. To say otherwise simply because there are no big scientific expeditions looking for Bigfoot is a very narrow perspective that does not remotely justify such a sweeping generalization.

  10. DWA responds:

    Dustin Welbourne is wrong. A consensus of the uninformed – I have never heard a negative take on sasquatch accompanied by acquaintance with the evidence – is not science, and never will be.

    And nobody made a sweeping generalization. Somebody just said that in the current sciences of zoology, anthropology and primatology – alternating between flights of utter fancy and the stolid certainty that what the record is, it always shall be – wonder seems to have taken a vacation in the oddest places.

    I am not interested in “playing the game.” I simply note when those who are paid to do it, don’t.

    Once again, scientists bring it on themselves with the attitude. When ignorance gets broadcast as arrogance, I’m just – in the immortal words of our Springheeledjack – gonna laugh and start in on you.

  11. DWA responds:

    I should have added:

    “So if you want scientists in the woods, for Pete’s sake don’t say you want them looking for Bigfoot. Say you want a comprehensive survey of all the wildlife in Olympic National Park (or some other suitable location). Play to the political agenda: say it is important to have a survey now, and another survey in ten years, to monitor how wildlife are adapting to climate change.”

    This is the game they are paid to play.

    I – a taxpaying citizen and a guy just having fun on the internet – am just telling them to play it for a change.

    Why, when a mycologist in the South American jungle saw an unlisted bipedal hairy hominoid –

    his partner rowed across the river to pick him up, not realizing the sounds he had heard were that hominoid’s vocalizations (highlighting that they were the only two known mammalian bipeds in the area) –

    did he have to relay his story to cryptozoologists rather than to the scientific organization that hired him?

    What, they only know what to do with mushrooms?

    There was no other place this account could have been taken?

    No one is interested in this, despite the loud crowing vocalizations of scientists saying they would be interested in nothing more than this?

    A scientist – a scientist for Pete’s sake – sees an animal unknown to science, and, what, he ate a few too many of those mushrooms?

    They couldn’t have mounted, or planned, a, you know, comprehensive biosurvey with everyone doing that survey charged with recording everything they saw?

    Is that too many questions?

    Jeff Meldrum is releasing a field-ready sasquatch guide next month. When every scientist, everywhere in North America, takes one of those guides into the field, we can start talking about that wonder they appear to have placed up their [tuchuses].

    To paraphrase the immortal words of our Alamo:

    Maybe Jeff should publish a guide for zoologists to aid in removing their heads from their nether regions.

    All I – a guy having fun on the internet – am doing is asking, behind all those questions up there, one simple question:

    Why would scientists not want to do THE MOST FUN PART OF THEIR JOB?

    Oh, wonder ain’t suffering a bit. It’s the only fun part of science.

    (I know the response a scientist would make. So, Gary Samuels. You saw an unlisted hairy biped. Where’s your proof? [facepalm])

    There’s your “wonder.”

  12. DWA responds:

    SHJ:

    “The point of this thread is and should be mutual respect–mainstream science should be content in the enthusiasm of others to hunt for phenomenon and creatures that they can’t get the funding for because of “publish/perish” and money, not ridiculing other like minded people simply because they choose to explore and investigate topics that aren’t cool or mainstream enough. We’re not in high school anymore…”

    Exactly. All of us who were cool enough not to major in science know why: it’s, well, not cool. White pants, in December, like, facepalm, dude. They wear unmatched socks with sandals and can’t get a date to save their lives. Oh, right, they do sometimes; and it’s always after they’ve made a mint, and the chick is nowhere near as hot, you know this for a fact, as the chick you would have gotten if you made one-quarter of a mint. In fact, she ain’t half what you did get. You look at her and go…yeeewwwww. That’s all you could do, Dr. Genius? And you know she henpecks him to utter death.

    There.

    Howzat?

    Right. High school.

    As is ridiculing stuff one knows nothing about. Which is what those of us who know more than most scientists do about this topic see – clearly, evidence, remember – is going on.

    Defense of mainstream science’s attitude toward cryptozoology – and I’m talking the Meldrum/Bindernagel end, not the woo-woo/Biscardi/Ketchum/Mothman end – amounts to the argument from authority.

    Which truly knowledgeable people know doesn’t wash.

  13. corrick responds:

    Thank you KryptoKelly for your post and to Fhqwhgads for the responses.

    Candles in the darkness.

  14. DWA responds:

    corrick: get the names right next time.

    Unless you want to show me where I’m wrong.

    You won’t.

    Consensus science ain’t science.



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