Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience with the goal of identifying and describing beings from the folklore and the fossil record, which cryptozoologists refer to as cryptids. These include creatures that are otherwise considered extinct or beings from folklore, such as Bigfoot and chupacabras.
Cryptozoology is neither recognized as a branch of zoology nor folkloristics and is not considered a science by the academic world. Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience because it relies upon anecdotal evidence, stories, and alleged sightings.
History, etymology, and approach
As a field, cryptozoology originates from the works of colleagues Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian-French zoologist, and Ivan T. Sanderson, a Scottish zoologist. Notably, Heuvelmans published On the Track of Unknown Animals (French Sur la Piste des Bêtes Ignorées) in 1955, a landmark work for cryptozoology that was followed by numerous other like works. Similarly, Sanderson published a series of books that assisted in developing hallmarks of cryptozoology, including Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life (1961). Heuvelmans attributes the coinage of the term cryptozoology ('the study of hidden animals') to Sanderson.
While biologists regularly identify new species, cryptozoologists focus on creatures from the folklore record and, in turn, cryptozoologists may consider any figure from folklore to be a cryptid—a 'hidden animal'. Most famously, these include the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, chupacabras as well as other "imposing beasts that could be labeled as monsters". In their hunt for these entities, cryptozoologists may employ devices such as motion sensitive cameras, night vision equipment, and audio recording equipment. While there have been attempts to codify cryptozoology approaches, unlike biologists, zoologists, botanists, and other academic disciplines, however, "there are no accepted, uniform, or successful methods for pursuing cryptids".
Some scholars have identified precursors to modern cryptozoology in certain medieval approaches to the folklore record and the psychology behind the cryptozoology approach has been the subject of academic study.
Reception and criticism
The 2003 discovery of the fossil remains of Homo floresiensis was cited by paleontologist Henry Gee, editor of the journal Nature, as possible evidence that humanoid cryptids like the Orang Pendek and yeti were "founded on grains of truth." "Cryptozoology," Gee said, "the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."
However, cryptozoology has been widely criticised for a variety of reasons and is rejected by the academic world. For example, criticisms have been made regarding reliance on anecdotal information and because cryptozoologists do not follow the scientific method, devoting a substantial portion of their efforts to investigations of animals that most scientists believe are unlikely to have existed.
In a 2011 forward for The American Biology Teacher, then National Association of Biology Teachers president Dan Ward uses cryptozoology as an example of "technological pseudoscience" that may confuse students about the scientific method. Ward says that "Cryptozoology … is not valid science or even science at all. It is monster hunting." Historian of science Brian Regal includes an entry for cryptozoology in his Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia (2009). Regal says that "as an intellectual endeavor, cryptozoology has been studied as much as cryptozoologists have sought hidden animals".
- Unexplained appearances of mystery animals are reported all over the world today. Beliefs in the existence of fabulous and supernatural animals are ubiquitous and timeless. In the continents discovered by Europe indigenous beliefs and tales have strongly influenced the perceptions of the conquered confronted by a new natural environment. In parallel with the growing importance of the scientific approach, these traditional mythical tales have been endowed with sometimes highly artificial precision and have given birth to contemporary legends solidly entrenched in their territories. The belief self-perpetuates today through multiple observations enhanced by the media and encouraged (largely with the aim of gain for touristic promotion) by the local population, often genuinely convinced of the reality of this profitable phenomenon."
Campion-Vincent says that "four currents can be distinguished in the study of mysterious animal appearances": "Forteans" ("compiler[s] of anomalies" such as via publications like the Fortean Times), "occultists" (which she describes as related to "Forteans"), "folklorists", and "cryptozoologists". Regarding cryptozoologists, Campion-Vincent says that "this movement seems to deserve the appellation of parascience, like parapsychology: the same corpus is reviewed; many scientists participate, but for those who have an official status of university professor or researcher, the participation is a private hobby".
In her Encyclopedia of American Folklore, academic Linda Watts says that "folklore concerning unreal animals or beings, sometimes called monsters, is a popular field of inquiry" and describes cryptozoology as an example of "American narrative traditions" that "feature many monsters".
In his analysis of cryptozoology, folklorist Peter Dendle says that "cryptozoology devotees consciously position themselves in defiance of mainstream science" and that:
- The psychological significance of cryptozoology in the modern world .. serves to channel guilt over the decimation of species and destruction of the natural habitat; to recapture a sense of mysticism and danger in a world now perceived as fully charted and over-explored; and to articulate resentment of and defiance against a scientific community perceived as monopolising the pool of culturally acceptable beliefs.
According to historian Mike Dash, few scientists doubt there are thousands of unknown animals, particularly invertebrates, awaiting discovery; however, cryptozoologists are largely uninterested in researching and cataloging newly discovered species of ants or beetles, instead focusing their efforts towards "more elusive" creatures that have often defied decades of work aimed at confirming their existence.
New species have rarely, if ever, been predicted by cryptozoologists. Critics note that while other researchers have stumbled upon real animals, cryptozoologists have focused on finding creatures from the folklore record with no success.
- Humans are the most inventive, deceptive, and gullible of all animals. Only those characteristics can explain the belief of some humans in creationism, in the arrival of UFO's with extraterrestrial beings, or in some aspects of cryptozoology. … In several respects the discussion and practice of cryptozoology sometimes, although not invariably, has demonstrated both deception and gullibility. An example seems to merit the old Latin saying 'I believe because it is incredible,' although Tertullian, its author, applied it in a way more applicable to the present day creationists.
- Simpson, George Gaylord (1984). "Mammals and Cryptozoology". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Vol. 128, No. 1 (Mar. 30, 1984), pp. 1-19. American Philosophical Society.
- Carroll, Robert T. (1994–2009). "The Skeptic's Dictionary". Retrieved 26 August 2010.
- Shermer, Michael; Linse, Pat (2002). The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-653-9.
- H. James Birx (6 January 2009). Encyclopedia of time: science, philosophy, theology, & culture. SAGE. pp. 251–. ISBN 978-1-4129-4164-8. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- Regal, Brian (2011) "Cryptozoology", pp. 326-329 as published in McCormick, Charlie T. and Kim Kennedy (2011). Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. 2nd edition. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-59884-241-8.
- Henry Gee (2004). "Flores, God and Cryptozoology: The discovery poses thorny questions about the uniqueness of Homo sapiens". Nature News. doi:10.1038/news041025-2.
- Shermer, Michael (2003). "Show Me the Body". Scientific American (288(5)): 27.
- Coleman, Loren; Huyghe, Patrick (April 1999). "Afterword". The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. Trumbore, Harry. New York, New York: Avon Books. p. 207. ISBN 0-380-80263-5.
- Coleman, Loren; Huyghe, Patrick; Trumbore, Harry; Rollins, Mark Lee (2003). The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York, New York: Penguin Group. p. 358. ISBN 1-58542-252-5.
- Dash, Mike (2000). Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown. Overlook Press. ISBN 0-440-23656-8.
- Ward, Daniel. 2011. “From the President”. The American Biology Teacher 73.8 (2011): 440–440.
- Nagel, Brian. 2009. Pseudoscience: A Critical Encyclopedia, p. 50. ABC-CLIO.
- Campion-Vincent, Véronique. 1992. “Appearances of Beasts and Mystery-cats in France”. Folklore 103.2 (1992): 160–183.
- Watts, Linda S. 2007. Encyclopedia of American Folklore, p. 271. Facts on File.
- Dendle, Peter. 2006. "Cryptozoology in the Medieval and Modern Worlds". Folklore, Vol. 117, No. 2 (Aug., 2006), pp. 190-206. Taylor & Francis.
- Bailey, Dave (August 8, 2007). "Cryptozoology: Science or pseudoscience?". Association for Science and Reason. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
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