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This week, we took a look at WikiProject Cryptozoology, a project that specializes in improving articles about mysterious or legendary creatures whose existence is often regarded as highly unlikely. Cryptids covered by WikiProject Cryptozoology range from the well-known Bigfoot and Yeti to the more obscure Kongamato of Africa and Yowie of Australia. The project was started as WikiProject Cryptids in June 2006 and has grown to include 555 articles, including a featured article about the believed-to-be-extinct Thylacine. The project struggled through a period of semi-activity before being revitalized earlier this year.
We interviewed Simon Burchell, Kendroche (Where is WikiResearch?), AstroHurricane001 (AH1), and Gniniv. Both Simon Burchell and Gniniv joined the project in its bleakest hours and sought to jump start the project. To Simon Burchell, the project "was obviously very neglected, and the Black dog (ghost) article in particular was largely unreferenced." Kendroche joined the project because of "an interest in cryptids from a young age." Likewise, AstroHurricane001 came to the project out of an interest in strange creatures, stating "I had recently read about cryptids prior to joining the project, and decided I wanted to contribute to the project's scope and coverage of cryptozoological creatures, whether they actually exist or not."
What is your favorite legendary creature? What kind of cryptids do you tend to focus on the most?
Simon Burchell: My favourite creature is the Black Dog, having written a booklet on the subject (Phantom Black Dogs in Latin America), which involved a lot of research on the subject. However, I'm rather partial to anything which is disturbingly weird, such as Mothman, Owlman etc.
Kendroche: My favourite individual would probable be the Beast of Gévaudan. I tend to stay away from the human-like cryptids, focussing more on those that may have been(/be) remnant species or undiscovered, rare creatures.
AH1: My favourite cryptid would be the Mokele-mbembe, as it is supposedly a surviving dinosaur and the most well-known example of such. I have contributed to articles on humanoid cryptids, but the only surviving articles I created on them are the Nuk-luk and the Steller's Sea Ape. Other articles like the devil monkey were redirected and assumed to be original research. I also created list of reported lake monsters, an incomplete list of lake monsters around the world, but most of my additions were removed and I had only completed a small fraction of the list from the main reference I had. I'll note, however, that at least one previously identified "lake monster" has been confirmed—the Hoan Kiem Turtle.
Gniniv: My favorite Cryptid is the Sasquatch also known as Bigfoot, seeing as I live in the Pacific Northwest.
What are some of the difficulties associated with reviving a project like WikiProject Cryptozoology?
Simon Burchell: General lack of interest, being the only person working on a particular project can get a bit frustrating.
Gniniv: Cryptozoology is generally shoved aside amongst mainstream zoologists, so getting the word out on its existence can be a challenge.
Kendroche: I have found in the past that 'dead' projects often have one or two individuals around who monitor the articles and will fight against any major edits to what they consider to be their work.
AH1: I have my own experience with starting a new project (WikiProject Dinotopia), which became inactive as I never found the time to contribute to it. If a stale project can achieve wider interest among the general Wikipedian public, then people can get the project going again.
What articles are you currently trying to promote to FA or GA status?
Gniniv: I am trying to improve our subject article Cryptozoology to GA status.
Kendroche: For the moment I'm concentrating on referencing, resourcing and removal of dead links (especially those caused by the recent purge of autobiographies).
Since your project focuses on mysterious or rarely spotted creatures, is it difficult to find reliable sources for articles? Does the project have to deal with a lot of fringe theories?
Simon Burchell: The quality of the sources varies considerably but there is an enormous amount of material available. A subject does not have to be scientific in order to be verifiable. Cryptozoology often overlaps with mythology and folklore, and studies are available. There are a lot of fairly reliable books out there on out-of-place big cats, black dogs, lake monsters, sea serpents etc. If these books reliably provide their sources, there's no reason not to use it. The fact that the creature may not physically exist (like the black dog, for example) doesn't mean that a meaningful article cannot be produced on it. Take a look at the Fairy article for example, which is a nice, reliably sourced article.
Kendroche: It is not so much the lack of referenceable material, there's lots of that. The problem is that a lot of this material is often criticised and challenged for being written from the author's POV and may be the only reliable material out there. Also, the rules of Wiki demands facts, not always possible when you're dealing with largely fictional material.
AH1: Most scientists consider cryptozoology to be a pseudoscience, so it is difficult to find scholarly material, although there is plenty of literature on cryptids written by "experts" on the subject such as Loren Coleman. If all the cryptid articles were written so that the skeptical views were mainstream, and any views supporting the existence of such cryptids were considered "fringe", then we'd have a problem with balance. Most of these cryptids are based on the evidence from a few reports, and the veracity of those reports are difficult to verify. Most people would just consider all of those reports unreliable and dismiss the whole phenomenon altogether, but the problem in that case is that we have reports by multiple, reputable individuals. Wikipedia's policy is mostly to avoid promoting fringe theories, but we can report on them. As long as we have verifiable sources, articles on cryptids can be written in reasonable quality.
Gniniv: We struggle with gaining acceptance with the zoological community within Wikipedia, and finding reliable sources to base articles off of is a constant (but rewarding) challenge.
How can a new member help today?
Gniniv: Join the project! Contribute with reliable and factual information, and try to get your buddies onboard. First-hand experiences and sightings are really needed...
Kendroche: Removing dead links is a good start. It always annoys me to see a big red glaring name or quote in an article I'm reading and try to either change them to a reference, external link or remove the link altogether.
AH1: Finding reliable sources, adding entries to lists and creating new articles on the subject. Cleaning up poorly-written articles and even nominating for deletion creatures that were never reported is a good idea. For example, I nominated Silverton Goatman for deletion a while back, as the only sources that it cited did not mention such a thing. Sometimes the status of cryptids remain unknown, or they are known to be hoaxes or misidentifications. Clarifying that in the articles also helps. As for lists, some of them get quite extensive, so inline citations for specific cryptids would improve the quality of those lists.
Simon Burchell: Get writing! There's always room to improve these articles. An essential but rather thankless task is providing inline references for unreferenced articles. Anyone interested in Cryptozoology is likely to have a few books lying around (or, more likely, stacks of books). Get them out, get writing and cite your sources!
Anything else you'd like to add?
Simon Burchell: A good place to start would be List of cryptids, which needs a lot of work and tends towards the literal. Seeing "Black Shuck" listed there as an "unconfirmed carnivorous mammal" is laughable. Many of these cryptids should be listed as paranormal or mythological beasts, and working on this list may take you to articles of interest that can be improved. Good luck!
Kendroche: Wiki needs to revise its rules on POV, OR, FR and trivia for certain projects. A lot of the material in this project comes under one of those categories and can lead to some editors removing parts of articles (that in other subjects would be the correct thing to do) which, while are breaches of these rules, are important to the subject. (This is expecially true for the trivia aspect of the articles as people accessing these articles are often interested in / looking for that trivia).
I would also ask that any editors out there who are disbelievers or have objections to certain cryptids' validity post their views on the article's or the project's discussion page before making any major edits.
Lastly, good luck to all new and existing members.
AH1: This project needs balance. If both the views open to the possible existence of some cryptids as well as the more skeptical views can be maintained in a single article while keeping balance and avoiding undue weight on either side, then the quality of more article can be improved. A lot of the articles are based on a handful of reports, so the more references the better, because the articles that have fewer or no references are the ones that are most likely to get deleted.
Gniniv: Thank you so much for this opportunity to get the word out on WikiProject Cryptozoology.
Next week, the WikiProject Report is headed off to college. Until then, stay up all night studying in the archive.