Saturday, May 21, 2011

Boing-Boing, cryptozoology, and the "pseudoscience" claim

Boing Boing, which carries all sort of interesting and provocative articles, has misstepped on this one. Contributor Maggie Koerth-Baker has lumped cryptozoology in with the pseudosciences: a common belief given how much silliness and chicanery the field has attracted, but a wrong one. I posted a response (a bit shorter than this version). I seem destined to be making thie argument for the rest of my life, but I don't mind, seeing as how I'm right.

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.


omegaman66 said...

I should have put this with your Neanderthals post a few days back but it took this post for some reason to jar my mind into thinking of this.

Indians have legends of big foot. New evidences surfaces that Neanderthals may not have gone extinct as far back in history as we thought. Could it be that the old indian stories of bigfoot like creatures were actually Neanderthals?


Matt Bille said...

Neanderthals have been suggested for sasquatch, but aside from being too short, it's hard to imagine them getting to North America without leaving any trace of their distinctive tools. The Neanderthal idea does come up in connection with the man-sized creatures reported from the mountains of Central Asia and known as almas or by other names. There just might be something to that.

omegaman66 said...

You ever heard of a fish tale. What are the chances of bigfoot actually being bigger than in the stories. Doubtful. Exaggeration could easily account for that.

No tools found here. hmmmmm... OK I am grasping for straws here but maybe if they made it here the ones here adopted/learned tool making more akin to what native americans were using.