Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book review: Tracking the Man-Beasts

Joe Nickell's latest covers things that walk like men
Prometheus Books, 2011


Well-known skeptical investigator Nickell pokes into an interesting if loosely related collection of topics: sasquatch, yeti, vampires, werewolves, etc.  (Nickell's bio says he's been referred to as "the real-life Scully."  Sorry Joe, I've heard you're a great guy, but Scully was hot - a thinking man's babe. You, not so much.)
Naturally, my interest is in the cryptozoological stuff, although folklore of monsters and such is always fun.  (Among other facts: the claim of a "real" zombie created with drugs isn't much better substantiated than the coming zombie apocalypse. I can't figure out the zombie craze, anyway. They are, almost by definition, the most boring of humanlike monsters, since they lack the pathos of a good vampire or the cunning of a werewolf.) 
Nickell, not surprisingly, doesn't think much of any of the apelike or manlike cryptids of the world.  While the relevant chapters in this book are too short to cover the subject in depth,  I wasn't terribly impressed even on points where I agree with him. You can't spend a couple of days in the woods and expect it to contribute in any meaningful way to proving or disproving the existence of a particular species. Think how long it took Dian Fossey to find the gorillas, and she knew they were there.  And investigators should apply the same standards to all claims, regardless of which side they agree with. Nickell tries to paper over the impossible gap between the two accounts of the Patterson-Gimlin film suit (commercial costume vs. homemade horse-hide), and his drawing of the figure points to things like "suit-glove" interface that  I can't see on any blowup of the actual film - which he doesn't include. I happen to agree the film figure is likely a guy in an ape suit, but it's a darn good ape suit, and I don't think the mystery behind it has been solved.
Then we get to the "melted out" explanation for the Shipton Yeti track.  Why, of all the people who have written about this track, am I the only one who has actually attempted to replicate it in snow?  (Results: you can't.  ) 
Joe has done a lot of good with his investigations of pseudoscience.  This particular book just didn't make an impression on me. 

1 comment:

Clark said...

I think it sad that Greg Long was so anxious to find the actual person in the suit as to accept Heironomus' deceitful account. The two accounts are mutually exclusive yet Long throws them together without reconciling them.