Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review: The Journal of Cryptozoology

The Journal of Cryptozoology
Volume One
November 2012

It’s been over 15 years since there was a peer-reviewed journal of cryptozoology.  The often-excellent pioneering journal Cryptozoology shut down with its patron, the International Society for Cryptozoology, and other attempts have stalled. Now we have a new journal, with the well-known Dr, Karl Shuker as editor. (The peer reviewers are, as standard for a scientific journal, anonymous.)
If the first issue of this slender journal (3-4 papers accepted per issue) is anything to go by, it’s a worthy effort.  After Shuker’s introduction (in which I appreciate that he  specifies the Journal is only concerned with flesh-and-blood animals, no paranormal topics), we get to the first paper, on digital search techniques for finding an unknown object in its most likely range, using a probability map as a starting point for a Digital Search Assistant. This isn’t my area of expertise, so I’ll just say it makes sense the way it’s described. Malcolm Smith contributes a paper on identifying a “Queensland Tiger” footprint sketched in 1871.  That seems a slender reed on which to base analysis, but slender reeds are often the starting point for cryptozoologists (and for "mainstream" zoologists, too!), so the “true unknown” conclusion is intriguing. Markus Hemmler writes on “pesudoplesiosaurs,” the oft-reported carcasses of decaying sharks which tend to look like prehistoric or unknown animals. Hemmler explains how varied these carcasses can be and how easy it is to misidentify them, particularly with respect to skull features. Finally, the always-formidable Dr. Darren Naish takes on an odd mammal carcass in Australia and identifies it with certainty as a domestic cat.  
The journal is professionally done, with such features as keywords for each article, well-referenced entries, and drawings and B&W video/film images. It closes with Instructions to Contributors, the most notable of which specify that personal belief in a cryptid isn’t relevant to a scientific paper, and anyone who posits a particular identity for an unknown animal needs to argue scientifically for that identity, not presume it.   
Overall, this journal is a big step in the right direction for cryptozoology as a scientific field of study.  I’ll be getting every issue, and, hopefully, making some contributions in the future.


Clark said...

The field of cryptozoology keeps benefiting from more scholarly and professional studies such as the recent book, The Untold Story of Champ: A Social History of America's Loch Ness Monster by sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew and Monsters of the Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast, by professor of history Jay M. Smith

Matt Bille said...

I haven't read the Champ book yet: it's definitely on my list. Despite the impressive research of Smith's book, I wasn't as taken with it as I thought I would be. The thought kept coming to me that he'd developed a sociological thesis about France, and the animal was secondary to the political and social points he wanted to make. He may well be right that there was never anything but a wolf involved, but he really never dealt head-on with the identification of a hyena in a Paris museum as a possible culprit.

Clark said...

The Untold Story of Champ has a great review of the Mansi photograph controversy. The first part of the book has many great sightings reports giving a clear picture of the kinds of sightings.

It is true that Smith did not grapple much with cryptozoological possibilities. I did not really have cryptid in the race, so to speak. If I did, it would have been an exotic feline escaped from a royal menagerie. I am satisfied he found the correct solution from the historical context. One could apply a similar approach to more recent flaps.

Matt Bille said...

Clark, I just finished the Champ book, and I agree it covers the subject well. Sandra Mansi emerges, not as a hoaxer, but as someone who believes her encounter was real and has shied away from activities that might falsify it.