Saturday, 8 May 2010

The cryptozoological method

A  great article on scientific method and cryptozoology:

The cryptozoological method

For some of our opponents, cryptozoology, just as astrology, ufology, graphology, parapsychology and tutti quanti, is not a science, but only a kind of wild goose hunt, or to say all in one word, a pseudo-science (Radner and Radner 1982).Curiously enough, there is no satisfying definition of what a science is (Bauer 1987). It is thus more simple to define what a pseudo-science is (and therefore, a contrario, what a true science is not) : the "theory" of a pseudo-science is subjective, with concepts only accessible to "initiates" ; its formalism is poor, involving few or no mathematics and logical reasoning (deduction, induction, etc.) ; it claims hypothesis impossible to be checked, or even proved to be wrong ; it does not use the data from other disciplines ; its doctrine is always the same, sometimes for centuries (whereas science is always changing, enriching itself, and sometimes questioning completely what was hitherto considered as sure) ; last but not least, its conception of the world is in contradiction with the law generally admitted of physics, if not with common sense (Alcock 1981).What about cryptozoology from this point of view ? It appears that it has nothing in common with pseudo-sciences (Raynal 1989) :

1) cryptozoology is objective :

Cryptozoology (unlike cartomancy for instance) is not accessible to "initiates", and it is based on several undisputable facts :

- the faunistic inventory of our planet is far from being achieved.

- large animals, still unknown to science, are still discovered nowadays.

- these large animals are "new" only for zoologists, as they were always already known to the natives.

- their discovery often took years, sometimes decades or even centuries.

- their identikit-picture and their zoological affinities were generally foreseeable prior to their official discovery.

 2) cryptozoology is formalist :

Cryptozoology has been using statistics, from Oudemans in the nineteenteh century, to Heuvelmans and his successors nowadays. Cryptozoology, the interdisciplinary journal of the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC) has published valuable contributions to "mathematic cryptozoology", such as calculates by Paul LeBlond on the dimensions of the "monster" of lake Champlain.

 3) cryptozoology can be verified or discussed :

Cryptozoology is based upon data which can be verified : bibliography, cited references, investigation methods, biological analysis, etc., have been used by cryptozoologists for decades.

Its claims can be discussed, as shown by the controversial comments in the columns of Cryptozoology.

 4) cryptozoology uses other disciplines :

The cryptozoological research is interdisciplinary, as it uses zoology, of course, but also paleontology, anatomy, ethology, ecology, taxonomy, psychology, archaelogy, linguistics, etc., whereas astrology, for instance, has nothing to do with astronomy.

 5) cryptozoologie is consistent with the principle of lesser thought or economy of hypotheses :

Cryptozoology does not contradict the laws of physics (unlike psychokinesis or levitation), as the existence of large unidentified animal species or sub-species is continuously confirmed by new discoveries, like the various large mammals recently described from northViêt-Nam.

 The problem of the proof in cryptozoology :

Our opponents use to say : "when you will have a cadaver, we will believe". The problem is not "to believe or not to believe" : does a physicist "believe" in the atomes ? In fact, the problem is the nature of the proof. As emphasized by Bernard Heuvelmans, there are only three kinds of proof : autoptical (which everybody can see), testimonial (based on witness' accounts) and circumstantial (concomittent indices). All the human knowledge is based on any of these three proofs, most often circumstantial proofs, rarely autoptical proofs. The existence of subatomic particles, the chemical composition of star atmospheres, the inner structure of the Earth, the biological evolution, etc., are only based on circumstantial evidence. It is true also in history : the existence of the Nazi gas rooms is based on testimonial evidence (the reports from the people who survived) and circumstantial evidence (for instance the list of the trains to Auschwitz, the purchase of Zyklon B to chemical companies, the building of crematory ovens, as found in Nazi archives).In palaeontology, the science of extinct animals, the whole animal is seldom at our disposal (with the exception of the mammoths frozen in the Siberian permafrost or the insects of the yellow amber of the Baltic) : we often possess only some bone fragments, and sometimes only tracks of the passage of the animal (Chirotherium). By the way, cryptozoology and palaeontology are disciplines related to zoology, they are interested in "hidden" animals (in space or in time), the knowledge of which is fragmentary, they are based on circumstantial evidence, and the identikit pictures in cryptozoology are as likely as the reconstructions of prehistoric animals. And finally, cryptozoology is sometimes concerned by the survival of animal forms considered to have become extinct since geological times.Some will say that cryptozoology does not go forward, which is wrong as demonstrated elsewhere on this site. But even if cryptozoological research had not discovered any new animal form since it exists, where is the problem ? Exobiology, the study of extra-terrestrial life, is considered a science, although such a life remains to be discovered.

References cited

ALCOCK, James A.

1981 Parapsychology : science or magic ? Oxford, Pergamon Press.

BAUER, Henry H.

1987 What do we mean by "scientific". Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1 [n° 2] : 119-127.


1988 The sources and method of cryptozoological research. Cryptozoology, 7 : 1-21.

RADNER, Daisie, and Michael RADNER

1982 Science and unreason. Belmont, Wadsworth Publishing : 33.

RAYNAL, Michel

1989 Cryptozoology : science or pseudo-science ? Cryptozoology, 8 : 98-102.





Gummerfan said...

Ewcellent post! Of course, one of the major problems with cryptozoology being accepted as a legitimate science stems from a lack of understanding.
Cryptozoologists may search for legendary creatures, but impossible, supernatural, or paranormal creatures are not a part of cryptozoology.
Cryptozoologists don't search for ghosts, or demons, or chimeras or Gorgons. Thus the major gap between the "paranormalits" and te "flesh-n-blooders".

Anonymous said...

Another issue is that once a cryptid is identified and accepted, it becomes part of zoology and not cryptozoology.