Cryptozoology: But is it a Science?

Cryptozoology a Definition and History

The word Crytozoology was coined by Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in the late 1950s and it referred to the “study of hidden animals”(Roesch & Moore, 2002). Heuvelmans, although regarded as the father of modern Cryptozoology, claims himself that Cryptozoology was born from Anthonie Cornelis Oudemans and his 1892 study and book “The Great Sea Serpent.” Still, many credit Heuvelmans as the founder and his early definition of Crypotology was the first to define the field. It stated that for an animal or alleged animal to be of cryptozoological interest, it must have at least one trait “truly singular, unexpected, paradoxical, striking, emotionally upsetting and thus capable of mystification”(Coleman & Clark, 1999).In 1982, a group of scientists founded the International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC) with Heuvelmans as the president. The ISC was founded at a meeting held in the Smithsonian Institution where they made an effort to produce a sharper, clearer definition of Cryptozoology. (Coleman, 1999) The assembled scientists and investigators agreed that it must also concern “the possible existence of known animals in areas where they were not supposed to occur (either now or in the past), as well as the unknown persistence of presumed extinct animals to the present time or in the recent past.”(Coleman, 1999) Simply put, what makes an animal of interest to Cryptozoology is that it is unexpected or unconfirmed.
The studying of these animals, or “cryptids”, is largely based on testimony and anecdotal evidence which leaves it vulnerable to hoaxes, occult or paranormal related claims which the more prominent authorities like Loren Coleman, Karl Shuker, Ben Roesch and Heuvelmans himself say do not accurately represent the practice as it was intended.
The aim of Cryptozoologists is to make these animals more known and thus documentation that is carefully gathered, as exhaustively as possible from many branches is necessary using various scientific fields such as zoology and physical Anthropology as well as mythology, linguistics, archaeology and history (Roesch & Moore, 2002). Most of the research should be done based on news papers, regional archives, museums, labs and zoological parks, and not “in the field” (Roesch 1999).

But is Cryptozoology a Science? Is it based on science?

Some animals that Cryptozoologists point to as proof of their work are the Giant Squid (1870s), Okapi (1901), the Komodo dragon (1912), the Kouprey (1937) and the ultimate “living fossil”, the Coelacanth. Another, the Giant Panda of Tibet, cited during the 1950s and 1960s was thought to demonstrate how a large animal could remain elusive and unknown noting that it took 67 years from the time of the “discovery” to the actual live capture.
Cryptozoologists claim that since they are willing to consider extraordinary claims as possible or at least deserving of inquiry, they are targeted and labelled a pseudoscience. However, there are many self-proclaimed Cryptozoologists who are no more than enthusiasts and not necessarily scientists or scholars and the scientific process and documentation is often lost. Due to this, there are many fundamental errors of reasoning as well as fact finding itself which hurts the credibility of Cryptozoology/ists from mainstream science. Ben S. Roesch (1999), a Cryptozoologist, offered a critical outlook on Cryptozoology, stating

The researcher must be able to first synthesise all of the information he has gathered from his many sources, apply it to a logical framework, and decide if there is a cryptid worth investigating among the piles of paper. In too many cases, cryptozoologists base entire theories or promote the existence of a cryptid upon very slim evidence that could easily be explained by some other cause. In many cases, cryptozoologists simply do not use sufficient critical thought in their investigations, putting too much weight on anecdotal evidence and pushing forward scientifically unacceptable theories as an explanation. This is where research is extremely important; it should help enormously in your decision of whether the cryptid you think may exist is actually probably in the light of present scientific knowledge.

Another reason the scientific method of Cryptozoology is not respected is that the majority of research and study is done by amateurs and enthusiasts and there is inconsistent collection of data and reporting. Therefore, papers and information of the topic are rarely published in scientific journals and there is no funding or employment in the field of study.

Why is Cryptozoology a Pseudoscience?

Demarcation Criteria

Verification was first proposed as criterion for meaningfulness of statements and the favored demarcation strategy of the logical positivists who claimed in short that “a statement has meaning if it is either synthetic and can be verified through experience or it is analytic” (Bortolotti, 2008) meaning that the claims followed each other logically and critically from the beginning to end statement. The problem with this is that it led to a confirmation bias and also the problem of fallacy. Falsification was then presented by Karl Popper which states demarcation in a theory’s ability to withstand debate or refutation. Popper proposed that a theory is scientific if it makes a risky claim and can be genuinely tested. He claims that “every “good” scientific theory is a prohibition” (Popper, 2009). The more a theory forbids things to happen the better it is. Science is meant to be exclusive and refutable since any conceivable observation about the world is not necessarily meaningful as a theory but remains merely an observation. Science aims to tell us about the world we live in. It aims to uncover truth and often manages to achieve this but not always. Popper’s claim is that falsification is not only a necessary condition of science but also sufficient. Popper is right in his insight that it is necessary to keep science honest by being able to actively test and refute scientific theories but it is not sufficient in and of itself to distinguish the scientific from the unscientific. There are holes in falsification theory. One example is that falsifying alone can lead to wrongful termination of an entire theory based on it’s difficulty to be refuted. Or perhaps it is refuted but it does not necessarily mean that the entire theory is wrong. Pierre Duhem presents in his Theory Ladenness of observation problem referring to the fact that a single theory is made up of a number of other embedded theories which the observer is unable to critically and accurately separate to define which correlations are problematic (Bortolotti, 2008). Previous science and research, which is the basis for the current theory, when tested, results in a negative outcome. There is no way to be sure with which part of the theory the correlation of the failure is associated with since they are all embedded and reliant upon the success of each other. Demarcation is not a timeless criteria which has specific ground rules that are set in stone, and it instead strives to universally preserve consistency across it’s communities to remain as unbiased as possible and uphold a very strategic methodology and doctrines. Science must aim to improve upon and refute those facts that no longer are true and expose those that were false to begin with.
Demarcation is a multidimensional process, one which Paul Thargard (2005) explains is examined and interpreted (compared/ attested) to theory, community and historical content. Thagard refers to the community as advocates of the theory, he poses the question of whether or not the practitioners are in agreement as to the principles of a theory and how to go about solving the problem which the theory faces. The historical content that the theory is based on is important too but cannot stand alone because a theory based in science does not automatically make the connections applicable in real life. The theory must be advocated and criticized by a community of scholars and scientists (peers).
Progress is another key point of science, if a new theory is not progressive, does not offer any new information or facts, cannot replace or be used as an alternative theory to ones already acclaimed and accepted by peers then it is irrelevant if not inaccurate. Also, scientific demarcation must be found in both inductive and deductive reasoning methods as just one of the two are insufficient. Inductive reasoning is claimed by Duhem to make assumptions or allegations that are unjustifiable based on previous evidence and tests and claims that they bare no justification of future predictions. Although he is right in this claim, the problem of relevance comes into question. Science does not claim to be completely empirical. Although it strives for truth, it does not always define it nor can it indefinitely or empirically do so. Although deductive reasoning can be viewed as circular by some critics, it is good to be thorough in considering a theory’s relevance or importance.

Why Cryptozoology does not meet the criteria

Cryptozoology is considered a pseudoscience because it does not meet the outlined demarcation criteria required in the scientific community. To be considered scientific, a theory must first be able produce verification through empirical evidence and be able to reproduce experimental results, although reliance on this alone is known to lead to problems of bias and fallacy. Next, it must withstand debate and refutation as well as undergo consistent and systematic inquiry to ensure progress. A scientific theory must be progressive and aim to improve upon itself as well as previous research. In order to be justified as it’s own scholarly faculty, it must also have to be reviewed by other scholars within an established scholarly field and institution which Cryptozoology fails to do. Finally, a combination of both inductive and deductive methods are needed to verify the theory.
Since Cryptozoology is based on testimony and anecdotal claims, it does meet the first requirement of scientific theory, however, this alone often leads to bias and fallacy and therefore is not strong enough on its own. In fact, based on this criterion, Cryptozoology submits to a confirmation bias as it uses few instances of successful discoveries such as the Komodo Dragon and the Giant Panda, both former cryptids that had no catalogue or recognition in Zoological studies, as a bases for its importance and relevance. It uses a selective and opportunistic use of findings that are legitimised or already confirmed and uses them out of context to construct evidence towards their area of inquiry.
Cryptozoology fails to be progressive as it does not improve past research or even itself. This is because if a cryptid is discovered, found and documented, such as the examples above, it then becomes an animal and falls under Zoological studies. Cryptozoology cannot be used as an alternative to other sciences like Paleontology or Archeology in which it forms many of its research credibility on. It does not offer consistent production of evidence but leaves many holes in its study for those crpytids that have yet to be found over years of study and no more progress has been made in discovering them.
Another important aspect of science is its ability to withstand debate and refutation. The only way to have substantial proof in order to be irrefutable is to be actively tested and have expected outcomes occur more often than they do not. Cryptozoology once again does not meet this criterion as it is unable to be actively tested and therefore, it cannot withstand debate and refutation when questioned or critiqued. Due to the nature of pursuing Cryptozoology based on second-hand experiences and anecdotal claims, there is no experimentation to be actively tested and all findings are based on inconclusive testimonies with equal chances of positive or negative outcomes. Credible results cannot be based on hear say if here is no evidence or proof to support the testimony. Cryptozoology relies on testimonies and eye-witness claims and that alone is not enough to withstand refutation.
Using deductive logic and reasoning alone to brand a theory as scientific is not sufficient, as discussed previously by Duhem, but it can be used effectively along with inductive reasoning to amend scientific claims. The problem with pseudoscience is that it systematically selects a presentation of facts or claims that are already established as scientifically relevant along with outdated ancient testimonies or long disproven or discredited theories and use them to manipulate their theories toward favourable outcomes.
Finally, one of the more important aspects of scientific validity is peer review. Scholarly review gives credibility to research and helps to eliminate bias in studies. In order to be accepted in the scientific community, research must be advocated for. The process of reviewing work includes pointing out limitations of the research, areas that need improvement as well as pointing out bias that the author may have over looked. Without this process, anyone, scientific or not, can perform a study and have it published. Since Cryptozoology is hardly ever published in scientific journals, the peer review process is lacking within the field as anyone can write a news article or book based on their findings that does not need to be reviewed by other scholars in the field. Without a proper scholarly review, the findings of the studies may or may not be valid but certainly are not credible.
Cryptozoology falls short of many of the critical demarcation criteria necessary to be considered a science and therefore at best, can only be described as a pseudoscience.

Why Cryptozoology is Bad For People

A closer look

Cryptozoology is not necessarily harmful to people, since it has on occasion helped raise interest or curiosity in areas that established sciences dare not venture because of the loosely based research and evidence presented. Although it does not inflict direct harm on people, it does however redirect much attention away from more substantial discoveries or lineages of science which could benefit from further research and inquiry. Pseudosciences posing as real science do tend to discredit themselves by not upholding consistent and universal standards for the understanding and practicing of their idioms. The previous institution that Cryptozoology did attempt to assemble, the ISC, fell apart in 1998 (Roesch & Moore, 2002) and has not been effectively re-launched or found enough support or authority from enthusiasts or self-proclaimed Cryptozoologists. The reason for the end of this organization in the first place was due to financial issues, which meant there was no funding to properly conduct research they deemed of importance. The websites and other literature put forth on the subject of Cryptozoology is then left to many amateurs who are misinformed and carry many occult and paranormal ideas that steer very far from any real evidence or information that can be put forward to substantiate this field of study as scholarly. Misinformation and inconsistency masked by elements of scientific theory can degrade actual science. Also if the motives of the research, since not unbiased, can leave a lot of open ends to real research being done by paleontologists, archeologists, primatologists, zoologist etc. By failing to meet scholarly requirements and gain the respect of the scientific community but continuing to promote teachings that claim to be “scientific” Cryptozoology is condoning those outlandish aspects of their research. The holes in their idioms lead to other possible pseudosciences which then need to be debunked to avoid confusion with actual and correctly distributed facts and legitimized practices.

In Conclusion

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a pseudoscience is described as being a deviant doctrine claiming that it “involves sustained effort to promote teachings different from those that have scientific legitimacy at the time.” (Hansson 2012) Cryptozoology, as a pseudoscience, attempts to discover and legitimise the unknown and mythical while claiming to do it with scientific validity. However, these claims go unfounded as they are repeatedly unable to meet the criteria necessary to be considered a credible science. Cryptozoology can only be verified through re-telling of first-hand experiences and anecdotes which only lead to bias and fallacy. Cryptozoology cannot withstand debate and refutation since it is unable to be actively tested and proven. Also, Cryptozoology is not progressive in its research and does not improve upon either itself or previous studies nor does it offer any novel practices or methodologies which differ from established practices like Zoology and other natural sciences. Finally, there is no proper scholarly review of Cryptozoological work as there is no faculty or institute dedicated to Cryptozoology or funding for the research.
The idea of finding hidden cryptids or verifying ancient tales of extraordinary creatures presents an exciting opportunity for enthusiasts but the line must be drawn at interest or past-time and not trying to cross into the scientific community. There are specific methods and processes that need to be followed to have credible scholarly value and by simply searching for cryptids or researching, these methods and processes are not met. If that was the case, anyone could claim that their research was scientific and it is for this reason that demarcation criteria has been so often debated and contended by scholars to distinguish science from just research. The scientific community is a respected community because of the work that takes place and the review and re-reviews to make sure all theories and claims are credible. If this is does not take place, there would be no credibility or legitimacy and distinguishing truth from fiction or simply conjecture would be near impossible. Unable to meet all of the necessary requirements highlighted in the demarcation criteria, Cryptozoology cannot be considered scientific or scholarly and instead should only be viewed as an interest or hobby at best.


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