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The Problem of the Cryptids

06 Jun

Washington loves sasquatch. It’s an endearing and enduring idea, a romantic vision of a living relic of the untamed American West. A creature not unlike ourselves, living in our backyards, hidden in the misty Cascades. Sasquatch and other creatures like it are the poster children of a field of pseudoscience known as cryptozoology. Cryptozoologists are people dedicated to discovering and documenting species known as cryptids that, while suggested by many, are not accepted in the scientific community. However, the line is not that simple.

The problem is that cryptozoology is, like I said, a pseudoscience. It is not a respected field, most people would not recognize a degree if you had one, and no scientific journals are going to be talking about bigfoot. The official reason for this is because the field relies heavily on anecdotal evidence, blurry photographs, and popular conceptions of these creatures, usually without any hard evidence.

However, perhaps you can appreciate why I struggle with totally shunning cryptozoology. Much of our own history is based solely on anecdotal evidence and many rare creatures were known simply through word of mouth before they came to the light of science. We only received a clear video of giant squid within the last decade, yet they have been discussed for centuries. Furthermore, stories and the hints of locals are one of the key clues in discovering an unknown creature. The Hoan Kiem turtle was only found because a scientist listened to some Vietnamese locals. And western scientists are often lost in the jungles of Malaysia or South America without a local guide to tell them stories about the world.

Stories are how science begins.

However, my personal problem with cryptozoology comes not from the creatures, but from the people who pursue it. Sasquatch is a lovely cultural icon, but the fact is, the science is overwhelmingly against its existence. Yet there are those who cannot accept that it doesn’t exist. These creatures exist only in imaginations and any evidence that does not agree with the conclusion is ignored. It is when anecdotes are passed off as real science, without the dedicated research necessary, that cryptozoologists discredit themselves. A story is just a story.

I do not doubt that there are creatures under the waves we have not seen. I do not doubt that many of our myths are based on sightings of real creatures and events. I do not doubt the importance of stories. But when you inflate a story into a belief, instead of using it as a base for real research, you ignore our rich history of exploration and discovery.

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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Modernity

 

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