The Limits of Cryptozoology

FulltimeDefendent's picture
Posts: 455
Joined: 2007-10-02
User is offlineOffline
The Limits of Cryptozoology

Or "What Measure is a Pseudoscience?"


I'm not sure whether to consider all of cryptozoology pseudoscientific at this point. I think it is misapplied science. My argument is that active biologists are already engaged in cryptozoological endeavors. Active scientists have discovered more previously unknown species than cryptozoologists. The only difference is that they don't go out looking for them with anything specific in mind. The difference between looking for Big Foot and identifying what might be considered a new species is that Big Foot, or the Loch Ness monster, or any other "cryptid" is an A Priori belief, like God.


For example (and from memory), when the first reported sighting of Big Foot tracks was made, the reporter didn't even mention whether the tracks were of a biped or a quadruped. He also claimed their were four toes with claws.


Doesn't sound like any large-bodied primate I've ever heard of, and certainly not a hominid. Hominids evolved in a tropical rainforest environment (forget the Savannah theories, looking up "Miocene Midget Theory&quotEye-wink, not a temperate zone forest. No large-bodied anthropoid has claws (though some large prosimians, like Lemurs, do). If there is a basis in fact for this, it sounds rather like a sloth or a bear. Maybe one of those giant bear-sized sloths that we used to have in abundance, and could certainly be found at the time of this report.


However, people like monkeys. They like apes. They like cavemen. So the assumption that this thing was an anthropoid or even a hominoid went unquestioned by most of the people actually doing the "research."


If we were to prioritize famous cryptids in order of most to least plausibility, Big Foot would be near the bottom of the list. In the middle we might find the Loch Ness monster and purported relatives. At the top- the most plausible- would be the Kraken-like multi-armed monsters reported since ancient times by mariners. The sea contains enough monstrous forms to account for every reported sea monster without having to redraw our entire zoological taxonomy. Oar Fish and Morey Eels have certainly been mistaken for sea serpents. Giant or Colossal squid for Krakens. Sailors, often under the influence of alcohol, historically confused manatees and dugongs for sirens and mermaids.


What about my personal favorite cryptid, the so-called "Mongolian Death Worm" or Alghoi Khorkoi? Even saying its name will frighten the Mongolian desert dwellers who warn travelers of the "worm," which is described as being worm- or snake-like, large and red with the ability to injure or kill from a distance with either venom or an electric charge. I'm going to ignore the bit about the electric charge, as venom is a far more plausible explanation, and most people who have research this cryptid have come to the conclusion that it is not a worm but a reptile, possibly a large, venomous skink. A rather mundane explanation for a fantastic claim, but plausible that an unknown species of desert skink with powerful venom might be living in Mongolia.


Then there are the dinosaurs. A frequent claim in cryptozoology is that African natives, when shown pictures of extinct dinosaurs, have distinct names for them, but how accurate is this statement? It seems to rely on an assumption that native people, particularly hunter gathers, classify animals in the same way that we do, by assigning names to different or very closely related species. This doesn't make a lot of sense for hunter-gatherers, whose diets include a wide variety of flora and fauna, and who benefit from simpler classification schemes. For example, a hunter gatherer society might realistically classify species in terms of how they are caught: trap-species, hunt-species, collect-species, fast animals, slow animals, safe to eat, unsafe to eat, predator and prey... classifying them by characteristics that are important to a hunter gatherer economy. It is probable that a hunter gatherer seeing a picture of a stegosaurus might use a variation of the same word he or she would use to describe any large, four-legged animal, like an elephant or a rhino. A hunter gatherer would likely refer to a picture of a flying reptile and say something like "bird." Unless these researchers systematically determined the extent of hunter-gatherer species classification systems, I'm not about to assume that Mkole Mbembe equates to a particular species of dinosaur anymore than it equates to "large, four-legged, dangerous animal."


The limits of cryptozoology thus defined, I think we'd all be in better hands leaving the discovery and classification of new species to the zoologists, biologists, and paleontologists. Crpytozoology may not technically fit the definition of a pseudoscience, but it's not a legitimate field of study either. It's goals are entirely covered by other disciplines without the use of Cryptozoology's questionable methodologies.

“It is true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is equally true that in the land of the blind, the two-eyed man is an enemy of the state, the people, and domestic tranquility… and necessarily so. Someone has to rearrange the furniture.”

Posts: 173
Joined: 2008-05-02
User is offlineOffline
 Well said.

 Well said.

Posts: 51
Joined: 2006-11-18
User is offlineOffline

The history channel frustrates me to no end with all their "Monster Quest" bullcrap.  People discover new species every day, with no bigfoot expectations.

lpetrich's picture
Posts: 148
Joined: 2007-05-14
User is offlineOffline
I've been skeptical for a

I've been skeptical for a long time about lake monsters, but I did not have anything definite to work from until recently, when I discovered the population of seals in Lake Baikal. That population enabled me to estimate how much lake-monster biomass a lake can support, and I made such estimates for some lakes that are well-known for their supposed lake monsters.

Lake Baikal is in a cold temperate or boreal climate zone; it is surrounded by forests. So other temperate-climate lakes may have comparable nutrient inputs, thus maybe having comparable fish biomass densities, and from there, comparable fish-predator biomass densities. And since the fish tend to live in the upper parts of the lake, which are illuminated enough to support phytoplankton, I will scale by area instead of by volume.

There are about 60,000 Baikal seals living in Lake Baikal; each seal has an average weight of about 75 kg, though the seals can reach 150 kg. This implies a seal-biomass density of 4.5*106 kg -- 4500 tons of seal.

Its surface area is 31,494 km2, implying 1.91 seals/km2 or 143 kg/km2 of seal biomass.

Lake Champlain, between New York State and Vermont, is the home of supposed monster "Champ". It has an area of 1130 km2, implying a population of 2150 seals or 1.61*105 kg of biomass.

A population of lake monsters there would likely be borderline viable, since one needs at least a few hundred individuals to avoid troublesome genetic drift.

Loch Ness, in central Scotland, is the home of the most famous such supposed monster, "Nessie". It has an area of 56.4 km2, implying a population of 107 seals or 8.06*103 kg of biomass.

A population of lake monsters there would be on the borderline of viability -- at best.

A further problem with lake monsters is that if they are descended from land vertebrates, they would have to periodically surface for air, as every known aquatic descendant of land vertebrates is known to do. This would make them readily and frequently visible, but sightings of these monsters are too rare for that.