Cryptozoology: what it is, what it researches, examples and why it is not a science
Cryptozoology starts from important mistakes when it comes to the study of "hidden animals".
Many people associate cryptozoology with a field of entertainment ranging from fiction movies to "mystery" shows to horror stories told at a campfire. However, one thing has nothing to do with the other.
It is perfectly possible to enjoy certain horror stories or immerse oneself in mythological worlds without wanting anything to do with cryptozoology, since the latter is not a form of entertainment. In fact, its advocates believe that this is, above all, a way of obtaining valuable information about the world we live in; that is, its purpose would be intellectual, and not personal enjoyment. But... does cryptozoology really have the capacity to generate valuable knowledge? Here we will see why the answer to this question is a clear No.
What is cryptozoology?
When defining the meaning of the term "cryptozoology", we can focus on its etymology, which in this case is to see what the ancient Greek words that compose it mean: cryptos, zoos and logos.
On that basis, cryptozoology may be understood as the study of hypothetical animals that remain hidden, i.e., creatures from thethat is, creatures of which we would only know hints and whose existence has not yet been fully incorporated into scientific knowledge. These creatures are usually called cryptids, and in most cases they are characterized as beings that for the moment are only part of popular knowledge.
In other words, cryptids, by definition, have not been accepted by the scientific community as materially existing entities, apart from legends, ideas of mythological origin or anecdotes magnified and exaggerated by the media. of mythological origin or anecdotes magnified and exaggerated by the mass media. If we get philosophical, we could say that the ontological status of these animals is that which is studied by the social sciences and the humanities, as human inventions embodied in stories, paintings, pieces of music, or even creepypasta-type stories.
However, the defenders of cryptozoology believe that cryptids do exist beyond the world of social constructs, that is, they grant cryptids a material ontological status outside of language, art and symbols. Moreover, they point out that if their existence is not they point out that if their existence is not accepted by the scientific community, it is not because of the impossibility of that happening (being only beings of legend), but because of alleged limitations in the research methods used.
Examples of cryptids
Some of the most famous cryptids are:
- Steller's sea monkey
- The Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Skunk Ape (this last denomination is used only in Florida).
- The Loch Ness Monster
- The Chupacabra
- The Nandi Bear
Is cryptozoology a science?
Cryptozoology is not a science; in most cases, what lies behind it is pseudoscience.and even in extreme cases one could even speak of para-science, as we shall see.
However, this does not mean that cryptids are described as entities with magical powers or properties that break with natural laws. In many cases, these hypothetical animals have the appearance of living beings that could exist and that are not very different from other creatures well known to zoology. by zoology. What makes cryptozoology not a science is not so much in the characteristics attributed to cryptids, but in its way of investigating and conceiving the creation of knowledge in general. Here we will review these criticisms.
In the first place, cryptozoology gives great importance to the descriptions of cryptids as they are transmitted through popular culture, i.e., much value is given to anecdotal evidence and to the testimonies of people who claim to have seen these animals, without always adopting a critical point of view and considering psychological and social conditioning factors that may influence their version: suggestion, modification of memories, desire for notoriety in the media, etc.
The main raw material of cryptozoology are the anecdotes that have been transmitted through word-of-mouth or have transcended to the media without providing conclusive evidence of the existence of these creatures. without providing conclusive evidence of the existence of these creatures. The supposed material evidence of the existence of cryptids, such as strange footprints in the snow or a blurred photograph, are taken as complements to these narratives, elements that can reinforce them, but not as elements that can stand on an equal footing with the stories and legends.
That is to say, it is assumed that whoever has experienced those sightings, by the fact of saying that he has seen a cryptid, has more valuable information than another person will be able to reach, despite the fact that this does not have to be so, given that in case they exist, those cryptids would leave clues beyond those sightings.
Secondly, cryptozoology manipulates theory so that the empirical can be integrated into it.. This implies overlooking the fact that science is not only about accumulating empirical knowledge, but that this must be able to generate fertile hypotheses given a given degree of scientific and technological development, and must give rise to ideas that do not contradict each other or those coming from other scientific disciplines.
For example, the idea that there are one or more giant plesiosaur-like reptiles in Loch Ness conflicts with several elements of scientific knowledge: that very large animals need large areas to live and perpetuate as a species, that no plesiosaur fossils exist after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction (66 million years ago), that aquatic reptiles need to come to the surface to breathe several times a day, and so on.
Thirdly, cryptozoology has no mechanism for discarding hypotheses as invalid due to lack of conclusive evidence.. It should not be forgotten that the failure to prove a hypothesis after testing it after one or more investigations also provides scientifically relevant knowledge; but as one of the characteristics of cryptids is that they "remain hidden", cryptozoology invents ad hoc arguments to justify that they have not yet been discovered, even if that implies bypassing Ockham's razor and raises many more questions than it supposedly solves.
For example, the idea that a species of large gorilla-like primates inhabits the forests of North America conflicts with the fact that that area of the American continent is populated by more than 300 million people, many of whom carry smartphones with cameras, and that the forests are full of photo-trapping cameras that automatically film when they detect movement.
- Related article, "Why do people believe in conspiracies?"
What about cases of para-science?
In certain cases, cryptozoology doesn't even try to look like the sciences.. For example, when its explanations include conspiracy theories that portray "scientists" as an elite that tries to "hide the truth" in a deliberate way. In these cases, we can say that it becomes a para-science, when it detaches itself from the pretension of consolidating itself as a science.
Something similar occurs in those cases in which the cryptids supposedly investigated have magical powers or defy the laws of nature. magical powers or defy the laws of nature.. However, it is debatable whether these creatures can be considered animals, since this concept, that of "animal" has become part of the modern evolutionary synthesis, and that implies accepting that they are subject to the principles of Biological evolution and that they have a common origin with the rest of the representatives of that taxon. Therefore, from another point of view, it could be said that cryptozoology, by definition, can only talk about supposed animals, and not about supernatural entities.
Does that mean that the search for new animal species is cryptozoology?
Far from it. It is perfectly valid to pay attention to the testimonies of people who claim to have seen animals that have not been described before by zoology.Indeed, this is how some species, such as gorillas, were discovered.
However, this information must be critically analyzed in the light of the rest of the knowledge already available. It is not the same to assume that giants could exist in Rome in the 1st century B.C. as it is today, and cryptozoology could not exist where zoology did not yet exist as such.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)