|Sent on:||Wednesday, August 7, 2013 12:25 PM|
ABOMINABLE SCIENCE: ORIGINS OF THE YETI, NESSIE, AND OTHER FAMOUS CRYPTIDS
By Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero
Foreword by Michael Shermer
Columbia University Press[masked] pages (plus notes and index)
Review by Timothy R. Campbell
Bigfoot isn’t real? The Loch Ness Monster was created by people inspired by the movie KING KONG? Sea Serpents might exist, but probably not? Sheesh! Next some darn skeptic will claim that leprechauns aren’t real and there are no pots of gold sitting at the end of rainbows!
For those of us who grew up reading imaginative news accounts and watching “documentaries” purporting to give the “real facts” about these amazing but highly reclusive animals (called cryptids), this book is both necessary and crushing! Ok, I am kidding about the “crushing” part, but not kidding about the “necessary” part.
Daniel Loxton is a skeptic, but is also a fan! He is the editor of JUNIOR SKEPTIC, staff writer for SKEPTIC and author of books on evolution and cryptozoology (the study of cryptids). He is both a critic of this semi-legitimate science AND a fan of the cryptids being studied!
Donald R. Prothero is a working paleontologist, former professor of Geology at Occidental College, currently a research associate in the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, and is the author of more than 30 books, including the highly acclaimed EVOLUTION: WHAT THE FOSSILS SAY AND WHY IT MATTERS and the newly published (and highly recommended by me) REALITY CHECK.
Here, the two have written an informative, thorough, and mostly entertaining book about and for the world of Cryptozoology, the study of cryptids.
Cryptids, are “hidden animals”, animals whose existence is rumored but unproven. They begin as “muddy footprints, blurry photographs, grainy videos, and anecdotes about strange things that go bump in the night.” And they generally begin—and are propagated—by imagination, humor, and sometimes avaricious fraud. The Yeti (also sometimes known as the Abominable Snowman), Bigfoot (Yeti’s American cousin), the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie to her fans and supporters), Mokele Mbembe (an alleged living dinosaur roaming the swamps and jungles of Deep Dark Africa), and sea serpents, are just a few examples of cryptids. They differ from other hidden animals in another very important way: there is no physical evidence of their actual existence. No bones, fossils, carcasses; nothing that could be identified as an actual new species of animal. While one cannot disprove ALL of the many claims of cryptid sightings and it is always POSSIBLE that one of these animals does exist, but is just really really really really clever at hiding, as Michael Shermer’s foreword is titled: “Show me the body”!
As the authors point out-especially Loxton the fan—it sure would be cool to find proof of one or more of these critters, but the reality is that they are all most likely fictional. As they put it in their chapter on sea serpents, but the statement could be applied to all cryptids: “sea serpents are shape-shifters, creatures of culture not of nature”.
Oh well! It is always fun to imagine ape-men and living dinosaurs lurking at the edge of our world, living and breeding and dying without leaving a trace—though showing up for brief appearances seemingly on command for a select group of believers, con men, and showmen! If only I could be the one to catch Nessie, or to take the definitive photo of Bigfoot, or find the elusive Yeti carcass! Alas, probably not going to happen! Darn!
ABOMINABLE SCIENCE is formatted so that Donald Prothero takes Chapters 1 (Cryptozoology), 3 (The Yeti), 6 (Mokele Mbembe), and 7 (Why do People Believe in Monsters). Daniel Loxton takes Chapters 2 (Bigfoot), 4 (Nessie), and 5 (The Evolution of the Sea Serpent). However, both contribute to each other’s work.
This is a thorough history of these particular cryptids. How they were invented, their ancestral inspirations, the pranks and frauds, and the many candidates for misidentification as cryptids (from motionless tree stumps to sea otters!). It is also a history of the sorta-science of cryptozoology, a detailed and actually quite respectful look at the men and women who believe in cryptids and lead searches throughout the world for evidence of their existence. And of course, the pranksters and frauds who have laughed and profited from our innate desire to believe in monsters!
The book is mostly entertaining, but it does bog down here and there into minutia that is necessary in order to be thorough and scholarly, but can be a bit boring if you are looking for a quick, fun read.
Still, I loved ABOMINABLE SCIENCE! I learned more about the origins of these famous animals and their evolution from single offhand “sightings” into legends and primary fodder for movies, books, and expensive “scientific” excursions. I was unaware that the first actual sighting of the Loch Ness Monster came just a few months after the premier in the U.K. of the 1933 classic film KING KONG! Coincidence? The authors (and I) think not! In fact, the first sighting of Nessie is described with an uncanny resemblance to a scene in the movie! I also was unaware that Bigfoot was basically invented by a confessed hoakster as a practical joke on his employees!
The book is filled with fun facts and biographical info about many of the leading hoaksters—I mean witnesses! To be fair, many of the sightings of cryptids have been made by honest and sincere citizens, who unfortunately, are most likely victims of misidentification, pranks, or wishful thinking.
Most likely. But not absolutely!
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