Throughout our history, humans have been captivated by mythic beasts and legendary creatures. Tales of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster are part of our collective experience. Now comes a book from two dedicated investigators that explores and elucidates the fascinating world of cryptozoology. Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Laura Madsen, veterinarian, mom and writer
ABOMINABLE SCIENCE! (with the exclamation point) was written by a skeptical science writer and a vertebrate paleontologist. They present a comprehensive, unbiased look at the field of cryptozoology and some of the most famous cryptids: Sasquatch, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, and Mokele Mbembe, the supposed “African brontosaurus.” The “abominable” term in the title refers both to the nickname for the Yeti, the “Abominable Snowman,” as well as to the occasionally abominable pseudoscience used to propel the hunt for cryptids.
In the process of presenting the history, legends, hoaxes, cultural milieu, and evidence for the existence of cryptids, the book also explains the scientific method, how scientists think, and the foibles of human perceptions and brains that make us so likely to believe weird things.
The book also discusses a peculiar overlap between cryptozoology and creationism: apparently the “Young Earth” creationists (i.e., people who believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago) feel that to discover a living, breathing plesiosaur (Nessie) or sauropod (Mokele Mbembe) would disprove evolution in one fell swoop. Huh? Coelacanths, sharks, horseshoes crabs, cycads and ginkgos have all been around since before the dinosaurs but all their continued existence “proves” is that they are supremely adapted to their respective ecological niches. (Incidentally, one creationist-funded expedition to Africa in 2001 allegedly discovered “evidence” of Bigfoot and UFO’s, but, alas, no sauropod dinosaur.)
I am a zoologist, and personally I think it would be really cool if a Sasquatch or a plesiosaur were discovered. I’d volunteer to scientifically examine and autopsy the critter. But, the evidence for any of these cryptids is pretty slim. Although there are numerous sightings every year, Loxton and Prothero show how people, especially people primed by watching monster movies and reading about cryptids, can be fooled by their senses and imagine a mythical creature where none exists (the phenomenon is termed “expectant attention”). In addition, the authors explain that “we run into the Law of Large Numbers: given large enough numbers, very unlikely things become inevitable. The Law of Large Numbers guarantees that one-in-a-million miracles happen 295 times a day in America.” This means that even if it’s only a one-in-a-million chance that a person could mistake a group of swimming sea lions for a sea serpent (and it’s probably much better odds than that), if a million people look at sea lions on the coast, at least one will swear that he sees a sea serpent.
Recommended for anyone interested in cryptozoology or science in general, or anyone concerned about the lack of critical thinking and scientific literacy in our society.
Adult themes: evolution vs. creationism