"Why are so few students interested in science?" This commonly posed question reflects a continuing worry among educators and cultural pundits. Here is a slight paraphrase:
"Why do so few youngsters want to become biologists, when so many are interested in cryptozoology?"
The purpose of my paraphrase is to suggest that such matters as Loch Ness monsters—or unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or psychic phenomena—offer a way of getting students interested in science. These topics are mysteries, and human beings are naturally curious about mysteries. In trying to get to the bottom of them, we find ourselves learning about science along the way. Moreover, we learn about it in a way that shows science not to be a boring, cut-and-dried subject as it is sometimes portrayed in popular culture.
One doesn't need to be a formal student, of course. I was already a teacher when I became curious about whether Loch Ness monsters could be real, and my curiosity led me to learn about—among other things—biology and geology and the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. The latter interests eventually led to fruitful changes of career and intellectual activity, for which I have long been grateful. So one value of cryptozoology lies in its ability to stimulate curiosity and the good things that tend to follow on that.
Cryptozoology also has value for science itself. Though most cryptozoological claims may never be validated, the few that are vindicated are likely to be of exceptional interest, as is the case with the now accepted Giant squid (Archi-teuthis) that was long regarded as a purely mythical creature (the Kraken) or the almost certainly existing Gigantic Octopus for which we have only historical evidence and a few bits of preserved tissue.
Further, cryptozoological investigations sometimes have beneficial side effects. At Loch Ness, it was side-scan sonar looking for NESSIES that discovered (in 1976) a World War Il-era Wellington bomber worth recovering for preservation in a museum. Earlier sonar quests for NESSIES had, in 1960, revealed previously unsuspected shoals of Arctic char (Salvelinus alpi-nus) in Loch Ness. The realization, spurred by NESSIE hunting, that very little was known about the ecology of Loch Ness has led to a variety of useful discoveries and continuing research there.
Scientists can benefit, like everyone else, from needing to rethink long accepted facts. When there are persistent reports that people have seen creatures supposedly extinct, ignored issues must be faced, whether those creatures are Pumas (Puma concolor) that may be roaming the eastern United States or the plesiosaur-like Freshwater Monsters reported from many lakes besides Loch Ness:
• How sure can we really be that no pumas are alive east of the Mississippi? Can a lack of captured or killed specimens be decisive, even as very few people have gone looking?
• If we can still, in 1976, discover something such as a Megamouth shark (Megachasma pela-gios), is it inconceivable that there are real SEA Monsters, some of which became landlocked in lakes such as Loch Ness and Loch Morar, whose depths reach below 700 feet?
And so on. It cannot be a bad thing, every now and again, to reassess long held conclusions. Never did I teach freshman chemistry classes without gaining better clarity or a new insight, through needing to find answers to the naive questions posed by neophyte students.
Furthermore, cryptozoology is useful to social science as well as to natural science. The authority that science wields in contemporary so ciety has made it an object of study by historians, philosophers, political scientists, and sociologists. For nigh on a century, philosophy of science has grappled with the "demarcation" issue: How do we distinguish real science from pseudoscience? In seeking to answer that question through examining specific claims that have been sometimes pronounced pseudoscientific, one inevitably learns more precisely what real science actually is. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, "What should they know of science, who only science know?" Wondering why science has ignored NESSIES led me, when I was already a practicing professional chemist, to better insight into what science actually is and does.
Cryptozoology affords practice in the most difficult sort of thinking. In established disciplines, peer review and accepted approaches and paradigms assist in solving puzzles and problems. By contrast, seeking to solve mysteries outside the mainstream disciplines means trying to think critically with the minimum of formulaic guidelines, for the eventual solution may be unlike anything previously encountered. (In the realm of detective mysteries, an analogy may be G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, who could find perfectly rational explanations for events that seem at first to be utterly inexplicable.)
Cryptozoology, then, is valuable on a number of counts, and many besides myself will rejoice that this encyclopedia has become available. Available at last, I might add, for it would have been very useful to me over the last couple of decades. Of course, the field has seen several compendiums, even the recent Cryptozoology A to Z by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark, which gives useful summaries about the most common topics. Mysterious Creatures, however, is without precedent in being comprehensive and a genuinely scholarly reference work. Everyone interested in cryptozoology—and many others as well—will want to have this readily at hand. Nowhere else can one look up a cryptid (a merely claimed or mythical or supposedly extinct creature) and find reliable information about the etymology of the name and variant names, physical description, behavior, tracks, habitat, distribution, significant sightings, and, far from least, sources and possible explanations.
Over the years, I have appreciated the several bibliographies about unorthodox subjects that George Eberhart has prepared. This encyclopedia is an even more valuable contribution.
Henry H. Bauer is emeritus professor of chemistry and science studies at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. He is the author of The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1986) and edits the Journal of Scientific Exploration, for which he wrote "The Case for the Loch Ness 'Monster': The Scientific Evidence" in the summer 2002 issue.
Was this article helpful?
All wart sufferers, this is the day to stop the shame. How I Got Rid Of My Warts Forever and How You Can Get Rid Of Warts Naturally In 3 Days. With No Blisters, No Scars, And No Pain Without medications or expensive procedures. All by applying a simple, very natural and unbelievable FREE substance that can be found in almost every household.