Two years ago I recorded a podcast interview with Dr. Donald Prothero and asked him, “Why do people believe in monsters?” Don Prothero and Daniel Loxton answer this question and many more in their new book, Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie and Other Famous Cryptids.
The authors begin by discussing the abominable science behind cryptozoology, including problems with eyewitness testimony and the lack of evidence from the fossil record. The book then takes a different turn and examines the folklore, history and hoaxes of a selection of infamous cryptids and tells us what science has to say about them. Don and Daniel tackle the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Bigfoot, and their many incarnations. They discuss the searches, sightings and evidence that have been presented over the years, including the infamous Patterson-Gimlin footage and the “body” of the recent Georgia “Bigfoot”. (Speaking of Bigfoot, check out my recent article about “Bigfoot Language” for the Scientific American Mind blog.)
These leading researchers in this area also share their own investigations and encounters with alleged cryptids and enthusiastic cryptozoologists. Don talks of his brushes with the crew of MonsterQuest who hoped for a “gotcha” moment when they handed him a lump of plaster they presented as proof of Mokele Mbembe, the Congo dinosaur. Daniel recounts the numerous misidentification errors he made during his days working as a shepherd, such as the occasion when his colleagues believed they had spotted a “Sasquatch”.
In the final section of the book, they talk about the subculture of cryptozoology, explaining why people have a love of cryptozoology and how we can be skeptics but still have a love of monsters. They also address the question: can cryptozoology be made to be scientific? Abominable Science! takes us around the globe and across cultures and time. It tells fascinating stories of creatures that have excited us for hundreds of years, but it also teaches us that real science can be just as exciting.
Cryptids may not exist, but this is a behemoth of a book. It is an incredibly in-depth and well-researched volume that is filled with photos and elegant illustrations. Abominable Science! is a much needed book that will be a welcome addition to the library of any skeptic. Let’s hope it also reaches other writers of monster books, the producers of television shows about cryptozoology, and the general public.
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.