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. After examining the nature of science and pseudoscience and their relation to cryptozoology, Loxton and Prothero take on Bigfoot; the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, and its cross-cultural incarnations; the Loch Ness monster and its highly publicized sightings; the evolution of the Great Sea Serpent; and Mokele Mbembe, or the Congo dinosaur. They conclude with an analysis of the psychology behind the persistent belief in paranormal phenomena, identifying the major players in cryptozoology, discussing the character of its subculture, and considering the challenge it poses to clear and critical thinking in our increasingly complex world.
Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.
Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family television series Exploring the Unknown. Since April 2004, he has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. Once a fundamentalist Christian, Shermer now describes himself as an agnostic nontheist and an advocate for humanist philosophy.
Abominable Science talks about the origins of cryptids like Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster, sea serpents, dinosaurs currently living in Africa, and cryptozoology in general.
Official Business: I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!
Confession time: When I was a kid, I was way into books like this, most written by Daniel Cohen. If the book had blurry photos of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or UFOs, I was all over it. When you're a kid, it's easy to swallow all that bullshit and not notice the taste. After all, the world is an enormous place when you're a kid, with plenty of room for things like Bigfoot, mammoths in Siberia, brontosauruses in Africa, and aliens all over the damn place. As you get older, your bullshit tolerance is worn down and it gets harder to believe in things like the Yeti. I still watch Monsterquest, though, but only for entertainment purposes, although they did find a colossal giant squid once.
Abominable Science debunks cryptids like Bigfoot, exposing known hoaxes and offering possible explanations for witness accounts. The tone is very academic and dry but there are occasional bits of humor. It wasn't something I could blaze through in a couple sittings.
Abominable Science follows the evolutions of various cryptids. Did you know the word "yeti" comes from the word "yeh-teh," which is a word the Nepalese use for more than one mountain animal, and no one reported seeing a white yeti until after someone coined the term Abominable Snowman? Sea serpent trends are explored, like why do a lot of sea serpents have heads and manes like horses?
Known hoaxes are exposed and some unexplained cases are dissected. You know that famous Bigfoot footage from the 70's? One of the men responsible was known to be an untrustworthy, used car salesman type of person and a friend of his came forward and alleged he was the one in the costume. And that famous Loch Ness monster photo? It was admittedly a model but that doesn't stop people from presenting it as evidence. And how about the fact that no one reported seeing a plesiosaur-looking creature in Loch Ness until AFTER the premiere of King Kong in Scotland, which happened to briefly depict a plesiosaur?
What I found even more interesting than the known hoaxes was the lengths that Bigfoot researchers and similar people would go to suppress evidence of hoaxes. Also, some cases, like that of a small Bigfoot-like primate like Jacko that allegedly lived on a farm, were debunked over a hundred years ago but are still cited as evidence today.
Something I didn't know: Some cryptozooologists are hoping to find relict dinosaurs in the hopes that it will disprove evolution and boost creationism.
Abominable Science is full of interesting information but could have been a more engaging read. Three stars.
Although Daniel Loxton's and Donald R. Prothero's Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids is interesting enough in and of itself and yes indeed, generally rather entertainingly penned, really, for most of us who do think logically and scientifically, Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids does not really offer anything all that novel and/or special. For that there are likely no surviving dinosaurs in the Congo and that the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Yeti are at best legends, folklore and in fact more often than not some rather wishful thinking, these are both a given and nothing earth shattering in any way (although personally, I do indeed appreciate how especially Professor Prothero so clearly and succinctly points out in Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids that without actual solid, scientific evidence and proof, and this certainly does NOT mean so-called eye-witness accounts and/or blurry photographs, a potential cryptid is not really worth considering, and that without bona fide and absolute fossil evidence, especially reputed prehistoric holdouts such as surviving dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterodactyls and the like are and only can ever be nothing more but the stuff of legend and fantasy.
Four stars and definitely recommended! However, considering that Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids really just seems to focus on the most famous and the most outrageous cryptids, in other words, concentrates on those legendary creatures and monsters that are indeed from square one so to speak too strange and fanciful to even be considered as possible truth and reality, I have now decided to lower my ranking of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids to a high three stars, since there are also reputed cryptid animal species that are not quite so fantastical, and some that actually could perhaps even exist and just not have been discovered as of yet (but Loxton and Prothero have sadly decided to simply concentrate on the monsters, on those famous and extraordinary "animals" such as the Loch Ness Monster where one knows right from the onset that they are at best figments of our collective, of human imagination).
I find the area of cryptozoology infinitely fascinating. Although I am a non-believer in such things, the myths, history and legends behind the seemingly endless search for these creatures is like the very best Saturday afternoon television. While one is a scientist and the other is clearly versed in the science behind these claims, this is more of a historic and anthropological examination and debunking of the myths. They spend a lot of time talking about how the claims came about, the morphing of the legends and the people who made the “big discoveries” in each field.
This book also has a terrific sense of humor. It’s not a comedy by any means, and these two shouldn’t quit their day jobs, but their jabs and barbs at the cryptozoology community are pretty clever. Of course again, someone who is a believer would probably take umbrage the fun being had at their expense.
If you like anthropology or histories focused on the weird or obscure, or have a passing yet skeptical interest in any of the creatures talked about, then this will be a fun read for you.
Ask me about the Loch Ness Monster. Having read Abominable Science I now know more than I ever thought I would about this particular cryptid.
Cryptids are those semi-mythical, or poorly documented, or, lets just face it, non-existent creatures sought after by cryptozoologists. The authors of this volume present themselves as “skeptical crytozoologists.” Well, of course they are. The book is published by Columbia University Press, so I would hope it’s not on the level of cable TV shows like Monster Quest or The Big Foot Files.
The authors spend much of the first chapter rehearsing the problems with cryptozoology – it’s reliance on first hand testimony; its willingness to rehash incidents debunked years ago; the absence of physical evidence; the frequent admission of hoaxes among those who make sightings; and, its nonchalant disregard for the fact that the serious application of general scientific principles discounts the presence of any of these creatures.
But for whom exactly are Loxton and Prothero writing? True believers are known to brook no nay saying when it comes to discussions of their favored cryptid – and most cryptid hunters have only one creature that interests them. And so for any one likely to pick up this book, the authors are preaching to the choir. What they do provide is an entertaining if at times exhaustive account of the history and probable sources of the major cryptid canon: Bigfoot, the Yeti, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, a whole slue of sea serpents, and the more obscure Mokele Mbembe of Central Africa.
I picked up some interesting information here. I did not know that the first appearance of Nessie in the form we know occurred just a few weeks after the opening of King Kong in London. The Jurassic lake monster in that film apparently provided the prototype of not only Nessie but of similar creatures in the U.S. and Canada. (I’m reminded of how the large-eyed, gray alien became the default extraterrestial after its premiere appearance in The UFO Incident, a 1975 made-for-TV movie.) The authors’ long discussion on sea serpents moves from ancient mythology to Scandinavian folklore to a period of 19th scientific respectability prompted by the discovery of fossil ichthyosaurs. Mokele Mbembe is a cryptid in need of press agent since few outside the circle of cryptozoology enthusiasts seem to know about this Dipsosaurus living in the lakes of Central Africa. And who knew that expeditions to prove its existence had been funded by well-heeled Christian fundamentalists? They thought that the existence of a dinosaur living in the present would disprove Darwinian evolution.
The final chapter discusses whether the pursuit of cryptids is harmless fun or has deeper connotations. After their enjoyable visit to a Bigfoot convention, the authors finally discuss America’s dangerous ignorance of and distrust in science. Chasing after, or for that matter even believing in yetis, sasquatches, lake monsters and the like could speak to a desire to hide from the modern world by keeping open the possibility of creatures that defy reason. But if that is the authors’ final message, they have chosen a very long-winded manner of presenting it.
This is certainly not a bad book, it has humor and a lot of fun information, but I found it a little disappointing for a number of reasons:
➤. My main objection is that I had hoped for more science and less historical research. While I am not saying that the latter is not valid, I just wanted more on biomass etc. ➤. The authors tend to attack people based on how they personally feel about someone else's qualifications. (They are pretty opinionated about who is qualified to find an imaginary animal. ) While there is a token acknowledgement that amateurs have made contributions to science, it does not conceal a professional bias. ➤. As one would expect,they are rabidly anti-creationist. While this is not a fault in itself, it does not need to be mentioned incessantly. At one point, they even acknowledge that Creationism is *not* the sole determinant of anti-scientific views, immediately after which they commence another anti-creationist tirade. ➤. The author's hypothesis on sea monsters, while interesting, was not as compelling as they seemed to find it. They ignored a few other theories entirely, for example, they do not mention oarfish. ➤. More Bigfoot, less mokele membe! ➤. The bits on eye witness's testimony are very interesting. ➤. The book ends with a bitter rant against the state of scientific knowledge in the US and the requisite Carl Sagan quote, but does not offer a solution.
Abominable Science is an interesting book about creatures of modern legend -- Nessie, the Yeti, Sea Serpents... It's quite a dry read, almost academic, with tons of footnotes and clear sources. But it's fascinating for all that.
For me, it was mostly fascinating because of the amazing lengths people will go to in disbelieving evidence. To me, the lack of verifiable sightings of any given creature is strong evidence -- though not hard proof -- that it doesn't exist. It would only take one verified sighting to prove me wrong, of course, but on balance I still think it's more likely that the creature doesn't exist. Not so with most cryptozoologists. It's kind of baffling.
It is kinda sad that there's just about zero chance of a plesiosaur in Loch Ness. I cherished such hopes as a kid with a plesiosaur bath toy. But still. I accept it.
Abominable Science! by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero is a fascinating, archly humorous introduction to cryptozoology from a skeptical perspective. Lloxton and Prothero examine the most famous cryptids (Bigfoot, the Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents and Mokele Mbembe) by tracing their ties to folklore, popular culture and the evolution of their mythology. The results aren't flattering to believers: many famous sightings, photographs and stories are obvious hoaxes, while the myths evolved alongside both extant folklore (the sea serpents from Norse mythology, Nessie and Bigfoot from popular films, books and stories) and became a self-sustaining feedback loop where "evidence" and media coverage first echoed, then reinforced preconceptions of what a Bigfoot or Nessie was. I found the chapter on Mokele Mbembe, the alleged Congo dinosaur, particularly eye-opening, with Loxton showing how certain Western investigators (Roy Mackal for one) showed up with an entourage of armed security guards and coolers filled with beer, essentially browbeating tall tales out of incredulous Africans; others use the fabled beast to promote creationism and other dubious ideologies. Indeed, the book ends with a chapter calling out the un-scientificness of cryptozoology in general and specific researchers, claiming that such pseudoscientific nonsense is deeply harmful (drawing parallels to global warming and evolution deniers). Lest the book seem like a grim death march of debunkery, it's laced with winking humor and self-effacement from the authors that makes their tale much more pleasant than it might be. Still, a must-read for anyone seeking a serious perspective on cryptozoology and paranormal phenomena.
So... close! This book came so close to getting five stars, and then it ruined itself in the last chapter. But I still recommend it as worth the read.
I loved the vast majority of Abominable Science. I grew up, like one of the authors, as a full believer in cryptids as living, breathing organisms. After nearly scaring the bejeezus out of myself a few times in my 20s, I did more research and began to doubt what I thought I was seeing. (And what it was doesn't matter - the fact is that I later realized I was wrong and misidentifying things. Although you will never convince me there are no more cougars in the area around Asheville. I saw too much and knew too many people who heard screams themselves.)
The best parts of this work are the background pieces where they document the actual rise of the legends in recorded history. I especially highly recommend the chapter on sea serpents. It's a marvelous piece of detective work, laying out step by step how the sea serpent evolved from the hippocampus, originally just a piece of decorative art on amphorae and similar vases in ancient Hellas. Honestly, if you enjoy true crime for the way they lay out the cases, you should read this chapter even if you are a cryptid advocate! It's amazing.
There is a lot here that isn't published in any other book. that in and of itself helps support their thesis that the current state of cryptozoology is woefully blase - possibly even to the point of neglect - about checking its sources. They themselves back up all of their assertions with citations from all kinds of sources, including many primary newspaper accounts. When they can't find a source, they state that up front. Anyone wanting to say "You cite your sources first!" should realize they already have.
They try very hard to avoid ad hominem attacks, and in fact single out some members of the cryptozoological community for their efforts to responsibly research. That goes a long way with me. Loxton, in particular, did a great job of being fair to the researchers he profiles.
One of the biggest surprises to me was how involved creationists are in discovering cryptids. I was floored to find out that so many of them are funding expeditions under the theory that finding unknown animals would somehow destroy the case for evolution. I can't see how on earth they think that would work - if anything, it would fill in branches on the evolutionary tree - and the explanations they give don't make any sense. Still, it bothers me that so many of the researchers funding expeditions are aligned with the likes of Kent Hovind. EWWWW.
It all falls apart in the last chapter, though, where Prothero falls into the smugness trap. After about half the chapter explaining how it is clear that cryptid advocates are intelligent, not given to delusions more than the rest of the populace, and gosh-darn-it normal, Prothero laments the harm that believing in cryptids causes, because science is underfunded and credulousness and earth around the sun belief percentages and so somehow the downfall of MURRICA! I hate this line of argument, especially in this day and age when female scientists have a harder time getting jobs in STEM fields and there is a brain drain. How about fixing the house before worrying about the "damage" that is being done while half the brain power available is already being wasted, guys? Thanks EVER so much.
I received a copy of this book from Columbia University Press via NetGalley. While it was provided at no expense to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.
First and foremost, if you are looking for a book that is going to verify your beliefs in all things cryptozoology, you are going to be disappointed.
This book actually takes the opposite tack. It takes scientific principles and applies them to the study of and hunt for various cryptids. The authors basically alternate chapters, each doing their part to tackle the specific topic at hand.
They do spend a lot of time at the very beginning talking about what is and isn’t good science and who is and isn’t qualified to be an expert in subjects related to cryptozoology. Just because someone has a PhD in science doesn’t mean they’re qualified, especially if the specialization is in chemistry, not zoology, etc.
But their biggest argument seems to be the strongest one: Show Me The Body. Surely, in our ever expanding world, where the population is increasing and places where these famous cryptids can hide are diminishing, surely someone would have found proof of Bigfoot, Yeti, Nessie, etc. Add in advanced scientific understanding and technology, and it seems even more likely.
Once the authors tackle the foundation of research, they go into details with several famous crytpids, talking about various claims throughout the years and debunking them via scientific principles. That was actually more interesting to me than the introductory chapters, as I learned more about the legends behind these famous mythical creatures.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, although it was pretty dry in places. There was also a general overtone of superiority over those who believe in cryptids, which got to be a little overbearing at times, but I understand that was the point of the book.
I really wanted to like this book, and I thought I would. I was seduced by the flashy cover and that scintillating exclamation point. I was taken in, like an eyewitness whose Sasquatch turns out to be a burned-out tree stump.
The first thing I want to say about the book is it is heavy. (Physically heavy, I mean.) The pages are thick and glossy, making for a weighty volume. The book contains a number of illustrations that are very cute, but don't really add much to the information presented. All in all, it's a slick presentation (it seduced me, remember), and given its overall theme of “Be skeptical of everything you see,” that seems odd.
The chapters on the cryptids themselves are well done, if exhaustive. It was especially interesting to read about author Loxton's personal experience with "misidentification" of objects in the woods. At times though, the book feels overwhelmed by details as the authors take great pains to invalidate the "evidence" for cryptids' existence. Thirty-four pages on Mokele Mbembe, the "Congo dinosaur?" It's a bit extreme.
The last chapter was just a muddle, and the main reason for my lukewarm rating. After spending a lot of time on survey data attempting to understand the psychology behind cryptid belief, the authors conclude that there's not much to conclude -- many, if not most, believers are completely "normal" people. And the book's ultimate conclusion -- that cryptozoology is a dire threat to the progress of science itself -- is hard for me to swallow. I almost got the impression that they did not know how to end the book, and decided a self-righteous, preachy tirade on the ignorance of the masses was the way to go.
Am I a believer? No, but I like to think about these things, and I'm sort of hypnotically fascinated by the field of cryptozoology itself. If the topic interests you, I'd recommend the well-researched interior chapters on Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, etc., but do yourself a favor and take a pass on that aggravating final chapter.
An illuminating look at the origin stories of a handful of cryptids that stretches to 400-plus pages when it could have been a lean 250 -- if only the authors could stop repeating themselves. In fact, despite the wealth of background information the book imparts, it's a bit drudging until it reaches the "Mokele Mbembe" chapter, where a righteous take-down of creationist charlatanism takes place. From there the book moves into a chapter that eloquently explores the pitfalls of the pseudo-scientific approach and its impact on the way society understands the world around it. Unfortunately a lot of readers might have tired of the authors' writing style before they reach those cathartic chapters.
The Abominable Snowman. The Loch Ness Monster. Bigfoot. As a kid, I ate that stuff up. In fact, along with watching every monster movie I could, I also poured through the pages of Fate Magazine. Eventually one grows up — but, in my case, only a little. Authors Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written a book, Abominable Science (Amazon link) about their investigations into such cryptozoological subjects.
Both authors are skeptics although as is quoted more than once in Abominable Science that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” None the less, they are not believers that such critters as I’ve already mentioned, nor sea serpents or dinosaurs (in Africa,) exist at this time. Am I a believer? Not really, but I try to keep an open mind.
There are definitely two authors at work here with differing writing styles. Sometimes humor is shown, other times the prose is dry as a stick. There are numerous and often humorous anecdotes about the hoaxes foisted on the gullible public by pranksters. I enjoyed those sections quite a bit. In other parts, it’s slow going. Their research is exhaustive. At times, in fact, it’s exhausting; in a couple of chapters there’s simply too much of it that simply isn’t all that interesting. Incidentally, fully 40% of the book (according to my Kindle) is footnotes, references, etc.
For instance, the chapter on sea serpents recounts almost every single piece of historical writings about them. A few less examples would have moved things along, better. And yet, while I was reading the book a couple of months ago, two Oarfish washed up upon the western coast. These are snake-like creatures that can grow to be over 30 feet in length, with fearsome looking heads and could easily be mistaken as “sea serpents” and possibly have spawned such tales. Odd that THEY weren’t mentioned. Who knows what else lurks in the deep and hasn’t been discovered yet. Having said that, I’m more in agreement with them in other chapters.
Regarding Big Foot . . . Well, I think the authors are on sounder footing, pardon the pun. As they point out, with all the hunters and loggers and nature lovers tramping through the woods of North America, not one has come across a body or skeleton or even part of one that has tested positive as a new species.
Two points about the book rubbed me the wrong way. While it has nothing to do with the validity of what they are writing, the statement is made that such-and-such making claims about or went looking for a creature “had no training that would qualify him to undertake competent research on exotic animals.” This was regarding a biologist who mounted two expeditions to the African Congo in search of a supposedly not-extinct dinosaur. And, no, I don’t believe there are still dinosaurs roaming the veldt and yes, I believe that the scientist in question had an agenda. But, I also believe that plenty of non-professional enthusiasts have made numerous contributions to the sciences. All you need do is look to the field of astronomy for examples today.
Secondly, one of the authors, Donald R. Prothero, links belief in such Big Foot and cryptozoology in general to the decline in science education in the United States. He goes on a tirade at the end of the book trying to link belief in sea serpents to belief in astrology, to creationism, to not-believing in man-made global warming, to the recession, to Republicans (because, I guess, no Democrat ever looked up their horoscope or believes in Big Foot) and finally to the wars in the middle-east. That’s quite a wide paint brush he wields in the final paragraphs.
Okay, if you’ve made it this far into my review, you want the bottom line: Parts of the book are interesting and the authors certainly take the wind out of the sails of some beliefs. Other sections are slow going and begging to be skipped over. I’ll grudgingly give it 3 out of 5 stars.
Cryptozoology, mainly in the form of over-the-top TV shows, is one of my guilty pleasures. I saw this book for sale at one of the Smithsonian museums and thought it would be enlightening to read the real science behind it. (I was also surprised to learn how many of the hosts on those shows are pursuing cryptids to promote creationism - that has definitely turned me off for the future.)
I’m comfortable with the scientific method, but I liked seeing it so specifically applied to investigations of different cryptids. I had a passing familiarity with a lot of the “big” evidence discussed but was just as fascinated with learning the background behind it - how much of it was proven hoaxes or obtained under highly suspicious circumstances - all conveniently left out of the reality TV shows.
Each chapter can largely be read as a stand-alone, covering one (type) of cryptid, but there could’ve been tighter editing as there was some word-for-word copying between chapters. What really knocked this down from four stars to three for me was the final chapter. The co-authoring could be a bit awkward but wasn’t bothersome until then - one guy fully embraced the fun of the title in his view (sure, Bigfoot hunting is scientific, but if it gets people outdoors in community, that’s not a bad thing) while the other goes full bore the other way (believing in Bigfoot is the gateway to scientific illiteracy and will contribute to a culture of ignorance) that was a very bizarre end to the book. Especially given how much of that same chapter discussed how people are much more likely to only believe in one paranormal belief than multiple.
Written by an artist (Daniel Loxton) and a scientist (Donald Prothero) who have differing opinions on the potential of cryptozoology to become a valid part of science, but share a strong commitment to adhering to legitimate means of conducting science, critical thinking and skepticism, “Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie and Other Famous Cryptids” is the definitive book on cryptozoology. It is an engrossing, entertaining, and insightful exploration of cryptozoology as a potentially legitimate science, in which they underscore how much of it has been driven by lies, fabricating evidence, and gross distortions and omissions of valid, well established, mainstream science. In the notable cases of Yeti and Bigfoot, Lawton and Prothero demonstrate how misleading interpretations of native legends regarding “wild men” were transformed, often by illegitimate means such as faking footprints and “evidence” like hairs as “proof” supporting the existence of large, hithero unknown, upright walking humanoid-like apes, in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest in the western United States and Canada and the Himalayas straddling the border of Tibet. As for Nessie (Chapter Four), and its Canadian “cousin” Cadborosaurus (Chapter Seven), Loxton demonstrates how they may have been inspired by the cinematic debut of the film “King Kong”, since prior, “credible”, reports of both do not appear until soon after the film’s initial release in the 1930s. Prothero successfully undermines any semblance of credibility for cryptozoology as a science in Chapter One and the chapter on the African dinosaur Mokele Mbembe (Chapter Six), noting how some of the most passionate advocates for the existence of that dinosaur have been creationists who lack any training in field ecology or dinosaur paleobiology. In the concluding Chapter Seven “Why Do People Believe in Monsters?” both weigh in on the reasons why people still cling to believing in the reality of Bigfoot, Yeti and Nessie inspite of overwhelming scientific data that doesn’t confirm their existence. While Loxton expresses some hope that cryptozoology can become a legitimate science if its practitioners adhere to rigorous standards of conducting scientific inquiry, Prothero – and I think correctly here – explains how cryptozoology resembles all too closely, would be sciences like “scientific creationism” and the study of UFOs, and why this means that it can never be viewed credibly by both its practitioners and outsiders as a credible science. “Abominable Science” is an important book worthy of as wide a readership as possible, merely because its authors have gone to great lengths in explaining how science actually works and the importance of critical thinking and skepticism; it should be viewed as a worthy companion volume to Prothero’s “Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future”, which delves further into the pseudoscientific nonsense that Prothero merely hints at in “Abominable Science”.
Abominable Science! is one of two books that my library has classified under the cryptozoology header. Books for adults, I mean. Apparently there's a fairly vast number of children and YA books dealing with the subjects, the bulk of them fiction. Looking for some more in depth writings on the topic was what lead me to this book, and man, it was a delight to read. This book is divided up into a number of sections, each focusing upon a single cryptid. All the big ones are represented: Bigfoot, Yeti, Sea Serpents, the Loch Ness Monster, Mokele Mbembe - and it is all wrapped up in a final section that details why people believe in these creatures. The final section, to me, was actually the most interesting - just about everything in it was unexpected.
The bulk of the book is fairly kind to cryptozoologists. While the authors both take severe issue with the lack of scientific rigor in the field, it's evident that for the most part they want things so wondrous and strange to exist. The problem isn't necessarily with cryptozoology on the whole, just with the hoaxers and the people's lack of desire to be forthcoming about how much of accepted data was likely manufactured by hoaxers. Cryptozoology needs a wake up call, and it needs more people to be more critical of certain aspects of what has been seen, documented, believed.
All in all, this is a pretty great book that does good service to folklorists and the public at large. The final section, however, is the most important... Why cryptozoology is a good thing, why it is a bad thing, and what it means for the public that it endures as it does. In summation? It's fine to believe in the esoteric and the strange, just so long as you don't let your mind be so open that your brains end up falling out. Scientific rigor matters, and scientific literacy matters even more. Don't let your belief (or desire to believe, Mulder) in the strange erode either too much.
It's rare to find a book about cryptozoology that doesn't fall solidly into one of two camps: the believers or the debunkers. The authors here do a fine job of presenting evidence, admitting when they don't know something, while still pointing out the failings of amateur cryptozoological research.
While the book shoots down a lot of favorite pet theories (Bigfoot = missing link; Loch Ness Monster = plesiosaur), they acknowledge that people *do* see strange creatures and make suggestions as to what these animals might really be. They make it clear that their suggestions are speculation and do not attempt to present them as fact.
The last chapters of the book are devoted to the psychology of why people believe in monsters, and I think this is probably the strongest part of the book. Agendas vary by animal and situation. For example, it was a revelation to me that young-earth creationists cling to the idea of relict dinosaurs because they think it will disprove the theory of evolution (?), or that bigfoot hunters may be largely motivated by the desire to get back out into the wilderness.
Recommended for anyone who has an interest in the strange and unknown but wants a large side of skepticism with their weird.
I picked this up because of the cover which features a Bigfoot-like creature with huge fangs, and is made to look like an old-time trashy comic book. Imagine my dismay when the book itself is a well-written, well-researched, scientific account of cryptids that explains in detail the pseudoscience behind these beliefs. As a native of the Pacific Northwest I have always had a hopeful belief in Sasquatch, but it is hard to argue with actual fact, which is that despite years of expeditions and research, no actual trace of Bigfoot has ever been found. This is true for other popular cryptids (Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Mokele Mbembe) as well. With all this astonishing lack of evidence, why do so many people still believe? And what’s the harm if people do believe? The authors address this in the last chapter (“Why do people believe in monsters?”) and argue that by “…encouraging anti-scientific and anti-rational thinking…” widespread paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs lead to a public that is ignorant or hostile to science, which is a problem when world leaders and policymakers are dealing with issues of public health or climate change, for example.
Three reasons why I liked this book on cryptozoology (that is, the study of cryptids --- disputed creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster):
1) After a somewhat pedantic coverage of the scientific method, the authors gear down on good solid reasons to doubt the existence of cryptids: the lack of fossil records, carcasses, evidence of feeding grounds, etc... There's even a great graph of the logistic model describing the number of species in a certain genus yet to be found. There's a ton of well explained science in here.
2) For each creature the book discusses, there's an "origin story" --- a history of the first sightings, the spreadings of the myth, and the transformation of the myths. For someone who soaked in this stuff as a kid watching In Search Of... and reading dodgy books, it's great to see a skeptical perspective.
3) At the end of the book, the two authors have a reasoned and interesting debate about the possible harms of cryptozoology. Are searches for Bigfoot aiding scientific illiteracy in the U.S.? Or are they a harmless way for a number of people to encounter wilderness?
As a skeptic, I approve heartily of this book. As a monster romantic - someone who thinks the possibility of cryptids existing is awfully neat, even if there's zero concrete evidence for it - it's quite a disheartening read.
The authors lay out compelling evidence that five famous cryptids never existed and there's zero cause to assume they ever did. Bigfoot is a collection of known hoaxes and tall tales. Yeti sightings are of bears. The Loch Ness Monster is a pop culture inspired series of misidentification. Caddy was created as a prank by local newspapers. Mokele-Mbembe is composed of bribed stories and creationist nonsense. The authors deem Chupacabra and Mothman so unimpressive that they both only get mentioned in passing.
It's still a pretty good book. The opening and closing chapters are a bit dry but, otherwise, the authors do a good job of mixing history, science, and an entertaining writing style.
I admit, I was pretty excited about the Time-Life MYSTERIES OF THE UNEXPLAINED until academia ruined it all. This is a fun book by a professional artist/avocational skeptic and an academic paleontologist, who approach cryptozoology the way Adrienne Mayor does in the books of hers I enjoyed about ancient people thinking mammoth bones meant cyclopes: what would lead people to think they'd discovered Yetis, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Sea Serpents and the Congo Dinosaur? Was it misunderstanding fossils (aided by several 18th century con-men who constructed mega-monsters for enlightenment royal collections)? Is it the optical illusion of seeing objects on the water from a distance? Why do people want so badly to believe in these creatures? Amazingly, sightings spike when there is available media to broadcast it and tourist industry to benefit from it....
A substantial, intelligent examination of famous cryptids and their unscientific emergence as cultural icons, Abominable Science! investigates cryptozoological facts and fiction in a sensible, reasoned analysis that seeks to separate the fantastical lies from the truths of critical observation and professional expertise.
Highly interesting and often more entertaining than many of the alleged sightings and bold claims of inept fraudsters, Abominable Science! asks serious questions about the lack of basic research and journalistic integrity in too many cases, and easily fact checks inaccurate or deceptive details that are repeatedly used as confirmation of existence.
Hoaxing, “Fakelore” and other chicanery is explored and exposed as either convenient or proven to be the result of beneficial motives such as fame and fortune, and the authors note untold examples of misidentification, embellished memories, flawed testimonies and glaring inconsistencies that have survived almost completely unchallenged for decades. It’s not at all surprising to read that quite a few cryptid advocates were known pranksters considered by acquaintances to be unreliable, or were inventive hustlers and showmen with backgrounds in moneymaking and the creative arts.
The central argument of Abominable Science! is to reject leap of faith conclusions, hearsay and contaminated evidence, and to replace all untested assumptions with rigorous scientific processes, peer reviewed scrutiny and a much greater level of research and investigative inquiry.
I enjoyed the chapters detailing evidence for famous monsters (Bigfoot, the Yeti, Nessie and Mokele Mbembe), yet the most thorough section was Loxton’s lengthy look at the origins and history of the legendary sea serpent. In great detail, this fascinating chapter tracks the evolution of its myths and reality over 250+ years, noting the likely influence of King Kong in generating “expectant attention” and the subsequent sightings of marine monsters immediately after the blockbuster astounded worldwide audiences.
Professionally written and produced, and supported by copious notes, Abominable Science! is a compelling document that replaces sensationalism and obvious fabrication with a common-sense search for simple explanations. Rigorously researched, fact filled and entertaining, it’s well worth a read by anyone possessing an open and inquisitive mind.
The book is written as a skeptical review of the field of cryptozoology through in-depth analyses of theories and alleged evidence surrounding the most famous cryptids. Despite the dismissive tone, the authors gave the field of cryptozoology more respect than many of its purveyors could ever have given. This can be seen in the exhaustive research, meticulous footnoting, and the persistent tracking of famous ‘sightings’ that often led to questions of credentials, circumstances, and side-dramas that would by itself discredit said sightings. Regrettably, these facets were often conveniently disregarded by many cryptozoology writers, resulting in ‘canonisations’ that should not have happened in the first place.
In any case, the book’s strength does not come from its forceful debunk of the (pseudo)science and its ‘canon’ (namely sightings, writings, photos, and videos). Rather, it lies in the book’s diligent pursuit of the context and mythologies that shaped the 'origin story' of cryptid. Some of these went back thousands of years, such as the hippocamp that intersected with many legends of the sea creature. While at times the authors show their impatience towards human gullibility and irrationality, the book nevertheless tells a very human story. Reading the book, one gets the sense that cryptozoology is about the paranormal, yet completely normal as a human obsession. In other words, finding monsters involves less about gadgets but a greater understanding of human nature. This slides in comfortably with what Naish calls post-cryptid cryptozoology; the scientific understanding about 'monsters' without the hope of ever finding one.
As someone who once held hopes that some of these animals might be true (who doesn’t want dinosaurs to still be alive anyway?) but no longer so, this book still feels like tough love to me. This is because of how merciless it is in quashing the ‘canon’ and with it, the foundation of everything we knew about cryptozoology as children reading sensationalist 'sciencey' books. But the authors also compensate our heartbreaks in many ways, not least by their stringency in holding the scientific line but also the detective work done in looking across that line. It's easier to let go of your longing for living dinosaurs knowing that it puts you on the same side of the Creationists.
I was always under the impression that Bigfoot, Mokele-mbembe and the other cryptids covered in this book were misidentified objects like bears or otters. Or maybe logs rolling in the water or unkept hermits roaming as far away from civilization as possible. What I was unaware of that this book brings out is that most of the origin stories began as complete hoaxes. Yes, bears walking on their hind legs have been misidentified as a Bigfoot and seals as a Loch Ness Monster. But the amount of fakery that’s taken place was astounding to discover.
I’m more of a UFO guy; in that, when it comes to the field of cryptids, I’m more entertained by the ones allegedly coming from outer space. In anticipation for attending my first cryptid conference, I decided to read up on the subject and felt this book was the best start. And it appears I was correct because I’m not sure any other needs to be consulted.
Like the field of ufology, the field of cryptozoology is plagued with first and foremost, misidentifications. But more importantly, the most interesting cases seem to always be hoaxes. The more incredible a tale, the more likely it didn’t happen.
The last section of the book discusses why they do it. Why do some people continue to pursue the monsters even if by now, it’s pretty clear none exist? One person admitted it was just an excuse to be out in the wild. As a fisherman, I get that. Most of the time while fishing I catch nothing of significant size. But every now and then, and this is what makes it worth it, is when I do. So yeah, I get it. Of course, Bigfoot, the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster have never been caught. I at least get to present a big fish once in a while as proof. But hey, keep searching. Knock yourself out. Ya never know.
More a 3.5. Gets tedious at times. There's an embarrassment of riches on the five cases covered. Mauve that's excusable because going for shallower treatment of note cases would've loaded me down with trivia.
Surprising things for me about cryptozoology: cryptids like Nessie and Bigfoot actually have a very short history, the role of media in fostering their rise, and the involvement of Creationists in this (especially Mokele-mbembe).
They also go over polling data -- who believes and such. Some surprises there, though I wasn't as surprised that the paranormal isn't unpopular and in one way is dominant in the West. One surprise here is that it seems people get their fill -- believers in Bigfoot, for instance, are less like to believe in ghosts.
It's probably better to either have this book as a reference or read about your favorite cryptid and maybe skim the rest. (Mine would be Bigfoot; and, no, I'm not a believer in it, but it's still my favorite.)
Very interesting! Loxton and Prothero do a great job of presenting evidence without telling you what you should or shouldn't believe. "Abominable Science!" is a fun and informative exploration of storytelling, culture, and evolving beliefs in cryptids and the world of mythology. You've likely seen or heard about penultimate "proof" of Bigfoot and Nessie such as the Patterson- Gimlin film or the surgeon's photo, but what about the story behind them? What about the hoaxes and the famous hoaxers? Loxton and Prothero do an excellent job of separating fact from fiction and explaining the importance of the scientific method when it comes to not-so-scientific theories. My only complaint would be some instances or topics that could have been handled with more respect, but perhaps that was more my own perception that reality. If you're interested in Cryptozoology or just want to know what people choose to believe in monsters, this is the perfect read!
Was not sure if 3 or 4 stars was suitable. The book takes quite a deep-dive into the origin of the “monsters” it talks about, almost too much so. I think the purpose is to show how people have for a long time believed in things that represent what they can’t really see.
It also shows how the imagination of a movie or some prominent person (like an older brother) can get an idea moving and then others want to get onboard the belief wagon.
Mostly a one-sided look at these beliefs which is not surprising given the author’s affiliations. They do make convincing cases and do present counter arguments which, of course, they throw out.
Uma investigação detalhada e extremamente bem referenciada (o capítulo de notas é 1/5 do livro) que mete um grande prego no caixão dos críptidos. Por muito que me apele a ideia de existirem "monstros" a vaguear por aí, é difícil argumentar contra as provas falsificadas, os depoimentos de mentirosos compulsivos e toda a má ciência que sustenta a crença nos críptidos mais conhecidos.
Infelizmente o capítulo sobre serpentes marinhas é por demais extenso e retira fôlego a uma leitura de outra forma compulsiva, arrastando o meio do livro. Também gostaria de ter visto outros monstros abordados.