“Loxton suspects that the cryptozoology literature may as easily and as often become a “gateway drug” for science literacy as it may be for attitudes of resistance to science”
“The more the creationist cryptozoologists manage to damage the understanding of science, the worse off we all are.”
Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, the authors of Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and and Other Famous Cryptids are divided in our assessment of the net consequences of cryptozoological beliefs and enthusiasms. Daniel Loxton is quite sympathetic to cryptozoology; Donald Prothero is much more critical. Below are excerpts from the book’s final chapter “The Complexity of Cryptozoology,” in which the authors consider the issue. (For more on this topic, you can also read an interview with Loxton and Prothero).
Coming out of cryptozoology himself, Loxton is inclined to regard monster hunting—even in the permanent absence of any genuine cryptids—in much the same terms as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s description of Earth: “mostly harmless.” Unlike many of the paranormal topics that skeptics critique, cryptozoology does not ask adherents to reject the laws of physics, partake in unproved or disproved medical treatments, live in terror of alien invaders, or sell their possessions in anticipation of the end of the world. Cryptozoology is not terribly expensive for most people—no more, certainly, than hunting or fishing—and it offers the tangible benefits of any literary hobby or fan community. It encourages the development of skills of reading and historical investigation, and it brings enthusiasts together. Is cryptozoology so different in this respect from the skeptical subculture in which we two participate? As Loxton has put it, whether communities form around the love of Bigfoot or skepticism or model trains, “finding commonality with other human beings is a good in itself—an end in itself. Indeed, in respect to this particular end, the ‘skeptical’ part of the skeptical community is largely beside the point.” If fans of monsters find a similar commonality in their shared love of old microfilm and camping trips, is that really so bad? Furthermore, Loxton argues that the love of cryptozoological mysteries may offer some of the same educational benefits that science advocates promote: love of the natural world and experience grappling with the nature of scientific evidence. Extrapolating from his own life experience, Loxton suspects that the cryptozoology literature may as easily and as often become a “gateway drug” for science literacy as it may be for attitudes of resistance to science.
Prothero sees the subject somewhat differently:
But is cryptozoology “mostly harmless,” as Loxton believes? For his part, Prothero is not so sure. Whatever the romantic appeal of monster mysteries, cryptozoology as it exists today is unquestionably a pseudoscience. None of the cryptids it purports to study have been demonstrated to exist; the reality of most is exceptionally unlikely; and some, like the Loch Ness monster of popular legend, can be definitively rejected as untrue.
Granted, cryptozoology is less obviously dangerous than are some other pseudoscientific claims, such as the discredited but fiercely promoted speculation that routine vaccinations cause autism or the assertion that HIV does not cause AIDS (a belief that has been calculated to have caused 365,000 premature deaths in South Africa alone). But aren’t these and other fringe topics unified by a common pattern of pseudoscientific thinking? Rather than merely wasting time and resources, the widespread acceptance of the reality of cryptids may feed into the general culture of ignorance, pseudoscience, and anti-science. The more the paranormal is touted by the media as acceptable and scientifically credible—rather than subjected to the harsh scrutiny of the scientific method, the rigor of critical thinking, and the demand for real evidence—the more people are made vulnerable to the predations of con artists, gurus, and cult leaders. The more the creationist cryptozoologists manage to damage the understanding of science, the worse off we all are.