Donald Prothero – The Psychology of Cryptozoologists

August 08, 2011

Our guest this week is Donald Prothero, Professor of Geology at Occidental College, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. Don is a distinguished academic; a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society, he has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Don contributes to the SkepticBlog and he has been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Prehistoric Monsters Revealed and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. He has edited and written numerous scientific papers, textbooks and books, including Evolution of the Earth, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, and his most recent title, Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters.

In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Karen Stollznow speaks with Don about one of his pet interests, cryptozoology and the psychology of cryptozoologists. He answers the questions, why do people believe in monsters and what do they believe? Is cryptozoology all pseudoscience or are any scientists involved in the field? What would allow cryptozoology to be taken seriously as a true science?

They discuss the language, culture and characters of the “cryptozoological subculture”. Lastly, Don reveals why creationists are now exploring cryptozoology, and the reasons why we shouldn’t dismiss the study as an “innocent hobby”.

Before we get into today’s show, I want to bring to everyone’s attention that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry are holding a conference this October 27 through the 30th. That’s Halloween weekend in New Orleans. Let me read off just some of the speakers will have there, Bill Nye, Harriet Hall, Lawrence Krauss, Eugenie Scott, Paul off it, James Randi, Phil Plait, Joe Nicole Chris Mooney Karen Stollznow. This is gonna be big. Did I mention it’s New Orleans on Halloween weekend. So head over to sci conference, dawg. That’s CSI conference, dawg. And reserve your space today. 

This is point of inquiry for Monday, August 8th, 2011. 

Welcome points of inquiry. I’m Karen Stollznow Point of Inquiry’s, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry at think tank Advancing Reason, Science and Secular Values in Public Affairs and at the grassroots. My guest this week is Donald Prothro, professor of geology at Occidental College and lecturer in geo biology at the California Institute of Technology. Don contributes to the Skeptic blog, and he’s been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Prehistoric Monsters Revealed and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. He’s edited and written numerous scientific papers, textbooks and books including Evolution of the Earth, Evolution, What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. And the recent title Catastrophes Earthquake, Tsunami, Tornadoes and Other Earth Shattering Disasters. I speak with Don about one of his pet interests, cryptozoology and the psychology of cryptozoologist. Don, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks for inviting me. So my first question is, and I want to talk with you a bit about the psychology of cryptozoology. Why do people believe in monsters? 

It’s a very odd initially thing. And one of the things in the process of working on this book about cryptozoology that I thought we should really address, and that is it’s it’s a strange phenomenon that people get so deeply ingrained in things like Bigfoot hunting and sitting there for hours and hours at Loch Ness waiting for something to happen. And it doesn’t happen. And so one of these I found myself wanting to do and it’s doing at the end of the book was digging into the literature. There is there actually is quite a bit of literature about not just why people believe weird things, but the kinds of weird things people believe and what connections are doing. They say believe in cryptozoology versus belief in UFOs and that kind of thing. And that was something I felt need to be done. So it turns out it’s a very complex story and it isn’t fully understood because there isn’t any single study that’s done that I’m aware of, which focuses just on why people live in cryptid. It’s more to the nature of why do people believe in the paranormal? 

Mm hmm. And so I do think we have a cultural need for monsters. 

It seems that we do, because the study that was most informative in this regard is a stay by beta at all, which is as paranormal. America just publishes a book a few months ago. It’s based on the famous Baylor Religion Studies, which were done. There’s a huge cross-section of a large part of the population in terms of not only their religious attitudes and what various religious supernatural ideas they held, but then they added in questions about Bigfoot and Loch Ness and and inquiries about UFOs and aliens to see how many connections there were with these other non-religious but non natural beliefs as well. And what was striking about that was that if if you’re to believe the numbers they came up with, which seems like this is the largest study ever done this way so far, more people believe in the paranormal than don’t. I mean, 60, 70 percent of Americans in this study believe at least one in the Fuseli multiple paranormal things are not always the same things, but there lie high percentage believe in UFOs, a high percentage believe in Bigfoot. And the other striking thing about that is in spite of the fact that cryptozoologist like Lauren Coleman and the rest hate the idea of ever being connected to know spacecraft and UFOs and aliens, and they say Big Point has nothing to do with that. We’re just zoologists and reality. When you look at that study of paranormal Americas, a tremendously strong cross correlation between belief in UFOs and belief in Bigfoot. In other is, most people who believe one believe the other. Now, maybe the big voices among the cryptozoology crowd, they’re try to make themselves sounds more scientific. Don’t like that. But in fact, even among those who study Bigfoot, there are a lot who think it’s a supernatural being that gets away from hunters every time. By various means that are not natural. 

Yeah, I guess a lot of people think there’s a naturalist aspect. So are hunting kind of aspects to cryptozoology that it’s more down to nature somehow? 

Well, the thing is that there’s different kinds of people in different cryptid camps. So what was striking about this is I dug up all these references and read up on articles about this was that the Bigfoot crowd is very different from some of the other Krypto crowds. B.F. R.O. is mostly people who are basically glorified hunters. They love being tramping around the woods and they basically, in some of their own words say this. They love tramping around the woods in order to to justify doing it. They say, okay, we’re hunting Bigfoot instead of shooting a deer. And maybe that’s considered to be a higher goal, whatever. But that’s really the motivation, just getting out in nature. And there was a variously article that I quoted extensively in this chapter about this Texas reporter when sat in on one of the big Bigfoot groups that was in West Texas. And the thing he was striking about it was that there was all these people are very serious and trying to sound like academics. And it was no, you know, people in clown suits or even Bigfoot suits or anything like that running around there, all trying to be very, very scholarly sounding. And he said he went to the sessions and was like a snoozer. You know, they were trying their best to Sariel Scali. All these various temps, they have to chase Bigfoot. And yet, of course, none of them were actually doing the kind of scholarship that would actually show Bigfoot doesn’t exist. They’re all doing things on the assumption that Bigfoot’s real. And every one of them to without exception. That meeting was always very upset. If you’ve ever tried to talk about UFO or aliens because they want to think of themselves as a wallet, gists. 

Right. And so, yes, there isn’t that much crossover with beliefs. If Cryptozoologist don’t necessarily like to believe in other areas in the paranormal and pseudo science is a much crossover in beliefs of different kinds of cryptid. So if someone believes in Bigfoot, do they necessarily believe in the Loch Ness Monster or do they pupu ideas of other crypts? And they have their own favorite. Specific one? 

Yeah. There wasn’t any research. I’ve found that actually to address that question. But judging from what you see in the way of their publicity from Cryptome, Mondo, just about every other site. The big footers don’t seem to have any problems, any other cryptid being real. And they just generally Wendt’s once they’ve taken the step to being cryptozoology favorable. All Krypton’s are treated pretty much the same as I, as far as I can tell. Again, I never look any of these ever made and systematically, too, to poll every one of these guys and ask him, well, do you accept chupacabra but not Bigfoot? 

And I use talking about crypto mundo and cryptozoology has a massive following online with a lot of different Web sites and forums like Crypto and Wonder. And I’m wondering what kind of people believe in monsters. So these people, true believers or are they really fans, fans of Big Foot on the Loch Ness Monster? 

Yeah. It’s hard to say. I mean, what’s striking about them is that it is clear when you look at the Batur study again, that it has a lot to do with the same kind of things that that make people religious. Now, as it gives them a sense of purpose, it gives them a sense of mystery. It gives them a sense of there’s a bigger thing out there than I understand. And it doesn’t have to be a religious item in this case. It could be Bigfoot or NASA or whatever. But a lot of it has to do with a religious sort of, you know, you know, extremely strongly reinforced sense that this is their goal to be involved in this kind of a search. And that’s part of the reason it’s so hard for it to be, you know, eroded or eradicated no matter how much you shine a light on it. It doesn’t change it any more than shining a light on religious beliefs seems to change much. How many religious people are these? People are basically quasi religious in lots of ways. The Bigfoot is part of their life or Nesi is part of their life. And it’s very important to them to be tied into this group of people, agree with them, and then abide. By the same token, they had the same reactions. When outsiders or anyone attacks their ideas, of course, they react with the same visceral way that people do when they are religious ideas are attacked. 

And so you’re talking about these people and how big foot becomes a part of their lives. And you’ve also written about the cryptozoological subculture, as you call it. So what is this culture? What does it involve? 

Well, it’s like everything else in society. Everybody is sort of a part of our journal Mass Culture. And then people tend to find their own niches of things they belong to and feel most comfortable with. So right now, we’re at the TAM meeting here in Las Vegas. It’s almost a subculture of its own, has its own language. It has certain stars. It has certain shorthands, apparently from there what this Texas reporter found when he hung out with the Bigfoot research organization in east Texas. 

They have the same kind of characteristics. They have a shorthand. So they talk about the P.G film. 

It’s not parent guides. It’s Patterson Gimblett. Yes. You don’t have to say it out loud, as everyone else knows what that is. And they talk about certain other aspects. You know, the shoot don’t shoot controversy is something that big footers actually do with no one’s actually ever had the decision whether to shoot a big foot or not. But they still worry about that. And these are just everyday things to them. Yes. And that’s apparently been discussed enough times, that big foot meetings. 

That’s already a well-worn topic that they can admittedly talk about without saying more than two words. And and likewise, the description that this reporter did when you hung out with them, they had their own superstar. So instead of having Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss getting mobbed in the hallway to on his way to the bathroom to sign books, they have, you know, Lauren Coleman and those other people there are superstars, doesn’t ask you about the stars and the celebrities that they support, generally the Gimel and or the parties and giving them film was at this particular meeting. 

And he couldn’t walk two steps without him. Another person having him sign something or standing there to have his picture taken with them, of course. 

Incredible. And I want to ask you about Peter Dendle. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him. He’s written right. Americanizing name. A book called Cryptozoology in the Medieval and Modern Waltz. Say He’s Looking to the Heavens, written about the psychology of cryptozoologist. And one of the reasons he cites for why people believe is that cryptozoology serves to channel guilt over the decimation of species and destruction of the natural natural habitat. Do you agree with that? 

I would say that’s probably a little more sophisticated than these people are used to. I mean, I think that as far as they lead, the big footers definitely are the Hunter crowd. Right. They left me with nature. Even that means destroy it. And but whether they have any kind of subliminal need to do connect with guy, I doubt, you know. I don’t think they have that same thing. It’s just that they get this day from going in stark woods and. Surround a nature and and the big foot becomes part of the goal. But it’s really being in part of nature. I think that’s ultimately drives and that’s what this reporter found out when he pulled a lot of them, was what they were really talking about. And that’s in some of the books, like Dagan’s book on Bigfoot, too, about what these how these people think and what makes him tick. 

Right. And so we’re talking about why people believe. So what do people believe about monsters? What does the average person believe in? 

Well, I think it’s true, like in every other subject. Americans are generally ill informed about most things and believe a lot of stuff they don’t know anything more about than maybe just the name. And one description of it, because they’re Batur study was across a large segment of population. And that’s got to be tens of thousands more people than actually belong to be a or any actual crippler organization. So a lot of people just have seen a Bigfoot special or seen a cryptozoology special on what used to be a Science Channel like Discovery Channel. And like everything else on TV, they believe what they see, whether it’s garbage or not. And so it becomes a part of the popular belief system, just like you have. OWS have been very widely accepted by most Americans. And and I don’t think anyone goes very far beyond that. And once a TV specials over, I don’t see many them chasing down their library to read a book on it. The B.F. farro and these people who spend a lot of time on it are more like the cultists. They have made an emotional investment and a time investment, and they spend good money and time to go to meetings and hangout with fellow big footers. That’s completely different kind of thing from the average American who is in the Batur survey who just say, oh, I hear a lot about Bigfoot on TV. Therefore, it’s probably real. 

Yeah, and I guess those TV shows in engender copycat sightings as well. 

Yeah. Well, that’s one of things that both Daniel and I found. We’re working on our new book is that what’s cool is you can sit down with the records of sightings of various types of cryptid. Nessie fits Fitz’s pattern very nicely. So do some of the lake monsters where you have a limited number of actual sightings. And they’ve all the compile sometimes by the you know, the crypto believers themselves do all the compilation, but they provide a nice database and has the same pattern that you would expect from any kind of cultural meme. Namely, one big event catches media attention, like the first time the surgeon’s photo was published in the British British press. And all the sudden the Nazi sightings exploded for four years and then they tail off and then another sighting or another of a big event makes it the media. And then there’s a giant copycat movement and then tails off. And well, Kelly, Movember had the same pattern. Many of these things had the same pattern. 

So what spurs the Spurs on the original sighting then? If there are a lot that will follow? Where did the original ones? 

Some of them, like Nessy, was already an existing legend for centuries in that area. But it took something like the surgeon’s father to make it a modern legend hadn’t really been thought about as before the 1930s very much. And then more recent ones, I Chupa Cobre is a very good example of something extremely culturally dependent, because, as Ben Radford showed in his new book, it came from one ladies remembering the movie species and the monster’s species is almost a dead ringer of what Chupacabra looks like he’s is that she she couldn’t quite distinguish between what she saw. 

And a lot of people think movies are real. People forget that that that is, in fact, a lot of the come and especially in less developed nations, they don’t realize when they’re looking at fiction, when they don’t or they don’t realize it’s not completely fictional. What Ben showed is when he interviewed these people in Puerto Rico where the whole thing started, was that these people said, well, the movie is set in Puerto Rico because you see the ARACY, both space telescope, which is in Puerto Rico, one of the big sinkholes there. And so they they assumed that because he used a real location, some of these events in the movie species are real and they had all these. Now it’s all these Western scientists sitting in a third world country doing bad experiments. All that stuff was so much a part of their cultural meme anyway, that it’s hard for them to realize it was all fiction. 

Yeah. I wonder if they were seeing it as a documentary. That’s right. Many of them apparently did not realize it was completely a work of fiction, even though, of course, at the bottom, any movie, there’s a statement to that effect in smaller writing, probably not in Espanol. 

And so the result is that a lot of people, not just the lady who started the chupacabra legend, but a lot of people don’t make that distinction that we take for granted because we’ve been disabused the notion that movies are real from a very young age. And so that ventured very convincingly that what happened is she started seeing what she had been conditioned to see by this particular movie. And from that point forward, it was all, you know, it’s spread like wildfire because it was picked up in some local sort of tabloid newspapers and in San Juan and then all over the island. And then it had a very interesting classic cultural meme type distribution pattern where there had been never any reports of any chupacabra like creature in any, you know, part of the world before that time in 1995. And also, it shows up in Chile, shows a mago, shows up all over Latin America. So it’s the Latin America equivalent of Bigfoot or Nessy in many ways. And so all these other Latin American countries suddenly are starting to see chupacabra where no one had ever thought about before because it didn’t exist before 95. And then, of course, once it got into the Latin population in southern United States, especially Texas, any animal with no hair on it, dead or alive, is a chupacabra. So almost all thing you see on the on the Internet. You know, all these things that Monster Quest has spent all this time chasing all, you know, various animals mange you usually a dog or a coyote. Yes, occasionally Iraq coon or something more exotic. And what’s really it’s really funny to me is that I’m used to animals. I have not only no hair on them, they have no skin on them. I’m used to bones and teeth. I immediately tell you when is something as a coyote or a dog, you are used to it. 

But I think a lot of people I just cannot recognize an animal here. They’re not exposed to death and dying on that scale. And see, you’ve got meat people prepackaged in supermarkets. Right. So people just aren’t seeing these everyday things. Right. And so they finding a way to explain it and know resorting to the paranormal. But so I wanted to talk to you about cryptozoological fans and new species are discovered all of the time. And cryptozoological fans seem really excited by this fact. And I’m wondering, do you think that each new discovery enforces their beliefs and the possibility that cryptics may be discovered? 

Well, and that’s the problem. 

There’s a fine line between legitimate zoological research to find new species, which we’re doing all the time. Every year there’s several new things found. But almost all those new species that are found, of course, are very closely related. Something have now and they’re generally in the medium to small body size range. So except for specialists, nobody knows these things are being found every year. Right. But what Cryptozoologist are crazy about is they want something really big and exotic, something that’s that’s huge. Something is scary. It’s a real monster, not just on the deceases, a monkey from South America. And this is very different. And that’s where I draw the line. And Daniel, I draw the line in the book is, you know, it’s one thing to say, oh, well, new things are found every year, but almost everything we’re finding now in last century, there’s not been since the time of the Seela Can’t Discovery or the copy discovery any really large, exotic animal. That’s really unusual. It’s large and and bizarre. So then when these people point to the copy in point, the Seela can’t say, oh, well, big things are found, they’re strange. Well, that hasn’t happened now in close to 70 years. And the world is getting to be a small place. And there are places like the deep ocean where, yes, we’re finding big squids and things like that we’ve never known about before. But now the dwarf jungles of the world are not that unexplored anymore. 

Yeah. I was going to say that the newly discovered species mostly bugs and small creatures. And it is. Yeah, that’s strange that cryptozoologist think that these large shark cryptid like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot are gonna be discovered. 

That’s why, for example, my friend Darren Nations Affairs, a good paleontologist, likes also to talk about cryptozoology. And he’s one these people who likes to go really right up the edge where he and looks at all the creatures that are really interesting and unusual. But they’re still members of groups who are familiar with. And so he’s not quite so adamant about as I am. But but, you know, then, you know, there’s still draw a line between that and jumping all the way to a live plesiosaurus tool around or a giant hominid still running around the Pacific Northwest. 

Well, I guess this big Starquest, the question might be a strange one, but what is the difference between a cryptid and a newly discovered species? 

Well, the definitions seem to be depends on who you read because there’ve been many definitions what a cryptid is. The most common version is something along the lines of a cryptid. Something is known by folklore before it’s found by scientists, which sort of rules out Mosese animals that nobody cared about or knew about because they had no folklore attached. The middle scientists name them and does include things like Nessy and Yeti and Bigfoot and the rest because they’re known by folklore first and of course, and most cases have never been actually found to be real ends are animals found by anecdotal evidence anymore. Orrin’s not not as maybe maybe a century ago and Ivan Sanderson was an active zoologist. You could go through the jungles and get your translator to describe what the people in the area were seeing and then use that as a guide to finding what animals might actually live in the area. But those worlds, that world isn’t true anymore. I mean, there isn’t much of the world anymore. Now that isn’t in there’s some Western influence. And most native groups, if they’re still alive and have some cultural integrity, have already westernized lots of ways. And so, yeah, that’s not the same world anymore. And the jungles are seen as unexplored as they used to be either. 

And I guess that accounts for a lot of beliefs, too, that it brings back the mystery to life when so much is explained. 

Right. And then an irony is that this is part and you you talk to native peoples like the various tribes in the Cameroon in Congress who believe in McKeyla. My Bamby culturally is as I’ve talked about before, they don’t distinguish necessarily between what we would call a mythological figure and what we call real figure. 

That’s all real to them. And what is often misleading is to say, well, these people say that they’ve seen this animal, but of course, that’s part of their mythology. They don’t distinguish between things that are part of their dream role, let’s say, and things that are part of things they actually hunt. And yet a Westerner has this rigid idea. This is this is Venditte fantasy. This is real. And there’s someone that’s say a tribesman in Cameroon tells them this. 

They assume all of it is of the same character in its own small Q cryptozoologist, old pseudo scientists or some actual scientists? 

Well, I would call Darren Neige a real scientist or Krypton’s Christine Janise, a real scientist. But they’re also very cautious about going too far on things for which there really isn’t much good scientific evidence out there is very implausible that they exist. The reality is, though, and it’s something I tried to bring out in the last part of the chapter the book is at, the cryptozoologist could play by side of rules if they chose to do so. And they always say, ah, well, scientists discriminate against a scientist. Don’t let us published in their journals. We have to have our own journals, which course are now defunct. But now they say we know we need to have a scientist listen to us. And this goes back to a deeper point, which Brian Regal’s made very nicely as well. And that is that in the days when I Andersen was a young zoologist and there was a lot unknown about the world, even without APHC, you could do significant science by just calming jungles and finding unknown animals. And that’s how Ivan Sanderson came to look at the world, even though it was no longer true. By his later years. But by the time the mid part of the last century occurred, zoologists were not just explorers. Zoologist had to be trained in some aspect of biology. And as you’d learn more biology, you learn all sorts of things about natural natural from theoretical biology as well as some real world exposure that tells you certain things are unlikely to occur and tells you certain things are not worth doing. And also gives you a perspective on how you go about your research. It’s much more rigorous. It’s much more oriented towards collecting reliable data, all sorts of things which didn’t exist in the days when I was just explorers finding new animals and shooting him and drag him home, which it was up until about 1930 or so. And so the consequence is that a man as large as PGD is a totally different person from an Iven Sanders in 1920 who was just thrashing through jungles and randomly finding things. And they go to specific areas. They have very specific research goals in mind. They are very sophisticated methods of ANAO analysis and very highly, you know, very rigorous protocols you have to do to establish certain things, even if it’s just animal behavior. There are ways you have to go about observing it so that you get reliable records that you can do something with all that emerge only since maybe the 1940s. And then the result is that the cryptozoology can be like the Bigfoot gang is still amateur’s or the average Sanderson mold, you think tramping through the woods. Someday they’ll make a great contribution. That possibility has become increasingly rare with very few, very few place in the world now are so isolated that something isn’t found sooner or later. And no modern zoologist and many whom tramped through the same woods also do things with very sophisticated methods so they know exactly what they’re looking for. They know how to record information. They know how to do all sorts of stuff that cryptozoologist have no idea exists. And consequently, there’s is there has been a longtime, according to Brian Origo, this battle between the amateurs versus the professionals, the visas and the academics versus the the and the amateurs of the original Ivan Sanders, the mole. You know, he has the eggheads versus the what was the Coughran, Cochrane, Potts, the crackpots. Right. And unfortunately, that distinction is now stronger than ever because almost the entire IBF farro is amateurs with the conception of a one one professional, Jeff Meldrum. That’s it. Now, there are no other big footers with professional degrees that I know of. 

Well, with people like Dhanush you mentioned earlier and talk to Sattell, would they ever refer to themselves as Cryptozoologist anyway? 

No, I don’t think so. I mean, they’re they’re open the idea of discoveries, but they clearly draw the line in things that are highly implausible, like Bigfoot or like Noctis Monster, and they say so explicitly on their blogs and. And the point is they have enough is a theological background now to be able to say this is an unlikely event. And this is one of things I want to do, especially the beginning. Part of this new book is point out that in biology now we’ve learned a lot of things that we didn’t know a century ago. We know, you know, that to have a population get to have these animals and all, you have to have a population, a population. You have to spread over a much larger area. Them at one animal needs. And the larger the body size, larger the home range in most cases. So, you know, a gorilla takes a home range of a certain number of hectares and you can’t just pop these guys in a little tiny area. They won’t survive. And the bigger the area, the more likely they should be discovered. And yet what’s happening is a law diminishing returns of more people looking for him. The less evidence appears now, rather, Maurice. Yes, it is becoming more or less a more more the case for you. You find less the more you look, which should not be the case if they really were out there. Exactly. And now, on top of that, the word whether you’re talking about Bigfoot or NASA or the rest, when these things die, OK, they don’t all just vanish into thin air unless they are you Evos and aliens would have a body. 

They should leave Bones Trad’s. You know that for the longest time the myth was, well, Bigfoot has never left a bone behind. And you never see a skeleton of a bear. No, true. I found skeletons of bears in my time. The Pacific Northwest. So as Daniel lockshin so many people it just seems like a myth. It’s a myth and it’s a myth. And the point is even rarer. 

Animals sooner or later leave a bone or two behind it. Now we have almost a century of Bigfoot hunting going on. Not a single hard piece of evidence, nothing more than the footprints, of course, which have a bad history of being faked. 

I mean, he and you’ve said that scientists have legitimate reasons to not get involved in cryptozoology. Why is this the case? Well. Of reasons so that it comes from a variety of things. 

Number one, to which if you’re a scientist and you maintain your research career, you’ve got to focus on something that brings actual results. OK. You can’t keep grant money coming in if you don’t have something to show from the last grant. You have to be priming the pump with more research that to actually get somewhere so that you get the next grants so you can keep doing it if you don’t get that going. You don’t stay in your job very long. Right. At least in a research university, you don’t get tenure. Well, we had a history of getting some grants funded through your first five or six years there. And even afterwards, even if you got tenure, you still if you want to have any students, if you want to have any lab space, you kind kept grant money to do this. And so everybody pursues what some people converts because Faye is a conservative pace, but most normal scientists carried out that way. It’s carried on a conventional problems that are clearly defined and you have to define them in such a way that you can actually get results. 

We now know many, many years I’ve written NSF proposals and I’ve gotten funded most of time from National Science Foundation in the game that we joke about when I first learned how to write grants is that you actually do the research first, then you write a grant to do it and you use the money from the grant to do the next project and then write and you bootstrap your way forward because the organizations themselves are such under such stress. Well, I was on an NSF panel. Eighty percent of proposals are turned down. That’s only 20 percent excess success rate. And this is from the best scientists in the country now. 

So it’s it’s telling. Oh, it’s worse than the lottery. Right. It is. Odds against you to get funded. And you don’t you simply don’t waste the weeks to months it takes to write a proposal unless you really expect that you’re going to have a good chance of getting it. And even then, your chances are less than half that you’re going to get it. But that’s how you have to proceed. So you always you know, you always try not to be too ambitious. He you try try not to be too too, you know, out there, he try to give it a very straightforward, very clear cut, simple goal that any panelists and any reviewer can understand. So you don’t get somebody giving you a weird review from left field. I learned this the hard way. My first grant proposal, I said, okay, I’m going to do all these various sections from the bad lands all the way into Nebraska and Wyoming and North Dakota, because that was where my dissertation was done and I gave you this list of places I would do. 

They came back. The reviews came back, say, oh, it’s impossible one man to do that in lifetime. And I so I didn’t get the grant. Next summer, I had shoestring funds. So as Kroupa students and I just lived in tent camps the whole time and and cooked out all the time. Never had any. No hotel rooms or fancy accommodations. But we did the whole thing in three weeks. It wasn’t hard to do if someone’s ambitious or works really hard and knows exactly what they’re doing. But reviewers themselves are very conservative. They don’t like funding stuff like that. They think it’s harder than they would have. Absolutely. And I don’t believe you can work hard and they do. 

And you’ve also said that another reason that academics don’t like to work in cryptozoology or with Cryptozoologist is that they’re bombarded with claims. That’s right. 

That’s right. There are several famous historic examples that the most famous one I know about was this one that’s in the book as well. That good friend of mine, Sidney Anderson, was a curator mammal’s back in the early 70s when the Paddison, given the film, was just now making its rounds. And so they brought the Patterson Gilliam film along with, you know, some other stuff to Anderson and some other anthropologists and mythologies at the American Museum that shows, you know, I was a student there at the time and played it for them. And the idea that they’d get these World-Famous scientists who really were experts on mammals and primates look at this thing and suddenly be bowled over, that Bigfoot was real. Well, the scientists watch the footage and they said, thank you, Lee. 

And they didn’t say a thing to their faces, but it was clear they they had and we’re not impressed that I’d seen enough. And then that was it. You know, they they they felt the course shun. But there was polite as they could be, given that what happened afterwards. Sidney Anderson spent much of the rest of career. I heard of a plane about this personally getting Causley, hammered by big voters who wanted to continually challenge him. And best dream about, you know, I’ve got a big foot in this area. I’ve got this, you know, because he’s in a very prominent position on the foremost museums in the country in a position of Mammalogy, you know, therefore, he’s someone they pester. And you get that a lot, too. Well, I’m not in that kind of position, so I don’t have to worry. You will be after this book comes out. You got to be one of these major museums where they do the Smithsonian’s the worst or you are the nation’s top scientists in this particular animal if you’re at the Smithsonian. So my colleagues at the Smithsonian say this is one of their biggest problems is they get this constant flood of public use to e-mail. Now, it’s so some e-mails say, I’ve got this great discover. I’ve got this thing here and you’re the Smithsonian signers. Therefore, you have all the time in the world to go check this out. So that’s part of the problem. I don’t envy them at all. They figure that you’re a scientist. Therefore, you have note nothing do with your time. 

You’re out there to check on everybody’s wild claims and that it’s more unscientific to not address all of them. But it appears that creationists are getting into crypto symbology nowadays without William Gibbons and Kent Hovind. Right. Why is this the case? Why are they getting into cryptozoology? 

They’ve been doing this for a while, but it’s more obvious now than it was before. When you read Wayne Gibbons Web site, he actually has a very. Plus, a statement there, which I quoted the length in the book saying they believe that if they find him Kenema bed, they are some of them are looking for Nessie as well, that they will have this sudden piece of evidence. It was on the overthrow all of evolution, which is garbage. Right. And we will find a late living species like Taxila Kantha Something that’s been thought extinct is just another long life. Species has nothing to do with changing change in evolution, but their their knowledge of evolution is so we’re so backwards and so uninformed that they think somehow this disliking gone. Yes. And so the reality is there’s as far as I can tell, the only people still looking for a KMEL Bambi are Gibbons’ and the other creationists. And a good portion of the NSC crowd is now creationists. 

That doesn’t look good. Cryptozoology, right? That’s right. Because in the section the book, I talk about this. You know, here here are the people who have in the past been part of this proud and now they add creationist. If you look at the the Web site that has famous cryptozoologist, there’s Kent Hovind and Gibbons. And you don’t want to have Kent Hoeben as your fellow traveler as he’s now still free enough in a federal penitentiary in Colorado, burqini and other issues like his taxes. I wouldn’t trust his scientific judgment if father got through him. So. 

And so it doesn’t look good to cryptozoology. So what would allow cryptozoology to be be taken seriously as a science? 

Well, I. I quoted over a really long blog post by Sharon Hill, and this topic was really good. And then I repeated it myself, my own words. Science has very strict rules and science has very strict ways of going about things. You have to have testable hypotheses. You have to have hard evidence. You have to subject your your your your ideas to other people through peer review because you’ve got to have a thick skin, a science. You know, everybody gets pounded by their peers as part of our job to be as harsh as possible and everybody else in our field and not take it personally. I’ve had my share of blows and I, you know, recover from all, you know, some longer than others. But that is the nature science, the good stuff. Eventually, simps rises to the top. After all this bashing Barak back and forth and pounding each other in peer review sometimes takes years of everybody focusing on a problem to sort out what’s garbage and what’s real. But ultimately, that’s what ends up becoming the best part of science, is the stuff that survives all this harsh process and what that what you cryptozoologist have done again and again as they cling to their worst possible evidence, which is eyewitness evidence, as if they haven’t heard anything from Elizabeth Loftus or all those other people who’ve established that humans are terrible at remembering things accurately and that eyewitness accounts are the worst possible evidence. No scientist in any other field would use them, but only cryptozoologist think of them as real, especially when they don’t make you know, if they don’t agree with one another and they’re from people in all sorts of bad conditions where they can’t even see what they’re really seeing, that should be the first thing to do is Tozzi eyewitness evidence. But they won’t do that. And the blurry photographs are blurry photographs of the second thing. And if they really want to take this seriously, if they could find evidence of theirs, it was solid, which that’s what they don’t have at the moment. That would be taken seriously by side as soon as they had a real bone, you know, whose DNA was of something is clearly not a member of anything life today that would be more convincing. A lot people would take that seriously, OK, they don’t have that. And so they they claim discrimination. They claim that we pick on them. We’re just playing the rules of science. You’ve got to have the the hard stuff, you know, you to prove yourself. You can’t just stay off in your own world and publish your own journals, have your own meetings and not interact with us and expect us to take you seriously. 

And mostly they need some skepticism. 

That’s that’s a big part of it. And then that goes back to our first point, which is it’s not about science, it’s not about skepticism. It’s a really a religious or quasi religious way of looking at the world. Big Foot is important to them, and no amount of evidence will ever persuade them that Bigfoot isn’t real. 

OK, I was just gonna ask you what would change their minds. Well, I did take a second. 

That’s it. There isn’t the way I read these people and I haven’t had experience with a lot of them. But, you know, it’s very much central to their core value system, just like religion is to most people that there is important and that they put Israel or the NSC, Israel or whatever they’re focused on. 

And so no number of disconfirming observations are strong lines of evidence. And Daniel, I will pound this thing to the ground by the time the book is finished, the huge number of lines of evidence, both positive evidence in terms of biology and negative and terms, things that have not shown up, should have shown up, should have convinced any rational person say that Bigfoot’s not real, Nessie’s not real, or least nine nine point nine nine percent chance that they’re not real. 

And yet they persist. And then, yeah, they persist because it isn’t about rationality. Right. Isn’t about, you know, finding the truth. It’s about something they want to believe and they will not release under any circumstances. So only things as we have our confirmation bias filters, only things that they find fit their perception the world will be heard. So, yeah. 

And we’ll lastly, why should we care what Cryptozoologist think and and what’s the harm? 

You know, it’s funny things. Some people say, oh, there’s just harmless cranks are off in their corner. You know, they’re not they’re not rocking the boat like Creation’s are, for example, and hurting our school system. But, yeah, I try to argue an end of the book here, and I don’t know if Daniel agree with me on this or not, but I view this as a part of a continuum of. Irrational and anti scientific viewpoints, creationism is bad, of course, because what it does to our schools, a direct, complete damaging of our teaching of science. But, you know, a widespread belief in you have always in paranormal things and Bigfoot, Nessie is almost as bad in many ways because that means people aren’t thinking rationally. People aren’t using skepticism or critical thinking, and they’re just as easily as hornswoggle by that kind of belief system as it would be by creationism. And in which case, any kind of thing that is leading people away from critical thinking and making clear decisions about the real world is not a good thing. It may not be, you know, harming our kids futures or education, but the creations have already done so much that the American education system is way below where it should be for the amount of money we spend per student. 

So it’s not just an innocent hobby? 

No, it has it indirectly has pernicious effects. 

Well, thank you so much, Tom. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you very much, Karen. Enjoy very much. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. You can find out more about Donald Prothro on the Skeptic blog and locate his books from the point of Inquiry website to participate in the online conversation about this show. Please join our discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Karen Stollznow. 

Karen Stollznow