Posted by: Craig Woolheater on September 7th, 2013
Abominable Science! was the work of several intense years, so you won’t be surprised to hear that its warm reception by media from The Wall Street Journal to Nature is very exciting to me. It may surprise you slightly more to hear that I looked forward with particular interest to the review of Abominable Science! in an altogether smaller, niche publication: the Bigfoot Times newsletter.
It’s appropriate and welcome that the Bigfoot Times should take a crack at a critical review of the book; after all, Don Prothero and I offer a fairly robust critique of cryptozoology (certainly a critique offered in good faith). I was hopeful that they and other cryptozoology proponents would weigh in with substantial contributions about what they see as the merits and roadmap for future development for cryptozoology, while also giving serious, honest consideration of some of the deep problems with the field.
I prefer to take it for granted that cryptozoologists can and will rise to such occasions. Prothero—still muddy from the trenches of the creationism wars—expects rather the worse. This has emerged as something of a running bet between us. I tell Prothero that cryptozoologists, seeing themselves as pro-science and truth-seeking, will engage in a spirit of fair-minded scholarly debate. Prothero predicts instead that they will respond with angry, hyperbolic denunciations on the basis of minutia, without making any serious effort to address the deeper issues raised by our book. I concede that in some cases Don may have a point about the hyperbole. (One Bigfoot proponent insists, ”The only reason to buy this book is so if the publishers value their own integrity and recall the book, the few copies sold already will be collectable as novelties.”) Still, I’m not convinced that my faith in my counterparts across the cryptozoological aisle is naive. Consider for example, cryptozoologist Matt Bille’s thoughtful critical review of the book. Bille praises the book for its strengths, probes and critiques what he sees as its weaknesses, and concludes that it’s worthwhile for cryptozoologists to honestly ruminate upon our arguments: “Even cryptozoologists who think the authors are flat-out wrong on one or more major animals need to read this skeptical but not closed-minded work. It’s a superb contribution.”
The review by Bigfoot Times publisher Daniel Perez is the latest cryptozoological response to Abominable Science! Perez has posted the text of his Bigfoot Times review online as a strongly-worded one-star Amazon customer review. It’s also posted at the cryptozoology blogs Cryptomundo and CryptoZooNews. I encourage you to read it yourself to get a fair and complete sense of where the Bigfoot Times is coming from, but the upshot is that they don’t like Abominable Science! one bit. Perez concludes, “this is truly an abominable book.”
I’m not totally sure how to respond to this Bigfoot Times review. It twice expresses unhappiness that Abominable Science! is published by Columbia University Press, and even complains about the cover art, yet gives Bigfoot Times readers no hint as to the existence of the majority of the book’s chapters. I assume Perez must probably have read the whole book before denouncing it, but his review concentrates almost exclusively on fine points within the sub-topic of Bigfoot (with an aside about the Yeti). Even within that sub-topic, he ignores the opportunity to acknowledge (or even to defend) any of Bigfootery’s missteps, problems, or challenges.
All the same, I’ll respond to a few of his comments here. Perez writes,
As I read I contemplated the authors’ explanations for cryptids: hoaxes and misidentifications proved to be the principle thesis for all things cryptozoological, be it Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster and everything in between.
So I thought why aren’t people seeing Bigfoot in Cuba or Iceland? Why would hoaxers and unreliable witnesses want to confine the Bigfoot mystery to just North America?
This wouldn’t be an especially strong argument in any event, as nationally- or regionally-specific monster and paranormal traditions in fact do often arise as purely cultural phenomena—complete with testimony from “witnesses” that is, yes, based upon hoaxes and misperceptions. Consider penis shrinking panics. Also, for what it’s worth, both Cuba and Iceland boast their share of monster sightings, including a “living pterosaur” in Cuba and an extensive history with sea monsters in Iceland (some of which is discussed in Abominable Science!). Iceland even has a sea monster museum. But going to Perez’s specific point, it’s not really true that “the Bigfoot mystery” is confined “to just North America.” A great many uncomfortably Bigfoot-like (yet creatively varied) hairy humanoid creatures are also spotted throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and even Australia. That amorphous universality is a cultural pattern, or possibly even a pattern reflecting innate human psychology. It should make any serious Bigfoot investigator uneasy—and it did, in the case of pro-Bigfoot anthropologist Grover Krantz. As Krantz warned (and this too is discussed in our book),
But when it is suggested that a wild primate is found native to all continents, including Australia, then credibility drops sharply. Only humans, along with their domesticates and parasites, have distributions that are worldwide; no other land animals even remotely approach this condition. Beyond a certain point, it can be argued that the more widespread a cryptozoological species is reported to be, the less likely it is that the creature exists at all.
Read the rest of Daniel’s article here.