The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Scientific Cryptozoology

Founded in 1989 by writer James A. Clark, scientist Dr. Paul LeBlond and journalist John Kirk, the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club (B.C.S.C.C.) is a scientific body which follows the accepted principles of orthodox zoology in regard to establishing the existence of new species of animals. Their mandate is to ascertain where these animals fit into the greater picture in the realm of natural history. They are adamantly against any “ludicrous paranormal, occult or supernatural viewpoints”.  The BCSCC claims to be rigidly scientific and does not entertain speculative “pseudo-scientific notions” or “quasi-scientific nonsense.”

This begs the question, “what exactly are the “accepted principles of orthodox zoology”?  A good place to start is the book Principles of Zoology by by Louis Agassiz and Augustus A. Gould. This book lists many functions and organs of animal life, including the nervous system, the senses (including any “special senses”) elements of voice, intelligence, instinct, motion, nutrition and digestion, circulation and respiration, as well as reproduction and various secretions.  The phrase “orthodox zoology” can be defined only by defining the two words.  Orthodox means conforming to what is accepted as right or true or something not independent-minded and unoriginal.  Zoology is defined as the science or branch of biology dealing with animals.  We can infer then that Orthodox Zoology would be the generally accepted study of animals.  'Scientific principles' would be those that explain the 'why' and 'how' of various phenomena using scientific method.

Ah, the “scientific method”;  so often we are, as researchers, accused of not applying this to our studies.  The Oxford English Dictionary says that the scientific method is: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”  This sounds reasonable.  Systematic observation, measurement, experiment, formulation, and testing are certainly elements of Crytpzozoology as well. 

The classical model of scientific method derives originally from Aristotle, who distinguished the forms of approximate and exact reasoning, and defined a threefold scheme of abductive, deductive, and inductive inference, as well as considering the compound forms such as reasoning by analogy.  In deductive reasoning, if the original assertions are true, then the conclusion must also be true.  Abductive reasoning  typically begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the set.   Most scientific researchers avoid abductive reasoning because it is quite subjective.  Hard core scientists, like the BCSCC, use mostly deductive reasoning—they base their facts and logic on what is known, comparing a proposed cryptid to those animals that are known to currently exist or have previously existed.

 Conversely, many Cryptozoologists use the inductive method.  In fact, much mainstream scientific research is carried out by the inductive method: gathering evidence, seeking patterns, and forming a hypothesis or theory to explain what is seen.  Conclusions reached by the inductive method are not logical necessities; no amount of inductive evidence guarantees the conclusion.  It is this sort of ambiguity that sets traditional/deductive scientists on edge.

In 1877, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) characterized inquiry in general not as the pursuit of truth per se but as the struggle to move from irritating, inhibitory doubts born of surprises, disagreements, and the like, and to reach a secure belief on which one is prepared to act. He outlined four methods of settling opinion, ordered from least to most successful:

1.    1.   The method of tenacity (policy of sticking to initial belief) — which brings comfort and decisiveness but leads to trying to ignore contrary information..
2.     2.  The method of authority (using the claims of “experts”)  can be majestic and long-lived, but it cannot operate thoroughly enough to suppress doubts indefinitely, especially in the face of adamant witness testimony.
3.     3. The method of congruity (what is agreeable to reason)"promotes conformity but depends on taste and fashion in paradigms and can go in circles over time. It is more intellectual and respectable but, like the first two methods, sustains accidental and capricious beliefs, destining some minds to doubts.
4.     4. The scientific method — the method wherein inquiry regards itself as fallible and purposely tests itself and criticizes, corrects, and improves itself.

This seems much more appropriate in the study of cryptids.  Certainly there are those who are tenacious, authoritative, and congruous in the field.  It could be said that some even have those traits when it comes to defining “Scientific Method”.  But Pierce reminds us that science, and its methods, are fallible and constantly corrects itself.

I propose the answer to the “justifiability” of cryptid research as something other than a “pseudo-science” is a combination of methodology, anthropological, historic and other established science in congress with peer review.  If we base our research only on what has already been established and is generally accepted (inductive and deductive classical methods or tenacity, authority and congruity in the practical methods), nothing can really be gained except to liken what is unknown to what is known. This, in and of itself, is directly contrary to the idea of studying “unknown” animals.  If they are unknown, they have nothing to compare evidence to.  It would seem then, groups who limit themselves by never using abductive reasoning, are not seeking to discover new animals but rather to debunk cryptids by making them to conform to “known” science.  By including those who propose that cryptids do have some paranormal, occult or supernatural viewpoints, real “scientific method”, as Pierce describes it, can be achieved.

I am in no way discarding the fundamentals of science.  Certainly forensic evidence plays a huge role, as does zoology and many other “ology” studies.  To discard those who “think outside the box” as pseudo-science or “ludicrous nonsense”, limits the scope of the research to only that which is provable and “generally accepted”.

What good is that?  We already know what those animals are…

1 comment:

  1. This article has a pretty bizarre grasp of what science is. Firstly there is no such thing as a purely deductive science save pure mathematics which perhaps should not be thought of as science at all.

    *All* scientists (who are not pure mathematicians) use induction all the time. Induction is the basis of statistics and all generalisations we make. We also use deduction but much less than induction. There is no distinction between deductive and inductive scientists. "The" scientific method involves induction (perhaps it owes more to 17th century philosophers than Aristotle though. Pierce defined abduction not Aristotle). No scientist I know would be uneasy at the use of induction (some might be less keen on abduction but scientists use that too - especially palaentologists). All good scientists understand about stochasticity and that their results are tentative and uncertain.

    There is absolutely no reason normal science cannot study unknowns. Science does that all the time! And we do more than just liken knowns to unknowns, we estimate unknowns e.g. dark energy and dark matter, forensic science, species diversity etc. Science would not have progressed very far if we just likened unknowns to knowns.

    "I am in no way discarding the fundamentals of science."
    But you are. Supernatural hypotheses are hypotheses of last resort, they explain nothing as they throw up many more questions than they answer. Scientists will invoke new entities but are reluctant to do so except in the case of overwhelming evidence as it violates Occam's Razor. Because if you don't use Ockham's Razor and accept a supernatural solution anything goes, anything, not just one particular favoured supernatural explanation, but an infinity of them and we have no way of choosing between them. Loch Ness Monster is a ghost? Maybe or maybe it is a radio-controlled model controlled by goblins who can make it dematerialise at will. What rule can distinguish those hypotheses once Occam's Razor is discarded? Invoking the supernatural is not the progressive broadmindedness of a new type of science but rather an act of methodological desperation.

    I find it funny that I have encountered two groups of people with wholly different world views (ultraskeptics and paracryptozoologists, to use Beckjord's term) who both think cryptozoological data is not really amenable to normal scientific investigation. It is, cryptozoologists just need to show a bit of systematic (not supernatural) methodological innovation.