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…

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Bless the Beasts and the Children

“When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That’s if you want to teach them to think.” ― Bertrand Russell

At a recent conference, I spoke about Cryptozoology in general and the local sightings in southern Ontario.  In the audience was a brilliant 8 year old boy named Billy.  Billy had done a book report on a book I wrote several years ago, and has a budding interest in Fortean Zoology.  Billy’s eagerness to learn is inspiring.  Sadly, very little is available for his age group by way of factual information on animals unknown.

I fired up Google and searched everything from “cryptozoology kids” to “teaching kids about bigfoot” and came up with not only few websites, but really, really bad ones.  Most academic websites tell children that Bigfoot and Nessie and Ogopogo are myths.  This is disrespectful to witnesses and certainly not truthful information to teach children.

Among the better websites is,  a site from Australia that simply gives facts.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is a Saturday show on The Comedy Network called “Secret Saturdays” on whose website you can create your own cryptid.  Here is mine.

My son is 11 and in grade 6.  Often I have had to battle with teachers who claim that certain things are “not real”.  I don’t know about other school districts, but here in Toronto, they aren’t too keen on teaching “pseudoscience”. I’m always more than willing to teach a classroom of kids—at any age—about the wonders of investigating unknown animals.  To date, none of the schools have expressed an interest, and one has gone so far as to suggest that talking about such things might be harmful to a child.  Apparently teaching children to question, and wonder, and explore is passé.

There is a promising website called Crypto Camp authored by Jon Duff.  Far from complete, he seems to be on the right track as far as providing reasonable content for children who are interested in Cryptozoology.  Mr. Duff has a good understanding of how media influences children and seeks to give accurate information, although he is not actually a student of the subject.  His background is in fine arts and web design.  Certainly there will be criticisms forthcoming, but so far he’s doing well in his attempt.

How can we satisfy the curiosity in children like Billy?  Who is best qualified to put together an age appropriate presentation?  How do we get schools to invite this “out of the box” thinking? Personally I think the answer is that ALL of us, no matter what our level of understanding or interest, need to get actively involved in spreading the word to children.  Too many kids fear Bigfoot or figures like Nessie because of the title “Monster”.  Too many kids don’t understand that many of these formerly unknown creatures are now documented and “known” because someone never gave up on proving their existence.  It’s time to breed the next generation of Fortean Zoologists; and to do so with logic, science, dedication, and perseverance.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

29 September Quebec Bigfoot Sighting

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is reporting that Maggie Cruikshank Qingalik, who is from Akulivik, Que., said her friend saw some kind of creature out in the wilderness.  It was a REALLY BIG something.

The two ladies were out berry picking and saw what they thought was someone else doing the same.  Then they realized the other “person” was about ten feet tall and covered in dark hair.  A Facebook photograph puts the footprint at about 40 centimeters.

Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman was contacted and said the Sasquatch “may sustain themselves on a diet similar to caribou” bit that they are  omnivores  and “are opportunistic and could eat a range of food including salmon or road kill.”  He is hoping, as are we, that someone took some decent photos and measurements and perhaps could return (quickly!) to the site to make plaster casts of the footprint.

Nunavik is the northern third of the province of Quebec, north of the 55th parallel. Ninety percent of the 11,000 inhabitants are Inuit and live in one of only fourteen villages or reserves.   Nunavik means "place to live" in Inuktitut and the Inuit inhabitants of the region call themselves Nunavimmiut.  Until 1912, the region was part of the Northwest Territories.

Animals of the area are abundant.  Marine mammals include beluga whales, seals, and walruses.  Polar bears and caribou are common.  Musk-ox was introduced to the area in 1967 and continue to have a growing population.  Water fowl begin returning to the area in late March, with most present by June.  The nocturnal Snowy Owl is a year round resident.  It should also be noted that the food source of ringed seal liver and beluga contain high levels of mercury.  Local children show a higher incidence of ADHD believed to be linked to the higher mercury levels.  It would be interesting to see how other consumers of such animals, like hawks and falcons, also show biological issues with increased mercury.  This would imply that Sasquatch would also be affected.

CBC will air an interview with the witness on October 9 at 7am (Eastern Time) which can be accessed here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Spooky Sasquatch

While I do love researching things "unknown zoological", this time of year most of my work involves ghost things.  Every conference at which I present requires something ghost based, and as an additional requirement they have to "allow" me to do a small presentation about Cryptozoology as well.  This year, during a visit with an attendee, I was asked if bigfoot could be the ghost of a neanderthal.


What an interesting question!  This would certainly explain why we aren't finding hair, bone, teeth, or scat samples.  Ghosts don't leave them.  Additionally, bigfoot sightings tend to be most concentrated in those areas where "humans" originated and initially migrated--Africa, Asia, and along the North American Pacific coast, right?

Nope.  Neanderthal fossils were first found in Germany.  The fossils believed to be of the most recent Neanderthals  are from Gibralter, very near where Cro-Magnon skeletal remains were found.  Many people have yet to understand that Neanderthal DNA in humans is most likely from interbreeding rather than evolution  and science now holds Neanderthals as a different human species than we modern humans.  Additionally, Neanderthal evidence has not been found in North America or east of the  Altai Mountains in Asia.  In Africa, "modern" humans are evidenced at least 160,000 years before the present which predates the Neanderthals.

Neanderthal cranial capacity is thought to have been as large or larger than ours, indicating that their brain size may have been comparable, or larger, as well. Neanderthal and modern human brains were the same size at birth, but by adulthood, the Neanderthal brain was larger than theour brain. Like we suspect of bigfoot, Neanderthals were much stronger than modern humans, and fit the general size as reported by witnesses of bigfoot--Males stood 164–168 cm (65–66 in) and females about 152–156 cm (60–61 in) tall. These early species used tools and often made homes with bones.  Nothing even remotely similar to this has been reported with the classic North American bigfoot.

One theory that was discussed at this conference was the idea that humans have "spirits" and animals do not.  I'm not sure how I personally feel about this but I do know if you try to tell a cat owner his pet has no personality or spirit, you're asking for trouble.  Additionally, there have been many reports of animal hauntings.  Add to that, the idea that Bigfoot is more human than animal and that theory pretty much gets put to rest.

The sheer lack of logic in the idea of one unknown (ghosts) explaining another unknown (bigfoot) is enough to prohibit me from studying them as a possible same entity.  Like Jane Goodall though, "I'm sure they exist."  And for me, that means BOTH Bigfoot and Ghosts.