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Machines Like Us

Cryptozoology? No need for an apology

Tuesday, 26 February 2013
by Dustin Welbourne

Nessie. Photo credit

All forms of science are reliant on facts, hard evidence and statistics to maintain relevance and credibility. But what of the legitimacy of the so-called “pseudosciences”?

A warning: I’m going to pick on cryptozoology here – the study of hidden, extinct or mythical creatures.

Creatures dear to the cryptozoologist’s heart include: the kraken, ogopogo, Nessie, the chupacabra, yowies, mermaids, orang pendek, and the coolest of them all, the Mongolian Death Worm. If you’re interested in these and others, Wikipedia will keep you busy for hours.

Despite the (lack of) plausibility, one of the main criticisms levelled at scientists is that we won’t investigate cryptozoologists' claims. As Australian cryptozoologist Rex Gilroy said:

Go and search for the evidence rather than be critical. I have struck a lot academic criticism over the years by people who stick to a textbook and who are glued to their office desk. Why not go and search?

I can already hear the dull chanting of Carl Sagan’s “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." But this is not why we don’t investigate strange ideas.

To publish or not to publish

Scientists consider strange ideas all the time. Indeed, we make up most of them. If we lived by Sagan’s mantra, scientific inquiry would never happen.

The reason research is not done on extraordinary claims is quite simple: “publish or perish."

Let me explain.

If you want to be a professional scientist, you need to do science. This means formulating questions to answer, doing the research, and then, publishing the work.

As you can imagine, doing research costs money. This means going on bended knee to those holding the purse strings. They evaluate your project and your ability – that is, your published research – to carry out the project.

It is basically a catch-22 situation. Without a good publishing history, you will likely not get funded. But you can’t do much research without the funding. And around we go.

Hence the phrase, publish or perish.

You would think then that making a big discovery would be great for a scientific career. It absolutely is!