Science writer and author, Matt Bille (Shadows of Existence and Rumors of Existence) attended the inaugural International Cryptozoology Museum Conference in St. Augustine, Florida last week and reported on the proceedings. You can read his entire review of the 3-day event here but I’ll highlight some of the news and views that came out of the meeting.
The event was arranged and hosted Loren Coleman, the founder of ICM in Portland, Maine. Speakers included Bigfoot-hunter Cliff Barackman of TV’s Finding Bigfoot, biologist and Beast Hunters TV personality Patrick Spain, Canadian cryptozoologist Dr. Paul LeBlond, and author Lyle Blackburn who wrote readable, well-researched books for general audiences on the Beast of Boggy Creek and the Scape Ore (Bishopville) Lizardman.
Cryptozoologist of the Year award was bestowed upon film-maker, attorney, writer, and philanthropist Jeremy Efroymson, a supporter who exists in the background providing funding for cryptozoological projects. The Efroymson Family Fund have provided grants toward the Virtual Footprints Archive at Idaho State University, the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, and the International Cryptozoology Museum.
On the last day, Coleman opened with the announcement of the formation of the International Cryptozoology Society (ICS) to be headed by Dr. LeBlond as the President and an advisory panel. Details on the new society to be run by Coleman and another museum director are not yet available but the ICS is intended to be the long-hoped for resurrection of the principles of scientific study followed by the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC). The ISC met a messy end in 1998 that left existing and prospective members (such as myself) in the dark for years, hoping the society would come back, until it was clear that it was truly gone along with its remaining founder, Dr. Roy Mackal. It does not appear that remnants of the old ISC will be continued but this will be a fresh start.
The new ICS will include a journal and a conference. The first associated conference will be at Coleman’s museum in Maine in 2017. It’s not clear if this proposed journal is the same as the Museum journal that was projected for April 2015. That, as far as I know, has not yet materialized.
While the new ICS is a very welcome umbrella society for the field, its announcement was not without some ominous tones. Matt reports that Coleman was somewhat “cautious” of “true believers and debunkers” who were not welcome in the proposed society. (Coleman has used the label “scoftic” again me and others who take a critical view of popular cryptozoology.) Matt rightly questions what exactly the terms “debunker” and “true believer” mean, and says that such a statement is “fraught with problems”.
Those of us who are labeled “Bigfoot skeptics” have a tremendous amount to offer cryptozoology and are absolutely necessary in keeping the field in line. Peer review and organized critical response are, of course, essential components of the scientific ethos. To close off the society to arbitrarily-labeled debunkers is not a good move for the health of such a venture. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not unreasonable to exclude supernatural-themed contributions since, by definition, supernatural causes are outside nature and can’t be tested. So, that’s not scientific. If the new ICS is to be on scientific footing, proper standards, in line with accepting scientific standards should be in place. Let’s hope that the advisors see fit to be clear who will be welcomed to contribute to the new venture and the existing body of knowledge which should extend not only to biologists and zoologists, but to those researching folklore, psychology, history, and sociology among other fields. And, they should be mindful to NOT ignore the respected, stellar contributions of scholars such as Loxton, Prothero, Radford, Paxton and Naish.
This initial event drew a nice diverse crowd from the photo posted on Coleman’s Museum Facebook page. The goal of 100 attendees was not quite met possible because of the high end hotel, the registration fee and the fact that it took place Monday-Wednesday presumably to keep costs down. Such an event will draw a different crowd than the typical Bigfoot events which are often tainted with a paranormal aspect and chock full of venders selling UFO and spiritual items. This proves to be another project that could take cryptozoology onto a higher path. However, it is concerning to me, at least, that the “cryptozoologist of the year” contributed money, not scientific findings to the cause. What’s to come with this new spirit of hopefulness in cryptozoology? Though the media loves cryptids, the curve to gain scientific credibility and respectability is very steep. Should be interesting.
Thanks to Matt for providing the report.