Inaugural cryptozoology conference held – New society to be formed

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.

International-Cryptozoology-Museum1

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.

ICcon

Thanks to Matt for providing the report.

  15 comments for “Inaugural cryptozoology conference held – New society to be formed

  1. January 11, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    “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…”

    That is an important point. Imo, all sources of knowledge should be at least welcomed and considered. Some may have nothing to contribute at all and can be weeded out with peer review, which will reveal the journal’s bias, if there is one, as hopefully being on the side of science.

    This reminds me in some ways of the split among academics studying cults/new religious movements. That field of study has produced two main journals, Cultic Studies Review and Nova Religio, which more or less reflect the nature of the disputes between academics in the two camps. The former accepts, with detailed definitions, the use of the word ‘cult’ and the evidence provided by former members, whereas the latter eschews both of those. I know from experience, as the latter rejected my journal article on the subject as a former cult member, whereas the former published it. There is an anthology titled “Misunderstanding Cults: the search for objectivity in a controversial field” that attempted with mixed results to bring the two sides together.

  2. Victoria
    January 11, 2016 at 10:41 PM

    It would be really nice if the fees for membership, the price of the journal, and the price for the conferences were within reach of people who do not have much disposable income (but have advanced degrees). This has been a huge stumbling block to those of us who are retired or disabled and, for whatever reason, cannot afford $500-$1,000 to attend a conference (for example). High prices do not necessarily ensure that fringe people or those who espouse pseudoscience cannot attend – they just ensure that only people from certain economic classes can attend.

    My degree is an MS in psychology (experimental). I am well-versed in the scientific method. It’s frustrating to not be able to pursue an interest in cryptozoology due to the cost of conferences, journals, and memberships in organizations. It’s the same with “skeptic” conferences – the costs are far out of reach for those who are retired or disabled.

    Nevertheless, I wish the organizers success in their endeavors. And I will keep hoping that this issue gets addressed at some point.

  3. Tom
    January 12, 2016 at 1:58 AM

    Although there are many more exciting findings to be made in the realms of zoology it is almost certain they will not be the sort that will interest this society or can be defined as “cryptids” ……this is all a little sad.

  4. Dolores
    January 12, 2016 at 7:41 PM

    What in the world is Cliff Barackman doing addressing a ‘serious’ ‘scientific’ ‘society’?
    This group seems to be little more than an attempt to jumpstart the dozing bigfoot “community” and hype Coleman’s museum. ….Nothing like a convention or two…
    Meldrum is trying the same thing….in South Africa. Even with his “in the basement” standards and numerous self-published pieces, his online “journal” went an entire calendar year without a new article.
    Exactly what is different today, that would cause anyone to expect a Society of Nothingology to succeed THIS time?

  5. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    January 13, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    If its only open to believers why not be honest and call it a church?

  6. January 13, 2016 at 6:03 PM

    If I may shed light on a couple of the comments (speaking only for myself):
    I may have been a bit careless in describing Loren Coleman’s ideas of membership: Loren’s off-the-cuff answer to me about “true believers and debunkers” is one he’s amplified considerably since then, and he and Dr. LeBlond stressed they want all points of view.
    I don’t hold Cliff Barackman’s views on sasquatch, but his tutorial on footprints included a lot that I as a non-outdoors guy found useful.
    I think the criticism of cryptozoology as too focused on spectacular creatures is often valid. I personally consider the ape called orang-pendek likely to turn up, and a large eel or eellike fish might still be lurking in the “sea serpent” data. Aside from that, zoologists are still describing monkeys, beaked whales, sharks, and so on, so not everything to be found is tiny, either. In my own books and blog I’ve tried to emphasize that small creatures as well as large ones can be very important and rather spectacular themselves, and can certainly meet the definition of cryptozoology as a field focused on “unexpected” animals. That’s a point I’ll continue making to cryptozoologists.
    Finally, to Victoria’s point about the cost of keeping up with cryptozoology: I agree, but I don’t know the solution. Very few niche areas of science have the means to wave off the costs of producing publications, holding meetings, etc. There are a number of blogs, like Karl Shuker’s and Loren Coleman’s, focused on cryptozoology, others like mine that cover it with other subjects, and Sharon’s site for a reliable scientific view, with great sites like DeepSea News for discussions of new and strange creatures. I hope you maintain your interest!

  7. Karl
    January 15, 2016 at 2:36 AM

    I find it admirable that anyone involved in cryptozoology wants to see all points of view. But what is there left to see? I followed cryptozoology with great interest since I was a child. From ’65 to the mid 70s, I read everything with hope and a degree of belief. By the early 80s, that belief had faded to nothing, because the carrot dangled by cryptozoology back then is the exact same carrot being dangled today. Sure, new names pop up now and then, but what results are any different now than they were since cryptozoology took its first step? It seems as if just about everything notably progresses in science except cryptozoology.

    How many points of view can there truly be when there is absolutely nothing irrefutably substantial to see? Mind you, I’m not saying that everyone should just give up on cryptozoology. I’m saying that it’s well past time to change the carrot, or just remove it altogether.

  8. Sean A. Elliott
    January 15, 2016 at 11:47 PM

    Not only that, but Meldrum’s Relict Hominid Inquiry journal still has an article by Cliff Barackman about the debunked London trackway, an event even he now dismisses. And he still clings to the Skookum cast as a Sasquatch body print, not an elk lay. He accepts plenty of “evidence” that comes from dubious sources.

  9. Tony
    January 16, 2016 at 7:55 PM

    Interesting point, and think of the sweet tax exemptions they’re missing out on.

  10. Russian Skeptic
    January 17, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    Talking of cryptozoology – are plane-hijacking squirrels real?
    What do you make of this video?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IANwb_qT1gg
    I suspect it is a hoax.

  11. Tomas
    January 18, 2016 at 9:28 AM

    What exactly does cryptozoology mean? We already have a name for the field that studies animals and occasionally finds new species, that’s zoology, which is a real science. And if a zoologist or anyone else would discover an unexpected new species, its still just that, some surprising zoology.

    It seems to me that cryptozoology relates to zoology like alternative medicine relates to medicine. If something called alternative medicine is proven to work (based on thorough science) its called medicine. So, if something within cryptozoology actually is proven true, using real science, it becomes just zoology.

    And if we take the zoology out from cryptozoology, the only thing that’s left is fantasies.

  12. Charles P.
    January 18, 2016 at 12:18 PM

    I have never had my work described as “stellar” before, thank you, although I am not sure that is an accurate description.

    I am also not sure another journal of cryptozoology is necessary for two reasons
    1. There are existing journals (Jeff Meldrum’s online one and the Journal of Cryptozoology). Neither I suspect has a glut of submitted material. There are also journals in the humanities that cover such issues as folklore, social anthropology and history of science.
    2. Much of what is done in cryptozoology can and should be submitted to mainstream zoology/psychology/natural history journals. Indeed there are lots of people doing cryptozoology who don’t call themselves cryptozoologists. Yes, I know from my own experience that cryptozoology raises the hackles of reviewers of scientific journal who seem to judge the material on the subject matter rather than the methods but that is not an argument for having more cryptozoology journals. It just means cryptozoologists just have to make their papers extra rigorous and evidence based and overcome any prejudice.

  13. Russian Skeptic
    January 20, 2016 at 11:38 AM

    Indeed. When somebody is going out to jungle to search for a new species of tree frog, there is not a single person to call it cryptozoology. Basically, what is shared by all cryptozoologists is the idea that the discovery of ‘their’ hidden animal would somehow defy the key principles of science (especially of evolutionary biology).

  14. Goon
    February 1, 2016 at 3:13 PM

    Yes Karl it is that same old tired carrot that they are dangling!

  15. Dolores
    February 5, 2016 at 6:27 PM

    You wrote:
    “Much of what is done in cryptozoology can and should be submitted to mainstream zoology/psychology/natural history journals. Indeed there are lots of people doing cryptozoology who don’t call themselves cryptozoologists. Yes, I know from my own experience that cryptozoology raises the hackles of reviewers of scientific journal who seem to judge the material on the subject matter rather than the methods but that is not an argument for having more cryptozoology journals. It just means cryptozoologists just have to make their papers extra rigorous and evidence based and overcome any prejudice.”

    As you seem to suggest, a certain amount HAS been submitted to mainstream journals. Your comments about their papers needing to be “extra rigorous and evidence based and overcome any prejudice,” are reminiscent of the complaints of Melba Ketchum, who compared herself to Galileo (possibly also Einstein, but I can’t be sure of that). If you have any evidence that cryptozoologists are having merely (not “extra”) rigorous papers rejected by mainstream journals, please let us see them. Without that, well, its “cryptopaperology.”

    If there were rigorous papers being rejected from mainline journals, then one might assume they would be submitted to and accepted at one of the “niche” “journals.” However, the papers that I have seen in Dr. Meldrum’s online journal are of exceedingly low quality. There is no “rigor” at all. They consist of anecdotes, personal opinions, without verifiable data or statistical analysis. They aren’t even good reads, as they mostly lack consistent organization, flow, and good syntax. A substantial part of the journal is devoted to profoundly biased negative reviews of skeptical books.

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