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Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths Kindle Edition
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Naish comes across as a sympathetic skeptic. He clearly does not believe that any of the creatures covered in this relatively brief book have a flesh and blood existence but he does not dismiss the field of cryptozoology as a psuedoscience either. He evaluates evidence fairly and takes great pains to explain why eyewitness testimony can't establish the existence of these creatures anymore than it can establish the existence of ghosts, fairies, vampires, witches, etc. The physical evidence is always either ambiguous or turns out to be something mundane. Naish concludes that cryptozoology is ultimately more about psychology and sociology and there is precious little about zoology here. Yet he does not think this is all a waste of time and effort and that good can (and has) come of it.
Only once in the book does Naish come off as unfair. He correctly points out the agenda of some creationists in encouraging, promoting, and financing African expeditions to find surviving sauropods. He is on firm ground when he says that they are mistaken that any success will somehow further the creationist cause. However, the extended rant he goes on claiming creationists are out to destroy science was over the top. He let his personal feelings get the best of him.
In conclusion, the book is highly recommended. Skeptics will have view endorsed but can profit from the occasions other skeptics jumped to premature conclusions that the author points out. Believers will come away with a better understanding of the mainstream scientific position on these creatures and what does and does not constitute compelling evidence.
Nash starts with whether cryptozoology is, or can be, scientific, and agrees it can be but isn't often. He begins and ends with the point cryptozoology exists in a cultural mileau and is influenced by folklore, tradition, etc. as well as modern innovations like the Internet. This isn't entirely original and he credits Dr. Charles Paxton, whose work I greatly admire, and folklorist Michel Meurger, who I've always thought overreached the subject.
Naish is not closed-minded about this. He has himself put forward new species concepts over the years to explain cryptozoological sightings, including a cryptid seal and a giant orangutan, but in his blog Tetrapod Zoology and elsewhere he's uncovered or been offered new information and has generally come to conclude the "star" animals are not physically there. This book explains his reasoning well.
When he offers an explanation, I'm not always entirely convinced: the "finning" seal (a seal waving one flipper in the air for cooling) for the Valhalla sighting, for example, is clever, but I can't look at the first-hand original drawing and get a seal out of it. (As you can tell, I enjoy sea serpent lore more than the rest of the subject these days.) The opposite is true of the HMS Daedalus sighting, which I think we can put to rest.
The subject is vast and Naish can't help that, so the bibliography is essential: it's pretty good but could have been more extensive.
Least anyone think I'm damning with faint praise,this is an excellent and important book. If it doesn't hunt down every major cryptid, it will make the veteran cryptozoology reader think hard and will give the new reader an excellent starting point grounded in good science.
Shadows of Existence: Discoveries and Speculations in Zoology
Given how much my children enjoy All Yesterdays, I'm looking forward to sharing this with them.