This is part of an ongoing series of reviews here at GPS. These will be (to the best of my ability) spoiler-free, so as not to ruin the fiction ones I do, as well as relatively brief. I won’t just be reviewing “skeptical” works, but instead a large portion of what I read. I’m a voracious reader, even when I am swamped with other work (it’s what I tend to do instead of watch television), so I’ll probably put out one week or two. If you’re interested, I’ve actually been tracking exactly what I’ve read (book and GN-wise, anyway) for almost the past four years on LibraryThing.
GPS Review: “Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids” by Daniel Loxton & Donald Prothero
I had the distinct pleasure of picking this book up and meeting Daniel Loxton at this year’s TAM. We chatted for a bit about his work on Junior Skeptic, and I relayed how I was particularly pleased to see the issue that was focused on Lucian of Samasota, a second-century Roman skeptic and satirist (and namesake of my son!). I’ve been a fan of Loxton’s work for a while now, particularly because I appreciate that his books up to now were focused on reaching younger audiences, a gap (in my opinion) that needs to be addressed.
His co-author on Abominable Science! – Donald Prothero – will likely be familiar to many regular readers of this site. In a career spanning over 30 years, Prothero has put out an enormous number of scientific articles and over 30 books, primarily in the areas of earth sciences and paleontology. Like Loxton, Prothero frequently publishes work in Skeptic magazine and presents in other skeptical outlets.
This is the first book that this duo has co-authored, and I for one am glad they decided to work together and produce it. The book, overall, is a scientifically skeptical examination of the evidence for various cryptids, or animals that have not yet be confirmed to exist via scientific consensus. The book in particular covers those most well known by the public, such as Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, and Mokele Mbembe. So, on to the review!
First off, I want to talk about the physical book itself. It is one of the best looking books that I have encountered in quite some time. The cover (to the left) is absolutely perfect for the subject matter, capturing the pulp feel of the 1930s in which many of the cryptids discussed in the book were first gaining public awareness (such as the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, and Bigfoot). The book itself is a weighty tome, thanks to the textbook-style pages and lavish color illustrations and photographs contained therein. It was what bibliophiles like myself love to see when a book comes out – it’s not only well written but very well produced. My hat is off to Columbia University Press for putting such a physically fine package together.
As for the content, it is equally well done. The bulk of the book, and the part that (to me) was the most well-written and informative, were the chapters devoted to a specific cryptid and the skeptical examination of it’s history and viability as a living creature. Even though I would consider myself moderately well-versed in cryptozoology (the study of cryptids), I learned innumerable new bits of information on the origins of our modern stories of creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. These chapters could easily serve as case studies of how to investigate and examine any extraordinary claim, be it of a paranormal or mundane type. From showing how many of the famous Bigfoot investigators were of less than stellar ethical material by Loxton to showing how the creationist leanings of “researchers” of the supposed dinosaur living in Africa influenced their motives by Prothero, the authors have dug deep into their subjects, laying bare the skeletons upon which future stories placed layer upon layer of untruth and myth.
My only qualm with the book was it’s first chapter. Chapter 1 introduces readers to the subject of what differentiates science from pseudoscience, how to think critically, and some of the problems with relying on eyewitnesses. Each of these topics could have occupied a full chapter in and of itself, and so to me the chapter felt cramped and rushed. I would have personally preferred that the “thinking critically” and “eyewitness” sections be more integrated into the chapters themselves, perhaps in the forms of call-out boxes. To me, that would have both a) given more time to show people who science and pseudoscience can be discerned and b) help the reader learn by directly pointing out the relationship between those topics and the cryptic at hand.
Overall, I think the Abominable Science! is an excellent addition to the library of both skeptics of and believers in cryptids. For skeptics, this will become a key reference to the field of cryptozoology and history of how these types of tales go from whispered stories to widely accepted “truth.” For cryptozoologists, the book should serve as call to arms. By this, I mean that, if you truly believe in the existing of any of these cryptids and spend time researching and looking for them, you need to take a long look at the critiques contained in this book and respond by doing scientifically-sound research to disprove them, rather than just writing poor reviews of the book with little substance to them. Why? Because that’s how real science works.