A-Z List, Part 4

Actually, it would be more accurate to call this the 000-999 List.

Yup, it's time for non-fiction, and I'm using the Dewey Decimal System!

I'm passably familiar with the Library of Congress System. By the time I left college (both times) I could more or less find the sections for topics like "Religion" and "Science." Unfortunately, at this point, I only remember that "P" is "Humanities."

But the Dewey Decimal System and I are old pals. I will be reviewing a book from each set of 100. (See list above).

For 000-099, I chose Abominable Science by Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero (001.944). The book refutes the existence of famous cryptids, such as Big Foot and Loch Ness, while also explaining how myths about these creatures came to be. Loxton and Prothero write separate chapters (Loxton covers Bigfoot and Loch Ness, for example, while Prothero tackles Yeti and the Congo Dinosaur).

The book is quite readable, Loxton's portions slightly more than Prothero's, and beautifully illustrated.

The theme: It isn't science if you can't test it.

Show me a million so-called samples of Bigfoot's fur (which inevitably turn out to be bear or human). If I have nothing to compare it against, so what?

Wishing doesn't make something so. And the human capacity to wish is tremendous.

Loxton, who writes with a sweet-natured glint in the eye, is more tolerant of the desire to find big monsters (despite the fact that a real pleiosaurus like Nessie would have long ago eaten up all the loch's food sources). As a lover of cryptids in childhood, he understands the fascination with the unknown--after all, in the late nineteenth century, Great White Sharks were considered something of a myth! Sometimes, the capacity to wish reveals astonishing truths and inventions.

In comparison, Prothero gets downright testy about the insistence on the existence of certain cryptids. It is possible that he uses a tetchy tone as a deliberate contrast to Loxton's friendlier one. But the difference in tone may also be innate. In the last chapter, the two authors present their differing opinions regarding the pursuit of cryptids, Loxton maintaining that it is harmless and can lead to an interest in the natural world; Prothero arguing that it is harmful to real science.

I mostly agree with Loxton, but I must admit that when I recently saw a non-fiction children's book in the library that presented Bigfoot as a given, I was appalled at the publisher.

Oh, well, part of a free society is learning to distinguish good information from bad.

The most consistent facts that emerge from the creation of these myths is that humans love to hoax! (which is why science requires testing). Any hint of any big thing lurking in the shadows appears to bring out the junior high boy in a truly astonishing number of people (who sometimes recant, then change their minds when they start earning bucks).

As Loxton writes, "There seems little need to conjure a central conspiracy when good humor, expectation, and simple human error could so easily provide ample fuel to spark a monster myth" (141).

(Through there is a very funny Dharma & Greg episode where Greg tries to convince the alien conspiracy theorists that they have been taken in by a conspiracy to defraud them of money. They shake their heads at the poor, deluded fool.)

Ultimately, although I highly recommend the book, I doubt it is read by many "true" believers (excluding the ones who like to hunt for one tiny mistake in a text, then say, "See! I knew they were wrong!").

However, also ultimately, Loxton and Prothero are right: if it can't be tested and it relies on the argument "Everyone else is lying!" then it's a hobby, not a scientific discovery.

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Loxton, Daniel and Donald R. Prothero. Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. Columbia: 2013.

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