Monsters, ghosts, and UFOS may or may not exist. But fields of study devoted to them have sprung up over the last few decades. These fields fail the scientific method test due to the lack of falsifiability. But is there a way we can still classify these fields as legitimate sciences? Or are they doomed to be pseudosciences?
For the last few months, we’ve been following numerous “pseudoscience expeditions” that have received little coverage in the press (you can find our coverage of the Baltic Anomaly expeditions, TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart expedition, and the Newmac Expedition at the bottom of this page). At the same time, we’re also considering mounting our own expedition.
As such, we’ve been trying to figure out how to conduct true “scientific investigations” in fields of study usually considered to be pseudosciences. Is it even possible? If so, how would one go about planning such an investigation?
This is a big topic so it will take us several articles to fully cover it. A few days ago, we presented the problem and established the importance of the scientific method. Then we looked at how well fields such as cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology stack up against the scientific method (answer: not good). Today, we’ll examine a counter argument…namely that the only reason pseudoscience fields aren’t looked at as being scientific is due to the current paradigm.
“Science is about trying to prove that you’re wrong and then sort of grudgingly accepting that you haven’t been able to prove yourself wrong.” ~ Gary Taubes, Q&A with Gary Taubes
The Scientific Paradigm
In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book entitled, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he divided science into two categories…”normal science” and “extraordinary science.” Normal science operates within an accepted “paradigm.” But sometimes, anomalies occur. If enough anomalies take place, normal science is recognized to be flawed and undergoes a “crisis period.”
In this “crisis period,” scientists begin to do extraordinary science. In other words, they operate outside the paradigm. Eventually, this may lead to new ideas and a resulting “paradigm shift” in which the new paradigm replaces the old one.
A Paradigm Shift toward Pseudoscience Fields?
Cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are devoted to the study of unknown animals (or cryptids), ghosts, and UFOs, respectively. Scholars in these fields often call upon Kuhn’s work to support their research. In other words, they think the current paradigm is flawed and controlled by scientists within the paradigm. Thus, the only reason cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology are still considered pseudosciences is because they don’t fit into current theories.
However, Kuhn’s concept of a “paradigm shift” doesn’t happen easily. It requires constant anomalies that can be detected in repeatable experiments. And this is where pseudosciences fall short. It’s not that mainstream science refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence for monsters, ghosts, and UFOs. It’s that such evidence doesn’t exist.
But some Cryptids are Real…Aren’t They?
While no one has ever produced a real ghost or UFO, new animals are discovered every year. Thus, cryptozoology has a leg up in this regard.
That being said, we have to draw a distinction here. The types of animals remaining to be discovered are most likely small and unknown to cryptozoology. In contrast, most cryptozoologists focus their efforts on well-known, highly unlikely creatures (Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster for example). Even worse, they seek such creatures with absolute certainty of their existence. Still, the regular discovery of new animals would appear to hold some hope for serious cryptozoologists.
Most new animals are discovered by accident. However, unknown animals are sometimes known through folklore. Take the extremely rare saola for example. Its existence has been known by locals for many years. Yet, their skulls were only discovered in 1992. To this day, the saola has yet to be observed in the wild. Incidentally, the discovery of the saola wasn’t made by cryptozoologists. Still, it represents how a cryptozoological expedition might work.
Cryptozoology is feasible, but is it real science? No. It still fails the scientific method test, specifically in terms of falisfiability. One might hypothesize the existence of a saola-like creature via folklore. One might even find the creature. But it’s impossible to prove it doesn’t exist.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Take
The inherent problem with cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and ufology is that either a monster/ghost/UFO exists or it doesn’t. There’s no way to be sure unless something is discovered. Thus, these fields are rightly classified as pseudosciences.
“The only way to prove an unknown “monster” exists is to either capture one or find the carcass of a dead one. That doesn’t require the scientific method. It requires camping out in the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of some unknown creature.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. The Scientific Method?
That being said, when practiced in a scientific manner, pseudoscience fields can produce results. At it’s best, cryptozoology is a study of unknown animals, a mixture of zoology and folklore. Sitting in the woods waiting for an unknown animal to pop up is a poor way to do research. But hunting down old folklore and trying to ascertain its origin could result in a discovery.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how a monster/ghost/UFO expedition might work. We’ll attempt to employ the scientific method and see how one can do good work even in pseudoscience fields.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOS: Sciences or Pseudosciences?
- 7/17/12: Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?
- 7/18/12: Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs vs. Science: Part II?
- 7/22/12: Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: A Paradigm Shift?
- 7/23/12: Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Conducting Pseudoscience?