The inaugural edition of the Journal of Cryptozoology has been released. As Darren Naish of Tetrapod Zoology points out, this is at least the fourth earnest attempt to establish a legitimate, peer-reviewed publication devoted to cryptid study, following Cryptozoology, The Cryptozoology Review, and Kraken.
An initial call for submissions for the journal (hereafter JC) was made by Karl Shuker on his blog last February. Shuker is a self-described “zoologist, media consultant and science writer,” the author several cryptozoological books, including Mystery Cats of the World and In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, as well as two columns in the Fortean Times. He is, in a sense, the face of modern cryptozoology: he is prolific, willing to dismiss certain cryptids as mythical, and he holds a PhD in zoology and comparative physiology.
In his blog, Shuker outlines five acceptable categories of cryptids that JC will address, ranging from “a species or subspecies unknown to science” to “a species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as a natural occurrence in a location outside its scientifically-recongised geographical distribution,” and specifically excluding “entities of an apparently paranormal nature.” The distinctions are neatly made: they correctly distinguish between separate objects of inquiry, but they also allow the journal to address everything from mokele-mbembe to the re-expansion of the puma range, leaving the editors free to consider entries on a wide variety of subjects, some of which at least in theory can deal with animals whose existence is not disputed.
Leaving aside the question of the quality of accepted submissions, whether the journal will last longer than its predecessors depends on its ability to overcome three related obstacles: those of redundancy, reputation and money.
At Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish argues that cryptozoology “cannot and should not be considered a pseudoscience,” but simultaneously acknowledges that “the stigma attached to the term … perhaps means that it’s time to give up on it entirely,” and simply abandon legitimate research that deals with “mystery animals” to existing fields like “zoology, mammalogy, ornithology … mythology, sociology or even psychology.”
Leaving aside the dubious claim that cryptozoology cannot be considered a pseudoscience, which I may get around to addressing in a separate post, Naish is quite right. His observation about the degree to which so-called cryptozoological enquiry falls under other disciplines inadvertently highlights the first of the challenges JC will face: the fact that competent researchers doing legitimate research in any field will have neither the need nor the desire to see their results published under the cryptozoological banner. A folklorist, for instance, who conducts an analysis of the role of lake-monster myths in urbanized cultures, or a biologist who analyzes the overlap between potential puma habitat and documented puma sightings in the eastern U.S., already has dedicated journals to which to submit her work.
This consideration is quite distinct from, but leads directly to, the question of whether even a scientist who is having difficulty getting published would wish to have something called The Journal of Cryptozoology on her C.V. Naish or Shuker may believe that cryptozoology should not be stigmatized by academia, but it is, and that presents a second challenge.
The third consideration, of course, is financial. It was lack of money that killed at least one of JC‘s predecessors, and a peer-reviewed journal is hard to keep going without an appreciative audience. This challenge ties into the first two in several ways, not the least of which is that JC‘s pool of potential subscribers is too undefined to be promising, because of the widely cross-disciplinary nature of Shuker’s categories. If I had more disposable income I might buy it repeatedly just out of curiosity, but people who are ‘just curious’ about a general subject are not a good target audience for an aspiring scientific journal. And as mentioned above, bioligists and statisticians and sociologists and everyone else already have journals covering their fields.
The first issue contains articles on Bayseian search algorithms; the Queensland tiger; the plesiosaur-like basking-shark carcasses; and the “Margaret River” carcass. Of the three articles that deal with specific cases, all three (according to Naish’s summation) rebut or remain skeptical of cryptozoological claims, with Naish himself arguing that dentition identifies the Margaret River carcass as that of a domestic cat. The attempt at scientific rigor is pleasing, certainly, and suggests that while it lasts JC will not simply be a clearinghouse for the rantings of the credulous and the naive. Having said that, however, and without wishing its contributors any ill will, I cannot see any reason to suppose that it will last very long. Time may prove me wrong.