Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review

While I am no chuck-the-babies-out-with-the-bathwater type of person, I have to admit I agree wholly (and then some) with the following review of Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe's The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. Take a look for yourself, if you've read the book and be your own judge. If you have yet to read this work, this review just might convince you to wisely steer clear.


Loren Coleman said...

You might wish to see the response to this review that received the following reply from the Skeptical Inquirer:

From: SkeptInq@XXXXXX
To: lcoleman@xxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: When will this letter be published?
Date: Fri, Apr 7, 2000, 9:08 AM

Book reviews are book reviews and the opinion and judgment of the reviewer.

We have no plans to publish your letter, I am sorry to tell you. Sorry.

Ken Frazier

-------------------- Begin Original Message ------------------------------

From: Loren Coleman

On the internet and in publication, in January 2000, the Skeptical Inquirer published a book review entitled "The Flawed Guide to Bigfoot" by Benjamin Radford. The following letter-to-the-editor (January 26, 2000) is for publication in the Skeptical Inquirer:
To the Editor,
The Skeptical Inquirer:

Wretched Review of "Flawed Guide"

As you might imagine, we were disappointed with your review of our book, The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates
Worldwide. We were not surprised that your reviewer, Benjamin Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer, did not like the book. What disappointed us is that he passed up a golden opportunity to compose an intelligent reply to our thesis, the mainstream version of which appeared as a cover story in the January 2000 issue of Scientific American. Instead he chose to nit-pick and poke fun at our book, making numerous errors and embarrassing gaffs in the process.

Though Radford prefers to label the book an "illustrated catalogue," a "field guide" is exactly what it is, given the limits of our material. But we can let that one pass. After all, in the beginning many people felt that Roger Tory Peterson had just drawn some pretty pictures of birds.

Radford seems to fault us because "the entries are largely culled from previous books on cryptozoology." But this is no more or no less than what is done in any scholarly work of analysis. We surveyed thousands of years of source material, hundreds of books and articles, to extract the overall models and best sighting examples for use in the field guide. Besides, original material and first-hand interviews are included in our treatment, including some groundbreaking new material from scientists-as-eyewitnesses.

Your reviewer then states that "because a creature has a name does not imply that it actually exists." While we do not think that the media-driven model of "Bigfoot" as a single unrecognized primate species represents the truth, we do not believe that multiple names of these undiscovered animals translate into hundreds of kinds of animals either. In fact, the whole point of our field guide was to identify approximately nine classes of unrecognized primates worldwide.

Radford would have people think that we are foes of Dr. Grover Krantz, when, instead, we call him one of the leading scientists who has bravely studied Sasquatch, at great sacrifice to his own career. Just because we disagree with his single-species premise does not mean we are not allies on the bigger questions of the existence of these mystery primates. We discuss both positions (our admiration and differences) in the book.

Your reviewer also faults us for treating "eyewitness accounts, folklore, legend, footprint finds, and depictions in native art together as if all have equal weight and credibility." Of course,
when Radford throws up straw arguments like young children, dead eyewitnesses, unnamed sources, and third-hand sources, leaving out the named and degreed individuals that have seen these animals, he is pandering to the Jerry Springer mentality loose in the land. Some people who have had good sightings die, yes. One or two cases may involve children, as well as their parents, yes. As to third-hand sources, we are not so sure there are any in the book. But the point is, Radford is looking for gaffs, items to throw into the wind and make fun of the book. The burden of history, reaching into many people's lives, legacies, diaries, and family traditions, is that
these animals have been seen and encountered. They are not wisps of smoke.

The case of Beowulf is another matter altogether. Contrary to Radford's statement, we are not recommending that people be on the lookout for hairy giants in Denmark today. He is being foolish at our expense. What he wishes to pass off on his readers is that the poem Beowulf is some wholly fictional account. But as we clearly state in our book, this poem, literature and historical scholars alike tell us, appears to contain the factual retelling of an encounter with a hairy giant, named Grendel in the traditions, even though the story constructed around it may contain fictional elements. The story merely demonstrates a simple truth, that Denmark at one time may have hosted a population of hominoids similar to Grendel and his mother.

Radford then goes after us for including the story of the "Minnesota Iceman," saying that there is "strong evidence that it was simply a rubber creature designed by a top Disney model-maker." In an incredible leap, Radford elevates a jester to king, by using San Francisco's former storefront Bigfoot & UFO Museum owner, bad-boy, and class-clown Erik Beckjord as his Minnesota Iceman "expert." Beckjord has been arrested at, banned from, and thrown out of almost every serious scientific Sasquatch and cryptozoology meeting he has attended. Beckjord even took to wearing an alien mask at one such gathering in 1999. And this is the Skeptical Inquirer's expert criticizing Vietnamese, French, Scottish, and American researchers for investigating the Minnesota Iceman scientifically?

Radford goes on to complain that our drawings often don't match the descriptions, and that one map shows aquatic creatures in the desert. In fact, the drawings are composites. Our illustrator used combined descriptions of the types within a specific region to draw his sketches, and we chronicled each type illustrated with one case description to highlight the fact that credible witnesses see these unknown hominoids. Likewise with the maps, the "ranges" are rough approximations; we never stated that any aquatic creatures live in any deserts.

Radford's "oh wow" exclamations of what hunters might say about killing a Bigfoot are more silliness on his part. As we note throughout the book, the individuals who have killed Almas and others usually had other things on their mind, like survival, or winning a war. Hunting Yerens or Yetis was not their mission, and unfortunately, saving a body was not their objective either.

Finally, Radford can't seem to read bylines very well. Loren Coleman has not co-authored the other field guides in this series (as of 1999). Patrick Huyghe, the series creator, has.

We are sorry that Radford failed to recognize that our book is the product of some highly critical, analytical thinking. If this review represents the level of criticism CSICOP must stoop to "light a
candle in the dark," then Carl Sagan must be spinning in his grave.

--Loren Coleman, Portland, Maine;
and Patrick Huyghe, Putnam Valley, New York

Cullan Hudson said...

I just didn't feel like it was a meaty, scholarly work (and perhaps that wasn't entirely the author's intent). My trouble with it was the fact that anecdotes alone are insufficient upon which to begin basing a classification system. And while I realize Coleman/Huyghe weren't the first to attempt this, I feel it to be an egregious display of hubris to create classes considering no specimens have ever been studied.

"While we may be ridiculed for such a bold class that seems to involve creatures of myth and legend, we have based this class, like the others, on a careful examination of solid evidence of a biological basis."

Bringing me to my second contention: what evidence? In the book the authors provide nothing more than third hand stories. Don't get me wrong, they're fun little stories. However, this book was far from the scholarly tome some would have us believe it to be.

And in reply to some things you have said in your response letter:

"After all, in the beginning many people felt that Roger Tory Peterson had just drawn some pretty pictures of birds."

Well, aside from discovering a couple of subspecies, Peterson only published a guide (albeit, a notable one) of previously discovered species. And in regard to those subspecies he did discover himself, Peterson didn't walk up to the scientific community with some pretty pictures and native stories demanding validation. The scientific community would have been right in their doubt.

"the whole point of our field guide was to identify approximately nine classes of unrecognized primates worldwide."

Again, based upon third-hand anecdotal evidence - sometimes centuries removed. While this is often a good place to start in the search for new species, it is arrogant for anyone to claim from this alone that there are "approximately nine classes" of these undiscovered primates (mer or otherwise) roaming the globe.

"As to third-hand sources, we are not so sure there are any in the book."

C'mon... I wager many of these are fourth and fifth hand sources. You have a bibliography that proves third hand sources. Someone sees something, tells someone about it, they write it in an article or journal or book, and from that you draft your account and analysis.

While I personally love a good undiscovered hominid tale, and have my own personal opinions on the existence of more than one, I realize that I am not trying to convince the scientific establishment. If I had thought that this book was in the same vein as Price Stern Sloan's mid-90's series of "Field Guide(s) to the Paranormal (UFO's, Vampires, etc..), which seemed to be written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I would have loved it. Fun book, fun read. But it wasn't. It was written with all serious scientific intent. Compared to something like Meldrum's thoughtful analysis, or many of Krantz's - even Green - this book simply falls disappointingly into a limbo between fact and fantasy.

As far as the reviewer, The Skeptical Inquirer, SCICOP, et al... I am the first to deride their hyper-skeptical position. I find that anybody who is so dead-set against proving someone wrong (when they themselves claim to have no stake whatsoever in the outcome)usually has some issues. It is good to remember that both zealots and skeptics have their dogma and that neither position advances science. Both positions, to the extreme, are megalomaniacal. A thoughtful analysis should always be regarded with an open mind and not censored.

The reviewer didn't care for your book, I didn't care for it either. I don't recommend it beyond a fun read. People get bad reviews all the time, Loren, and this one wasn't even published recently. So, I am surprised you care.

So, in conclusion, while I have often disagreed with your positions and will often do so in the future, I do recognize your highly informed point of view and I won't be deleting your comment nor will I belittle your points - I may counter them, but I won't belittle them (like, say, dismissing the possiblity that spelling can be affected by the idiosyncratic nature of aspirating the final "s" in many Spanish dialects when, regardless of their ethnicity, an individual who lives at the epicenter of said dialect and speaks the language probably has a fairly valid opinion to weigh).

Loren Coleman said...

Thank you for the thoughtful response. I could not tell why, exactly, an old 2000 review about the first edition of my 1999 field guide would pop up in a 2007 blog.

What is intriguing, of course, is the recent wave of Bigfoot books (e.g. Meldrum's) came in the wake of this 1999 field guide, after various thoughts and theories were re-visited after decades of neglect.

Also, one major point seems to have been overlooked in re-discussing this work. The book was always placed in the literature as a cryptozoological handbook for on-site use in cryptozoology fieldwork. Indeed, in the revised and updated recent edition, The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates (NY: Anomalist Books, 2006), I mention how various cryptozoological expeditions and data collection efforts have actually used the book as an identification help in the field.

While Patrick Huyghe and I used strict standards in writing the book, such as the employment of first-hand sources, new interviews with eyewitnesses, and direct sourcing from scientists, we never made any claims about any of these case examples being anything other than those of cryptids, that is unknown and unverified, to date, primates.

I appreciate Mr. Cullan Hudson taking the time to discuss this work, which has been appreciated by many people, even if he personally does not like it.

Thank you,
Loren Coleman

Wind said...

I am intrigued by the coy notation by Mr. Coleman wondering why the simple tome he defends would "pop up in a 2007 blog." It is a book that purports to be a serious, academic work and thus anyone engaged in serious survey of literature relative to the topic will keep stumbling over the book. It is listed as a source in at least a dozen websites and articles. As such, it will remain a subject for debate, review, and reflection as new researchers join the search until it is replaced by other works.