People like to make up stuff and gossip has harmful effects. We know long-term stress causes perceptual distortions. Put these together and we the perfect storm for unusual phenomena.
Stress and thought distortions cause an increase in the report of unusual events. It is why cryptozoology creatures sightings increase. It is also , and it why conspiracies and pseudoscience claims increase. So, we need to learn how to manage them.
To get a handle on this subject, we need to start with some definitions. This gives a way to dissect and explain the alternatives. We propose that if we know what causes it, and why they increase, then we can better manage the effects. Let’s look at some definitions to help define our subject.
What is Cryptozoology All About?
Crypto is a Latin word for hidden or secret. Zoology is the study of animals. The goal of this study is to learn about how and why animals behave, and their unique relationship to the environment. Cryptozoology is the search for the existence of mythological creatures. It starts with the same intent as science, it simply lacks evidence to support its claims.
Science is a process which uses evidence to find answers. Scientific inquiry often begins with the goal of solving some mystery. Pseudoscience is like science as it provides answers. However, its solutions are based credible evidence. It uses bad science to support its conclusions. So, it pretends to be scientific, but it is not.
What are Theories and Conspiracies?
A theory is a proposition which explains how or why something works, and it often involves the connection of principle with cause and effect. For instance, the theory of gravity is a proposition which solves the mystery of why things fall.
There are many scientifically based theories which can be hard to understand because they use sophisticated math and statistics. Just because you cannot understand the science behind the science, doesn’t mean the theory is wrong. You may not understand the science behind of nuclear fission, but you know it works. Most people do not understand the way wireless technology works either, yet they routinely use a device which uses GPS and wireless
A Conspiracy is a secret agreement with others to engage in unlawful or harmful acts. The insurrection of January 6, 2021 is an example. It was an unlawful act committed by a group to overthrow the US government.
Conspiracy Theory has a new modern meaning. It takes the concept of conspiracy one step farther. It is the belief there is a group of powerful people who are behind the planning or perpetrating of some unlawful activity. Key here is that the conspiracy is illegal. Otherwise, it would be the same as any business strategy.
All the above have one thing in common. They have something to do with mystery.
Science, pseudoscience and cryptozoology are different approaches to solve mysteries. Conspiracy theories create mystery to create controversy and interest.
“At the extremes, it is difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from rigid, doctrinaire religion.” — Carl Sagan
Why Pseudoscience and Conspiracies Increase
We experience reality with the mind, not the five senses. What we think is reality is the result of a process. The mind combines sensory input, imagination, memory and programmed thinking and value judgements to create an image. This image is prone to distortions due to stress and harmful social programming.
With the spread of COVID-19 we saw an increase in stress related medical problems. We know high levels of stress can trigger or cause a variety of illnesses. Stress is also a major cause of perceptual distortions.
“Pseudoscience is like a virus. At low levels, it’s no big deal, but when it reaches a certain threshold, it becomes sickening.” — Phil Plait
Why Cryptozoology Creatures Sightings Increase
Since 2015 we see an increase in the reports of mysterious phenomena. This increase corresponds the rise in stress. Two main factors are at the root of this distress, COVID-19 and social conflict. The political turmoil of the US affects not only the US, but the world.
As a result, we an increase in conspiracy theories, pseudoscience medical advice. There is a marked in increase in UFO reports. This is why cryptozoology creatures sightings like big foot and Yeti (1) are also on the rise.
Gossip spreads quickly today. Talk shows spread gossip to drive ratings. Outrageous and unsubstantiated claims increase their reach and they can charge more for advertising. So, propaganda, misinformation and gossip make them a lot of money.
Why do we allow harmful propaganda to be posed as news? It all came about when President Regan rolled back the Fairness Doctrine, which made broadcasters provide contrasting views of any public service and political messages. Congress back this policy from 1954 to the 1970s.
The FCC called it the Fairness Doctrine single most important requirement for media broadcasters. The FCC saw how media was used by Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Here, media companies promoted right wing political views. In essence, it gave license to broadcasters to use propaganda, misinformation and gossip. They could call political propaganda news and get away with it.
This lack of legislation paved the way for pseudoscience and conspiracies to thrive. Right-wing conservatives followed the recipe of the Nazi Party. They raised the flag of patriotism and cherry picked the Bible to make America great again. They did not hide their plan copying it word-for-word, because it works.
Why are Scientific Discoveries Overlooked?
As natural habits shrink, we are discovering new species. In the last few years, several interesting creatures have been verified. Yet they do not get the attention they deserve. The list of these rare creatures includes The Hero Shrew, Mandolfi’s Four-Eyed Opossum, The Annamite Striped Rabbit and the Khasian Leaf-Nosed Bat. The number of new species in the insect world has given us a bounty of new butterflies, beetles and other creepy crawlies.
There are even new primates such as the Arunachal Macaque and Caqueta Titi Monkeys. The only reason they were discovered is because their habits were so small they were designated as endangered ecosystems. (2)
Do you wonder why cryptozoology creatures sightings like these do not get more attention? It’s simple. It’s because they lack any cultural myth. They may have been sighted before, but these were discounted as the misidentification of known species.
“Anyone who thinks cryptozoology is the study of the impossible has never really taken a very good look at the so-called natural world. Once you get past the mega-mouth sharks, naked mole rats, and spotted hyenas, then the basilisks, dragons, and cuckoos just don’t seem that unreasonable. Unpleasant, yes, but unreasonable? Not really.” — Mira Grant
There is a line between science and pseudoscience. Pseudoscience starts with the assumption these creatures exist. Then it sets out to find the proof. Science considers the possibility of rare species and how to find them. The difference is not believing until you actually have proof. Because belief taints your ability to collect data.
Conspiracy Theories are Not Harmless
The modern-day conspiracy theory is a tactic used to cause doubt and confusion. It often contains other fallacies. One of the most famous is the theory spun by the Trump campaign of 2015. The conspiracy made allegations of sex crimes against Hillary Clinton (3).
The absurd assertion was that she was the head of child porn ring being run out of a basement under the pizzeria in Washington. (4) This followed the release of WikiLeaks of email from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. James Alefantis was a Democratic party supporter and owner of Comet Ping-pong Pizzeria in Washington. Alefantis appeared in Podesta emails as a supporter and fundraiser.
From the above thread, supporters of Donald Trump spun the story. They then spread it through Cambridge Analytica (5) who had breached Facebook’s 87 million fan base. Using a variety of different sources on social networks, they magnified the story so that it would increase doubt in Hillary Clinton. Cambridge Analytica had an industry reputation for being able to sway elections in 3rd world countries and they proved they could do the same with larger populations. Using propaganda to sway an election is a Federal Crime.
What is strange about this story is that 4 out 5 Trump supporter still believe this story. And, 2 out 10 Republicans not affiliated with Trump believe the story “could be” true.
Pseudoscience and Conspiracies are harmful to the stability of any culture. The gullible are easily influenced, and they spread doubt within their circles of influence. They claim is it harmless and comforting to believe they are in the group who holds this truth.
“It is no defense of superstition and pseudoscience to say that it brings solace and comfort to people. If solace and comfort are how we judge the worth of something, then consider that tobacco brings solace and comfort to smokers; alcohol brings it to drinkers; drugs of all kinds bring it to addicts; the fall of cards and the run of horses bring it to gamblers; cruelty and violence bring it to sociopaths. Judge by solace and comfort only and there is no behavior we ought to interfere with.” — Isaac Asimov
We know why cryptozoology creatures sightings increase and we know why pseudoscience and conspiracies increase. These are symptoms of a culture which has lost control of rational thought and common sense guidelines.
(1) Conspiracy Theories and Their Societal Effects During the COVID-19 Pandemic: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/19485506211000217
(2) The truth is out there: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4121952/
(3) Pseudoscience and conspiracy theory are not victimless crimes against science: https://theconversation.com/pseudoscience-and-conspiracy-theory-are-not-victimless-crimes-against-science-42630
(4) The saga of Pizzagate, The fake story that shows how conspiracy theories spread: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-38156985
(5) Cambridge Analytica: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica