|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
Analysis and the Scientific Method
Ideally, the analysis of a cryptozoological puzzle would follow the scientific method. After all, if cryptozoology purports to be a science, then the rules of science must be followed. (Most problems between cryptozoology and "academia" seem to occur when assumptions are mistaken for rules. But that's another story.) What is the scientific method? It's a procedure in logic. It follows a simple outline, seeking to determine what is true.
1. What is the problem?
2. What facts or data relate to the problem?
3. Can a hypothesis be formed from the known data?
4. Will this hypothesis stand up to rigorous testing?
5. Can a theory be formed from the hypothesis?
The process then continues, with more testing, more collection of data, and more analysis. When testing, be brutal. If you aren't, your critics will be. There is nothing wrong with replacing your theory if new facts render the original theory invalid. That's science. Too often, science is considered an unchanging system, an ultimate seat of truth. It's not. Rather, it's a tool by which we can seek to understand ourselves and the world we live in. Naturally, as our understanding changes and develops, so will our theories about what we do not yet understand.
With a cryptozoological puzzle, you can follow this outline by determining which cryptid was seen and which facts pertain to it: sighting reports, historical background, information on the area, etc. Then, form a hypothesis and evaluate it carefully. Are there reasons to disqualify it? Continue to evaluate it until you decide that it is worth presenting to other investigators.
Unfortunately, cryptozoology has one problem. A true theory must be testable. There must be a method by which an experiment can be performed and evaluated. We cannot experimentally prove that any particular cryptid exists. This is not as big a problem as it may seem, as theories on the origin of the universe, the origin of life, etc., also cannot be proven experimentally, yet are often held to be facts. Rather, circumstantial evidence and statistical evaluation of data must serve in the stead of rigorous experimentation. Without experimentation, though, a hypothesis is on unsteady ground and subject to criticism.
If you have the time and opportunity, there is one method of scientific methodology that you can pursue-- the survey. While I have no interest in UFO's (despite a close proximity to Wright-Patterson AFB), I came across I. Scott's "Survey of Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Reports in Delaware County, OH," (1987. Ohio Journal of Science 87 (1): 24-26.) and am sure that the same methods can be used in cryptid investigations.