Well Met: Loren Coleman

April 12, 2011

In Point Pleasant, West Virginia, March 18-20, 2011, to do a TV shoot regarding the town's most famously spooky denizen—Mothman—I was pleased to finally meet in person Loren Coleman who was also flown in for the show.

Coleman has written on a number of paranormal or otherwise "strange" enigmas—witness his 2001 Mysterious America, for example. He is best known, however, as a cryptozoologist, that is, one who studies unknown or "hidden" creatures—i.e., "cryptids," such as Bigfoot. His numerous books include Cryptozoology A to Z (1999, co-author Jerome Clark), Mothman and Other Curious Encounters (2002), and Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America (2003). He is in fact, one of the world's best-known cryptozoologists. He maintains a blog site called Cryptomundo (https://www.cryptomundo.com) and, in Portland, Maine, his International Cryptozoology Museum (occupying the rear of the shop The Green Hand, which specializes in weird fiction).

As we sat talking in the lobby of the "haunted" Lowe Hotel (the subject of a forthcoming blog), I told him lightheartedly that I regarded him as "the best of a bad lot." As he laughed, and as I went on to suggest he would perhaps say the same of me, I explained: Just as I reject the pejorative "debunker" that is often applied to me, I know he decries the label "believer" being pasted onto him. Rather, we are both field investigators and scholars (he has studied zoology and anthropology and has a master's in social work), and, while we may find ourselves on opposite sides of the fence, we therefore may have more in common with each other than with some persons in our own respective camps.

(Indeed, I now apply the term cryptozoologist to myself, albeit usually adding the adjective skeptical to clarify my orientation. Those who are purely True Believers or dismissive debunkers—who avoid the scholarly approach implied by the suffix ology (from the Greek logos, "description," indicating a branch of learning)—clearly do not earn the appellation.)

Coleman and I had crossed paths several times before. He was kind enough to write a foreword to my Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures (2006, co-author Ben Radford). And on CNN we briefly debated a film clip of a lake "monster" which I suggested (due in part to its fast, undulating locomotion) was a large European otter, Lutra lutra. Loren responded with a blog titled "Otter nonsense," caricaturing my position, and I replied in kind, saying "he otter do better." All in good fun, despite the seriousness of the debate. (See my "The Loch Ness Critter," Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 2007).

And there we have it, I think: two fellows with much of life in common—one chiding his own colleagues to be more skeptical, the other urging his to do more listening. Well met.