Monday, 23 November 2015

Grumpy Skepticism

The world is full of Nessie sceptics, they may be young or old, fat or thin, near or far from the loch, they may be intelligent or dumb. What they do have in common is a shared belief that Loch Ness harbours no large, exotic species of animal. It is, of course, their right to hold such an opinion. However, another thing they may not have in common is the way they express that opinion and that involves personality.

Take these words from retired Loch Ness researcher, Tony Harmsworth, as he gave a short, grumpy pre-review of Gareth Williams' book, "A Monstrous Commotion".

Anyone studying the subject seriously might find it useful, but his repeatedly going into depth about exaggerated sightings and reports which, for anyone who knows the subject, have no credibility whatsoever, was the most annoying aspect of it and I found that extremely tiresome. This was the very reason why I didn’t include all of these irrelevant sightings in my own book. However, now they are all referenced, perhaps we can let them die a natural death. 

It seems Gareth's mistake was making these eyewitness reports sound too "real". I began to suspect that if Tony didn't like the book, then, ipso facto, I would like it. Since I have started reading the book, that feeling has partially been confirmed. I will put up a proper review when I have finished (as I am sure Tony will).

Now Tony does not really involve himself in the search for any form of Nessie these days, his presence on such forums is minimal to say the least. Having written his book, "Loch Ness Understood", he perhaps feels that is all he has to say on the subject. I note that when Tony mentioned a book by another sceptic, Ronald Binns, called "The Loch Ness Mystery: Solved", he describes this as "rather prematurely titled". Presumably, Tony has now "put the world to rights" with his similarly (but still prematurely) titled book!

Tony suggests Adrian Shine would do a better book on the history of the Loch Ness Monster and its pursuers. I wouldn't care to give an opinion on that but I would certainly look forward to such a book (as I did with Tony's).  I think Adrian is now aged 67 years old and must be nearing retirement from his post at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit. Maybe after this we will see such a book.

As best as I can ascertain, Tony now tends to be preoccupied with aiming verbal arrows at people who believe in one or more gods (presumably he regards them as another set of witnesses who have misidentified something ordinary for something extraordinary). However, back to his quote.

In typical bombastic fashion, he put us to rights by describing all claims to seeing a large animal in the loch as being "exaggerated", having "no credibility", "tiresome", "irrelevant" and we ought to "let them die a natural death". And this, he says, should be obvious to "anyone who knows the subject".

Let us look at how Tony handles one of these claimed sightings. I refer to the John McLean case and how Tony has decided that this was in fact just a bird; a cormorant to be more precise. His post in facebook can be found here.

The long neck fits in with cormorants. It is well known that people overestimate sizes over water. The body drawings are typical of boat wakes or groups of birds apart from the last drawing which is a bit of a mystery. Bearing in mind that only around a third of an aquatic animal's body appears above the surface when swimming, the size estimates would put this animal at around 50 to 60 feet or almost the size of the largest animal on the planet - a blue whale. We also know that long-necked animals have high metabolic rates so there would be insufficient food in the loch for a long-necked creature of any size. Oh how I wish I could have been looking over his shoulder so that I could have pointed out that he was actually seeing a ...... or a ...... or a ......, but my Tardis is currently not operational.

Now to dig a bit deeper into these words.

The long neck fits in with cormorants. 

Well, it doesn't actually, the sketch by McLean looks nothing like a cormorant. The lack of a long beak is a give away. The proportions are also wrong.

It is well known that people overestimate sizes over water.

But not by a factor of nearly seven. McLean suggested a length of up to 20ft (610cm) while a cormorant is about 90cm long. Moreover, overestimates are not so credible at a range of under twenty yards. This is a bit like someone claiming they saw an articulated lorry pass by, only for some "expert" to tell them they actually saw a mini car. I think the words "exaggerated" and "no credibility" just as equally apply to Tony's strained interpretation of what Mr. McLean saw.

The body drawings are typical of boat wakes or groups of birds apart from the last drawing which is a bit of a mystery.

Group of birds, but only one neck? Curiouser and curiouser. It goes without saying that Tony completely ignores any experience John McLean may have had as regards boats and birds. After all, he had claimed to have seen the monster, so he is immediately an unreliable witness. That is circular reasoning by any other name. As for the inflated hump, Tony hopes we will just ignore this minor "mystery".

Bearing in mind that only around a third of an aquatic animal's body appears above the surface when swimming, the size estimates would put this animal at around 50 to 60 feet or almost the size of the largest animal on the planet - a blue whale.

Loch Ness Monster fans have always held that the creature has notable powers of positive buoyancy. This is rejected by sceptics, hence the unwarranted use of this one third formula. Tony fails to note that McLean said he saw the creature from tail to head, so that blows his one third calculation clean out of the water.

As a side note, here is a YouTube clip of an animal with positive buoyancy that matches and perhaps even exceeds that of our favourite cryptid. Nature again provides a precedent to the confounding of the sceptics.

We also know that long-necked animals have high metabolic rates so there would be insufficient food in the loch for a long-necked creature of any size. 

Well, using proof by contradiction, it appears the long necked nothosauridae did not - Quad Erat Non Demonstrandum.

Oh how I wish I could have been looking over his shoulder so that I could have pointed out that he was actually seeing a ...... or a ...... or a ......, but my Tardis is currently not operational.

Ah, such arrogance! Besides, Tony, I am sure you would rather send off your Tardis to more interesting times .... such as White Hart Lane in the early 1960s.

If this is what "anyone who knows the subject" knows, I will continue to live in ignorance, thanks very much.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Infrasonic Nessie

The rise of scepticism has brought with it a desire to find more natural explanations for eyewitness claims to large creatures in lochs and lakes around the world. We are familiar with the older theories regarding boat wakes, seiches, vegetable mats, birds and other forms of misinterpreted phenomena, but not much new has hoved over the sceptical horizon recently.

So, it was with some interest that I noted a comment left by Loch Ness researcher, Dick Raynor, on this blog a couple of years back:

I am just beginning a new avenue of amateur investigation involving infrasound and I am sure that Ted and Tim would have been years ahead of me had they still been with us, as both of them (and I also) had experiences consistent with its effects.

This work, if successful, will in no way claim or prove that there are no unknown large animals in Loch Ness, it will only add to the argument that their existence is not necessary to account for the wide variations in observations and data obtained so far. If I see and film a plesiosaur from one of my boat tours tomorrow I will happily admit "Yup, there are plesiosaurs there too."

You can find Dick's thoughts on this matter at his website. In summary, the theory draws on previous work by Vic Tandy which suggested that inaudible sound at around a frequency of 19Hz triggers various physiological effects such as fear, blurred vision, shivering and dizziness. The blurred vision is alleged to be due to the human eyeball resonating at this frequency. Tandy's own personal experience made him think a grey spirit was entering at his peripheral vision but vanished when he turned to look at it.

Dick Raynor thinks this is applicable to some aspects of the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon. The infrasound waves are theorised to be generated by the culvert pipes below the road which then affect human observers near them. These pipes are used to run hillside water off into the loch and the photo below is of one such culvert at Loch Ness which I took recently.

However, how exactly this is to be applied to the Loch Ness Monster is not made clear on his website. A look around for Dick's other comments does not elaborate much more on the neurophysiological mechanisms involved or the proposed alterations in perception. One comment here has him actually applying the infrasound mechanism to Bigfoot as well!

Adding to what Rangoon says, the same naturally occuring infrasound could produce the perception of bigfoot in addition to the "bad" feelings. Witness is unaware of cause but senses both effects and the brain then turns one of them into a cause.

However, one assumes culverts do not run past Bigfoot sites. On another forum, he says:

Could it be that Science has added a new category of 'answer' that relies on modern physics, including infrasound-generated psychological / perception disturbances ...

Could produce, could it be? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Let's look at issues with this theory.


Now Dick said (albeit two years ago) that this was a work in progress and it is just as well he said that because what we have just now is not science but at best incomplete science. He has proposed a theory, albeit thin on the human perception side, but having more to say on the matter of the physics of resonating culverts.

The main problem is immediately obvious to those with experience of the scientific method. There is no evidence that this theory has been tested. It is over two years now since Dick outlined his theory on his website, but nothing more has been added. What do we need to see to progress this?

First, is there any evidence of infrasound emissions near the culverts? Has Dick gone to some culverts with measuring equipment in an attempt to measure the presence of sound waves in the proposed frequency range? If nothing has been detected, clearly the theory is already dead in the water.

Secondly, the intensity of any proposed waves also need to be measured. Herein lies a deficiency with the theory as it is not stated at what decibel level the proposed perception-altering changes kick in. Culverts may emit at 18Hz, but may be too weak to have any effect on humans.

Thirdly, a control test needs to be done at a site well away from culverts on the loch side. This is to establish whether any theoretical infrasound presence can be statistically linked to the culverts rather than another potential cause. If infrasound were to be detected nowhere near culverts, it is unlikely to have anything to do with them.

Have any of these tests been done? If not, it is incomplete science, it is semi-science. Many a theory has been proposed over the centuries of scientific enquiry, they may have been totally plausible and mathematical, but in many instances they turned out to be wrong due to an unwarranted assumption, loose handling of the data or a missing piece in the equations.

On the other hand, it is of course entirely possible all this has been done, it just has not been published yet. In that light, we await the possibility of unrevealed research for further critique.


The other aspect to all of this is whether the initial and original theory is as worthy of acceptance as it is made out? In that light, I took a step back from what is being proposed regarding the Loch Ness Monster and sought out the opinions of others on Vic Tandy's theory of infrasound and paranormal phenomena. It did not take long to find a dissenting opinion.

This objection can be found in a paper authored by Jason Braithwaite and Maurice Townsend in October 2006 entitled "Good Vibrations: The case for a specific effect of infrasound in instances of anomalous experience has yet to be empirically demonstrated" which is a long winded way of saying "we don't think anything has been proven here".

I see that Dr. Jason Braithwaite lectures in Cognitive Science and Brain Science at Birmingham University and his academic profile is here.  You can obtain their article here. His view in the paper is that the infrasound phenomenon has not been properly quantified, there is no baseline data and the neurological side is inadequately stated.

That does not mean that infrasound effects on human perception have been proven false, it just means they are not proven to an adequate level of scientific enquiry. 


There is no proof that infrasound can perceptually affect observers at Loch Ness or anywhere else. No measurements at this time confirming their presence at culverts are forthcoming and there is no mechanism adequately explaining how resonating pipes lead to people seeing plesiosaurs. Apart from these objections, it's a great theory. :)

We await further scientific revelations from Dick Raynor.

The author can be contacted at

Monday, 9 November 2015

Jennifer Bruce's Monster and Sucking

Every time I see a picture of a gull, I think of the 1982 picture of the Loch Ness Monster by Jennifer Bruce. I wrote about this in 2013 and when I look at such a gull picture, I am less convinced by the sceptical interpretation that it is nothing more than a passing seagull. Let's just say that if that was a gull, it would be so deformed as to be incapable of flying in the first place!

I saw yet another gull in a recent photo and include it below with a zoom of Bruce's Nessie. Compare and contrast.

Now whether the bird in the photo is a bona fide member of a gull species seems irrelevant to me. After all, damn! Those are the strangest looking wings I have ever seen on a supposed bird in Bruce's picture. Perhaps it is a weird, cryptid bird like the legendary Thunderbird looking up its watery cousin in Loch Ness?

Quite simply, the sceptics have been suckered into a case of pareidolia here; they see something that looks vaguely like something else. That brings me to a flaw in sceptical logic that is a repeat offence. I call it the "my theory sucks the least" argument and there is normally some fancy Latin  phrase to describe these things, but I am not particularly bothered to find it.

The argument runs like this, the probability of there being one or more large monsters in Loch Ness is approaching zero. So it is not a valid explanation for things we see in photos and films from Loch Ness.

However, since one wishes to look authoritative and intelligent, some kind of explanation needs to be offered as to what is in the picture. Now since any explanation that looks half plausible is going to be more probable than a monster one, it is therefore a probable explanation - use it.

Since the majority are not going to criticise this approach, people will generally get away with it - until they get shot down (like a gull) on this blog and others. So, you declare Bruce's photo is a bird. What do you mean it doesn't look like a bird on closer inspection!? It's more probable than a monster, so that's good enough for me!

Matey, if you think the odds of a monster are a million to one against, but the odds of that thing in the picture being a gull are a thousand to one against, you better just drop both and keep quiet.

This "my theory sucks the least" approach is found all over the place. Another example was Maurice Burton's explanation of the Surgeon's photo. He said it was an otter in the act of diving. It's a daft explanation, but it sucks less than a monster one, so we're cool with that.

I see it all time to varying degrees of dubiety. That does not mean that people do get it right on various pictures (e.g. Steve Feltham outing George Edwards or Alistair Boyd on the Surgeon's Photo), but some others attempts are just ... embarrassing.

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

More on the man "who invented Nessie"

Or not as the case may be. A commenter pointed out that a Loch Ness researcher had written on Digby George Gerahty over twenty years ago. The researcher was Steuart Campbell, author of the popular book,  "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence".

The article was "Who Invented the Loch Ness Monster?" published in the March/April 1992 issue of The Skeptic magazine. Steuart has kindly sent me the scans of these pages which I now include for your interest. You can view the first page and the second page via google drive.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Upcoming Book Event

Gareth Williams, author of the upcoming "A Monstrous Commotion", emailed to inform me that the book will be launched at Waterstones bookshop in Inverness next week on Thursday 12th November at 6:30pm. You can find out more at the Waterstones website. Unfortunately, I am just back from the area and so can't make it, but I am some of our local readers may want to come along.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Was Nessie invented by a publicist?

As part of the promotion for the upcoming book, A Monstrous Commotion, the Daily Mail runs an article on the author, Gareth Williams, and an interesting piece from his book. It concerns a Digby George Gerahty, who claimed to Henry Bauer before his death in 1981, that he was the inventor of the Loch Ness Monster via a series of planted monster stories back in 1933. You can read more in the Mail article.

The story is not unfamiliar to me, I just discounted it as one of the various competing theories promulgated as to what triggered the Loch Ness Monster story. The competing one is the influence of King Kong. The other is road works and blasting rousing the monster. One that also springs to mind is the Italian journalist, Francesco Gasparini, who in 1959 made similar claims:

Italian newsman Francesco Gasparini claimed in an article published in the Milan weekly magazine Visto that he had invented the Loch Ness Monster. His story was that in August 1933, while working in London as a UK correspondent for an Italian newspaper, he saw a two-line item in the Glasgow Herald about a "strange fish" caught in Loch Ness. Having nothing else to write about, he expanded on this, turning the fish into a monster, and soon "other papers began to print eyewitness accounts of the monster being sighted." Gasparini's claim was not taken very seriously. "The man is talking rot," one Scot was quoted as saying.

And then there is poor Alex Campbell, long time water bailiff of Loch Ness, who people such as arch sceptic, Ronald Binns, pins the blame on for inventing, embellishing and sustaining Nessie stories to catalyse the Kelpie legends into life.

Who's to blame? All, none or some? As Gareth says, he is not the one to judge, it is down to each of us to form our own opinion. I look forward with greater interest to the release of his book on November the 12th.

POSTSCRIPT: follow up article here

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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

An Old Tale from Loch Ness

Nothing to do with Nessie, but an amusing tale of life on the loch from "Angling and Art in Scotland: some fishing experiences related and illustrated" by Ernest Edward Briggs, published in 1908.

But the morning train from Perth was quite an express, and, if I remember rightly, only took four hours to accomplish the distance, arriving at Inverness about eleven o'clock. That gave one ample time to look around the cleanly little Highland town, and to pay a visit to the fishing-tackle shop ; for the steamer up Loch Ness did not leave until three in the afternoon. This afternoon boat, which went no farther than Fort Augustus, was also of the most leisurely ; you could, however, get a decent tea on board, with fish and cold meat. A peaceful calm pervaded the whole establishment. It was impossible to instil any great amount of energy into any of the employees; the utmost excitement on the part of a passenger brought no answering light of enthusiasm to the eye of the deck-hand. It was on this boat that a portly, well-to-do, though irascible Highlander, bound for the Temple Pier at Glenurquhart, found as he neared his destination that his portmanteau had been mislaid.

The luggage for the various ports had been put under tarpaulins, each in a separate pile, for it was a wet afternoon, and the pile destined for Glenurquhart, when examined, did not furnish the missing article. This fact, when demonstrated, produced a perfect ferment in the mind of the owner, who charged about the deck accusing the captain and sailors, jointly and severally, of having made away with his luggage. One of the sailors particularly, whom he vowed had brought the precious case on board, fell under his severest displeasure. But the company, from the captain downwards, were in no wise to be ruffled. This dignitary, in fact, remained perfectly unmoved by the most forcible language and threats, merely affirming that if the portmanteau had been properly labelled for the Temple Pier, it would have been found amongst the articles destined for that port, and therefore there was no doubt that it had never been brought aboard.

Ultimately, when Glenurquhart was reached, the excitable gentleman had to go ashore minus his luggage, muttering half-articulated threats into his beard, evidently having himself now some doubts as to whether the bone of contention had been properly labelled or no. But the climax came when one of the deck-hands — perhaps more conscientious than his fellows — actually found the missing article amongst the Fort Augustus luggage, and literally hurled it on to the pier just as the moorings were being cast off. The owner immediately pounced upon his property, growling over it as a dog would growl over a bone. He rapidly examined the label, and found it to be correctly addressed.

I Ah! you should have seen him then, that irate Highlander, alternately thumping with his fist the label which he had hastily torn from off the portmanteau — and which he was holding up for the captain's edification, as he ran along the pier keeping pace with the now moving boat or vigorously shaking that same fist at the imperturbable despot, bawling out as he did so, "Ye're condemned, Sir! Ye're condemned!" It was a mercy, in his excitement, that he did not tumble into the water on coming to the end of the pier, where for several minutes we could see him dancing like a bear on hot iron, gesticulating wildly, while his curses were wafted ever more faintly over the waves as the steamer forged ahead.

I note the observation "the utmost excitement on the part of a passenger brought no answering light of enthusiasm to the eye of the deck-hand" and wonder if even a raising of the eyebrow would be elicited if any passenger had seen the "huge fish" spoken of in former times gambolling nearby? Imagine the scene.

Gladys: Look! Look! What are those three humps and long neck in the water?!

Claude (looking at zombie crewmen): Clearly nothing to get excited about, Darling. It must be a bow wave generated by a sturgeon pursuing a cormorant. Another sandwich, Dear?

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