Sunday, 20 January 2013

Review of a Recent Nessie Article

Articles on the Loch Ness Monster come and go, some support the idea of a large creature in the loch whilst others dismiss the very notion. In the interest of the human fascination with mystery, others leave the door slightly ajar for future enquiry.

The latest one comes from Benjamin Radford who is a contributor to the LiveScience website. You can find his article at this link. The aim of this article is to critique his article.

Firstly, in reference to St. Columba's well known encounter with the monster in the River Ness, Mr. Radford says that the story is merely:

One of many church myths about righteous saints vanquishing Satan in the form of serpents and dragons.

In fact, the creature in the story is not referred to in any supernatural way and is merely called a "water beast". Doubtless, it is in the interests of Mr. Radford's argument to mythologise the story via the expediency of demonising the animal mentioned but the story offers no such latitude. The suggestion being that this animal is no more mystical than the other animals such as a boar and whale that are mentioned in the same hagiography of Columba. Do we doubt these were animals because something miraculous was associated with them? Of course not. Doubtless the story has embellishments but the animal referred to is presented as real enough and how curious that it appears connected to a loch destined for bestial greatness.

Thus dismissing this story, Radford continues:

In fact, there are no reports of the beast until less than a century ago.

This is a misrepresentation of the facts. Apart from Columba, a "floating island" was stated by Richard Franck to frequent the loch in 1658. A "great fish" was reported in Loch Ness in 1868 by the Inverness Courier and various references to water bulls which should not be presumed to be mythical. After the beast became international news in 1933, various people came forward with their stories of strange sightings going back into the 19th century. Clearly, something strange was believed to inhabit Loch Ness going back over 140 years and beyond. Meantime, Mr. Radford's statement is simplistic to say the least.

Moving onto the Nessie era, Radford talks about the first modern sighting by the Mackays and says this:

The Loch Ness monster first achieved notoriety in 1933 after a story was published in "The Inverness Courier," a local newspaper, describing not a monstrous head or hump but instead a splashing in the water that was described as appearing to be caused "by two ducks fighting."

This is not a true statement. I quote the original article from the Inverness Courier of the 2nd May 1933:

There the creature disported itself, rolling & plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale ..

No head? I suppose. A hump? Sounds like one to me. Mr. Radford may wish the reader to draw a "quack" solution, but this blog won't "duck" the issue. Namely, hump like object and big. You know, this article is beginning to annoy me.

The article then mentions the staple diet of debunkers - The Surgeon's Photograph. It get a couple of sentences but a big reprint of the Daily Mail article outlining the hoax. In terms of word count, it's the main feature of the article. I'll concede that one but a pattern is emerging, debunk the most well known pre-Nessie story, debunk the very first modern Nessie sighting and then debunk the most famous photograph. I guess if you shatter the symbols, you hope everything else will follow in the reader's mind. That might work with those who don't seek a second opinion, but not here.

The article ends with the implication that we should have found this creature by now. Sonar searches, photographs, overwater and underwater surveillance have yielded nothing that would satisfy the author of the article. Reading this gives the impression that science has satisfactorily "scoured the lake". A 2003 sonar survey of Loch Ness is made much of, but when I contacted the manufacturers of the sonar equipment, Kongsberg, about the survey, they said only sections of the loch were surveyed and

what should be noted is that we did not get to survey the entire loch ... there is no system which could survey the loch in one pass ...

In other words, if Nessie is sensitive to sonar (we know dolphins and whales are), it is no problem to step aside from it. As for the non-appearance of Nessie bits and pieces, I'll address that in another article.

After eighty years of continued sightings, a small article like that is not going to end the story (even if it got the facts right). However, another small article like this is more than sufficient to counter it.


  1. Another issue with this article stems from the following:

    "Though people often speak of Nessie as a solitary animal, if it exists there must, of course, be many of them in the lake — not just one or two but dozens or hundreds. This is because of biological and genetic pressures; there must be a breeding population of them to have survived in the lake."

    Now I'm prepared to be corrected here, but don't all credible 'lake monster' sightings from lochs in Scotland come from those which are connected to the sea (by virtue of rivers or being sea lochs)? I'm well aware that the trip to Loch Ness from the sea via the River Ness would be near impossible for a large creature, but I see no reason to believe that a juvenile (or juveniles) could enter quite easily before growing too large to leave and ending their days in the Loch. This would chime with the fact that many of the most intense periods of sightings are fairly concentrated (ie. the 1930s), which suggests to me that an unknown creature (or creatures) in their infancy could have entered the loch (say in the late 20s or early 30s) and been responsible for 'flaps' as it reached maturity. This may even happen in Scottish lochs sporadically as there are certainly reports of unknown animals traversing the seas around northern Scotland (Soay beast, various 'serpents', etc.).

    It would be interesting to know if anything smaller than the stereotypical 'Nessie' has been reported in the River Ness (or even in the vicinity of the locks and weirs) and if so, if it was on its way in or out. At any rate, I find the scenario of smallish 'sea monsters' finding their way into connected lochs and living out their lives there more likely that the 'hundreds' of monsters which Radford suggests must be present in Loch Ness.

    1. I did a piece of "baby nessies" here:

  2. People living on the shores of the lake didn't notice a thing until the 1930s. I find it hard to take subsequent monster claims seriously with this fact in mind. Inverness was a good sized town, Loch Ness is not some remote Highland lake.

    1. But they did! Also Inverness is seven miles from Loch Ness so the loch cannot be seen from the town. In those days, people travelled less, no cars and energy per capita was a lot lower than today - so you only travelled with good reason.

    2. Glasgow Boy - surely you more than anyone here will recall that Henry Bell - builder of "Comet" - the first steam boat on the Clyde in 1812 was also operating a paddle steamer "Stirling Castle" on Loch Ness in 1820 - that's two years before the canal was completed. There were arguably as many eye-hours on and around the loch in the 1800's as there are today.

    3. Perhaps the number of hours of disturbance on the loch would be more relevant. It's quite interesting that the steamer service was withdrawn in 1929 and then...

    4. Can we get these people library cards? I wish they'd do at least token research before typing nonsense, it would be so much less embarrassing for them:

      unitedcats21 -
      "People living on the shores of the lake didn't notice a thing until the 1930s."

      Benjamin Radford -
      "In fact, there are no reports of the beast until less than a century ago."

      Try telling that to Alexander MacDonald (1802), D. Mackenzie (1871 or 72) or the diver Duncan MacDonald (1880). Or the letter to The Scotsman recounting the Aldourie Pier sighting of 1874 (Roland's book, page 114). Or to all those people "living on the shores" in the 1930's who could report a parent, grandparent or great grandparent who had had a sighting even if they themselves hadn't. That's without going into the literary resources that begin with Adamnan/Columba, but certainly do not end there.

      I suppose I'm preaching to the choir :)

    5. Ah, but this is not good enough! These were all reported post-1933 (when Nessie became national news) and clearly anyone coming forward with a pre-1933 story was clearly a liar else they would have been published pre-1933!

      I had a discussion with Mr.Lovcanski who insisted such reports could not be accepted simply because they appeared in the Nessie era. Frightening!

    6. Two stone age Picts sit beside a beautiful lake that won't be famous for some time. A large, humped aquatic animal swims by.

      One man turns to his partner and says "I would certainly write a strong letter to the Times about that beastie, but unfortunately the Times hasn't been invented yet.

      His partner nods, thinks a moment, then asks, "What is 'writing'"?

  3. Isn't it annoying when people get even simple things like the River Ness going the wrong way?

    1. If that was Radford's only mistake, this article would never be written!

      PS Error corrected!

      PPS have you fixed the factual errors I pointed out in your Lachlan Stuart article?

    2. While I am sure that Mr Radford is quite capable of defending his own assertions, I would like to question a couple of yours if I may.
      Richard Franck wrote "The famous Lough-Ness, so much discours'd for the supposed floating island ; for here it is if any where in Scotland. Nor is it any other than a natural plantation of segs and bullrushes, matted and knit so close together by natural industry, and navigated by winds that blow every way, floats from one part of the Lough to another, upon the surface of the solid deeps of this small Mediterrane : and here it is in these slippery streams that an English ship, by curious invention, was haled over the mountains to this solitary Lough, brought hither on purpose to reclaim the Highlander." (Northern Memoirs pp 196-197)

      So Richard Franck himself identifies the "supposed floating island" as a vegetable mat.

      As for the "great fish" of 1868,is it not the same one that the Loch Ness Project Archive tells us about? It reads "(In October 1868) the Inverness Courier reports a curious incident at Abriachan. A "huge fish" is washed up dead on the beach. It is about 2m long. Some think it is the strange fish that has been reported for "years back". It is finally pronounced to be a skinned dolphin, possibly thrown overboard by "the waggish crew" of a passing fishing boat to fool "the credulous natives of Abriachan".

      These particular two stories contain their own rational explanations and so are not relevant to the monster issue.

      Another aspect of the "floating island" being "much discours'd" is that it may be a reference to the crannog known as Cherry Island which Fr Odo Blundell explored in 1908 when the water was low, "with the aid of a diving dress." The oak beams he could see tied together to form the base of the crannog might have led people to assume it was some kind of raft, and hence a "floating island".

    3. Yes, Franck is the first Nessie debunker. As you know vegetable mats are like hen's teeth on Loch Ness and are so rare as to not be worth forwarding as an explanation for sightings (how often do you suggest them as explanations). Franck is just guessing and you can tell as bullrushes are not native to the shores of Loch Ness.

      I have the original 1868 clipping, it is clear that the hoaxed dolphin carcass and the huge fish seen for years back are two distinctly seperate stories married by our intrepid reporter. BTW, why would the our waggish crew indulge in such a hoax? Perhaps to take advantage of a persistent story of large creature(s)?

      The Cherry Island explanation is weak in the extreme as what Franck describes moves about - Cherry Island does not.

      These "rational explanations" are only rational if you are pre-disposed to not believe in large creatures in Loch Ness.

    4. "Yes, Franck is the first Nessie debunker. As you know vegetable mats are like hen's teeth on Loch Ness and are so rare as to not be worth forwarding as an explanation for sightings (how often do you suggest them as explanations). Franck is just guessing and you can tell as bullrushes are not native to the shores of Loch Ness."

      I am having trouble following your argument. Franck was, or had been, a trooper in Cromwell's New Model Army. He explains earlier stories of "a floating island" on Loch Ness - they were common elsewhere. His extensive description of the process of moving the galley from Inverness to Loch Ness suggests that he was either involved in the process himself or knew others who were. He makes no mention of a monster and simply explains the nature of "the floating island" referred to by others. It is natural that the English-speaking users of the first sizable boat on Loch Ness would remark on an oddity seen there, and not on the commonplace. Its rarity made it worthy of mention.
      Bullrushes are to be found on Loch Ness, e.g. Inchnacardoch Bay and Abban Water, but could equally have been washed into the loch by the rivers.
      So Franck explains the floating island in the 1650's, Thomas Pennant's 1769 "A Tour in Scotland" devotes pages to Loch Ness and lists the fish present as salmon, trout, pike and eels (no elephants or floating islands in that room), Boswell's "Journal" of 1773 details conversations with the Governor at Fort Augustus, including mention of the galley which must have been over 100 years old by then, but again, no monsters are mentioned.

      On the matter of "great fish" seen "years back", these would be consistent with sturgeon coming in from the sea to spawn in shallow rivermouths. There are many accounts of them being caught in the Moray Firth area.

      There are plenty of monster stories to debate but Richard Franck's Memoirs in 1658 and the Courier's "huge fish" of 1868 are not part of any such mystery.

    5. Another argument against Eilean Muireach /Cherry Island being "the" floating island is that in 1658 it had a companion island, Eilean nan Con / Dog Island. Odo Blundell published a report in 1909 in which he estimated that Dog Island would have measured 20 yards by 15 before it was submerged by the building of the Caledonian Canal. And if floating island simply equals crannog then why would Franck say "for here it is, if any where in Scotland"?

    6. Glasgow Boy wrote "PPS have you fixed the factual errors I pointed out in your Lachlan Stuart article?"

      Yes, and I have credited you with spotting them - at

    7. Dick,

      I have trouble following your argument too. Are you saying Franck's floating island could also be Cherry Island? You should pick one argument and stick to it instead of strafing us with any old plausibilities! But I can understand why you may suggest the old crannog at Cherry Island. After all, vegetable mats are so rare at Loch Ness, it seems unlikely any Cromwellian clapped their eyes on one. How many pictures and film have you taken of vegetable mats in your 45+ years on the loch?

      No, such an explanation is only "rational" if one had confidence in seeing such a thing at Loch Ness. Mr. Franck may have come up with his explanation of mats based on what he had seen or heard elsewhere rather than direct experience at Loch Ness. The fact that he says they are mainly segs and bullrushes proves he is making it up for these plants are vastly unlikely to be the main constituents of an alread unlikely phenomenon.

      Another explanation has to be sought for this floating island and it is the same as that for the more modern "floating islands" reported with other phrases since 1933.

      As for sturgeons, there is no record of a sturgeon ever being seen in Loch Ness (let alone caught). Nuff said. If these were merely sturgeons I doubt the writer of the article would feel recourse to call them "credulous natives".

      I know other writers "fail" to mention strange things in Loch Ness. I fail to see why that would nullify the positive testimonies of others. You've never seen the monster in over 40 years, I don't take that as proof of anything either way!

    8. Northern Memoirs states:
      "Theoph. - What new inviting object have we now discovered?
      Arn. - The famous Lough-Ness, so much discours'd for the supposed floating island; for here it is, if any where in Scotland. Nor is it any other than a natural plantation of segs and bull-rushes, matted and knit" etc etc. End of quotation.

      It appears that before he wrote his own book Franck had come across several earlier stories about "the" floating island on Loch Ness and was offering his own explanation. He doesn't say he saw it. Then, as now, people could have been "discoursing" at cross purposes; some describing a vegetable mat they had seen, others the crannog - I have no way of knowing anything about these "discourses" and just offer the crannog as an element in the story. A curious traveller passing Cherry Island at low water could have seen the logs it was built on and mistaken it for a large raft, hard aground. I do not see any indication of a living creature in the text, nor do I regard listing possibilities as "strafing".

      Regarding your second paragraph, there is nothing irrational about a vegetable mat occasionally forming at Loch Ness. These days, floating trees strewn with other debris are more likely. Franck wrote much about angling and obviously had experience of vegetable mats, and that is all we know. They do exist.

      The "credulous natives" term derives from the 1802 story of Alexander MacDonald at Abriachan.
      MacDonald reported an animal that paddled... using two short appendages reminded him of a salamander...It is recorded that into the start of the 20th century the ferry skippers putting in at
      Abriachan pier would hail the piermaster by shouting:
      "Seen the salamander today?"

      I know there is no record of a sturgeon in Loch Ness, but they do exist and it is entirely likely that they visited the loch, unrecognised, in the past.

      Finally, I actually >have< seen the monster, and got a film of it. Check the literature - June 13th 1967 - the "Raynor Film" is what they call it.

      Cheers, Dick.

    9. I think Cherry Island has no relevance, it doesn't move with the waves. Franck doesn't say either way whether he saw it, I suspect he is picking up on news from his fellow Cromwellians that they were seeing odd things at Loch Ness.

      I agree there is nothing irrational about vegetable mats forming, they just don't happen enough to merit mention or further discussion. Indeed, if they are just that, Loch Ness should merit no special discussion on the subject than any other Highland loch. So why is Franck's Loch Ness vegetable mats so worthy of special attention in his eyes?

      The reference to credulous natives IS in the 1869 article.

      How about you give me some sightings in Loch Ness that you think were sturgeons?

      Now your film. Are you saying you no longer believe it was just a bunch of birds?

  4. GB Benjamin Radford's one of what I call the Randy and the Woo Woos crowd and whilst in all fairness to him he often really does struggle to be fair and objective [which to me's an ineluctable part of science otherwise you end up like Phil Plait denouncing N. C. Wickramasinghe for fervency so fervently it looks like he wishes he'd just go away and die] at other times engrained assumptions or sheer laziness make Benjamin slip into sloppy tenditious writing.

    The Nessie piece being a good example of the latter hence he trots out the hoax admission as if it's the gospel scientifically proven truth even though the version of the newspaper pic he uses clearly doesn't match the diagram supposedly explaining it away. In fact if they're so certain this's the explanation why not be scientists and get a toy submarine from the time etc and test the idea like true scientists. I don't even insist they do it in choppy water or even in Loch Ness. A park lake'll do so long as it actually corresponds to Christian Spurling's explanation and actually resembles the Surgeon's photo.

    But that's the other thing I don't like about Randy and the Woo Woos if someone says they saw a Sasquatch ghost ufo alien or whatever it's all "Inadmissible - hearsay!" "Non scientific - anecdotal!" but they swallow it whole if someone says "Oh my cousin Hamish used to hate Scottish sausage rolls so much he used to carve them into figures of dinosaurs and cigar shaped space ships or hairy beast men and one day just as we were chucking one of these sausage rolls in the loch we heard this guy coming down the road saying 'By jove being what people commonly call a surgeon I think just for the heck of it I'll take a photograph..." and would you believe it the next thing we know there's Hamish's sausage roll on the front page of the Daily Mail..."

    [Of course this's equally true of the guys on the other side of the argument the fervent yay-sayers because 'Hamish' could carve one of his sausage rolls right in front of their eyes but the moment he launches it in the air they'll explode "Oh my god a cigar shaped ufo with a flaky puffpastry like alien waving back at us!"].

    But to give another example of sloppy thinking here's Benjamin again "Dozens of inconclusive and ambiguous photos, films, and videos have surfaced over the years".

    If you think about it he's just wiped out the history of modern astronomy which's all about interpreting stuff like single photons of light travelling for billions of years through mostly empty space and then sieving the data through theories like gravitational lensing dark matter and dark energy and saying "Oh my god a clump of quasars 4 billion light years across!"

  5. "...sloppy tenditious writing."


    1. Sounds like a good smoke to me :-)

  6. Dealing with one subject at a time, as requested, here's another one:

    In your original blog post above you wrote "Apart from Columba, a "floating island" was stated by Richard Franck to frequent the loch in 1658."
    "To frequent" means "to go to or spend time in often" or "to be in or visit a particular place often". Different dictionaries offer variations but the underlying requirement is repetition. There is no such data in Francks' Memoir - just "The famous Lough-Ness, so much discours'd for the supposed floating island." It was the "discourse" which happened "much", according to his writing, not observations of the floating island. At Roswell, a UFO only crashed once but it has been talked out many times; we do not say that UFOs "frequent" Roswell.

    Back on 6th June 2011 you wrote on the subject of revisionism : "Let me state the obvious, raw data is of vital importance and to subject it to unwarranted change is to be avoided at all costs." Is that not what you are doing in this instance?

  7. Dick,

    I do not doubt it is an inference on my part to use the word "frequent" but in the midst of this flowery text from Franck:

    "Where the Tritons and Sea-nymphs sport themselves on the slippery waves, sounding an invasion to her moveable

    suggests this is a defensible position when the word "inmate" is used. The word inmate suggests a resident rather than a transient object, I do not see a problem with the word "frequent" in that context.

    Note that a monster may frequent Loch Ness but that does not imply it is often seen ... if its zone of frequentation is 700 feet below.

  8. Laurence Clark Crossen6 February 2013 at 11:53

    @It seems much more likely that the Saint Columba story is itself evidence of a belief in the creature at the time. At the time Christianity was incorporating local beliefs into their hagiography.
    @The sightings before 1933 cannot be rejected merely because they were not reported in the press until 1933. A major recognized factor is risk of disbelief and disrespect for sharing such experiences. Robert Bartholomew discusses this in his new book The Untold Story of Champ. Even though he is a sociologist and gives much credence to sociological explanations he is very open minded to the possibility a real creature exists. That the sightings were reported, even though late, is sufficient to overthrow the whole case erected by the skeptics upon the absence of newspaper reports. It is axiomatic that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.