Saturday 15 June 2013

Nessie, UFOs and Sceptics


Original picture at this link

I was watching the National Geographic channel recently and came across something that resonated within me as regards the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster.

I have just had TalkTalk's TV box installed which allows you access to subscription channels on a month by month basis. So I guess in some ways, my TV viewing experience has ratcheted up a notch from the standard fayre on Freeview (or "Council TV" as they say in Central Scotland).

Anyway, I got to watching a series of documentaries NG made which focused on UFO files of European governments. One of the top stories was the well known case that occurred in Rendlesham Forest in 1980. You can read more about it here but the gist of the case was strange bright lights and a metallic object being seen in the forest twice over the space of several days by base officials and servicemen.

Now whatever you may think about the case, the parallels with handling Loch Ness Monster accounts came to light when sceptics were asked for their opinions on the case. One such contributor was Nigel Henbest, a writer of popular science books. He suggested they had seen a combination of a meteor, the star Sirius and the local lighthouse at Orford Ness.

Could those witnesses have been so duped and stupid? I watched what a Colonel Charles Halt had to say and he denied it was the lighthouse which he was familiar with. In fact, he uttered these words:

"I think I will scream if they mention the lighthouse again!"

Or words to that effect but the word "scream" certainly was there to emphasise his frustration with these sceptical explanations. So do sceptics just plain ignore feedback from witnesses? Do they in fact seek or bother about witness feedback? There are two important aspects to examining what witnesses say.

The first is the need to demonstrate the witness' observational incompetency in the context of the incident. We talk about the "professional" witnesses who we place greater stock in such as locals, water based workers or hobbyists, regular monster hunters and so on. 

But how does one prove observational incompetency in an given case? I would suggest in the case of scepticism, it is assumed rather than proven. It should be the other way round.

Secondly and related is the witness feedback. When a sceptical explanation is offered, how often is witness feedback sought? If it is ever done, I see very little evidence of it. Now I understand that not every witness can be sought out and engaged with but surely there is more to this than just publishing a possible explanation and that's that. No further debate, no feedback, nothing.

To put it bluntly, I do not consider this a holistic approach to witness analysis and it is something all Loch Ness researchers should engage in according to the proportion of time and resources available.

So what shall we say to this? Or rather what would the witnesses of old say to this?

Would Greta Finlay have said: "I think I will scream if they mention that deer again!"

Would the Spicers have said: "I think I will scream if they mention those otters again!"

Would Aldie Mackay have said:  "I think I will scream if they mention standing waves again!"

I don't know how those individuals would have reacted but I am sure there are plenty of other witnesses who would react in such a way!
P.S. The Godzilla in the picture is for EKM!


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