Monday, 4 January 2016

A Modus Operandi

I want to clarify something before I go onto the analysis of various photographs and films this year, such as the O'Connor, Cockrell and Taylor images. Clearly, such images are controversial and generate claims and counter claims.

The bottom line is how do you prove a photo or film depicts the Loch Ness Monster? Even when you have a purported close up shot of something consistent with eyewitness testimonies, you are going to get interpretations of the photograph that attempt to prove fraud (or, less likely, misidentification).

Despite what people will tell you about photos and films being objective data which lends towards objective analysis, this is not always the case (if at all). The reason for this is because all interpretations have a degree of subjectivity, be it in assumptions made about numbers or what a small, blurred section of an image is showing.

As you can see, guesstimation and blurriness are the antithesis of objective analysis. That's why when even so-called critical thinking is brought into this arena, you can assign large error bars to a lot of what passes for analysis. That, of course, applies to both sides of the debate. The trouble is, some people think they are immune from such things.

So, how do you prove a photo is a Loch Ness Monster? What is the acid test for monster? Long neck? Hump like an upturned boat? Shiny, leathery skin? All valid tests, but fakeable features to varying degrees (especially in this age of CGI). That, of course, does not mean every picture is a fake, but when these arguments are brought against a photograph or film, it is the motivation of the pro-Nessie analyst to answer them.

In fact, the main modus operandi of this blog in this regard is to disprove counter arguments against photos and films, or at worst expose their weaknesses. And, to borrow from Sherlock Holmes, having eliminated the improbable, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Well, that is the ideal to aim for, but everyone is influenced by their internal prejudices and biases. There is nothing that can be done about that, and everyone who reads will make their own minds up.

As an aside, photos are also assessed on the basis of how consistent they are with the overall story. For example, I reject the so called "gargoyle" photo taken underwater by the Academy of Applied Sciences in 1975. The basis for this is simply that what this photo purports to show bears little resemblance to what eyewitnesses have described concerning the head and upper neck of the creature.

In fact, not all Nessie photos are created equal. We will all have our own ratings for each photo across time. I myself will rate such images on a personal scale taking into account arguments both for and against the image in question. For example, the Surgeon's Photograph is a fake to me, and on a for-against percentage rating, I would give it 20-80, meaning my opinion is that I am 80% certain of the arguments against it being real and give 20% to the arguments that it is real.

But there are pictures which I do regards as images of the Loch Ness Monster and I give them, on balance, positive ratings. So, I give the Hugh Gray photo a rating of 90-10 and for the Peter MacNab picture, I give 80-20. Nearer the line of indecision (50-50), I rate the so called F.C.Adams photo at 55-45, purely on the basis of the back story I unearthed last year.

And, of course, we have the many pictures which show distant wakes and blobs. They may be monsters or they may be something else. These will be near the 50-50 line as we simply do not have enough information to assess them. 

People who take a 100-0 or a 0-100 stance on many or all pictures probably need to ask themselves a few questions about what motivates their assessment of the evidence. Remember these points when I present various articles on Loch Ness Monster photographs and films.

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  1. I attempt to assign similar numerical certainty measurements to various aspects of life, only to have them rejected by my partner, who would like proof that my statistics are correct (which clearly can't be achieved in many cases of the unknown). However, I tend to agree with your attempts to quantify a murky area.

    1. Indeed, I would add that taking a 0-100 or 100-0 is of course possible, it more the consistency factor. Frank Searle's infamous cut and paste of the brontosaurus postcard cannot be anything but a 0-100.

  2. I think you have highlighted a problem in the analysis of pictures when you ask "how do you prove a photo or film depicts the Loch Ness Monster" If you are starting your analysis on that basis, you are already in a no win situation because you are clearly showing you are starting your analysis with a bias. To conduct a proper analysis, your goal should be to find out what the pictures shows. Try to find the simple truth, not start out having already decided the outcome. That is how a scientist would approach the subject, searching for the truth, indeed how they would be required to do so in order to be taken seriously.

    As we know, some of what these pictures show is inconclusive, which isn't remarkable in any way as its easy to produce a picture with unidentifiable content if the quality is poor enough.

    How do you prove Nessie exists, or that the pictures show Nessie? Its actually quite simple and not a problem at all, despite what you say in the first few paragraphs. You need to use the accepted scientific methods already in everyday use. How to you prove dogs exist?. We already accept they do, so if the same level of proof existed for Nessie we would accept that too.

    This doesn't mean that a picture claiming to show a dog actually shows a dog. If it was a blurry picture of part of its tail, it might be something that just happens to look like part of a dog. Apply that thinking to Nessie and we can see that its not possible to "prove that a picture shows Nessie" you really can't. You need to prove the existence in another way. Perhaps the same way you prove dogs exist.

    1. Well, I don't think you can prove anything incontrovertibly unless you have signed and witnessed confessions or the incriminating tools of hoaxing in your hand.

      I mean, how do you "prove" there is a dog swimming in the Gray photo? How do you know it is not pareidolia?

      The problem is it is too easy to cry "model", "CGI" or "painted on" in an unthinking way. Such people rely too much on others accepting their theories because, hey, they're less incredible than a monster.

      Sure, no one is arguing a carcass or similar sample is the required ultimate evidence. Photos and films can only ever be indirect evidence.

      But your arguments apply as equally to the phrase "How do you prove a photo or film does not depict the Loch Ness Monster"? That opens up a world of half-baked theories hiding behind Occam's Razor.

  3. 'But your arguments apply as equally to the phrase "How do you prove a photo or film does not depict the Loch Ness Monster"?'
    They don't, unfortunately. The burden of proof lies with whoever is claiming evidence of an unidentified monster. 'Sceptics' don't have to prove it doesn't exist, science already does that. It's down to the believer to present evidence that challenges the established scientific thinking.

    1. Science doesn't prove there is no loch ness monster. I think you're jumping the gun there.

      What sceptics have a right to say is "prove it". After that, they only need to sit back and do nothing.

      Where they get into all kinds of trouble is when they try to get involved in the photo debate with all kinds of half-baked "solutions". They cannot even agree on what is in a photo.

      They should just do nothing and walk away from this.

  4. Dick Raynor posted an interesting analysis of the O'Conner photo @ google 'Richard Raynor academia' and you should be able to find it.

    1. Yes, I will deal with that in two upcoming articles.

    2. Fascinating Rev, thanks for flagging that. Interesting that O'Connor became a successful taxidermist, he even appeared on 'What's My Line' in the 70's.

  5. A bit late but happy new year Roland. Its great to see ur blog still thriving into 2016, unlike the facebook sceptic pages that have died of death. Keep up the good work and lets hope for a few more mysterious sightings in this new year.