The dog is dead, long live the swan!
In the midst of preparing a review of Darren Naish's new sceptical book, "Hunting Monsters", I noted an opinion on the 1933 Hugh Gray photograph stating it was a picture of a swan.
The author is somewhat contradictory about the photo in that at one point he speaks of the "sheer ambiguity" of the picture yet later states with the usual sceptical certainty about these matters that it is "almost certainly" a swan. For about thirty years prior to this opinion, the prevalent sceptical view was that Hugh Gray had photographed a labrador dog swimming in the loch (or even elsewhere).
Apparently, that dog is now canem non grata (or whatever the latin is). It looks like the sceptics have finally accepted the "believers" were right about the "dog" in the picture being nothing more than an example of pareidolia (like seeing a face on a slice of toast). Don't expect them to thank us.
Now, I had actually been aware of this opinion doing the rounds on the Internet forums for a number of years. When it appeared I thought someone was having a joke. But now that someone is trying to elevate it to the ranks of not just plausible, not even probable, but certainty. In that light, it is time to expose the problems with this argument.
The first thing to note is the modus operandi of the sceptic. I have debated with and observed sceptics for over five years now and think I have a good handle on the way they try to persuade people of their arguments. To say it is all based on "logic" and "science" would be simplistic and naive. Too often, one will encounter more of the psychology, sleight of hand, straw men and ad hominems when dissecting sceptical arguments.
This particular sub-plot is no different. Observe the two pictures below which were published in defence of Darren Naish's reinterpretation of the Hugh Gray photograph. The top picture is a common image of the Hugh Gray photograph and the bottom picture is an idealised drawing of a swan in the "Hugh Gray" position.
We would be invited to note the apparently common features. The long neck, the body and the white feathered tip at the posterior. But, at best, this is a misrepresentation of the facts. At worst, it is deception. When I saw this pair of images, I asked myself two questions. The first was why they used this particular version of the Gray picture? It is a poor quality image and there is a far better one available. It is called the Heron-Allen image and is shown below against our theoretical swan.
Using this picture, we can discern some features which puts the swan interpretation on a shaky foundation. If we zoom to the far right side, things become decidedly un-swan like. One is immediately confronted with something that looks like a fish head. Do fish heads grow out of swans' butts? Not unless genetic engineering is older than we thought! Those who unthinkingly say "pareidolia" may not have noticed that this "pareidolia" is casting a shadow on the water.
In fact, that whitish area that looked like the feathered tip of a swan's posterior is now resolved to something less substantial. It looks like spray water heading up vertically or it may be a light defect on the film. I am open to either, but it has nothing to do with swans.
A further examination of the superior Heron-Allen image betrays another problem. Where are the feathers? Try as I may, I cannot see anything that suggests feathers or anything avian. On the contrary, the image suggests a surface that is more smooth in appearance and contour.
There are other issues I would point out, but I will leave those for a follow up article as I expect an "academic paper" (I use the term loosely) to be published trying to push this fast crumbling theory. For example, someone is going to suggest (or rather tell us) that this is a double exposure and that opens a wonderful vista for sceptics as it allows them to tack on almost anything in their agenda against this picture. But that is for another day.
So why did the author use the inferior image when this superior image was available? My own opinion on this is that if the superior image was used, it would simply destroy the swan argument. The feathered tail would disappear and the curious fish head would appear. However, the more ambiguous inferior image better suits their case.
Darren Naish and his advisers on this matter know this superior image exists. Why did they not use it? After all, Steuart Campbell in his book "The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence" was using it years ago. You now see what I mean by the psychological tactics of convincing readers as well as the scientific.
The second question I asked myself was why they used a drawing of a swan instead of a real one? The problem with drawings is that they can easily be drawn to fit the theory. It is no surprise that Darren Naish's swan looks like the Hugh Gray object.
Or does it? A quick use of picture software allowed me to overlay the swan drawing over Hugh Gray object. You know what? They don't even fit. If you align the neck and shoulder to fit in proportion, the problem becomes apparent. The Hugh Gray creature is far more extended that our theoretical swan. So we have a swan with a fish head growing out of its butt which is about twice as long as a normal swan. This bird gets more cryptozoological than the Nessie it is trying to get rid off!
Whatever you may think of the object in the Hugh Gray photograph, you should remove "swan" from your list of possibilities. I am astounded at the level of scepticism today when such explanations are trotted out with no proper due diligence on their validity. Critical thinking has grown fat, lazy and complacent in its pursuit of truth. In fact, do sceptics even believe these theories themselves or is it all a matter of getting rid of that troublesome monster?
Why Darren Naish allowed himself to be suckered by whoever he consulted on this matter is a mystery. Sceptics do not critique each other, I established that years ago. He should have asked me about this picture, but I won't be holding my breath over sceptics asking believers about anything. They hold us in too much intellectual contempt to "lower" themselves to that level!