Thursday, 28 February 2019

Pseudo-scepticism and the Loch Ness Monster




In my new book on photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, I take a different tack to the traditional works by pro-Nessie authors. In the past, photos were published, eyewitness tales were recounted and evidence for the monster was sought within the images. Today is the age of scepticism and various arguments brought against not some but all photographs arise and must be examined and challenged. You may say that is a good thing which encourages debate.

However, I would like to make a point that has led me to change my wording when it comes to addressing the arguments of sceptics against the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. To wit, I have now decided to label such people and their arguments as pseudo-sceptics and pseudo-scepticism. I do this in deference to real scepticism which one should seek to employ where possible at all times.

What is the difference you may well ask? In the context of the subject of this blog, pseudo-scepticism takes the position that there cannot be such a thing as the Loch Ness Monster (i.e. an exotic, large unidentified creature seen in the loch) and therefore any eyewitness report, photograph, film or sonar image must of necessity be deconstructed into an explanation based on known explicable events and objects, there is no room for monsters.

Note this is not the same as a person who disbelieves in the monster but still goes about their investigations in a true sceptical manner. This, I put to you, is not true scepticism which would attempt to maintain an open mind and assess such reports in a critical but unbiased and unprejudiced manner. Now pseudo-sceptics may claim to have an open mind on the subject, but their actions betray such words. This is demonstrated in several ways.

Firstly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism to maintain that none of the 2000+ known witnesses over 100+ years have accurately described what they claim as a large creature (unless it looks like a sturgeon). Apart from being a statistical improbability, it betrays a prejudice which proposes such a thing when other disciplines (e.g. history and jurisprudence) do accept eyewitness testimonies at face value but apply due and proper sceptical enquiry on an individual case by case basis.

Secondly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when counter-intuitive explanations are offered for what eyewitness have seen or recorded. One classic example of this was the 1938 John McLean sighting of a 20 foot creature seen at 20 yards. One leading critic suggested he had seen a group of cormorants, despite the witness being an angler at Loch Ness whom we assume was familiar with such things. A second example was from another "expert" in these matters who used ad hominem tactics to suggest one group of eyewitnesses (the monks at Fort Augustus Abbey) were well known for imbibing too much and therefore should not be trusted.

Thirdly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when illogical techniques (as opposed to explanations) are applied in the deconstructing of eyewitness reports. Refer to my article on "tricks of the sceptics" to see how it is more of the politician and the lawyer that prevails in an analysis than the logician and scientist.

Fourthly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when they stick to the same repetitive arguments even when sufficient doubt has been cast upon them. This is because the primary purpose of a pseudo-sceptical argument is not scientific enquiry but to cast doubt and dismiss. So long as it achieves this, then it is useful and therefore is to be retained. Some examples are the long discredited vegetable mats and the "dog" explanation for the Hugh Gray photograph.

Fifthly, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when no recognition at all is made of studies made by cryptozoologists. The tactic is obvious in its deployment as no credence must be made to such people lest it is seen as a concession to cryptozoology. In fact, efforts will be made to portray cryptozoology as a danger to scientific enquiry.

Finally, it is a sign of pseudo-scepticism when an explanation is infallibly fashioned for every event and no room is made for the inconclusive. Indeed, it is a vanishingly rare thing for a pseudo-sceptic to say "I can't explain that". By making such an admission, they are not admitting to the existence of a large creature, but the confirmation bias that is deeply ingrained blocks even statements of such neutrality from coming out.

You may ask whether there is any sign of true scepticism in the field of Loch Ness Monster research? The answer is, of course, yes. People can follow the correct lines of enquiry and come to the best natural conclusions. Possessing a pseudo-sceptical attitude does not preclude viable explanations being made at points over time. However, it does not follow that instances of successful investigations is an exoneration of pseudo-sceptical attitudes and does not condone their tactics.

One final point is whether a person is a pseudo-sceptic or merely displaying the traits of pseudo-scepticism? It is a subtle point which may largely be in the eye of the beholder. But I would say that those who persist in indulging in pseudo-sceptical tactics may be justly called pseudo-sceptics.

Not surprisingly, when I put forward such a view elsewhere, the usual attempts at deflection ensued as the term "pseudo-cryptozoologist" cropped up. It's an odd term since cryptozoology is labelled as a pseudo-science, so does that make pseudo-cryptozoology a pseudo-pseudo-science?

Anyway, I was already aware of this antithesis of the pseudo-sceptic which is a cryptozoologist or "believer" who accepts everything as evidence and fits his arguments to make them so.  However, such a charge is lacking the force which is applied to the pseudo-sceptic.  I say this, because although the pseudo-sceptic rejects all reports as false, the cryptozoologist patently does not accept all reports as true.

I certainly do not accept all testimonies, films, photographs and sonar readings as proof of the Loch Ness Monster and I suspect every cryptozoologist to a man and woman does not accept them all either; be it Nessie, Champ, Ogopogo or Caddy. The other point is that, unlike pseudo-sceptics who rate all reports as 100% false, not all sightings, photos, films or sonar are created equal in the eyes of the cryptozoologist.

Cryptozoologists (such as myself) will rate recordings or reports in different manners. One may believe a photo to be genuine, but only just at 51% whereas another may go up to 80%. Cryptozoologists will disagree over whether something if genuine, fake or misidentified. That is called healthy debate, whereas the one size fits all rejection of the pseudo-sceptics has a stale unanimity - you know well in advance what their "conclusions" are going to be.

But one may retort that a pseudo-sceptic could not accept even one report as genuine as that would put them in danger of becoming a "believer". That point is conceded, but they can still mark the better attested reports as "inconclusive" or "I can't explain that" rather than being compelled to offer strange explanations about cormorants at 20 yards.

But to be truthful, charges of prejudice in assessing reports is a problem across this divide. I admit I will have a degree of bias in my investigations. It is my job to minimise this universal human failing in me to the best of my ability. What I cannot stomach is these vocal critics of the phenomenon not stepping up to admit they have it too. They are not Vulcans after all, but that is a problem they have to face and deal with. As an example, it was a joke to see one state his bias as being logical analysis. Can you see the contradiction in that phrase?

Are there any real Loch Ness Monster sceptics out there? Given human nature's foibles, I doubt the ideal sceptic exists, so I personally will remain neutral on the question of who comes closest. But the next time one of these people turns up on an Internet forum, in a magazine or book, just ask yourself what the underlying motive might be behind those criticisms they launch against reports of the Loch Ness Monster.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com





32 comments:

  1. I think most sceptics deep down think there is a monster in loch ness or they would not spend countless hours talking about it.

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  2. GB overthinking things again in his curious quest to demonize scepticism and sceptics.

    Maybe the underlying motive for all LNM scepticism is the meagre amount of evidence put forward by the faithful to prove the existence of a number of large unknown creatures who live in a relatively small body of water.

    After 40 years believers must get fed up of this mantra, but it's still holds true, and an unconvincing mobile phone snaps of a black blob on a square mile of water doesn't hack it i'm afraid .

    More hard evidence is needed before the undecided can walk towards the light and join the righteous .

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    1. They are not sceptics ...

      I've made my point, if they don't want to address the issues raised, they can stew in their fake criticism.

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  3. I think some pseudo-skeptics are those that used to believe that unknown animals live in some lakes. Then they went to Loch Ness or Lake Champlain on holiday, spent a few hours "monster hunting", and saw nothing. Since they saw no Nessie or Champ, Nessie and Champ do not exist. I would classify myself as very skeptical of much of the photographic evidence (most - however I do not agree with common thinking that the Wilson photo is a fake or that Dinsdale filmed a boat) but I check this blog every few days in the hopes that a good photo/film has finally been taken...

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    1. So I take it that the Surgeon's photo still has a little wiggle room with you. The Surgeon's photo has been thoroughly debunked to the satisfaction of all skeptics and most believers, I think. I guess you're still open to it, whereas I'm open to Dinsdales's film. Sometimes I do wonder tough and remain open minded. So I guess I'm a true skeptic on some aspects of the LNM.

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    2. I would agree a lot of them come from a former pro-Nessie stance. Unfortunately, and as I have said before, they remind me of ex-alcoholics who go around hectoring others not to touch even a drop of alcohol.

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    3. I would disagree that "The Surgeon's photo has been thoroughly debunked to the satisfaction of all skeptics and most believers". The debunking has been debunked, and has been discussed on these pages. To be specific - the claims put forth by Boyd and Martin, based on Spurling's "confession" (his word), are fradulent. On the other hand, the claims by DR et al regarding Dinsdale's film are simply wrong...

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    4. Surgeons photo is real.

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  4. With the availability of modern forensic image technology the Dinsdale film is surely ripe for re-evaluation. What a pity his family are reluctant to release the film for examination.

    I wonder if the original neg still exists.

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  5. Oh come on, loch ness is hardly a small body of water.

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    1. It is tiny - compared to say, the Atlantic Ocean. John R - the next time you drive 20 miles think about how that is like driving along just one side of Loch Ness...

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  6. To be fair, some of the sceptics were once believers, or at least open-minded to the notion of large unknown animals existing in Loch Ness. But after decades of their hands-on investigation failed to turn up incontrovertible, compelling evidence for the existence of such animals they were forced to re-evaluate the situation. As part of this re-evaluation they came up with alternate explanations for some/most of the sightings. However, they still allow for the possibility that some sort of large fish may be behind some of the sightings.

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    1. They of course have the right to hold a contrary position, but trying to justify that position with strained and overweaned theories about memory and perception failures goes too far.

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  7. I think its more like because they have not found it then nobody else can. Deep down they still believe.

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    1. I basically made this same point here a few days ago: they came, the looked, they did not see; therefore it does not exist...

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  8. Regarding photos and eyewitnesses. I just saw a documentary on Lake Monsters with Adrian Shine giving various statements “The camera lies much more often then the witnesses; The classic pictures have got nothing to do with Loch Ness Monsters; Eyewitness testimony in a court of law would hold a great deal of weight, but science is not the law” Pretty much sums up the position of pseudo-skepticism as defined by this article. The camera lies as well as the witnesses! Is that like saying “guns kill people, people don't kill people.” So now you can't trust the camera! I'll admit that not all photos can be taken seriously, specially ones taken with crappy cameras and at long distances. Then there are the obvious misidentifications, fakes, and hoaxes which can be readily dismissed. As I understand it, science has it's own governing laws. There are some strange things that go on in the science of physics in the field of quantum mechanics that are hard to explain, puzzling or inexplicable and not so hard fixed. So what scientific rule, tenet, principle or law is there in the science of zoology to definitely affirm that there is no possibility of an unknown animal inhabiting Loch Ness. The creature may not be a cold blooded reptile or even a dinosaur. But then who knows, remember the coelacanth? Every now and then you also learn of some weird life form or creature discovered. from the depths of the ocean

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    1. lol and this is from people who "clearly" see canoe rudder joints and wires in old b&w nessie pictures and declare certain witnesses accurate when the object looks like a sturgeon.

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  9. It must be frustrating spending years at the loch without seeing anything..prob wud make u sceptical!! Thats why i admire mr feltham cus he hasnt resorted to playing a hoax like Frank Searle or George Edwards did after getting frustrated after years of seeing nothing!!

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    1. I don't have your new book yet GB - I imagine Searle is well discussed?

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    2. Yes well since the subtitle is "the good the bad and the ugly", the ugly (i.e. fakes) get discussed too. The book is not a cheerleader for every "nessie" photo that was ever taken.

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  10. I have an interest in a lot of alternative subjects. Not all will be true but the possibilities are what drives my interest. On Saturday nights I have a drink with a few friends and one in particular (who I get on very well with) will not accept anything I say on these subjects. His usual reply is there is no evidence for any of this and my reply is usually that's because you haven't looked. When I offer evidence or information where evidence can be found he will not look because he thinks it is too silly to consider.

    A few years ago I was on a coach trip to Scotland and sat next to a man of a similar age as myself. We got on OK and happily discussed various alternative subjects but when I mentioned The Loch Ness Monster I could sense his attitude towards me change.

    People seem to have lost a sense of wonder and are buried in the mundane.

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  11. Yes Dickie Raynor and Adrian have spent years up at the loch trying to solve the mystery so cant hack it when somebody new to the loch gets a sighting or a photograph.The nearest Dickie got was his video in the 60's which he later said was birds chasing each other.

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  12. Thats one thing i dont agree with mr raynor..the wake is far too long and powerful for birds from that distance..i saw a comparison of megansers he used on a loch ness programme once and the birds wake clearly broke up after a few seconds...unlike his video of one long thick line...my humble of course...cheers ..Roy

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  13. Many of the photos must be fake because they seem to show something that is not uniformly the same (assuming we are dealing with a single species here). Would be interesting to see a study with a pattern recognition analysis heuristic that could try to make sense of all the photo and video evidence...

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    1. Well, all your going to come up with is a database with correlations leading to all humps, dark blobs of something and long necks/appendages. Eyewitness accounts testify to that. It's like a puzzle with some pieces missing. What can we deduce from that unless we can get a near to full body shot?

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    2. For example, many of the photos/videos where necks and heads are visible do not look the same or even similar, at least to me. Could not a properly developed algorithm system like the ones the Chinese now routinely use to identify everybody by their facial features for security be used to determine which photos could at least be the same creature? I don't know, perhaps not practical for this situation...

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    3. Sure, if you could get “different” Nessies to sit for neck up portraits and then run the face recognition program, then we could see if it's the same species of animal, or a different one within the same family... er, species or...oh never mind. Sorry Olrik, just being silly and snarky. I couldn't help myself. :) But seriously, your idea sounds like it has merit...theoretically.

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    4. Olrik I agree that many of the photos/videos where necks and heads are visible do not look the same or even similar, and I have two reasons for that. First of all - some are fakes. As for the photos that are not outright fakes? If we are dealing with an unknown animal we have many issues to deal with; young and old, male and female. Just as two examples, consider the differences between male and female in lions and peacocks. At the same time - one of Searle's greatest weaknesses was that he did not settle on one Nessie - each fake seemed to depict a very different animal...

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    5. Very true. We may be seeing the creature in various stages of development or gender. Take for example the Johnston and Gray pics, slightly dissimilar. Whereas the Johnston creature looks smooth in contour, the Gray one looks rough. Looking at the most recent Phillips pic, one can note a degree of roughness to it also. I'm sure that in the animal kingdom, nature allows for these variances.

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