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.