Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Follow Up to Sceptics, Steamships and Nessie

Having published my first thoughts on steamships and Nessie, it was no surprise that the critique came under attack. In the main, I was told I was underestimating the numbers and was told how steamship commerce actually went from strength to strength. As we say in Glasgow, Mibbes aye, Mibbes naw.

Unfortunately, the need for quantitative analysis was beginning to shrink back into the qualitative as the anecdotal began to muddy the waters. Thankfully, help was at hand to bring us back into the realm of integers.

My original number for yearly passengers was 15,500 based on Len Paterson's "From Sea to Sea", a history of Scottish canals. I took this as the average over forty years and proceeded thusly. However, the graph above from the same book adds more information. It states the number of ship passages per annum through the Caledonian canal between 1825 and 1910.

Now applying a simple assumption we can make a year by year estimate of passenger numbers. That assumption is that passengers numbers are proportional to ship numbers. So, if ship passages go up 10%, we assume passenger numbers go up 10%.

Of course, this won't exactly follow in real life. The canal hosted "tracking" boats and "passage" boats. The first was goods oriented and the second was passenger oriented. The passengers numbers may be overestimated if a greater proportion of the ships transport commodities rather than people. Conversely, numbers may be underestimated if more pleasure cruises than expected ply their way up and down the canal.

Now we see a rise in ship numbers and one may assume that the objection to my initial analysis was correct. But wait, the numbers peak in 1870 and then drops into a horizontal range that is not much more than my original working number. We weren't told about that in the objections. I would suggest this drop was down to the great depression of the 1870s.

In fact, that major economic event was enough on its own to guarantee that the argument for high numbers of tourists was not going to happen. When the economy goes south, what goes first? You got it, discretionary spending such as holidays. Or at best, you pick a cheaper way of doing it. Since going up the Caledonian canal took three boats and three days, it was a no-brainer to find a quicker route by rail which did not consume so many precious days and income.

It is also interesting to note the sub graph for internal passages through the canal. They started a slide before 1860 from which they never recovered. The author speculates that this was due to people moving over to alternative forms of transport such as the railways. This also would divert more potential witnesses away from the loch.

Nevertheless, it is new numbers and so using the 15,500 passengers of 1863 as a baseline, the other numbers were estimated by proportion. In this way, a new total number of passengers for the last 40 years of the 19th century was estimated at 741,000. This compares to my original 40 year estimate of 620,000 or a 20% increase.

Using my estimate of one monster sighting for every 30,769 modern tourists gives us an estimated 24 sightings over 40 years. My original estimate was 20 sightings and so we go from 0.5 sightings per year to 0.6 per year. Clearly, this makes little difference to my original conclusions and again I suggest this argument against the Loch Ness Monster is less than convincing.


  1. I think there are many factors making it difficult to compare boat and shore sightings. For one thing, boat passengers can, if they wish, be looking at the water all the time. Car and coach passengers do not all have a window seat on the water side, and have their view interrupted by trees for much of the time.

    Also, if you sight something from a boat and it doesn't submerge, you have a chance of seeing it from different distances and angles as the boat moves, making it easier to identify.

    I wonder: at times when seals are known to be in the loch, what proportion of sightings are from ships.

    1. Well, the problem with upping the quality of the steamship observer over the roadside observer is the one I pointed out in the previous article.

      In 1934, there were 14,800 steamer passengers going thru Loch Ness and yet not one sighting is recorded from one of these boats.

      This suggests the steamship passenger is at no greater advantage than the land bound observer for whatever reasons.

      I don't think the water observer has opportunities to view an object from varied distances and angles beause the creature is not usually at the surface long enough to make a difference.

      As I understand it, seals are not easy to spot when they are in Loch Ness.

    2. This page http://www.lochnessinvestigation.com/siln.html almost answers my question. It also points out that seals often follow fishing boats, which makes them not a good guide to possible monster sightings!

    3. Yes, well, the seal as monster interpretation can be over-egged. You can't even be sure there was a seal in Loch Ness at the time of the reported targetted for debunking.

    4. Again, a seal is a known animal which can be and has been in the loch, so it's far and away more likely an explanation for seal-sized humps than any unfilmed, unverified animal.

      Surely the lack of steamship reports does absolutely back up the theory that you can see loch objects more clearly when on one? All those normal objects viewed from higher up and different angles can be easily identified (and therefore not reported), whereas viewed from the loch edge nearer to water level could deceive the viewer and lead to "Nessie" reports.

    5. I estimated about 30,000 visitors per annum per sighting based on 1933-2013 data. So, the 14,800 passengers on 1934 steamboats does not guarantee a sighting - unless it can be proved they require extra-ordinary treatment. But as I said, what advantage do they have? For instance, dark objects can be lost or difficult to distinguish if they are between you and the shoreline.

    6. We should also question the reporting mechanism - it could be that people saw something they believed to be Nessie, but the steamers carried on through to no waiting reporters, then the tourists travelled on home and never reported anything? I would assume there must be a few "sightings" which are only reported to friends and family?

      That might sound pro-Nessie, but it's not. It's more a case of being pro exploring the options in the name of balanced investigation.

    7. By the way, is this Wikipedia article accurate?


    8. I wasn't offering the seal as a possible monster, merely as a way to calibrate how easy it is to spot things from land or boat. But that's probably a bad idea. For one thing, most people probably wouldn't bother to report a seal.

    9. Is there a known ratio of reported sightings (reports at the time of the sighting) to known unreported sightings (the reports that filter through months or years later or via the grapevine for instance)? Obviously there will be sightings that are never heard about no matter what, but using the info available wouldn't it be possible to work out a probable ratio regarding these instances? It would be interesting to find out, albeit roughly, the number of sightings that aren't actually 'reported' at all.

    10. You sound like Donald Rumsfeld, Pete. Known knowns and known unknowns! And what about the unknown unknowns?

      That is doable, not sure of the cost-benefit ratio. I would guess the gap between event and reporting is like half a bell curve. The vast majority get reported within weeks and taper off until you get the odd ones decades alter.

      The number of unreported sightings is very much heurisitcal if not complete guesswork. The old line was 3000 known reports and 10000 unreported/total. In fact, it is more like 1500 not 3000 so where does that leave our mythical 10000?

      Drop the 1000 by a similar ratio to 5000 and you have 3500 unreported and 1500 reported or a ratio of about two unreported for every one reported. To me, that would be a conservative estimate.

    11. That would agree with what I was thinking. Two and a third unreported for every one reported may, as you say, even be a little conservative. As has been mentioned before, how many people would even know how and where to report a sighting, especially nowadays. Most folk I know haven't got a clue who Steve Feltham or Adrian Shine are (although it seems Adrians' job is to explain these things away these days) and of course yourself GB. It was probably an easier task to perform in the past but I'm sure many sightings went unreported back then as well. I suppose a rough comparison could be who to report a ghost to if you were to see one other than telling a few people that you know. P.S. Thank Christ I don't look like Donald Rumsfeld :-)

  2. Could the time of these vessels passing through have something to do with less sighting?

  3. GB, I've asked this question directly before, and last time you ducked it.

    Do you think there's a limit to the number of decades people can "see a monster" in Loch Ness without there being sufficient evidence for the scientific community to accept its existence before you'd accept it doesn't actually exist, or do you feel the current situation can continue forever? Do you feel that another 80, 160 or 240 years could pass with reports not being backed up by irrefutable evidence, or would you agree there's a limit after which we accept the legend of the loch is causing people to misinterpret known phenomena?

    Please, please answer this question directly and in depth rather than turning the question around to evade it. Then after that I will answer any questions you put to me.

    1. I am not sure why you think I am evading this simple question and there no need to plead for an answer.

      The "use by" date on the Loch Ness Monster package is completely in the eye of the beholder. For example, those who hold to a paranormal explanation could continue for centuries.

      Those who hold to a mysterious biological creature can offer various interpretations as to the evasiveness of the beast. The prime ones being the sporadic visitor theory and the gone or nearly gone theory.

      But please do not assume we must default into the misperception theory. It is a plie of crap.

    2. I'm asking you - Roland Watson - whether you have a "use by" date, and if so, when? What are your personal limits, if any?

      If the misperception theory is a pile of crap, the colony of giant monsters in a lake never being filmed or leaving a corpse theory really takes the biscuit.

    3. I'll give it 40 years. After that, you can contact me via a medium to discuss the matter.

      Moreover, if *BOTH* theories are a pice of steaming brown stuff, where does that leave us?

    4. Good question. And it's why believers and sceptics both find this subject so intriguing!

    5. G.s ,how come you ignore the badger encounter with the huge animal at close distance of 15 feet?
      Very strange your ireagularity in posting.

  4. David Evans - you wrote regarding my webpage "It also points out that seals often follow fishing boats,", which is not quite correct.What Gordon Williamson wrote was "One day fisherman Mr Gerry Breau accelerated his boat to try to get away from the seal, and the seal chased after the boat at top speed, leaping out of and into the water ten successive jumps like a porpoise (Fig. 4). However, this behaviour was only seen on one occasion." The seals I have seen in the loch have been very difficult to follow and film,