Friday, 16 February 2018

On the Track of Unknown Animals




I recently attended a lecture by cryptozoologist, Richard Freeman, on the matter of unknown or unexpected animals and his attempts to prove their existence. It was a great talk and covered various beasts such as the Orang Pendek, Thylacine, Almasty, Olgoi-Khorkhoi and others. What came across was his enthusiasm for the quest as he has undertaken various expeditions across the world under the aegis of the CFZ. That includes such far flung places as Sumatra, Tasmania and the Gobi Desert.

His stories about intolerable heat, parasites, dysentery and various other afflictions in the face of research made me think my excursions to Loch Ness were no more than a walk round the block in field research terms. So I take my hat off to him and wish him well in his endeavours as he continues in the tradition of Heuvelmans and Sanderson "on the track of unknown animals".

What also struck me was his disdain for zoologists whom he described in somewhat flowery language and the prejudice in which they hold people such as himself. Richard has a degree in zoology and continues in the tradition of the zoological explorers who tracked down the Mountain Gorilla, Okapi and Komodo Dragon. It seems the negative bias of such so-called learned people does not stop with the Loch Ness Monster.

Which is somewhat surprising as the search for the possibility of surviving hominids in the form of the Orang Pendek or even the less sensational survival of the well documented Thylacine is a degree of magnitude below so called relict plesiosaurs. The problem seems to lie partly in what he calls "armchair sceptics" who never once went into a jungle or across a desert. Sitting in their labs or standing in their lecture halls, they have assumed the world is largely explored and the likelihood of large animals being discovered is next to nothing.

Richard thinks he is "that close" to getting scientific evidence for his two favoured animals, the Orang Pendek and Thylacine. What he does not need is a group of "experts" carping from the sidelines and offering nothing in the way of encouragement. But one question did come to mind as I considered what he had said.

If, for example, the presence of the Thylacine is finally proven by live capture or carcass, what does that say about eyewitness evidence? The thylacine became extinct in 1936 when the last captive one died. Since then there have up to 4,000 claimed sightings of the creature along with inconclusive films and photographs.

However, like sightings and pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, the pronouncement from science is that the Thylacine does not exist. At this point, there is no carcass, live specimen or close up photographs to allow zoologists to move in that direction. However, if a Thylacine is eventually found, what does that say about zoology's assessment of the anecdotal evidence?

It means that a percentage of the eyewitnesses were indeed correct in what they claimed to have seen. It means that the misidentification-hoax theory used to explain these things away is flawed because it was a theory that always produced a negative conclusion as regards species existence.

For now, the misidentification-hoax theory stands relatively unscathed because no cryptid claims have been validated and so advocates of the theory can continue to claim it is the best theory. However, the arrival of a dead or living Thylacine will blow this theory out of the water and will have ripple effects for sceptical treatments of other cryptid phenomena, including the Loch Ness Monster. I will bet that proof of a thylacine will come before those for surviving hominids or aquatic monsters. When it does, critics of cryptozoology will be in for a rough examination.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Friday, 9 February 2018

A Review of "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded" (Part II)



BINNS ON THE MACKAYS, SPICERS AND RUPERT T. GOULD


In the first chapter of his new book, Binns continues his retrospective on his previous book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", by revisiting some old classic cases. The first is Aldie Mackay's report from 1933, generally regarded as the first sighting of the modern Nessie era. Binns rehashes some of the arguments he levelled against the Mackays in his 1983 book, finally concluding this witness had just seen a boat wake. Binns in both books does not answer the objection of how a long time resident who was an angler and familiar with the moods of the loch surface could be taken in by such a simple deception.

Despite Binns admitting he reads my blog, he makes no mention of my 2013 article on the Mackay sighting which takes him to task for errors in his analysis. This was a perfect opportunity for Binns to show how weak my arguments are, but no answer came. I could make some argument from silence, but I refrain as I will point out for effect later on in this article. However, Binns adds nothing new of substance to his previous book on this matter.

The Spicer case is equally dismissed on questionable grounds such as the fact that the witnesses were driving a car. Now why this should cast doubt upon the case is unclear, especially since they were driving towards the creature, not to the side and not away from it. What is worse is that, like the Mackays, the nebulous tool of "expectant attention", which can magic away many an inconvenient eyewitness testimony, is employed as Binns tries to convince us that George Spicer knew all  about the monster beforehand and this therefore prejudiced his judgement.

The theory of "expectant attention" is the idea that an observer's assessment of an observation such as bow waves, otters, etc is compromised by an expectation that the Loch Ness Monster needs to be included in the list of candidates. It is a theory that no one disputes has merit. What is under dispute is the application of it. In what circumstances should it be used? How can its use be judged when nothing is known about the witnesses' psychological state? How is it to be used, if at all, when we have a witness that has experience of the loch's various facades?

I do not recall any article by any Loch Ness sceptic on application guidelines. Rather, it appears to me that the theory of "expectant attention" is applied in a lazy and indiscriminate manner without any regard to the situation it is being applied to. I put it to the readers that this is the case here. Now I covered Binns' objections to the accuracy of the Spicers' account in a previous article, but since it was published after Binns' book, I do not expect to see a response in said book (if ever).

Binns does add a new complaint concerning changes to the original Spicer-Gould sketch in the books of Whyte, Dinsdale and Holiday. I had already pointed out this issue in my aforementioned Spicer article and took Whyte to task for it, but it clearly has no impact on the original sketch and account which should be taken as the primary source. As for Dinsdale and Holiday, apart from Dinsdale relocating Spicer's "flap" to be a tail tip, this matter looks very much to be in the eye of the beholder - be they sceptic or believer. To me it just looks like hand copying errors, to Binns it is one of his  overstated "important" things. 

Binns further takes Holiday and Dinsdale to task with the suggestion that they had a dodgy agenda missing things out in the Spicer case which again look wholly insubstantial to me. Yet how ironic that Binns decides to omit the subplot of William McCulloch who was a corroborating witness to the area of flattened undergrowth which "was as if a steamroller had been through". Dodgy agenda? Surely not.

For some reason, Binns changed his mind on George Spicer. He initially put him down as taken in by an otter but now he is fooled by some deer. The deer "huddle" argument is covered in my aforementioned article. Indeed, Binns was mainly covering old ground here. I could get most of this stuff from his 1983 book, so what was the point in these chapters?


BINNS ON GOULD

Now moving on, Ronald Binns devotes a chapter to Rupert T. Gould and, not surprisingly, the critique is designed to cast doubt upon the subject's integrity and ability. Binns makes certain accusations against Gould that are questionable. This latest book has given me renewed opportunity to analyse this form of argumentation and I would liken it to the traditional game of Jenga.

As you may know, Jenga is a game based upon a tower constructed from wooden blocks. Blocks are successively removed by players until the tower collapses. I would suggest the Binns argument against Gould is a Jenga tower doomed to topple. In fact, the Binns tower appears to be one constructed from easily challenged sub-arguments, the successive removal of each causes eventual collapse. The tower may look impressive in sum total, but the overall structure is not sound at the individual level. Let us look at each block in turn as they are then pulled from the tower.



BLOCK ONE

The first "block" is an accusation that Gould was a liar. Binns tells us that Gould was indulging in a fabrication when he said that he initially put down the first reports of monsters coming from the loch as something with a normal explanation. To quote Gould from his introduction in his book, "The Loch Ness Monster and Others":

In so far as I had any theory on the subject, I considered that the witnesses had probably seen, but failed to recognise, some well-known creature which, in some unexplained manner, had made its way into Loch Ness.

However, Binns does not accept this statement from Gould on the grounds that he had previously written a book in 1930 entitled "The Case for the Sea Serpent" which advocated the cryptozoological existence of sea serpents. Binns portrays Gould as a prejudiced researcher loaded with confirmation bias.

But where is the proof for such an accusation? There is none provided and the grounds for such an attack is merely based upon a line of reasoning that says, "Gould believed in sea serpents", "People were reporting sea serpent like creatures from Loch Ness", therefore Gould would have believed them to be sea serpent reports.

This makes no sense at all as a deduction and looks more like biased speculation. When I thought about this from my own point of view as a believer in aquatic cryptids,  I certainly do not jump on the next monster bandwagon whenever I hear about some report from a lake in some other country. Neither do I presume there must be a large, unidentified animal in a body of water just because a distant blob is snapped from someone's mobile phone camera.

Indeed, examining Gould's 1930 book, one is left wondering whether Binns had actually looked at it. I have a copy and so reviewed it in the light of Binns' accusation and what I found was a Gould who didn't swallow every sea serpent report that came his way.

In his introduction, Gould admits that "there were practical jokers who took a delight in hoaxing the public with stories of sea serpents". As to the matter of misidentifications, Gould refers to the previous work of Oudemans entitled "The Great Sea Serpent" and its 187 sea serpent cases. From these, Gould dismisses "at least half" on the grounds of insufficient evidence or more natural explanations. So much for the version of Gould that is desperate to see monsters everywhere.

Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Gould did believe in sea serpents. But it does change the idea that he uncritically accepted claims for them from any old region of the world. The last word against this feeble accusation goes to Gould, who with keen prescience saw Binns coming when he said (pp.16-17):

Of course, if anyone chooses to assert that I went to Loch Ness with the intention (conscious or subconscious) of identifying the "monster" as a "sea-serpent," and points for confirmation to the fact that I have already committed a book about such creatures, and am an avowed believer in their existence, I have no means of disproving his assertion. But if I am any judge of what I think, and of how I form my convictions, I can - and I do - contradict it most emphatically. I retained my original theory - that some known creature had found its way into the Loch - so long as it appeared to fit the facts; I only discarded it under the compulsion of what I consider to be reliable and convincing evidence. 

It is to be noted that Binns decided not to quote this passage in his book.


BLOCK TWO

Binns move on from his whataboutery tactics by further accusing Gould of not consulting any sceptics at Loch Ness. This employs the decidedly weak approach of argumentum ex silentio since Gould does not explicitly state this to be the case. Indeed, Binns tries to wrestle Gould's words to imply he was out only to speak to believers. This is said to be the case when Gould stopped off in Edinburgh to confer with Scotsman journalist, P. G. Stalker.

Binns employs hyperbole by describing Stalker as "an ardent promulgator of the monster" and "second only to that of Alex Campbell". However, Binns cannot even get his basic facts right here as it was not Stalker, but his boss, J. W. Herries, who directed reporting of events at Loch Ness. Herries told Stalker to break off from reporting on Navy manoeuvres on the Moray Firth to find out what was going on at Loch Ness.

Consulting my copy of Herries' autobiography, "I Came, I Saw";  he makes this clear enough and  admits it was a bit of a risk putting such articles into the normally sober minded newspaper. However, the reaction of readers proved it to be the right decision and The Scotsman began a long association with the Monster of Loch Ness.  It is no surprise that Ronald Binns is not pleased with this "promulgation", after all, he does not believe there is anything unusual in Loch Ness. To deride the Scotsman newspaper for printing these eyewitness accounts says more about the derider than the derided.

Of course, Gould did not go to Edinburgh to be indoctrinated by "ardent promulgators". His chief mission was to examine the various articles to extract eyewitness information for his own research purposes later on at the loch. At that time, only Scottish newspapers were reporting with any consistency and detail on events at Loch Ness. Therefore, it is no surprise that Gould made his way to Edinburgh.

Did Gould only consort with "believers"? Well, Gould's book says he consulted with Mr. E. W. Porter, resident engineer of the Caledonian Canal on the waterways between Loch Ness and the sea. That doesn't sound like an exercise in confirmation bias. I guess that disproves Binns' accusation and it is clear from Gould's book that he quotes and examines the opinions of well known sceptics such as the zoologists Calman and Boulenger.

But Binns demands to known why Gould did not visit Captain John MacDonald. John MacDonald is one of the poster boys of Loch Ness Scepticism. Back in the early days of 1933, MacDonald wrote to the Inverness Courier as captain of one of the loch's steamers saying he had not seen anything unusual in his decades of navigating the loch. Binns rolled this man out in his 1983 book and does so again here.

Unfortunately, for someone who puts himself out as an accomplished researcher, Binns seems yet again unaware of an article of mine from 2011 in which MacDonald recants his scepticism with these words to the Daily Mail in 1934:

If so many reputable people say they have seen 'the beast' one inclines to the belief that there is something in it.

MacDonald says his daughter, Christina, saw the monster and I take her to be the Miss C. MacDonald who saw the creature in its single hump aspect on 22nd October 1933, and whom Gould interviewed for his book. Perhaps Gould met the captain while he interviewed his daughter? If so, I suspect John MacDonald was less than sceptical. So what other local sceptics should Mr. Gould have consulted? Perhaps Mr. Binns can name some more for us.


BLOCK THREE

Binns then takes Gould to task for eventually deciding that the Spicers had seen nothing more than a huddle of deer. Yes, that's right, Ronald even finds fault when somebody comes to, in his eyes, the correct conclusion. The basis for this argument is that if Gould had this"extraordinary volte face" on the Spicer case, it doesn't say much for his research techniques and therefore calls everything he did into question. Gould said this:

"Were I rewriting the book, I should have omitted this case. I think the Spicers saw a huddle of deer crossing the road. RTG".




Now Gould concluded his research for his book in the first half of 1934. I had contacted Jonathan Betts to get the original annotations of Gould's book and it turned out his Spicer recantation happened no later than November 1941, or about seven and a half years after his book. I suppose I must go out on a limb here and ask how changing ones mind on a single case seven years later calls into question ones entire methodology?

After all, Ronald Binns changed his mind on the same case when he went from an otter to a deer explanation. Does that call into question his investigative techniques? The answer is "no"; well, in this instance anyway. Gould does not explain why he changed his mind but one may presume he came across information he regarded as new data which was fed back into his assessment of the case. For Gould, it seems the data changed and not the method of investigation.


BLOCK FOUR

Binns then descends into more whataboutery by taking Gould to task for not contacting Hugh Gray or Kenneth Wilson about their headline grabbing photographs. It is not enough that Gould discusses the photographs in his book, but he must also show proof of interviewing them. The lack thereof is taken by Binns to again prove that Gould was not a thorough investigator.

This is another instance of Binns devising ways in which Gould should have gone about things and since he didn't, it is an easy win for Binns. But the correct deduction from the source material is not "Gould did not contact Wilson or Gray" but rather "We do not know if Gould contacted Wilson or Gray".  However, by setting up his straw man statement, Binns can proceed to fill the fact free void with less than neutral speculations for another Jenga block.

In the case of Kenneth Wilson, my counter balancing speculation is based a bit more on the facts. Wilson's role in faking the Surgeon's Photo was documented by Boyd and Martin in 1994. What comes across in their investigation was a picture of a man who was very reticent to talk about the picture and indeed give oblique hints that all was not what it appeared. In that light, it seems more unlikely than likely that Wilson would have granted Gould an interview (if anyone is aware of Wilson granting interviews to the media, let me know).

In the case of Hugh Gray, the two men were separated by over 500 miles. I have no idea if Gray had his own phone line and I am sure Gould would not have undertaken a special journey just to see him (note Gray's photo had not been published at the time of Gould's loch visit). If Gray was amenable to written correspondence, we will never know as such a thing is not stated either way.

 I would add that Gould comes across as not too enthusiastic about Gray's photo and employs words such as "vagueness" and "indefinite" to it. Having said that, he does accept it as a photograph of the creature. One also has to add that as a sea serpent investigator, Gould would have had next to no experience in critiquing such photographs. Indeed, I find no reference to such pictures in "The Case for the Sea Serpent" as such an item is even more rare than any of the Loch Ness Monster.



BLOCK FIVE

The final argument Binns employs against Gould seems to have some merit and that was Gould's use of sketches from his sea serpent book to help eyewitnesses in their description of what they had seen out on the loch. This appears like an attempt to influence witnesses in a certain direction. Unlike Binns' other assertions, we know this to be true because Gould said it in his book:

I must plead guilty to having taken a copy of the book North with me, and I must also confess that I occasionally showed it to a witness - but I made it my rule not to do so until after I had taken the statement, and to attach no weight to suggested modifications of this which I considered the book might possibly have inspired.

I used its illustrations as a means by which witnesses who could not draw might be able to indicate something to me which more or less resembled what they described; and I consider that this was a very natural proceeding. If, for example, I were an insurance official, going to interview a witness who had seen a car accident, but could not tell the make of the car, I should certainly take an illustrated catalogue of cars with me. And if for some reason (or prejudice), no such catalogue were available, I should certainly do my best to compile one of my own.

The Binns hyperbole machine goes into action as phrases such as "extraordinary admission" and "blatantly manipulative" are wheeled out to increase the impact of the argument. As the old preacher's notes used to say - "argument weak here, thump pulpit". Note that Binns does not include the first Gould paragraph above which lessens the alleged impact of the second paragraph.

However, Binns claims Gould used these sea serpent illustrations to "clarify some of his drawings" for his Nessie book. That is certainly not clear to me as I read the two paragraphs in toto. What is clear to me is that Gould did not allow any feedback from the sea serpent sketches to colour the statement from the witness. Neither is there any indication that these sketches formed any basis for any sketch that appeared in his Nessie book. In other words, this is another straw man argument and the pulling of the final block gives you this:





CONCLUSION

In the hierarchy of persuasive arguments, there are empirical facts, deductions and finally speculations. What Binns has done to Rupert Gould lies at the far end of the "speculation" spectrum. The fact that Binns employs some ready made binnsisms* to dress them up in the language of empiricism should not fool anyone.

Since I undertook to review this book, I have found so many errors, exaggerations and weak logic it would be a herculean task to enumerate and dismiss all of them. But I have better things to do with my time, such as finishing off my own new book. So, I will do one more review and that is Binns' critique of my own previous work, "The Water Horses of Loch Ness". In the meantime, take it from this and the previous article that this is a book that continues the ignoble tradition of "slasher" scepticism.


* Binnsism (n.) A psychological tactic derived from politics in which the weakness of an argument is obscured by the use of hyperbolic language.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Still Fancy a Move to Loch Ness?




On the back of my recent article about retiring to Loch Ness, a reader emailed to inform me that his house was up for sale in Drumnadrochit. You can get all the details here. Of course, you may ask, having spoke of the attractions of living by Loch Ness, why this person is leaving. He has told me in his own words with a summary of his time at the town and loch.

AFTER TEN years of living the dream, we have decided to leave our Loch Ness-side village and return to our south England roots. Why? Because every single one of our family lives down there, and we don’t want our young daughters growing up without knowing them. And we miss them ourselves.
 
Drumnadrochit, some 14 miles south of Inverness, is the traditional centre of all things Nessie. It hosts the two major exhibitions – the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, and Nessieland – and boasts gift shops and places to eat. But it is much more than a tourist centre. There is a Primary School and a High School (both well-regarded), a childcare centre, an after-school club, a community centre where senior citizens get together and enjoy good food, a library… essentially, everything a good village should have, and more.
 
Some people have sincerely-held doubts about living here. Well, speaking from a decade of experience, I can only say that we have led an enjoyable, trouble-free life here, and would probably continue to do if our family had joined us. Tourists? Not a problem. Yes, they visit Drumnadrochit during the summer, but it never results in Oxford Street-like crowding, and their presence here is always welcomed. 
 
Road conditions? I have yet to fall foul of wintry roads, and the gritters and ploughs do a fine job. Snow? Yes, we sometimes get a fall of the white stuff, but it is part of the allure of the Highlands – when the snow settles, there is no more beautiful sight in the world. We were awestruck when snow fell one Christmas Eve; gorgeous and uplifting. And when the snow does come, children and adults alike can be seen sledging on one of the many hillsides which are perfect for it.
 
Drumnadrochit is a small, friendly village. Many residents have lived here all their lives; others have moved away, only to return because they missed it so much; and those of us who arrive from England are made to feel part of what is a close-knit community. Indeed, there are many examples of people from England following their families to Drumnadrochit… and staying.
 
Then, of course, there is Loch Ness. You can see it from the top of our road. As can the sheep who inhabit the field. When conditions allow, you can walk to the shore and gaze in rapture at the breathtaking view of the Loch. It really is a magical feeling. And you hop in your car and take a short drive, there is any number of vantage points from which to admire the water.
 
Urquhart Castle is close to us. I wonder how many people have – as I did – stood in the very spot where the Surgeon’s Photo was taken and felt that delicious sense of history. I cannot count the number of times I have looked out upon Loch Ness and witnesses tantalising ripples in the water, wakes with no obvious origin, and distant shapes that have made me wonder… what if?
 
There is no feeling of isolation here. Buses stop at various points in the village (my partner has made numerous friends while travelling back and forwards to Inverness). And the nearby A82 provides an excellent link to the rest of the region.
 
Among our neighbours is Adrian Shine. A great man: charming and friendly. As is Nessie-Spotter Steve Feltham, who lives at Dores on the other side of the Loch. He recognises us now and always has time for a chat. We will miss all of the above, for sure. A lot. But we also miss our family, and the time has come to return home and be among them again.
 
We will certainly miss our bungalow. It’s detached, with a self-contained annex. This leaves scope for renting and/or holiday letting. There is serious money to be made for those who fancy it. You could live in the main bungalow and let out the annex; or vice-versa, as the previous residents did. Or just take over the entire building and wallow in the living space. Our Loch Ness adventure is approaching its end; a new one lies on the horizon. For anyone wanting to live the same dream, you could do no better than move here. It really is fantastic.
 
 
The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com
 
 

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Wanted: Dead or Alive



It is the ultimate dream of any monster hunter, obtaining final and decisive proof that there is indeed a large and exotic beast in Loch Ness. But for others, the ambition has extended to capturing a specimen dead or alive to put the matter beyond even the doubt of the most ardent sceptic. Apart from the kudos such an achievement would bring, the other motivation is financial as various individuals and organisations over the years have offered rewards for such final proof. The recent news of yet another reward being put on the table brings the history of this side subject into relief.




The first we hear of such a reward was in 1934 when circus owner, Bertram Mills (above), offered a reward of £20,000 for the monster's capture. One presumes that on capture, the monster was to be handed over to Mills in exchange for the money. It is also pretty clear that Mills' motivation was entrepreneurial rather than scientific as one suspects he would immediately have put the creature in a huge tank of water (or the cage above) and embarked on a lucrative national tour in order to recoup his investment with interest. Quite what the scientific and secular authorities would have made of Mills making off with a gigantic new species is another matter. I doubt he would have got very far if they thought this was the scientific event of the century. As you may have guessed, Mr. Mills did not get his monster and had to make do with the one below.




Such stunts often go hand in hand with Nessie fever and so the next reward turned up in 1971 as interest in the monster was again mounting. This time round, whisky distillers, Cutty Sark, offered a generous one million pounds for the capture of the beast. Why a whisky manufacturer would get into this is probably to do with the increased probability of sighting the monster if their product was consumed in sufficient quantities. Be that as it may, they began to get cold feet when they heard about the various expeditions planned for the loch, including the Rines underwater expedition which was to enter the monster's own lair in pursuit of it.

As a precaution, they asked insurers Lloyds of London to underwrite the whole caper, but they refused on the grounds that it was an unquantifiable risk. When the newspapers got wind of this, Lloyds backpeddled and calculated the premium but also made some demands if they had to pay out. Namely that they got to keep the monster and that they would only pay out if the creature was in excess of twenty feet long and that the Natural History Museum would verify it as a genuine Loch Ness Monster. How the Natural History Museum went about verifying a genuine Loch Ness Monster is beyond me and though one can imagine what a circus could do with a twenty foot monster, the answer is not so clear for an insurance company.

Things then went quiet again until 2007 when a leading bookmakers firm, William Hill, offered another £1 million for verified proof of the monster's existence. This was to be again confirmed by the Natural History Museum but there is no mention of a capture and I doubt the Museum would accept anything other than a specimen, dead or alive. This stunt seems to have been cooked up in conjunction with the RockNess festival as the bookies also handed out 50,000 disposable cameras to attendees. I doubt one is going to get anything irrefutable on a throwaway camera.

But the rewards seem to have become a bit miserly in recent years as the organisers of the 2015 Loch Ness Marathon offered a mere £50,000 to any runner who managed to take a selfie with Nessie. Would any self-respecting monster hunter get out of bed for anything less than a million? Personally, I would be too busy looking at Nessie rather than having to turn my back on her for a pittance of fifty grand. Any selfies would have been submitted to a "panel of experts" for verification, but the Natural History Museum seems to have been frozen out of this one.

As an aside, I liked their comment "given the number of confirmed sightings of the Loch Ness Monster throughout history, participants are probably better off buying a lottery ticket" because I am not sure how many "confirmed" sightings there have been! Who does this "confirming" anyway? Perhaps yet another mysterious "panel of experts" which issues verdicts such as "duck", "log" or "boat" as the sightings come in but does give out the occasional "monster" verdict? Well, you get my point, every claimed sighting of the monster is disputed and none has ever received unanimity let alone a large majority.

This miserliness brings us to the present day as games developers, Capcom, joined forces with cryptozoologist, Jon Downes, to also offer £50,000 for "genuine evidence" for the monster. Once again, the reward is offered to garner publicity for a product, in this case their new monster video game. But this offer actually seems to be guaranteed an outcome as the winner will be announced in July. So it seems this is more a "best picture" scenario along the lines of the annual competition run by William Hill every year. However, the William Hill reward is only £1,000, I suspect there may be one or two "better than usual" pictures coming out from Loch Ness this summer as the temptation of grabbing fifty big ones proves too much! But having spoken about miserliness, in fairness, Capcom and the Loch Ness Marathon are not asking for the capture of the monster, so perhaps we can forgive their frugality.

Looking back on all these stunts, I would have thought Betram Mills' offer was the only genuine one amongst them as he had a clear interest in getting such a famous beast for his menagerie. But who is the winner from all these rewards? Mills' 84 year old offer of £20,000, adjusted for inflation, comes to a hefty £1,360,000, but the clear winner is Cutty Sark with a stupendous inflation adjusted figure of £13.4 million. Wow, no wonder there was so much monster hunting activity around Loch Ness in the 1970s!


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Monday, 22 January 2018

Retirement At Loch Ness?



There was a time when I had a monster hunter's dream and that was to one day retire to a house overlooking the shores of Loch Ness. The plan was simple enough. When my working days were over, I would downsize the three bedroom bungalow in Edinburgh for a cosier two bed affair on the southern shores of Loch Ness. But not any house would do, it had to have certain specifications. For one, it really did have to be beside Loch Ness and that excluded the main towns of Foyers and Dores. The little village of Inverfarigaig looked more promising, but a house that was that intimate with the loch is not so common.

Of course, it could not be that close to the loch else one bad stormy night could see the loch lapping at your back door. It some sense I felt like that old rascal, Aleister Crowley who scoured the same region with a specific tick list before he settled on Boleskine House! Once found and bought, I could settle into life servicing the various cameras and tests like some gardener tending his prize roses or some other utopian analogy.

So you see, I was formulating a plan until reality intruded. One of my older relatives would say how the "incomers" would come up for their first summer and be gone after their first winter. What that meant was the winters could be so bad that may wish you had never made the move in the first place. Allied to that was the very short days of sunlight just to make you that little bit more depressed as you tried to contemplate the beautiful snow laden scenes from your temporary prison.

I like to peruse the Loch Ness community facebook groups just to get the local news and views. If there is one subject that dominates such forums right now is the treacherous road conditions that prevail over a Highland winter. Such forums will have posts about this road being impassible and another being passable with care. People will also post for road reports before they attempt any travel.

Sure, the snow ploughs will (hopefully) come through after 9am and life is better if you can afford a 4x4 "chelsea tractor" and let's hope the snow isn't blown back onto the roads after the plough has done it work! Likewise, pray for an understanding boss in Inverness when you tell him you're blocked in again and won't be at work.

I guess those who made the effort to come up all the way from England will generally tough it out and think of those beautiful summers by way of compensation. As for me, I just wondered how folk who had retired cope with all this. Stuck in their houses and even more infirm on their feet on ice and snow. And if you have a sudden illness, how is that ambulance from Raigmore hospital going to get there? Do they have helicopters?




Oh well, perhaps it was best to retire to Loch Ness, but not that close. Perhaps Inverness, Nairn or Culloden? Only time will tell but for now I had a comical vision of Nessie gambolling on the snow choked roads, confident in the knowledge that no human can get near her by design or luck!


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Maurice Burton and Degrees of Scepticism

In the light of what I said in my previous article about sceptics, I refer you to the article below from the New Scientist, dated 22nd September 1960. It is by Maurice Burton and it depicts a man on a journey. Burton traced his involvement with the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster back to his young days at the Natural History Museum in the 1930s where we are told he considered the animal may be a giant eel. 

He says no more on that and reveals that after reading Constance Whyte's "More Than A Legend" in 1957, he became more inclined to the popular relict plesiosaur theory. During this time, Burton, as a zoologist, was often consulted and quoted on matters pertaining to the monster. Indeed, he offered advice to two people at that time - Tim Dinsdale and Peter O'Connor.

These two people proved to be instrumental in Burton taking the next step towards, not a new zoological identification of the creature, but a step away into the world of scepticism. Just a few months before two events happened in quick succession. Dinsdale's famous film was revealed to the world on the BBC Panorama TV programme and Peter O'Connor sensational photograph of a humped and long necked creature was published in the newspapers.

Burton had a choice, either continue is his role as the Loch Ness Monster Guru and analyse and confirm these images or step away from them. This was virtually decided when he made a week long trip to the loch to investigate the phenomenon in June 1960. Based on that trip, he decided Dinsdale's film was no more than a local boat and O'Connor's photo was a hoax.

The die was cast and Maurice Burton would soon become the hate figure for the growing Nessie movement in which Dinsdale would become the de facto leader through the 1960s and 1970s. Burton's article here promotes his favourite sceptical theories while the mention of large otters betrays a residual belief that disappear as he hardened himself against the opposition of the "believers".

Eventually that hardness gave way to indifference as he threw away all his research material and died in 1992. Doubtless, others have trod his path from belief to unbelief. I, for one, don't plan to tread that path.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Review of "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded" (Part I)




WHO IS THE KING OF THE NESSIE SCEPTICS? 
 
I mentioned last year that arch-sceptic, Ronald Binns, had published another book entitled "The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded". I have begun to read my copy but began to realise that the number of statements that could be challenged on logical, historical and other grounds was accumulating so fast that a single review could amount to a huge plodding article or a short one that misses a lot of points. So, for the sake of focus and debate, I will deliver my thoughts on this book in instalments. How many depends on how the quality of the book progresses.

Naturally, one was interested to know what had changed since Binns co-authored the 1983 book, "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved". Another sceptic, Joe Nickell, had reviewed it and, not surprisingly, declared the mystery "even more solved". Whether one should consider Joe Nickell an expert in matters pertaining to Loch Ness and its famed monster is a matter of opinion. I personally view experts as those whose main focus is on the subject under discussion.

The problems began right at the beginning with the first page of the preface. That section tells us that Binns' 1983 book "exploded out of nowhere to shatter the culture of the monster faithful". I wondered to myself what "yes" man Binns had asked to write this fawning preface. As it turned out, it was Binns himself who wrote the preface describing his own book. One normally employs someone else to heap the praise on for ones work, evidently Binns has no problem doing it himself.

The preface indulges in more self-congratulation by leaving the reader in little doubt that Binns regards his 1983 book to be the first sceptical work on the monster when everyone else knows it was Maurice Burton's 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster". However, in his desire to make his book "numero uno", Binns dismisses this on the grounds that Burton held out the speculation that an outsized species of otter may be indigenous to the area.

Considering Maurice Burton spent most of the book panning and debunking classic sightings, films and photographs in true sceptical fashion; one may consider this a preposterous statement. But because Burton leaves the door ajar for the possibility of a large otter inhabiting the area, Binns decides that "The Elusive Monster" cannot be a "sceptical book".

I thought that over and it struck me that this is a bit like saying well known sceptics such as Adrian Shine and Tony Harmsworth must have never written any sceptical works because they mention the possibility that a huge sturgeon may have been present in the loch at some time to generate sightings. Does this mean these two gentlemen are actually "believers" or "non-sceptics"? It seems so, according to Ronald Binns.

Apparently, you are only a real sceptic if you declare nothing unusual was ever in the loch, even if some normal or large versions of a known species were in transit confounding the locals and tourists. The point is of course one for the sceptics to really sort out. Does a speculative nod to a giant sturgeon or otter turn a book into a cryptozoological item even if 90+% of it is clearly of a sceptical nature? That answer is surely no and Burton's book remains the first sceptical tome on the subject of the Loch Ness Monster.

I must say in the light of this bluster by Binns, it is ironic that he takes it upon himself to accuse Burton of sometimes adopting a "dogmatic, haughty manner"! As Binns progresses into the first chapter to further extol the glories of "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved", I recalled how in various articles I covered the anomalies, misrepresentations, ad hominems, bad logic and hyperbolic narrative in that book.

So, it was with some amusement that Binns further rejoiced that the "book's analysis had stood the test of time". Does his new book suffer from the same problems? Does he even bother to address any of my analyses of his 1983 works? That will be revealed in time.

Just like his 1983 book, Binns here begins to put out statements which can shown to be false. For example, in his continued attempt to dethrone Maurice Burton, he tells us that Burton took Lachlan Stuart's 1951 photograph to be genuine when Burton himself said "the unusual behaviour and the absence of animal features makes it tolerably certain that we have to look elsewhere than among the prehistoric animals to account for it.". The problem is that Binns misinterprets Burton's statement which was meant to mean that this was a "genuine" photograph as opposed to a "fake" photograph.

However, the "absence of animal features" clearly shows Burton was looking for a more natural but non-zoological explanation. The Binns of old had not gone away with his mangling of texts. In that regard, the book is admitted as an appendix to the older book and this is very much in evidence in the first chapter where the eminently challengeable themes of "The Loch Ness Mystery Solved" are reprised while the book is praised to the hilt with such ego-laden phrases as "iconoclastic book" and "another of my great discoveries ...".

But back to the nub of the article as various Loch Ness personalities get criticised by Binns, but also current Nessie sceptics Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor and Tony Harmsworth whom Binns clearly insinuates were his implicit students on their final journey to scepticism - whether they like to admit it or not. Back in 1983, Binns alleges that these people were not real sceptics since they held onto something he regards as alien to the sceptical nature. Indeed, Binns avers that it was his book that helped them finally go over to the "dark side".

That Tony Harmsworth disagrees with this statement is clear from his own website where he calls Binns the "author of the rather prematurely titled "Loch Ness Mystery - SOLVED" book.". Clearly Tony did not regard Binns' book as iconoclastic! Adrian Shine and Dick Raynor are silent on what they think of Ronald Binns' regal claims. However, a hint is discovered in Binns' new book when he says that only North American sceptics warmly received his 1983 book - implying the reception from our other British sceptics was lukewarm at best.

So where does this leave us in the matter of who occupies the sceptical throne? That Ronald Binns has come out of hiding thirty four years later is a surprise by itself. Why did he do that? Was it to address matters he thought were not being addressed? Or perhaps in this sceptical age, he wants some recognition for what he did in the 1980s? Indeed, perhaps the over the top lauding of his previous book is tactical rather than egotistical? Only time will tell how this pans out. If Ronald Binns begins to overtake Adrian Shine in media soundbytes, somebody's crown may be slipping.

The next part of this review can be viewed here.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 11 January 2018

Some Nessie News Items

Firstly, I would draw your attention to an upcoming talk on the Loch Ness Monster which I shall be giving. The talk will be entitled "2017: A year in the Nessie Hunt" which shall give the lowdown on what happened at Loch Ness this year past from the general media perspective as well as my own research.

The talk will be given to the Scottish Society for Psychical Research on Thursday 15th February at 7:30pm at Theosophy House, 17 Queens Crescent, Glasgow, G4 9BL. Further information will be posted at their website.

It should also be highlighted that the well known researcher, Richard Freeman will also be giving a talk to the Edinburgh Fortean Society two days before on the 13th February on the subject of cryptozoology. Whether he will address lake cryptids or other strange beasts is not clear yet, so keep an eye on the EFS webpage for further details.

And, finally on the matter of cryptid talks, we have the British Cryptids Conference to be held on May 19th in Bolton, England. I am pretty sure the Loch Ness Monster will figure there! Further details can be obtained on their Facebook account.

I would like to think I would get to all these talks (especially the first one), but time will tell.

Secondly, I contacted Paul Harrison for an update on his Frank Searle book. Sadly, he does not anticipate publishing it this year due to demands brought about by the success of his main crime writing career. 

Well, I say sad, but good for Paul as it means his authoring career is doing well. Paul first mentioned publishing his book in 2012. Let's hope this is the final year of waiting. I would also mention Paul went to Africa on a Mokele-Mbembe expedition and that too may be written up for a book in the future.

Having said that, my latest book on the Loch Ness Monster is all but complete except for a couple of extra research tasks which may yet yield new information.The other question before me is whether I should include an index? I would not have thought so, but others may think differently.

Thirdly, I saw this cartoon from the Sunday Times and it raised a chuckle.




The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Saturday, 6 January 2018

Colin Wilson and a Long Neck Sighting




I contacted the late Colin Wilson some years back with two questions over a period of time. It was 2011 and he was not well after a spinal operation and so I was glad to get any answer from him. Colin had a friendship with Nessie hunter, F. W. Holiday that went back to at least the early 70s as the two men shared a common interest in both the Loch Ness Monster and the paranormal.

After Holiday died in 1979, Wilson posthumously published his work, "The Goblin Universe" which Holiday had withheld under the conviction that the recent 1975 underwater Nessie photographs had swung the nature of the beast from the ghost like back to the more familiar biological. As a result, Holiday sent a more anodyne manuscript to Wilson on the general subject of lake monsters. That document has never seen the light of day.

My two questions were simple enough. What happened to that unpublished manuscript and who inherited all of Holiday's archives and research? The first question was never answered and Colin said he had no idea what happened to Holiday's research (though he implied it may have been with Holiday's mother, who was also now deceased).

Oh well, perhaps one day. In the meantime, Colin published an excerpt of a letter from a Dennis Stacy of San Antonio, Texas regarding a sighting he had back in 1972. This was published in "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved" on page 487, which I reproduce below.

In 1972 I went to the Loch with the express purpose of looking for Nessie. The idea was to camp along the shoreline for about two weeks and see what was to be seen. I had a very distinct feeling of confidence that if I went to the Loch I would see Nessie. I met some students on vacation from Oxford and stayed with them just above Drumnadrochit.

Every day I would take my camera down to the shoreline and have a good look around. Except for the day it was cold and drizzly and all of us went for a walk in the pinewoods there. A girl student and myself soon wandered off on our own from the others and made it down to the lochside. While we had been under the pines, the sky cleared remarkably and the wind died down. By the time we reached the loch, it was completely still and mirror-like. About three quarters of a mile across the loch, nearly under Crowley/Page’s Boleskine, was Nessie, showing about six feet of neck and head above the water. We had jumped up on the little low rock wall skirting the road.

We both saw it at the same time and nearly caused each other to tumble over the side by grabbing the other’s shoulders and pointing and saying, Look! Do you see what I see? And my camera, a 35mm, was miles away. My companion, however, had a little small, cheap camera, and the presence of mind to take a shot. All that was visible in the picture was a white wake, about a hundred feet in length, left by Nessie (or whatever), and which showed up clearly against the dark reflection of the trees on the other side in the water. Nessie herself? The head was definitely angular, as described. Some say like a horse, with the very pronounced wedge-shape. In my own experience, I liken it to the shape of a rattlesnake’s head, a square snout running back in a flare to the jaws. The length of neck out of the water, including the head, was five or six feet.

The impression it gave, in the sense that spiders and snakes seem to exude their own peculiar aura, was one not so much of danger as power. I mean it was really cutting a wake through the water, raising a little wavelet on either side of the neck. At times the head was lowered down and forward, and would sweep a small angle from side to side, as if feeding, by lowering the bottom part of the jaw just into the water. But it was really too far away to be absolutely certain of this last manoeuvre; the head, however, could be very plainly seen swinging from side to side. It was swimming thusly when we first saw it and after no more than a minute, simply sank lower and lower in the water, much in the same way a person comes down from a round of water-skiing, or a submarine submerges. (Letter to the author, 20 Sept 1980.)

Colin Wilson had actually published this story to demonstrate the prevalent idea of the "Loch Ness Hoodoo" where the monster is more likely to appear before you if you had left your camera at home. Wilson likens this to Nessie's "Jungian game of Hide and Seek".

The lesson I would take is to treat your camera like an American Express card - don't leave home without it. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that we don't have the picture taken by the simpler camera for examination. However, at an estimated distance of 1200 metres, one should not expect any game changers.

Sceptics will naturally suggest the witnesses merely saw a bird like a cormorant swimming along. I don't think the witnesses were that naive and stupid, but neither would I resist unto blood over this one since it was so far away. However, the sighting was not on my database and so I bring it forward to add its own little thread to the online tapestry of Loch Ness lore.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com