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






67 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this article. Does Burton begin the piece with a fallacy? I'd guess that in 1933/34 the LNM got a bit more publicity than in 1960. Burton repeats/starts one trope about the Dinsdale film that never made sense to me - that what Dinsdale filmed "took precisely the course often taken by the local motorboats in crossing from Foyers". I would say that is not the case; the first half of the film consists of the subject taking a slow, meandering course toward the far shore. It goes left, weaves a bit right, takes a very sharp turn at one point; not only would no boat take precisely that course, let us deal with another theory - no fisherman would set his lines while his boat is wandering freely over the Loch...

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    1. Agreed. Also - if the farmer took a boat ride every day did that mean he got in his boat, then journeyed along the same side of the Loch for a mile or so and then... what? Stopped and went back? If he was crossing the Loch I could believe that but just going back and forth along the sides is weird. Was he fishing? Also they never found this farmer? The film was almost immediately on telly but he never came forward or was tracked down? Seems odd.

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    2. I have spent many hours on Loch Ness in various Caley Cruiser boats.We would call at the Clansman,then over to Foyers before crossing to Invermoriston.Trust me,the route shown in Dinsdale's film is exactly the route i took every time!

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    3. Ah okay thank you Steve. To me it always looked like a completely pointless boat journey.

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  2. I think Burton receives an undue amount of hate from the pro-Nessie camp; while I can understand some taking umbrage with the tone in which Binns denounces the evidence, Burton's ELUSIVE MONSTER reads like a fair criticism of the evidence up to that point. Is it simply because he switched sides that he's so vilified...?

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    1. Never read his book. But as someone who appreciates both the pro and negative proponents if they make intelligent arguments I like most of the excerpts I've read of his.

      Almost every prominent sceptic used to be a believer: Burton, Binns, Shine, Raynor et al. In fact I cannot think of a single sceptic who hasn't been a believer originally.

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    2. Yes, believers who become skeptics do so because the data doesn’t support the desired conclusion.

      Burton’s book reads like the posted article: critical of the claims, but in a way that’s fair and measured. The amount of vitriol directed toward the man is unearned.

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    3. His article above is great. Seems very smart. Can't speak for others and tbh I wouldn't say I was a believer per se - but I certainly concede the possibility of the monster's existence - and I think Burton comes across very well. He's thought his ideas through and it's funny he gives so much credence to the Grant sighting, a sighting I'd personally dismiss as an outright fabrication. He gives both sides a fair crack of the whip. I'll try and read his book in the future.

      If he does get undue stick as you say it's because it's a passionate subject that we all get slightly irrationally fired up about from time to time.

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    4. Burton was certainly more diplomatic in his assessments - almost to a fault.

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  3. Burton's point still stands re witness testimony and morphology, the monster's varying size, shape, colour and behaviour is difficult to reconcile if it is the same creature or a family of creatures that all the witnesses are seeing.

    However his otter theory is, and was always complete piffle.

    Burton's turnaround seems to have come about because he spent 8 days watching the loch and saw nothing [ we've all been there ] and therefore nothing extraordinary lives in the loch.

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    1. I think the point still stands only if we are unable to accept that some reports were genuine and some were mistakes or hoaxes. The genuine reports should not be sullied by the contradictory nature of the mistakes and hoaxes.

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    2. The otter theory is just as speculative as the plesiosaur concept: it’s an attempt to make sense of reports without any corroborative evidence.

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    3. John, would there not still be varying descriptions if the genuine/misidentification ratio was say 50/50?

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  4. I for one don't believe the animals are giant otters or relic plesiosaurs. I have my own theory which I have to confess isn't set in stone. Until we have a specimen to examine we'll all only be theorising.

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    1. Hello Steve, do you agree with all of my comment, including the bit about not having a theory set in stone? I've been called wishy washy by friends for not committing to a single clear description of what the animals look like, how they breathe etc. I prefer to see it as pragmatism. The lack of a detailed description in my mind does not mean I believe any less than those with firmer views.

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    2. I agree that until we have a specimen its all just theorising!

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  5. Roland gets mocked so why not Burton? It works both ways. The skeptics will say Roland's views can be daft or misleading but so can Burton's large otters and his other baffling ideas. You cant have it all one way.

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  6. I have no problems with believers turnd sceptics! In fact i bought burtons book a couple years ago on amazon and its included in my collection..my problem with burton was his opinion on vegitation mats bin a candidate for the sightings!! I have never seen these in loch ness let alone one that looks like a large creature! I think burton is way off on that one but sadly he gave to much time to this conclusion. I think its natural a believer spending a lot of time at loch ness with no sightings will eventually turn sceptical...but what about sceptics who have turned believers???? I personally know a couple of these! And on a good note i will be having a tennents or two with them in March as ive just booked my next trip up there! Happy days....ROY

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    1. Plenty of sceptics become believers, especially those who see the creature.

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    2. I have read/heard several witnesses of Nessie, as well as Champ and Ogopogo, state that they were not believers until they saw it themselves. Do you really want names? I'll dig some up if necessary...

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    3. I’m talking critical thinkers, not people like Joline Lin.

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  7. Some of the vitriol about Burton is because he allegedly possessed the 1938 film of something in the loch by Taylor and refused to show it to investigators. Roland has covered this earlier.
    http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=burton+taylor

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    1. True, he wouldn't share anything, not even a still. You criticise some sceptics' theories - they shut up shop. Seen it all before.

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    2. I concur that this was unprofessional.

      Can you cite other examples, as this is the only one that’s brought up?

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    3. The only reason I can think Burton had for withholding this film is that it might provide information to the contrary of his own conclusion. Regardless of any other decent work the man did, as far as I'm concerned, this act of sabotage is enough to rule out any of his opinions on the matter. Or any other matter to be honest.

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    4. There’s no conspiracy to withhold evidence of Nessie’s existence. This isn’t how science works.

      He withheld this information so he’d have a hook for readers of his book.

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  8. So it looks like Burton was misleading people with his opinions, especially people who have not spent much time at the Loch. Skeptics are quick to accuse Roland of misleading people but dont complain about the likes of Maurice Burton doing it. Point i made above.

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    1. I think the problem we believers have is that there has been the odd looney involved on 'our side', such as Frank Searle and Doc Shiels. It's unfairly made us more open to ridicule than those in the believers camp. There isn't to my knowledge a believer equivalent of Searle or Shiels who makes a bit of a mockery of things. It's unfortunate this is the case, but I think Roland has more than adequately demonstrated that the subject can be tackled logically from a believer's perspective.

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    2. Apologies I meant to write 'than those in the sceptics camp'.

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    3. The main issue I see is that without hard scientific evidence (which there categorically is not as of now) then belief in the creature is more akin to faith and subject to similar critiques one could level at religion. Of course, should the beast be caught then the faithful will suddenly be able to laugh at the foolish non believers should they wish. But until then the faithful kinda have to take any criticism squarely on the chin. Roland, for all his undoubted intelligence and detective-like diligence is defending a statistically unlikely mystery that has defied 80 years of often intense scientific searching, not least by himself, still without a positive outcome. All this said, it doesn't cast the sceptics in a very good light when they arrogantly pour scorn on believers simply for believing, particularly if their arguments and critiques are sometimes based on less plausible foundations than the believers. After all, if the believers are right then history as we know it will change overnight, comparatively there is nothing at stake for sceptics except that they preserve the status quo.

      PS I absolutely hate Frank Searle because of his arrogance. But I didn't know him so that's unfair. And hypocritically I admire Doc Shiels attempt at artistry in his deception. And I think at the very least that makes me a hipster if not a snob.

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    4. Regarding Doc Shiels, did he make many other claims about the LNM. I'm aware of the rest of his extravagant endeavors so it seems just a little unusual to have just one attempt at the Loch Ness mystery. On the other hand this might just be usual behavior for unusual people. (I use this term rather than looney)

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    5. I'm sorry Pete I don't really know tbh I just admired the performance artistry of the limited things I'd seen him do. I know he tried it a few times on different subjects. There's a video on YouTube where a fairly posh dude narrates over the video. Basically he says that in the mid 00s Doc Shiels took him up into the hills past a small lake in Ireland I think. As the video clearly shows there appears to be a number of large, torpedoe-esque disturbances in the water. Part of the reason the guy narrates over the video is because he was so shocked that he swore through most of it. He also says he was well aware of Shiels' reputation and conceded he may well have been hoaxed but that if that was the case it was an incredible piece of chicanery. If I had to guess I'd say Shiels was constantly at it. But I admire his approach: he did his thing and moved on. I don't like Searle or Edwards because they did their hoax(es) and then seemed upset that people got annoyed and still expected to be taken seriously. Shiels just moved on, though it was arguably just as damaging to the pro Nessie cause.

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    6. The shocked person was Jon Downes of CFZ.

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    7. This one is Shiels as well - http://www.lazerhorse.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Tony-Doc-Shiels-Morgawr-monster.jpg

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    1. Spoiling for an argument, GEZZA?

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    2. I'd prefer not to call anyone a looney, it was more in reference to past antics. I try not to see anyone in a bad light. It's good for the soul to be kind to others. Even when we don't necessarily agree.

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    3. No, why? Just stating facts.

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  10. Yes, the Grant land sighting can safely be put in the bulging Hoax file.

    Is the existence of the Taylor film a matter of record i.e. does [did] it ever actually exist ?

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    1. 100%. Burton declared it inanimate and never showed it to anyone else.

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  11. This article and discussion have me thinking about 'big names' associated with Loch Ness. I'm trying to think of people who were unknown before 1990 but have since become widely associated with the mystery. 1990 is an arbitrary date, but it was 28 years ago. The 28 years before 1990 were jam packed with Loch Ness action and interest.

    So there was Steve Feltham who came to the fore from the early 1990s. I think also Gary Campbell who runs the sightings log wasn't known widely before 1990, but I may be wrong (please advise if I am). Then there's our very own Roland Watson who, judging by the age of this website, became well known over the last few years.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's only 3 'newbies' to the overall picture. I'm talking about names which would be instantly associated with the Loch Ness Monster. It doesn't seem much does it? All other names strongly associated with the mystery were already as such pre-1990. It would be nice to see a new name emerge. Even a new sceptic would be something, but preferably a new hunter or enthusiast. New blood is always needed.

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    1. Finding the funding that the LNIB had with politicians and university backing etc would only happen if there was a game changing new piece of evidence akin to Dinsdale's film. And if that happens I'll be the first to sign up and devote my life to it. Otherwise Steve Feltham will almost certainly be the last man to move to the Loch and spend his entire life searching for Nessie. The man is the last of a pioneering dying breed... And even Steve thinks he's just looking for a big Well's catfish!

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  12. There is people doing it, but some do it in their own private way, away from the publicity.

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    1. I have studied and followed events at Loch Ness for over 50yrs!I have visited many times and talked to many 'witnesses' ect.I have spent years on my own investigations and fact checking and i think i know as much as anybody about the LNM.However,being a shy quiet chap i have always prefered to stay in the background,watching,listening,learning and thinking!

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  13. Still a few about!! I have a mate who is on the loch every day..granted he works on the loch but he is a big hunter and has seen what he believes is a large creature on a couple of occasions! Holmes..campbell..feltham and of course humble lads like myself who still go up regular in search for the truth..admitted its mixed with a good time and lots of alcohol but as ive always felt... joe bloggs has as much much chance of seeing or capturing a foto of nessie as the Rines..Shines and top brass of the world!!! A great mystery for everyone... a mystery for everyone not just for the few !! Lol long may it continue....ROY

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    1. If your pal emails me I can put up his account(s) with guarantee of anonymity.

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    2. Any progress on your pal who saw Nessie, ROY?

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  14. I don’t believe Steve Feltham actually does any ‘Nessie Hunting’ any more or for some time.

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    1. Doesn't he still live in the mobile library at the loch?

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  15. Sorry to keep commenting, particularly in such an off topic fashion... there is 80 years worth of data. You calculate: 1) The top 10 nessie hotspots. 2) Best time of year. 3) Best time of day. You hit the top 10 hotspots with 10 volunteers for 10 consecutive days. You rotate shifts so that you have a new spot every day to stave off boredom. The volunteer watches the surface with a camera whist they also have a Go Pro in the water attached to a buoy, it'll only cover around 10 feet below the surface but that's better than nothing. You can't get a glimpse of anything after 10 days? You do it again next year (Go Pro footage can be fast forwarded through at leisure). No animal(s) can show that much divergence from an 80 year established pattern unless it's completely insane. It might take another 50 years but you're statistically guaranteed to catch it if your initial data is as accurate as possible. And all you're giving up is 10 days out of 365 to be part of a potentially groundbreaking discovery. Plus you're all in it together so worst case you get drunk for 10 nights a year in a stunning location. Could probably even crowd fund it nae hassle. I'm quite sure that there are many individual attempts of this nature - I've made my own - and I'm also quite sure that the biggest psychological issue to maintaining even semi-professional rigour is boredom and operating in isolation.

    The issue requires this kind of approach again. Not more books speculating idly from a cosy desk with more hope that anything else (that's not a dig at you GB you're very active). Not more sceptical aloofness either. Who cares why our psyche is predelicted to wish for monsters? It is and that should be enough really. You're THAT sceptical? Join the search team and PROVE it doesn't exist. And keep proving it year after year. Otherwise the mystery will never go away and we'll as just keep having circular arguments forever instead of visiting an absolutely beautiful natural location and having fun together.

    Again, sorry for the off topic semi rant.

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    1. You did not factor in two things which may vary over those 80 years - creature population variation due to diminishing foodstocks and sea-to-loch migration variations.

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    2. I think this post is fantastic! Inspirational in fact. I'd put my hand up for involvement. I'm all for sceptics being involved too, I think we'd all have an absolute hoot! And who knows, it might just get the case for Nessie finally over the line.

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    3. GB most aquatic migratory creatures I know of return to the exact same spot every year (salmon, turtles) and I discount a cave link to the sea for geographic reasons as I'm sure you do. The Loch is higher than the sea so it would drain to sea level quickly if there was a link. It's possible there's a cave link to other Lochs, absolutely. Work out what other Lochs are at the same level as Loch Ness and you've got a possible second location to consider. Then you factor that data in but that hunting should be carried out by a second unit of their own volition, NOT the core team. Loch Ness is the battle ground and acid test for the issue. I'm just presenting an outline of a rigorous but low input plan with the best chance of statistical success that I thought through on the 12 minute train journey between London Bridge and home. So I concede it's possibly very silly. I'm an artist really, not a scientist, biologist or statistician. I just know that those types of people failed to prove it (though they came damn close on both sides) and yet people keep seeing things and they clearly always will, creature or no creature. I'd actually consider myself to have a null hypothesis on the question of whether Nessie exists or not but for whatever reason am still fascinated with the issue.

      If foodstocks have declined then is the species dead? Can a sonar expert 100% state there is nothing in there? If so I want a paper written to negate the article published in Nature as an equivalent rebuttal. Can the foodstocks be tracked over time? If the creature is of smaller breeding population then once again, factor it in to tighten the focus of the search. Never widen it because your focus will become time consuming and man power/ enthusiasm will wane as it always has. In fact you'd have to develop a rigorous, extremely tight and binding manifesto, one that would accept the search would last potentially forever. With things like 1) there can only be 10 searchers 2) if you cannot search that year you must look for a replacement 3) you must meet and drink at least one drink every night (alcoholic or not) etc. Maybe 10 days is too much? Maybe it's 5 days with 15 volunteers? I'm just spitballing.

      What I'm trying to devise is the best approach in this day and age, one that unites sceptics and believers and is fun because making it fun is the only way you'll generate momentum. I'm sure local hotels would put people up if it was well publicised (which it would be if that was deemed useful to success) thus keeping costs down or camping becomes the way forward.

      Locals are desperate for the myth to persist for obvious reasons. The new angle is the the unification of believers/ non believers to try and prove both sides correct. In fact the manifesto could insist on a 50/50 split which would add some objective scientific credence. There's a prominent writer from St. Andrews Uni. who says that it's almost statistically assured that there are, given rates of discovery of new species/ size and depth of ocean, at least 10 mega fauna still to be discovered in our oceans. You approach people like that to design your approach to the search. GB you have as much knowledge as anyone on the planet about the subject. There may even be funding available if there's an artistic/ cultural/ educational slant to the project. Does the idea have commercial application? Maybe all individuals should be self financed? I dunno...

      Again, I'm sorry this is wildly off topic and almost certainly over complicating my initial premise and goal of an elegant, tightly focused simplicity. I'm just suggesting there are smarter solutions to the ones we've all been pursuing. Certainly to the ones I've been pursuing...

      Anyway you've heard quite enough from me for a while. I'll pipe down. This is a terrific blog and if I'm overenthusiastic it's merely a symptom of how intriguing I find it.

      PS Thank you Will that was very kind to say.

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    4. I'll volunteer now for Year 2 (I cannot at present commit to Year 1 for personal reasons). A position in the Core Team would interest me most, but I'm also open to anything available in the cave search unit (CSU?). I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a little lacking as a strategic thinker, and I'm not a great leader of men, BUT I do give 100% unwavering commitment when I undertake a project. I am practical and often able to think of simple solutions to engineering headaches. Thanks again Kyle for coming up with a sensible proposal for the next steps at Loch Ness. If you or Roland will be leading this work, please consider this as an application for a role in the team. Thanks!

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    5. I can assure you locals are not "desperate for the myth to persist". The vast majority are fairly ambivalent about the subject.

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    6. Kyle, I've always thought that it would take some out of the box thinking to make any ground in this mystery so you could be barking up the right tree with your ideas.

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    7. It's great that you have got us thinking again about strategies. I think the probability of success with a Go Pro is so low that the effort should probably be directed elsewhere. Also some of the sightings hotspots probably reflect the number of observers present rather than number of surfacing animals

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    8. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Kyle. After the failure of the LNIB watches, my own take was that something different had to be done from the "amateur" point of view. Either improve on the LNIB technique or do something unrelated.

      Now despite the LNIB watches being an important part of the Loch Ness story there is precious little written about them in the way of critique. Holiday mentions the ups and downs in his Orm book but that's about it.

      No critique means no way of improving on the old. So my take was to remove the human element and go for automatic game cameras which will only snap objects close up. No blob nessies, just the real deal if and when it happens. It will take longer but will be worth it in the end.

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  16. Why not?? Must of bin exciting times years ago with the birminghm exhibitions and the edward mountain ones then operation deepscan! I know the subject isnt as popular as it used to be and far less people believe in the monster but it wud be good to have an edward mountain type opration at the loch.im up there a lot so defo wud take part in watching the water( as long as i could have a few cans of the local tennents) haha ! It might generate interest and a bit of revenue up there or even cud do it for charity! ..and as Will says it wud give sceptics the chance to meet believers and im sure they wud get on face to face!! Why not???? Ya neva know some new films or fotos mite be obtained for us to ponder over!!! No harm done and all good fun and as dinsdale said....such a beautiful place to do it!! Cheers.. ROY

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  17. RP McMurphy - apologies I have no idea what the wider Loch Ness populace thinks - I can only talk about some hoteliers/ camping ground owners whom have always talked positively about the creature and I only reference that as a potential way to gain support for an enterprise that would require hotel/ camping support, free if possible. Also your user name comes from one of the greatest books/ films ever which I feel is important to mention.

    Let me set my stall out further due to the heart warming encouragement. I am a hilariously poor film director whom lives in London most of the time, Fife the rest. I am not in any way available to lead a team at this time or even propose such a manifesto as suggested. Mostly due to money and lack of time. This year is particularly difficult for me, kinda make or break with my career, so even if I wanted to help enact such a proposal I'm 600 miles away without a car or petrol money.

    I do have experience of leading large teams as a producer/ director which is almost a purely logistical exercise, crowd funding etc as you'd expect for someone in my profession which is why I have a few ideas and potentially some useful skills to offer. But, despite my seemingly off the cuff suggestions last night, I take the subject of Nessie and the outline I proposed deadly seriously. It's something I've thought about all my life. So realistically, if I was to helm or co-helm or even just partake in something like that, I'd want to do it:
    1) as correctly and carefully planned as possible.
    2) at a time when I could commit fully.

    So I'll leave it at this and I'll stop (I mean it this time!)... Between now and late summer when I will return to the Loch for a holiday at some point and finalise my ideas, I will draw up the basis of an outline of a search plan but more importantly the accompanying manifesto which is going to be any new project's unique selling point. Then if people are still interested and available the project could be discussed seriously, refined etc and have a trial run in 2019. The finer details/ planning could begin next Christmas and if no one's interested I'll drop it. I'll also devise a honourable failsafe so that if the project is deemed not worth pursuing we can ditch it after a trial run. And of course the beast might get caught between now and then.

    So thanks again, it's been fun even suggesting such a proposal and I won't mention this idea for a while, and possibly never again.

    Best,
    Kyle

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    1. Kyle, some people are born to think big, and without wishing to get too gushing with my praise I can safely say you are one such person.

      I cannot wait to see further output and a manifesto from you. I think you have the vision to kickstart a huge new campaign, the likes of which no one has seen since the 1960s.

      I completely understand and respect your comment about being unable at this stage to spearhead such an endeavour. Your chosen career of film director is certainly binary in terms of financial and critical success. By that I mean that anyone in your chosen industry tends to be either crazy rich or crazy broke. I really get why you want to give your career a big push. I'll be honest in saying I kind of hope you could combine the two and maybe in 2019 be a leader of this great Ness mission, while also making your name in the arts at the same time.I can't help thinking that somehow Loch Ness could get your name on the map in the movie industry, but maybe I'm completely wide of the mark. Who knows!

      Thank you so much Kyle. Please don't back off from at the very minimum posting your ideas on here. I feel you've brought a new vibrancy to 2018. If people like you and Roland get your heads together, the sky's the limit!

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    2. Will, your optimism is boundless - almost to a fault I would say. People would think you are the "crazy bloke".

      I suggest you get back to reality. Nothing is going to happen without a major catalyst.


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  18. Some folks may have trouble reading the words in the New Scientist images. For Internet Explorer use the key combination "ctrl" and "+" to zoom in and "ctrl" "-" to zoom back out. No need to use "shift" for "+".

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