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 will follow in due course.


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





Sunday, 31 December 2017

Nessie Review of 2017

The leading headline from this year past concerning our favourite monster came towards the end of the year as it was loudly proclaimed by the mainstream media that this was a record year for sightings in the 21st century with a total of nine claimed views of the monster. To quote the summary from Gary Campbell's sightings website:

28th April - A Ms Cairney from Dunbartonshire was at the loch with three of her friends when they saw a 20m long series of waves move at about 5mph along the surface 500m out. It came out of nowhere and then disappeared the same way - they have confirmed that there was no boat traffic in the area. The sighting took place at 3pm from a layby on the A82 road between Drumnadrochit and Inverness.

1st May - Ms Johnson from Manchester was at Urquhart Bay taking pictures at dusk when she spotted  a dark shape in the water, higher than the waves.

12th June - Paula from Canada took a five minute video from the Loch Ness webcam at 11.20am. It shows an unknown object moving slowly down the middle of the loch towards Fort Augustus. This was similar to the further recoding she took on 26th June, above.

22nd June - Mr Jackson and his wife, visiting from Australia snapped something in the loch four miles south of Urquhart Castle at 5.18pm in the afternoon. The sighting lasted about five minutes - this is what they saw.

26th June - Paula from Canada took a video from the Loch Ness Webcam at 7pm. It shows an unknown object moving slowly north on the loch near Urquhart Castle.

22nd August - Mr Stuparich and three friends were out walking from the Dores Inn to Tor Point. As they came to the shore on the point all four  saw something huge in the water. They said it was an unusual shape - it arched out of the water then turned and went down underwater. The sighting took place at 3.41pm and lasted about 10 seconds.

29th September - Diana Turner from the USA was watching the Nessie on the Net webcam in the afternoon when she spotted a strange wake movement on the water. The sighting lasted about two minutes and other than the boat in the distance, she saw no other traffic on the loch. She snapped a picture of the wake.

2nd October - Mrs Stewart from Oldham was on honeymoon when she saw something moving in the water from the pier at Fort Augustus at 4pm. The creature disappeared when a boat came out from the canal to the loch. She managed to take a picture.

2nd November - Dr Knight and her son from the north of England pictured what appears to be a fin or similar at 11.25 am from a cruise boat on the loch. They didn't realise that they'd snapped anything until they were going through their holiday pictures.

Now when you present a list of eyewitness testimonies to a diverse group of people, you are not going to get anything like unanimity on how many were actual sightings. The sceptics will reject all of them and the most gullible believer will take them all. The more thoughtful advocates of the creatures will take the middle road.

You will note of these nine accounts, three were by people a long way from the loch using the Nessie on the Net webcam. This is a popular feature allowing many to indulge in a bit of armchair Nessie hunting. They have produced some interesting images over the years which this blog has covered. The problem is the camera is also a long way from the loch meaning anything of Nessie proportions will be no more than a blob on the screen.

The sighting by Hayley Johnson on the 1st May has been covered here too with some debate as to what she had photographed. In her own words:

I had stayed in a backpackers’ hotel and on my last night decided to go for a walk through the woods and ended up on the banks of the loch. It was lovely and at dusk. Then about half a mile away I saw this dark shape sticking up – like a neck. I thought at first it was a tree, but it was very strange. I took a picture. It was there for a couple of seconds, but when I looked back it was gone. I was shocked.




It was claimed she had simply photographed one of the various logs that are washed into the bay from the rivers. One such log was proposed which I photographed on my visit to the loch the following month. I rejected that theory as the log looked nothing like the object in the picture, but I also did something that sceptics never do - I listened to what the witness said about the object. That is, she said the object disappeared and logs don't do that.




What may be of more interest was this picture taken a week later of an evident Nessie model floating in the same area. But was this curious object even there a week before when Ms. Johnson walked along the bay and did it have any connection? I will come back to this item later, but the jury is out on Hayley's photo for me personally.




To that sightings list I could add the interesting experience of a local Foyers man on the 5th February which I covered here, though this only involved a water disturbance. Nothing was seen except a strange effusion of bubbles breaking the surface as it went in the direction of some jumping fish.

The picture taken by Rebecca Stewart on the 2nd October generated further interest as it had the look of a dorsal finned creature. It gained some traction, but in my own investigation of the picture, I contacted Marcus Atkinson of Cruise Loch Ness whose boats pass that way and the solution was soon at hand as a log, this time very appropriately shaped, had been taken by one of the crew. Problem solved.




Another curious picture was then one taken by Peter Jackson on the 22nd June shows another curiously shaped object making its way up the centre of the loch, some four miles south of Urquhart Castle. I wrote up on this at this article.

Retired engineer Mr Jackson, 64, and former lawyer Ms Weare, 60, said they were stunned by what was only the second claimed sighting of the monster this year. Ms Wearne said: 'I really was just stunned and I thought, "what is it?" It was pretty big even from 150 yards or more offshore. I didn't know what to think.
 
We took photos and showed them to people at a B&B and (then) on a cruise. Skipper for the Loch Ness Project, Ali Matheson, said he had not seen anything like it. It seemed to be moving fast but in the direction of the current. We just figured if he's worked on here for years and not seen anything like it, then it must be something.




Theories about swimmers and boats were dismissed, though the ubiquitous tree debris reared its ugly head again. The object looks static over the two pictures shown above and so one must tend to an inanimate interpretation, but the sceptical vigilantes who were quick to post pictures of logs after Hayley Johnson's story, were notable by their absence for this one. No one seems to have produced a natural picture of this object.

What was rather worrying was that the object was estimated to be 150 yards offshore and yet we have a poor quality image. Yet another epic fail on the much vaunted smartphone front, proving there is no substitute for quality, professional, telephoto zoom photography - unless the monster is close enough to see the whites of your fear laden eyes; and who is going to hang around for that photo-op? One thing seems certain for 2018, and that is a supply of interesting and usually inconclusive images to evoke further discussion and debate. 

But there was one instance where images obtained looked of a decent quality as a video emerged in early May of an apparent long necked creature swanning past a cruiser boat. It all looked good until that model Nessie picture shown above turned up and seemed to be in the line of travel of our static necked "Nessie". Further investigation led to the conclusion that another Nessie documentary was in the offing.




But in the pursuit of science at Loch Ness, news came in April of a New Zealand professor's attempt to find evidence of trace DNA of the monster, or eDNA as it is called. Professor Neil Gemmell had been to the loch, consulted a few people and headed back to Otago with the intent of crowd funding a major eDNA analysis of Loch Ness which promised to offer a complete DNA profile of the loch's residents.

Things turned decidedly shaky though when it turned out he needed £100,000 to pursue his research and since then it has all gone a bit quiet (though admittedly it always goes quiet during the winter months). Meanwhile, it seems another scientist has been quietly gathering water samples from Loch Morar for his own eDNA experiments. Perhaps 2018 will bring news of Mhorag rather than Nessie on this front.

The year 2016 had been a good year for Nessie books with four being published. However, 2017 seemed to only have one Nessie dedicated book and that of questionable quality, being the latest offering from arch-sceptic, Ronald Binns. Yes, I confess I had to pay for a copy back in August, but I still have not got round to reading it as it constantly slips down the priority queue. I will attempt to right that once my own second book on the Loch Ness Monster comes out in late January 2018.

Having said that, 2017 was somewhat counter balanced by Andrew McGrath's "Beasts of Britain" whose cryptozoological overview of the UK did contain a chapter on the Loch Ness Monster.

In terms of visits to the loch, I was at the loch in June and September. What is still uncertain to me was the huge splash that I saw in mid loch off Foyers on the first day there in September. Was it the Loch Ness Monster? There is no way of knowing, and it remains inconclusive to this day. The usual experiments and watches were conducted with no game changing results. Unlike webcams that sweep across square miles, the narrowly focused trap cameras I have in place will hopefully yield more accurate results, albeit more exceedingly rare and devoid of blobs!

What will 2018 produce in terms of experiments? The tech market now offers mini-ROVs, thermal cameras and HD ready drones. Which one would you employ first in your search of the loch? Here's to an cryptozoologically rewarding 2018 and I wish readers a prosperous and fulfilling year ahead.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Sunday, 24 December 2017

Constance Whyte's other book on the Loch Ness Monster

Nessie researchers will be aware of Constance Whyte's seminal book on the monster entitled "More Than A Legend" published in 1957 which went on to become a classic and influenced many a monster hunter in the 1960s such as Tim Dinsdale and even Frank Searle. But before this she had written an anonymous article for the now defunct King's College Hospital Gazette (Spring 1950; vol. 29, no. 1) which she eventually made into a booklet simply entitled "The Loch Ness Monster" published in 1950.

That this article had some influence amongst Loch Ness notables is illustrated by this statement from Richard Fitter, one of the co-founders of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau:

At this point I must interject a personal note. My own interest in Nessie was first aroused by reading a pamphlet entitled The Loch Ness Monster, written anonymously by Dr. Constance Whyte and reprinted from the King's College Hospital Gazette of 1950 (Anon., 1950).

Copies of this booklet are excessively rare and the only time I recall seeing it for sale was on eBay a few years back when it went for about £250. However, I managed to find a copy held by the National Library of Scotland and scanned the book for my own research. But now I think it is only appropriate  that others get to see this work for the simple reason that it is unlikely that this work is going to be ever republished and finding a copy for reading is going to be limited to a very small number of libraries.

So enjoy the read as one of Nessie's most famous advocates sharpens her pen. I would also point out that this copy would appear to be a personal copy of Constance Whyte as on page 13 it has a margin annotation with her signature which just adds to the weight of this work. I would also note that Constance Whyte wrote another article for the Gazette just prior to her more famous book being published in 1957. If I can get a copy of that, I will post it in due time.

I thank King's College Hospital Archives for giving permission to reproduce the article.

A Merry Christmas to all readers!


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com
















Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Alarms and Diversions





James Thurber was a noted author and playwright from the first half of last century who, amongst other noted works, was the author of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". In the 1964 edition of his anthology, "Alarms and Diversions", he devotes one chapter to the Loch Ness Monster entitled "There's Something Out There!". 

This was after what he calls a two year search for the monster, which certainly involved a trip to Loch Ness and trawling through the Daily Mail archives, though what else he got up to in that time is not certain. Thurber devotes 15 pages to the monster as he recounts his own experiences and gives us a potted history of the creature and its pursuers for your interest from page 60 onwards.

Thurber's book is typical of many books out there, which though not a book devoted to the subject, will divert from the normal news and events of their world to talk about the monster. I have a few in mind, perhaps I will get round to putting them out there.

 I have a PDF copy of the book which can be accessed here.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com