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The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence by Steuart Campbell

  • Author: Steuart Campbell
  • Book title: The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence
  • Category: Politics & Social Sciences
  • Subcategory: Social Sciences
  • Publisher: Birlinn Ltd; 4th edition (November 30, 2004)
  • Pages: 128
  • ISBN: 1841581984
  • ISBN13: 978-1841581989
  • Rating: 4.8
  • Votes: 384
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7 Reviews
Freaky Hook
The author, Campbell, is a skeptic, which is all well and good, since skepticism has been an essential part of the scientific method ever since The Enlightenment. Prometheus Books is the publisher, and its books have been a source of reliable information to me in the past. That said, this book is a disturbing mixture of strengths and weaknesses. One of its strengths is the recognition of the fact that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable: "evidence from witnesses is subject to several processes which we tend to overlook. First the witnesses must perceive the event...Later they must use memory recall to relate the event. Much can go wrong with either or both of these processes. Human perception is a complex activity of the brain, and we do not necessarily perceive in the brain what we perceive with our sense organs. The brain is prone to guesswork and it may determine what we see from scraps of information and from what it is expecting. Thus we cannot always accept that witnesses actually saw what they tell us they saw. Generally it is found that a witness embroiders a simple occurrence....Perception involves estimation of size, distance and speed, and it is well known that few can make accurate estimates of these parameters...estimates of size of unknown objects on water by untrained observers vary from exactly right to 3-5 times too great, and in tests...estimates of speed ranged from correct to five times too great. Generally there is a tendency for observers to exaggerate both size and speed....To report a sighting a witness must also use memory, a faculty which is not always reliable. All people include an inventive, imaginative (and therefore spurious) element in their remembering, and all remembering depends heavily on reconstruction rather than on mere reproduction alone. Buckhout has shown how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be, and how the witness may have trouble separating fact from fiction....Tests show that unreliability increases with time, and it is strongly suspected that witnesses attempt to make facts fit theory. In the case of N [Nessie], the theory is pretty well defined and capable of exerting a powerful influence on all who report it. Finally it should be remembered that not everyone is honest. Some of the eyewitness reports may be deliberate deception...and some will come from people whose mental health is poor. Overall, human beings are not the careful and reliable observers that they are often taken to be." (pp.24-25) Indeed, in many reports of N there is contradictory testimony. There are also admitted and detected hoaxes. And it is very suspicious that many of the photographic negatives are lost or missing. In many cases the reports and photographs of N have prosaic explanations, e.g. waves, eels, otters, diving birds, logs, tree trunks. Many of the photographs are simply unclear. Campbell traces belief in N back to ancient myth and superstition, and "there are always those who claim to have seen what others have merely postulated. These reports must then have fed and reinforced the myth." (p. 14) "In science, prima facie evidence must be examined critically, and only if it withstands that examination can it be regarded as sound evidence." (p. 16) Campbell presents a table of above-water still photographs P1-P21 along with plates of some of them and discussions that refute the contention that they represent N. Unfortunately, some of the greatest weaknesses of the book appear in this chapter. Why does the text skip P 3-5, P12, and P14? Why are there no plates of P8, P9, P18 and P20? Why does he cryptically claim "for many years there has been a rumour in the Wilson family that the picture was a hoax," (p.41) without further discussion or evidence? And why rely upon a rumour? Chapter 4 presents above-water cinema and video evidence in a table and in text and stills. No still from film F8 is included in this book. Why? The book skips F16 and F18-24 without explanation. The other films are lost or inaccessible, unclear, waves, hoaxes, inanimate objects or waterfowl. The underwater photos are unclear, composites, trees and silt. On page 74 Campbell asserts, "It is now known that the object in U5 is a tree stump," but he fails to explain HOW this is known. The sonar evidence includes an admitted hoax, unidentifiable target, a fish shoal, an admission that nothing was detected, a waterlogged tree, otters, inconclusive data, and a boat. Unfortunately, Campbell does not mention sonar trace S14 in the text, gives no analysis of S15, and makes no attempt to critique the only radar report. The hydrophone evidence is inconclusive. As for negative evidence, in May 1969 sonar researchers found no sign of N, and if N exists there must be many Ns to form a breeding population and prevent extinction. In 1983 researchers deployed 15 tons of equipment, including 144 sonar transducers with a recording system, but "during the eight weeks of observation there was no sign of N" (p. 96) Of two incidents in another lake in August, 1971, "whereas several alternative explanations might be suggested, it was not possible to give a definite opinion, and it was thought to be extremely unscientific to try to hazard a guess of the cause of either incident." (p. 101) There are other reports in other lakes, but they are explained as masses of sawdust, rotten plants, pieces of wood and mud, Swedish zoologists attribute some "observations" to the effects of alcohol. The Icelandic Museum of Natural History said it "had never been anything but a legend and that all that had been seen were leaves, branches, and vegetable matter brought together by strong currents." (p.103) Moving on to North American lakes, "there is no good photographic evidence." (p.104) Of another sighting, "both Folden and his film disappeared and the location of neither is known, but Clarke's book contains a colour still from the film." (p.105) In the interest of openness and completeness, why is this still not reproduced in this book? Again on page 105 Campbell mentions five photographs by Fletcher, but does not say where they are. Campbell writes, "Moon's book shows one of Fletcher's photographs," (p. 105) but does not reproduce it as a plate in this book. On page 106 Campbell mentions a photograph in Costello's book, but does not see fit to reproduce it here. However, Campbell replies that neither party would admit involvement. Of an incident on Lake Champlain, "Mansi took only one photograph, did not immediately report the incident, lost the negative, and cannot now locate the site. " (p.107) In a Nebraska lake the observation has been identified as an elephant seal. At Silver Lake, NY, "two people confessed that they had built the monster out of waterproof canvas, paint and wire, and that it was towed by ropes and made to surface by pumping in air." (p. 108) Chapter 8, the summary, is excellent, answering some--but not all--the objections I have written. "Plainly eyewitness evidence for N is not to be relied on....they are psychologically prepared to see N." (p.112.) Of underwater photos, Campbell says that scientists need access to unenhanced negatives. A thorough Cambridge University sonar sweep of all of Loch Ness in 1962 "showed that N does not exist." (p.114) in the summary, Campbell belatedly addresses the Fletcher photo, "obviously a picture of a heavy ship wake, and the same is probably true of Folden's film." (p.116) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and perhaps that proof is not forthcoming.
Very interesting, but could have been done a little bit better. I loved it any way and it did bring new in sight on the Loch.
My son loves this book.
Being an examination of the evidence (or lack thereof in the author's opinion) for the Loch Ness monster, while interesting, this book falls short on a few points. First off, it's extremely scientific tone makes for dry reading, yet on the other hand seems brief for it's intended purpose of thoroughness. Also, despite making some very good points the author tends to dismiss some evidence for reasons that would require more suspension of reality than would belief in a monster. In one case in particular, Mr. Campbell goes on for some pages discussing a case of evidence and abruptly dismisses it by stating that he came upon "rumors" of a hoax, the details of which he doesn't even go into. All in all, whether you are a believer or not, this book is interesting reading if you can get past the dry anylitical tone of it. However, be prepared to use the evidence presented to form your own opinion rather than buy into the author's emphatic belief that there simply cannot be a monster. Having visited the Loch in person myself, and ironically enough, purchasing this very book at the Loch Ness Monster Exhibit, I find it very difficult to believe that someone could look into it's massive, murky depths and say with 100% certainty that there could not be something lurking below. But that is exactly what Mr. Campbell does with this book.
When I first read this book,I was completely put off by it and seriously thought of returning it.It presents a totally negative view of the problem,and concludes that there is absolutely no postive evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster,or any other lake monster for that matter. Being a strong believer,I was ready to reject this idea.
Later,I realized that when examining the evidence,it is very important to look at both sides of the story.For instance,regardless of my pro-monster status,I now concede that the "Surgeon's Photo" is in fact a hoax,as well as Lachlan Stuart's "3-hump" photo. The famous "gargoyle head" photo snapped by an underwater camera most likely shows an engine block used as an anchor (but the other underwater phots arte still very interesting).
As to the book itself,it is a bit difficult to read-the author refers to the Monster as "N",the loch as "L. Ness",and uses a whole series of abbreviations,which make for some interesting,as well as confusing sentences. He also make many seemingly solid declarations without giving sources,the most common being that a film or photograph (pick one,any one) has "long been rumoured to be a hoax."
Summing up-if you a Monster enthusiast,by all means,read this book,but be prepared for a completely negative view of the whole matter,and remember that it is important to examine all sides of the issue.
I have to point out that other reviews of this book on the Amazon site appear to have been written by people who have not actually read Campbell's work. This is, in fact, the most vigorously skeptical study of the Loch Ness Monster ever written. It is penned in a dry style peculiar to Campbell (who insists, for example, in referring to the monster throughout as 'N') and is more a reference work than a light read. Many of Campbell's points are excellent ones, but on the whole the book sufferes from being short - there is little room to be comprehensive, or develop arguments - and from the author's invincible belief in the correctness of his own opinions. This is not justified. His survey of the famous Surgeon's Picture, for example, has been shown to be incorrect by the recent and much more detailed study of Dave Martin and Alistair Boyd, and on the whole the earlier skeptical work of Ronald Binns (The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, 1983) is better balanced and more detailed. In sum, believers will hate this book; skeptics and the unconvinced will find it valuable, but will certainly not enjoy it as a work of literature.
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