Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Posts Tagged ‘Loch Ness Monster’

The Loch Ness “Monster”: Its real and important significance

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/29

Because of my writings about Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster [1], I am periodically approached by various media. Last year I had published [2] the suggestion that the Loch Ness creatures are more plausibly related to sea turtles than to the commonly popular notion of plesiosaurs.

A Scottish journalist came across that article, and for one day something about it and me was featured in every yellow-press newspaper in Britain, and several broadcast media asked for interviews.

The episode reminded me of some of the things that are so wrong with modern mass media.

Their overriding concern is simply to attract an audience. There is no intention of offering that audience any genuinely insightful analysis or context or background information. Media attention span approximates that of Twittering. One television network asked for an instant interview, wanted the best phone-contact number, even offered me compensation — and then never followed up.

I did talk to one Russian and one Spanish station or network, and I tried to point to what the real significance is of the Loch Ness animals, namely, that their existence has been denied by official scientific sources for not much less than a century, demonstrating that official science can be wrong, quite wrong; and while that matters little if at all about Loch Ness, I said, it does matter greatly when official science is wrong about such matters of public importance as HIV/AIDS  or climate change,  about which official science does in fact happen to be wrong [3].

So far, however, my bait about those important matters has not been snapped up.

Misunderstandings about science are globally pervasive, especially not realizing that it is fallible. The consequent unwarranted acceptance of wrong beliefs about HIV and about carbon dioxide demonstrate the need for some institution independent of official science, independent of existing scientific organizations and institutions, to provide fact-checking of contemporary scientific consensuses, an impartial, unbiased, strictly evidence-based assessments of official science. In other words, society sorely needs a Science Court [4].

Misconceptions about science can already be seen as a significant reason for flaws in the announced policies of the new Biden administration, as it places high priority on “combating climate change” and engaging in a “moon shot” to cure cancer: having not learned any lessons from the failure of the war on cancer, or from the fact, obvious in great swaths of the geological literature, that carbon dioxide is demonstrably not the prime cause of global warming since there is no correlation between global temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere [5], neither over the whole life of the Earth nor over the last couple of centuries.

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[1]    The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press, 1986/88; Wipf & Stock reprint, 2012
GENUINE  FACTS about “NESSIE”, THE LOCH NESS “MONSTER”
[2]    “Loch Ness Monsters as Cryptid (Presently Unknown) Sea Turtles”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 34 (2020) 93-104
[3]    Dogmatism  in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth, McFarland, 2012
The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007
[4]    Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed (McFarland 2017), chapter 12
“The Case for a Science Court”
Science Court: Why and What
[5]    “A politically liberal global-warming skeptic?”
”Climate-change facts: Temperature is not determined by carbon dioxide”

Posted in consensus, fraud in medicine, fraud in science, global warming, media flaws, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture, unwarranted dogmatism in science | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

From uncritical about science to skeptical about science: 4

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/05

Learning about science from beyond the pale

Synopsis for this series of posts:

From post #1:
“Could my opinion be erroneous about a decline in the trustworthiness of science?
If not, why is it that what seems so obvious to me has not been noticed, has been overlooked by the overwhelming majority of practicing researchers, by pundits and by scholars of scientific activity and by science writers and journalists?
That conundrum had me retracing the evolution of my views about science, from my early infatuation with it to my current disillusionment.”

My interest in the Loch Ness Monster led indirectly to learning about other topics that science similarly ignores, dismisses, or denigrates, often by calling them pseudoscience (UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.). Trying to understand how studying such matters differs from doing science automatically meant trying to understand what makes science special; so by learning about pseudo-science one learns as well about science itself. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “And what should they know of England who only England know?” (from poem, The English Flag).

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Continuing the narrative:

 Fortuitously for me, several things happened at about the same time in the mid-1970s: There was a shortage of potential graduate students, because the job market for PhDs had collapsed. My large 5-year grant came to an end, and new grant funds were more and more difficult to come by. There was a widespread infatuation, including at NSF, with the supposed value of interdisciplinary work, and my university was urging faculty to develop interdisciplinary projects as a way of attracting grant money. And some tangible evidence that the Loch Ness Monster is a real animal had been widely publicized: Underwater photographs of large flipper- or paddle-like objects apparently appendages on an indistinct large shape [1].

So I recruited an eminently interdisciplinary team of faculty members — a journalism professor, an historian of science, a philosopher of science, a sociologist — to study how scientific understanding or belief changes as evidence accumulates: Science had long been fairly sure that reports of the Loch Ness Monster were baseless; now that substantive evidence was accumulating, how would the scientific community accommodate it?

Our proposal to NSF was unsuccessful, but one of the reviewers’ comments set me off in a new direction. If we wanted to study how science treats unorthodox claims, a reviewer suggested, why not look into the Velikovsky Affair?

I had never heard of that, and obviously I should have; so I did look into it, and found it very interesting indeed. The psychoanalyst Immanuel Velikovsky had published a popular best seller, Worlds in Collision [2], in which he inferred from legends and myths about heavenly happenings that Jupiter had ejected a comet-like object that had come close to several other planets, producing on Earth effects that included such events reported in the Bible as the parting of the Red Sea and the collapse of the walls of Jericho.

Several things struck me about the Velikovsky Affair.

—> Many a people had found Velikovsky’s scenario plausible or even convincing.
—> That included some quite accomplished historians and social scientists, who had ventured strong criticisms of the scientists who had unceremoniously dismissed Velikovsky’s scenario as utter nonsense.
—> Scientists had indeed been arrogantly dogmatic, making the declaration of nonsense without attempting to address the substantive details in Velikovsky’s book, indeed famously saying that they had not bothered to or needed to read the book. They had behaved unscientifically, in other words.
—> I was struck particularly that everyone was quite wrong in several respects about the nature of science — not only media pundits and humanists but also scientists, including social scientists.

So I resolved to write a book, to be titled Velikovsky and the Loch Ness Monster, setting out the realities about science and illustrated by one example of science getting it right about an unorthodox claim (the Velikovsky Affair) and an example of science getting it wrong (the Loch Ness monster). Altogether, I had found all this so interesting, and the prospects for well-funded scientific research so gloomy, that I decided to make a permanent change of academic career, from chemistry to something like history or philosophy or sociology of science.

It was a very good time for such a move. Historians and philosophers and sociologists of science were teaching interdisciplinary courses together, sometimes establishing joint Centers or Departments, together with some political scientists, engineers, and scientists interested in science policy. The intellectual Zeitgeist was presaging an integration of disciplines that is now the actuality usually named Science & Technology Studies or Science, Technology & Society (the acronym STS works for both; earlier incarnations included “Science Studies”, “Science and Society”, and the like).

These developments in the scholarly world were another sign that the role of science in the wider society was undergoing significant changes following World War II. the Vannevar Bush Report to the President had resulted in dramatic increases in funding of research. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had been founded in 1945 by some of those who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were very conscious that policy makers needed information and insights from the technical community for sound planning.

 To make my intended change of academic field possible, I needed time to learn at least the basics of the history and philosophy of science. But as member of a Chemistry Department, it was my obligation to garner grants and support and mentor graduate students, too time-consuming to allow for much new learning and thinking. So I applied for administrative jobs, which would be undemanding intellectually and leave ample time for reading and learning subjects new to me. After a couple of dozen failed applications, I lucked into what turned out to be perfect for me: Dean of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI&SU, formerly VPI, but now everywhere known as “Virginia Tech”).

It was easy for me to gather an informal group of people interested in interdisciplinary projects and coursework combining Humanities and Social Sciences with Engineering and Physical and Biological Sciences. The agriculture, engineering, and science departments at Virginia Tech were long-established, with strong research components; and several of the faculty in History and Philosophy in particular had already been teaching some interdisciplinary courses with faculty from technical fields.

Soon we created a Center for the Study of Science in Society (A few years later came interdisciplinary degrees, initially undergraduate but soon graduate as well. More recently the Center was replaced by a full-fledged Department of Science, Technology, and Society.

I learned a great deal about science from the discussions leading to the establishment of that Center, but my belief in the trustworthiness of science, or at least the fundamental potential trustworthiness of science, was not at all shaken. Indeed it may have been enhanced by learning how uncertain, by comparison, is the knowledge commanded by social science [3]. I also learned a great deal about differences between the various subjects professed in a College of Arts and Sciences [4]. But first I want to concentrate on what I learned about science — what can in general be learned about science by looking into matters like the Velikovsky Affair.

My planned volume of Velikovsky and the Loch Ness Monster proved far too ambitious, and eventually emerged as two separate books[5, 6]. I was again extraordinarily fortunate that the Velikovsky manuscript had been sent by the publisher for review by Marcello Truzzi, a sociologist of science long interested in scientific unorthodoxies.

 After World War II, there had come much public interest in topics like Velikovsky — the Yeti of the Himalayas, UFOs (unidentified flying objects, at first “flying saucers”), psychic phenomena, and more [7]. On all of those topics of great public interest but ignored or dismissed or denigrated by authoritative science, there were some quite well-established scientists, engineers, and other scholars who believed that there was sufficient substantive evidence, enough sheer facts, to warrant proper scientific investigation. A group of these mavericks was in the process of founding a Society for Scientific Exploration to exchange experiences and learn from one another. Because Truzzi had read my Velikovsky manuscript, I was invited to join in founding that Society .

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[1]    Reprinted in many places, for example “The Case for the Loch Ness Monster: The Scientific Evidence”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16(2002) 225-246
[2]    Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, Macmillan 1950
[3]    P. 128 ff. in Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, University of Illinois Press, 1992 ; pp. 151-5 in Science Is Not What You Think: How It Has Changed, Why We Can’t Trust It, How It Can Be Fixed, McFarland 2017
[4]    To Rise above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean (under the pen-name ‘Josef Martin’), Wipf & Stock, 2012 (1st ed. was University of Illinois Press, 1988)
[5]    Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy, University of Illinois Press 1984
[6]    The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, University of Illinois Press 1986 [7]    The Literature of Fringe Science, Skeptical Inquirer, 11 (#2, Winter 1986-87) 205-10

Posted in funding research, politics and science, resistance to discovery, science is not truth, science policy, scientific culture | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

From uncritical about science to skeptical about science: 2

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2021/01/02

How nice it is when Science is well funded

I was fortunate enough to experience two years (1956-58) of postdoctoral research in the United States, at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), with a wonderful mentor in Philip J. Elving.

At once I was impressed with the clear benefits to science from being amply funded. In Australia, research was done with what might be called a frugal adequacy of resources, whereas by the 1950s in the United States there was an intoxicating sense of affluence in the scientific research community: The National Science Foundation had been established in 1950, and the budget of the National Institutes of Health was increasing dramatically, following recommendations in Vannevar Bush’s Report to the President.

The differences at that time between the Australian environment and the American one gave me a glimpse of how the circumstances of science changed following World War II. After some wonderfully heady years of research support just waiting to be asked for, coming to everyone who asked, demand soon grew faster than supply, bringing eventually the present-day hot-house, cutthroat environment of incessant unbridled competition.

In Ann Arbor I appreciated also the change from a geographical backwater, as Australia then was. Supplies and equipment and library resources were all available without stint in Ann Arbor, or would arrive in short order if not already at hand. By contrast, in those years, journals and equipment reached Australia only by ship, in journeys taking a matter of months.

A few things however, pointed to some dark lining on the silver clouds of money, though their significance becomes obvious only in retrospect. They stuck in my memory because strange enough, different from my previous experience and expectations; but they were irrelevant at that time to my own doings and ambitions.

One strange thing concerned careers in research. I was taken aback when a doctoral student told me, in around 1957, that he intended to seek a job in industry in order to avoid the rat-race of academe. This was the very opposite of the view in my cohort of Australian students: for us, industry was the rat-race, whereas scientific research in academe seemed like an unhurried way to earn a living while doing something interesting and useful.

A second thing new to me occurred in a meeting of a research group that I was able to participate in. The discussion was about drafting a request for renewal of a research grant, and I was surprised when the group’s leader emphasized, more than once, that everything should be kept completely confidential so that rival competing research groups could not hear of it.

Only in recalling those times now do I recognize another indication of the way in which the force-feeding of scientific research had begun to alter judgments of value. The prestige of faculty members in Ann Arbor was closely tied to their productivity in research. Those who were not active in gathering grant funds were tolerated rather than appreciated, and they had few if any graduate students to mentor. A department chairman at the time, who had little if any research in his own background, was tolerated perhaps a bit more gratefully for doing the unpleasant administrative work that allowed others time for research.

Again it is only in retrospect that I can appreciate the significance of Department Chair by contrast to Department Head. It was then still the traditional practice in Australia for every academic Department to be governed autocratically by the only faculty member with the title of (Full) Professor. Consequences flowed from the fact that these appointments remained effective until retirement; there was no formal mechanism for replacing an unsatisfactory Department Head.

That there came universally, at least in the English-speaking world, a change from permanent Department Heads to Chairmanships with limited terms may be related to much wider changes, outside as well as inside academe. There has been a progressive disinclination to rely on individuals to make judgments and exert authority. Instead, there are supposedly objective protocols for decision-making, or at least “democratic” and thereby supposedly “fairer” ones. So in academe, initially in the sciences but by now everywhere, judgments are based on numbers rather than on qualitative assessments made by informed individuals. As to research, numbers of publications, of citations, of amounts of research funds awarded; as to teaching, numbers averaged from anonymous student responses.

After my postdoctoral stint, not much happened to change my views about science for half-a-dozen years or so, as I enjoyed the seeming fulfillment of my ambition. I returned to Australia in 1958 as a lecturer (= assistant professor, but already with tenure) in the Department headed by my PhD mentor, Bruno Breyer [1]. He had invented a novel technique in analytical chemistry [2], and there were unlimited numbers of things to try. Together with a few graduate students we were exploring the frontiers of science (or at least of aspects of electrochemistry), publishing quite prolifically, and I was teaching chemistry — giving a few lectures a week as well as supervising laboratory sessions.

It was my recreational reading that planted seeds of doubt, at the time unrecognized, about science as the ultimate resource for knowledge about the world.

I was a voracious reader, and had picked up at the library quite by chance a book titled Loch Ness Monster [3]. Of course I knew, as everyone did, that this was a hoax or a tourist trap; but riffling through the pages I saw photographs claimed to be from a 16 mm film taken by the book’s author. So I read the book and was intrigued by the possibility that what was universally dismissed as mistaken or fakery might in fact be a real animal as yet identified. Trying to learn more, I could find very little: mere paragraphs in encyclopedias, absolutely nothing in the scientific literature, just two books for a general audience. Why, I wondered, had science not investigated something of such wide public interest, even as a book [4] had been written by Rupert Gould, a respected commentator on the BBC and author of the recognized authoritative work on the marine chronometer [5], and a more recent book [6] had been published by a doctor living near Loch Ness.

So I experienced surprise and dissatisfaction over a surprising gap in scientific knowledge; but trust in what science does know remained intact.

About how drastically science was changing, in post-World-War-II growth and affluence, I began to learn only after moving from Australia to the USA. Breyer had retired, his replacement was intolerable, and I could find no suitable job in Australia. With tangible support from Elving in Ann Arbor, I was able to continue my career in chemistry at the University of Kentucky, beginning in 1966.

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[1] “Bruno Breyer 1900-1967”, Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, 21 (1969) 1-3
[2] B. Breyer & H. H. Bauer, Alternating Current Polarography and Tensammetry, vol. 13
of Chemical Analysis, ed. P. J. Elving & I. M. Kolthoff, Interscience, 1963
[3] Tim Dinsdale, Loch Ness Monster, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961
(many later editions, 4th in 1982)
[4] Rupert T. Gould, The Loch Ness Monster and Others, Geoffrey Bles, 1934;
University Books, 1969
[5] Rupert T. Gould, The Marine Chronometer: Its History and Development,
J. D. Potter, 1923
[6] Constance Whyte, More Than a Legend, Hamish Hamilton, 1957; rev. ed. 1961

Posted in funding research, scientific culture | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Loch Ness Monsters

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/03/13

A book about “the Loch Ness Monster” by a man (Tim Dinsdale) who had filmed the back of a large creature swimming in Loch Ness had aroused my interest in 1961: Could the Loch Ness Monster be a real animal after all?

I was disappointed that I could find no authoritative discussion of the possibility in the popular or scientific literature. Encyclopedias had no more than a paragraph or two. On the other hand, Dinsdale’s book cited several earlier works, by Rupert Gould and by Constance Whyte, both of whom had quite impressive credentials. Why would science have nothing to say about a topic of such wide public interest?

That curiosity led me eventually to change my academic field from chemistry to science studies, with interest especially in scientific unorthodoxies. But I’ve kept my interest in Loch Ness, which remains an unexplained mystery. I’ve detailed elsewhere what my “belief” about Nessies actually is (Henry Bauer and the Loch Ness monsters).

Some of the most objective and compelling evidence for the existence of these creatures comes from sonar (“The Case for the Loch Ness Monster: The Scientific Evidence”Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16(2): 225–246 [2002]) and a few underwater photos taken simultaneously with sonar echoes, but such technical stuff is less subjectively convincing than “seeing with one’s own eyes”. For the latter, there is no substitute for the film taken by Tim Dinsdale in 1960. Recently Tim’s son Angus published a book, The Man Who Filmed Ness: Tim Dinsdale and the Enigma of Loch Ness, whose website  contains a link  that enables anyone to see the film itself on-line. Grainy as the film is, small as the Nessie’s back may seem at the range of a mile, you need to know only one thing to judge its significance:

The most determined debunkers, of whom there have been quite a few, have been able to suggest only one alternative explanation to this being a film of a large unidentified creature, of a species far larger than anything know to be in Loch Ness: That what seems to be a black hump, curved in cross-section and length, which submerges but continues to throw up a massive wake, is actually a boat with an outboard motor. Several magnified and computer-enhanced frames of the massive wake on my website show quite clearly that nothing material is visible above the wake after the hump has submerged.

If the most dedicated “skeptics” can offer no better explanation than this, then I feel justified in believing that Dinsdale filmed a genuine Nessie.
It reminds me of the Christian apologist, I think probably G. K. Chesterton or Malcolm Muggeridge, who remarked that the best argument for the truth of Christianity is the attempts by disbelievers to discredit it.
If there is one thing that the hump filmed by Dinsdale is certainly NOT, it’s a boat with an outboard motor.

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