Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stop the Science! It's Bad for Business!

Known hoaxer George Edwards apparently believes so.  Edwards is the long time owner and operator of Loch Ness Cruises, and skipper of the tourist boat Nessie Hunter.  He is also infamous for having made a side career out of faking photographic evidence to sell to gullible tourists, and inventing the non-existent geological feature Edwards Deep, named all too aptly after himself.

Edwards latest hoax was a photo he released in August of 2012 (see the uncropped version below) purporting to be a genuine photo of Nessie's hump in Urquhart Bay taken by himself in November 2011.  Full-time Loch Ness researcher Steve Feltham immediately recognized the object as the fiberglass model used in "The Truth Behind the Loch Ness Monster", filmed at Loch Ness in early 2011.  But Edwards' press releases were already out and the fake picture was lamentably splashed all over the news for some time.  Subsequently Dick Raynor did a full analysis on the photo, proving it was taken on a different date and at a different distance than the Edwards story claimed, and that it measures the same size as the fiberglass model.

But what's the real harm?  After all, a single tour guide selling fake postcard photos and misquoting the depth of the Loch isn't the worst thing in the world, now is it?  Especially when he's already recognized as a faker.  Surely Science can withstand a tiny bit of blurring between the lines of reality and entertainment.  Edwards has to eat like anyone else.  Or as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson once wrote of a gentle old poacher in one of his songs, "Who am I to fast deny the right to take a fish once in awhile?"  That sentiment is a healthy one (and all the more magnanimous in this case because Anderson actually was a salmon farmer).

The trouble is, it doesn't end there.

On May 30th of this year, Mr. Edwards had the temerity to file a letter of complaint with the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce, particularly attacking the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, Adrian Shine, and "his cronies", the latter of which appears to be in reference to Tony Harmsworth, but by inference includes all objective researchers such as Feltham and Raynor.  Edwards gets personal in a rather unsavory way.  But besides all that, the premise of his complaint is that science has damaged the Loch Ness tourist industry.  Perhaps he wants the Chamber to put a stop to research?  Accept hoaxes as good for the tourist industry?  Give them what they "want" and send them away happy?  Oh my.

But wait, it gets worse.

It response to Edwards, and in his capacity as Editor for the Drumnadrochit and Glen Urquhart Local Information and Trades Website newsletter, Tony Harmsworth wrote a rebutting editorial to the Edwards letter.  Harmsworth deftly answers all of Edwards concerns, including those regarding the health of the tourist industry, even compliments Edwards for his skills as a tour guide, but then quite rightly takes Edwards to task for his fakes and hoaxes and the disservice they do to the tourist industry, the public at large, and the reputation of the local population.  It's an outstanding bit of writing, and I highly recommend reading it.  The trouble is, you won't find it in the paper.  Because the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce decided to side with Edwards, censure Harmsworth's editorial and force its removal from the newsletter, instead running a spot about a business award Edwards had just received.  Oh, the irony!

Subsequent to all of which, Tony Harmsworth understandably resigned his position as Editor.  A pretty unthinkable chain of events, but here we are.  Shame on George Edwards for his hoaxes, but even more shame on the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce for virtually endorsing them!

Is it any wonder it's so difficult to get research funding for work at Loch Ness when even the Chamber of Commerce perpetuates the appearance it's all a sham to bring in tourist money?

I highly recommend reading Tony Harmsworth's suppressed editorial.  He makes all the points about this far more eloquently than I could.  It, along with the Edwards letter that prompted it, are both available here at Dick Raynor's Loch Ness Investigation website.  Scroll all the way to the bottom for the letters, but by all means enjoy the entire article, and Dick's fine detective work in debunking some of Edwards hoaxes.

And while you're there, I'd also recommend Dick's new article, an in depth analysis of the sonar chart obtained by the Robert Rines 1972 expedition on the night the infamous flipper photos were taken.  Dick has a great knack for explaining the ins and outs of sonar interpretation in a way anyone can readily grasp.


  1. Very good piece. I'm going to share. Paranormal tourism is quite interesting to me. It harms the image of science. I'm one that happens to think legend and folklore are GREAT but don't make it out to be actual science.

  2. I would only add that readers should check out I Doubt It's own blog, http://doubtfulnews.com/, for some quite excellent reading on this and related subjects.

  3. Love this blog. Hope we'll get more updates soon-really want to hear the take on land sightings and maybe some commentary on Jeremy Wade's theory on Nessie being a Greenland shark.

    1. Thank you - I do hope to have more content up soon, specifically that Part 3 of the morphology article dealing with land sightings.

      Yes, what to make of Jeremy Wade. I must admit I laughed out loud when learning he'd been to Loch Ness, taken one look at the place, and decided to go to Greenland to look for the "Loch Ness" monster. Most people seem to seriously underestimate the volume and complexity of Loch Ness until they get there.

      The Greenland shark is at best a problematic candidate for Nessie. Adults would be too large to traverse the River Ness and get through Inverness and the weir unnoticed. I haven't spotted any account of juveniles ever entering fresh water, much less staying until adulthood. There's a host of other problems as well. Greenland sharks are easily baited with fresh meat -- would that Nessie were so easy to draw out, or we'd already have a type specimen. They also seem curiously attracted to engine noise, whereas Nessie is famous for fleeing at almost any sound. And lastly, the Greenland shark is one of the slowest moving fish in the sea, with only a maximum speed of 1.6 mph! Whatever Nessie may be, we know it's a lot quicker than that. Loch Ness has logs quicker than that :)

    2. I actually believe Greenland sharks are attracted to rotten meat. Rotten meat makes sense considering some people believe they may be carrion feeders considering their low speed and some of the animals that have been found in their stomach contents, including deer and moose. That was a great read by the way!

  4. So glad to hear you're still at this!

    That's a good critique of Wade's theory, though I do have to say that he at least seemed to take the subject (and that of "monsters" in particular) much more seriously than other researchers/tv show hosts. One thing I'd also like to hear your opinion down the road is how Nessie fits in with other lake monsters. Others in Scotland (Morag, etc.) could well be the same species, but others are notably different. What's most striking to me is that as a plesiosaur like animal seems less and less a good candidate for Nessie, a similarly designed animal at least still seems to provide a reasonable morphology for the lake Champlain creature on the other side of the Atlantic. Just some thoughts and again, so looking forward to your work here continuing.