Monday, March 10, 2014

An Niseag vs. Nessie - Folklore vs. Science

Some time back I had the pleasure of reading Roland Watson's blog article, The Folklore of An Niseag, which proved to be a highly refreshing read.  Of course if you're here reading this, you've probably seen it already!  But if not, I highly recommend it.  This is like getting a bonus chapter to his excellent book, The Water Horses Of Loch Ness.

More importantly for me, it replenishes my ammunition.  When I run across fluff news pieces related to Nessie online, I cannot seem to ignore blanket statements such as:

"In fact, there are no reports of the beast until less than a century ago."

That's a direct quote from a piece by author Benjamin Radford, ironically entitled "Facts About Nessie", written for & located here (click for article).  It's also dead wrong, and I would cite Watson's book and his aforementioned blog article as the best places to go for proof of that.

Unfortunately the debate I had with Radford back then (posted in the comments following his article) went nowhere, as he refused to step outside his circular logic:  sighting reports cannot exist before 1933 because "Nessie" hadn't been reported by the press yet; therefore alleged sightings prior to 1933 can't be called "Nessie sightings".  They must be called kelpie or water horse legends, and as generalized legends they cannot be counted as "reported sightings".  And why again?  Well, because they are pre-1933 of course!

Now, I agree legends don't count as eyewitness reports.  We mean something quite specific by the word "report".  There are, as Watson's new article describes much better than I ever could, traditional and modern branches to what's perceived to be part of the Loch Ness Monster story.  Whether a particular account belongs to traditional folklore, or belongs in the record of reported sightings, that's something that must be evaluated on an individual basis.  Some accounts will always fall in the grey area, and we'll never have enough data to safely class them one way or another.  Those cannot be considered as witness testimony per se.  Others will be no brainers:  I think we can all agree on which branch to place talking mermaids (legend), as opposed to where we'd put a Greta Finlay account (sighting report).  But one thing we can not do is classify our data on a randomly chosen line in the sand, such as the year 1933, because the press says so, and pretend that's scientifically objective.

Now the funny thing is I gave Benjamin Radford concrete examples of 19th century sightings with names, dates, publications and the emphasis on these being described as animals.  Who would call the Alexander MacDonald or Duncan MacDonald sightings too folkloric?  (Alexander called what he saw a "great salamander" paddling towards him with definite front limbs.  Duncan was the diver to have the first underwater encounter, and described a huge animal with a frog-like head.)  They described the animals they encountered as animals, with some specific morphological traits, and long before 1933.  And those aren't the only examples.  Alas, Radford deemed these generalized Water Horse legends, and therefore inadmissible, because the animals described didn't sound "Nessie" enough!!!  Somewhere I must have missed the chapter on traditional Water Horses being described anything like big but recognizable amphibians.

Gosh darn it.  You just can't beat circular logic.