HIV/AIDS Skepticism

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Something old, something new

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/01/04

Several of my books had gone out of print over the years, including my personal favorites: The Enigma of Loch Ness and To Rise Above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean. Now they have been re-issued by Wipf & Stock, with additional material in the Dean’s Memoirs.

The Enigma of Loch Ness is not an argument for or against the reality of Nessies. As the sub-title, Making Sense of a Mystery, suggests, the book addresses such questions as
“Why has science not taken an interest in this claim?”
“What’s different about looking for Nessies and doing science, say, searching for new species?”
In discussing what differentiates science from not-science, I introduce the concept that scientific activity has 3 aspects: facts, methods, and theories. Science progresses normally by not rocking the boat in any of those aspects. Occasional scientific revolutions see dramatic change in one of those aspects. When two are in question, the claim is likely to be ignored by the mainstream for quite a long time (Mendelian genetics, continental drift). Claims that are unorthodox in all 3 aspects tend to be shunned as pseudo-science.

To Rise Above Principle was published under a pen-name because I did not want my semi-imaginative scenarios and semi-invented characters to be identified with my institution or its people. A year later, when that danger no longer seemed pressing, I had the opportunity to reveal my identity at an annual meeting of the Council of Colleges of Arts & Sciences, and this new edition of the book contains the text of what I said on that occasion. Another new appendix has my introduction to a panel discussion of what a dean’s career involves, and a third appendix reproduces my change of mind on the matter of homosexuality, earlier published in a book review and posted on my website.

Both books received high critical praise when they were published. All but one review of the Nessie book noted that it was not an argument for or against and praised my evenhandedness despite my confessed personal view. The demurring review misled by implying that the book was an attempt to argue for the reality of Nessies; it had been written by someone who had earlier asked without success to be invited to give a seminar at my university — an illustration of the pitfalls of “peer” review [Peer review and consensus (Scientific literacy, lesson 2)].

:-)           I recommend both books wholeheartedly and unashamedly        :-)



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12 Responses to “Something old, something new”

  1. NameCensoredByHB said

    Henry, the reason no-one takes nessie seriously is cos it is (a) bonkers, (b) bonkers and (c) bonkers.
    More specifically, highly improbable to have such a wacko big wiggly worm creature, or to have it only existing in some cold isolated loch, and no one EVER having caught one (unlike all sorts of other creatures). Very obvious to have zero decent evidence of it (especially with youtube now) and for it to be a local marketing invention to attract people with more money than sense to come over from the McStates to boost the Lochal economy of Dumbo-dee. Apologies for any undue Greek in the above.

    • Henry Bauer said

      Dear Nameless (Name Censored):
      How do I say this politely?
      On this subject, you don’t know what you’re talking about. On at least one topic on which you’re fully informed, you are also fully aware that many people just parrot mainstream shibboleths without themselves having looked at data. Please don’t emulate them.

      1. Highly improbable isn’t impossible.
      2. No one since the early 1930s has suggested this is a single creature, nor that Ness is the only place where such creatures exist.
      3. The Dinsdale film of 1960 shows a large animal moving at considerable speed, at one stage submerging but continuing to throw up a massive wake as it moves along just below the surface. Nothing that size could get in or out of the Loch without being spotted. Ergo, that species lives in the Loch.

      More detail and links and articles on my website:

      • PigFlyingOverVirginiaRightNow said

        Hmm, you might be right about the situation as of up to five years ago. But now we have youtubes of just about everything interesting or utterly trivial. By now there should be loads of very clear vids of this/these creatures. Instead there aren’t any (except one joke one with very unpleasant ending). That leaves one with the highly incredible notion that this/these creatures survived for zillenia then just happened to die out in recent decades just in time to miss youtube.

        “1. Highly improbable isn’t impossible.”

        But a wise person doesn’t place any bets on it.

      • Henry Bauer said

        PigFlying…OneOfMany Names:
        While the Dinsdale film demonstrates that Nessies are real animals, there is no satisfactory hypothesis about WHAT they are. By appearance they are reptilian or mammalian, therefore should need to breathe air and be seen at the surface far more often than they are. There have been speculations that are not unreasonable — surfacing so surreptitiously as not to be noticed, for instance, just putting up “snorkels”, say, but nothing really convincing.
        Experience indicates that they are probably mainly bottom-living, for example, 1968 sonar by University of Nottingham engineers picked up several large, fast somethings coming up from the bottom and going back down.
        Sonars of several types deployed by many different groups have detected big moving objects on numerous occasions; but sonar cannot give precise sizes or shapes, so again all we know is that there are fast-moving somethings, larger than fish.
        As to bets, depends on how much you bet. For example, I don’t gamble at poker or the like, but I do buy lottery tickets: a very small chance of winning a worthwhile amount seems reasonable to me, whereas trying to beat the odds to multiply one’s stake by a small factor seems to me unreasonable.
        Re Nessie I’m happy to stick my neck out in face of much snickering, but of course I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

      • PigFlyingOverVirginiaRightNow said

        You haven’t responded to my key point about youtubes. I consider it the decisive proof of the whole matter. You seriously think that youtubers don’t go around loch ness of all youtubogenic places?

      • Henry Bauer said

        If you read my book, you’d learn that the locals are not particularly into Nessie-hunting; that despite the world-wide fame of Nessie, there are very few people who spend much time looking — take a few snaps and move on; and perhaps above all, that there are very few places around the Loch that afford both opportunity to park and also a good view of the water. For most of the main (A82) road, trees hide the water.

      • PigStillFlying said

        Hmm, your latest on Nessie sounds dangerously close to special pleading. A denialist of the possibility of there never having been anything there?

      • Henry Bauer said

        Not special pleading since it’s all descriptive factual.
        And I don’t deny the possibility, just that it happens not to be the case :-)

  2. emk said

    What I find interesting regarding the Nessie debate is how hard and fast people’s opposition is to the very idea of Nessie existing. It’s quite plausible that such a creature (or creatures) exists yet the adamant opposition. Most people are opposed to their own concept of Nessie. They construct a particular idea of what Nessie is then argue against that. As you point out, Prof Bauer, all we can say or have evidence for is that there is some kind of large strange creature that has been observed in the Loch.

    So here is my concept of Nessie:
    A large creature that lives in the depths of the the world’s oceans and returns to particular inlets/lochs etc. every 30 years to reproduce/mate/lay eggs/give birth. Its young then live at the bottom of the loch for a number of years before leaving to wander the depths of the world’s oceans and repeat the cycle decades later.

    I think that should explain most of the objections to Nessie ;)


    • PigFlyingOverLoch said

      Emk, the loch is connected to the sea only by the Ness river which flows through the large town/city of Inverness. I’ve never seen that river but the fact they had to build a parallel canal testifies that it’s a pretty shallow thing and with a lot of human attention thereabouts. The idea that large creatures would go through there (even on an occasional basis) without ever getting seen or caught is highly improbable. As is the notion that these things would also be around in the wider ocean, somehow always (throughout history) evading the huge fishing industry. And sure, “improbable does not mean impossible”, but it is nevertheless not a sensible basis on which to build one’s beliefs of what is most probable.

      • Henry Bauer said

        You’re largely correct. Fishermen wade right across the Ness all the time, it’s quite shallow.
        Re improbable: The task is to explain away the Dinsdale film as anything but a large animal. Failing an explaining-away, the task is to explain the existence of that creature. A single survivor from whenever seems the most IMprobable. A viable colony in only one place on the globe seems rather improbable. Fresh-water-adapted critters that used to frequent the place when it was an arm of the sea—for some unknown period of time after the last ice age—seems less improbable. If they adapted to fresh water and survive in Loch Ness, surely they also do so in the oceans.
        We cryptozoology fans point to the coelacanth: supposed extinct for much longer than plesiosaurs, yet discovered by chance in the late 1930s—discovered by Western scientists, that is, because the local natives were familiar with them despite their normal habitat being a restricted area around the Comores at depths of many hundreds of feet. And after scientific study of them had been going on for decades, lo and behold, they turn up also in Indonesian waters.
        There are more things in heaven and earth…. but especially in the oceans

      • PigFlyingOverLoch said

        My thoughts on the Dinsdale film. It dates from a time when filming was very expensive and cumbersome, not something that non-professionals could be doing like nowadays, or that you just switch on as convenient. Filmers’ account: They got the hotel to agree to send out the boat for a comparison view. My translation: The hotel was only too keen to assist further in that revenue-generating scam which they were sponsoring all along.
        At the time of that film, not only did submarine technology exist, but whole fleets of sophisticated submarine warfare had been in use for yonks. The “creature” in the film could easily have been some crude small submarine device specially made and sent out specially to be filmed.

        The fact that there’s been no youtubes at all in a decade speaks for me far louder than the Dinsdale film notwithstanding your points about the trees blocking the view from the A82. As in most conveniently amazing fluke that they “just happened” to have that filming equipment there and set up ready to run at the right terribly rare moment that the thing “just happened” to be swimming over there. I rest my case. Oops it’s just been pulled a thousand feet down into the loch (by gravity I can only suppose).
        (I would link to the nessie joke video here except it does end far too revoltingly for my taste!)

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