Henry Bauer and the Loch Ness monsters
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/02/16
One of the burdens that AIDS Rethinkers and HIV Skeptics impose on one another is that the HIV/AIDS groupies and vigilantes seize every possible opportunity to assert “guilt by association”. I’ve felt apologetic for some time that my fellow Rethinkers and Skeptics have been tarred by the brush of being associated with Henry Bauer, who is a believer in Loch Ness monsters (“Nessies”). Most recently, Seth Kalichman and Richard Wilson have been trying to make hay from this association, so I thought it might be useful if I made a plain statement about the matter — useful, that is to say, for anyone who is interested in actual facts.
But first, some comments on what the real issues are here.
1. Guilt by association is understood by all thinking people to be invalid, whether it’s being held accountable for someone else’s views or actions (e.g., House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthyism) or whether it asserts that a person who is wrong about one issue is therefore wrong about all other issues — e.g., because Isaac Newton spent most of his time and intellectual energy delving into alchemy and Biblical exegesis, therefore his views on calculus and celestial mechanics are not worthy of consideration.
2. People who seek to counter what I’ve written about HIV/AIDS by pointing out that I’ve written about the Loch Ness mystery reveal thereby their inability to counter the arguments I’ve made about HIV/AIDS. It’s rather like the response that HIV/AIDS defenders always give when they’re asked to cite specific data that prove HIV to be the cause of AIDS: they never give a direct reply, it’s always about “overwhelming evidence”, “virtually unanimous consensus”, “hundreds of thousands of papers over 25 years” — when the argument would be cut short decisively in their favor if only they could cite such specific data. Similarly, if the groupies and vigilantes had conclusive answers to the data and inferences presented in my book, they could just give those answers, and then they wouldn’t have had to spend the considerable effort that they’ve evidently devoted to reading my writings on so many other matters, not only about Loch Ness but even my memoir of academic administration.
The following isn’t directed at those whose interest it is to assassinate characters because they can’t answer my substantive arguments, and it isn’t for those who pull things out of context to serve as innuendos; it is for my fellow Rethinkers and Skeptics who may have felt embarrassed by my Loch Ness connection and who have at times defended me from those sorts of attacks in the many Internet venues that I personally eschew, in which guilt by association, character assassination, bleep-worthy invective, and the like, are standard fare.
A direct question:
Do I believe in the existence of Loch Ness monsters?
A direct answer:
Yes and No 😉
It depends on what the meaning of “believe” is 😉
Flippancy aside: When we say in conversation, “I believe Loch Ness monsters are real animals”, or “I believe the President’s economic stimulus package is the best thing to do”, we’re expressing a strong opinion that’s not the same as saying, “I’m 100% certain that Loch Ness monsters are real animals and that the President’s economic stimulus package is the best thing to do”.
I believe that the balance of the available evidence is that unidentified animals disport themselves deep under the waters of Loch Ness, but I’m not 100% certain — I wouldn’t bet on it anything that’s important to me.
If you’re interested in what the significant evidence is, read my essay, “The case for the Loch Ness Monster: The scientific evidence”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16(2): 225-46 (2002).
My book about the matter, The Enigma of Loch Ness: Making Sense of a Mystery, doesn’t make the case for the existence of Nessies, it is the second of my books to explore the differences between knowledge-seeking within and without the formal scientific community. Though it’s a scholarly monograph published by a university press rather than a popular work, its sales have exceeded 4500 copies plus some unknown number in a British edition and as a “book on tape”. I was delighted by some two dozen reviews of the book (all are listed at my website), overwhelmingly favorable, for example:
“We need more books of this type. Although Bauer personally says that he thinks the creatures do exist in Loch Ness, he is careful not to push his views, or to turn this book into a plea for Nessie. It remains a cautious examination about what is known, what is believed, why it is believed or not believed. The reader is left to make his or her own conclusion, or to make none at all. . . . Rationalists will be pleased” (Gordon Stein, American Rationalist).
I would no more disown my associations with Loch Ness than Barack Obama would disown his associations with a man who was the preacher at his church for many years. There’s a bit more to me than my associations with Loch Ness, but I have no reason to be ashamed of those associations. Indeed, attempting to satisfy my curiosity about the possible existence of Nessies led to all sorts of good things for me, both personally and professionally.
I was first at Loch Ness during a honeymoon in 1958. I didn’t then take Nessies seriously, made no effort to ask about them, and didn’t buy the recently published book by Constance Whyte, “More than a Legend”. A few years later, I came across Tim Dinsdale’s 1961 book while browsing in the local library. Still photographs in it that were claimed to come from a moving film intrigued me, and I wanted to learn more. During a sabbatical leave in Britain in 1972-73, we encountered Dinsdale, and I arranged lecture tours for him in 1975 in Kentucky and 1979 in Virginia. Whenever there was the opportunity to visit Britain, I would try to include Loch Ness. I took a mini-sabbatical there in 1985, during which time I wrote my memoir about academic administration and made a number of friends. I spent a second honeymoon actually at Loch Ness, and my wife and I took summer vacations there for about 20 years, forming some close and valued friendships and delighting in the scenery across the Highlands; there cannot be many trails or by-ways that we haven’t traversed more than once, and I became quite adept at the maneuverings and the courtesies appropriate to single-track roads with infrequent “passing places”, often unpaved or with only two tire-width strips of asphalt.
So Loch Ness brought me quite powerful and altogether positive personal experiences. The mystery of the possible existence of Nessies brought me stimulating and rewarding intellectual experiences. My first question, naturally, had been, “Could these things really exist?” The second question came from looking in encyclopedias and journals for relevant information, leading me to ask myself, “Why can’t I find an authoritative scientific resource about this?” That led me to explore that question with historians, journalists, and others, and to a recognition that scientific activity is a far more complicated matter than “applying the scientific method”. And that led to my change of academic career from chemistry to science studies, with an interlude in academic administration that was also very instructive about the intellectual differences among academic specialties.
That background of learning about how science works, and about the role of unorthodox views in the progress of science, prepared and enabled me to look for the “beef” in HIV/AIDS theory after I had become aware that some people questioned the mainstream view. What I had learned about the history of science allowed me to contemplate the possibility that a firmly held consensus might be wrong, a realization shared by all too few people outside the academic fields of history of science and science studies or the like.
So there you have it. I “believe” (estimated probability ≥0.9) that Nessies exist, and I believe quite firmly (probability ≥0.999) that studying controversies over such matters can be intellectually rewarding. In the words of the motto adopted by the student newspaper at my alma mater:
Honi soit qui mal y pense