The Loch Ness Monster is in a time of need, and no, before you ask, that need is not “about treefiddy”. What is needed is defence from those of you who continually claim the Nessie story is a hoax. You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means. Let me explain…
The recent DNA survey of Loch Ness, which eliminated most zoological explanations for the mythical monster,[i] seems to have left blood in the water. Scenting this many, including no less a figure than the equally legendary Sir David Attenborough,[ii] have dismissed the Nessie story as nothing more than a hoax. This, however, seems to me to be a somewhat simplistic dismissal of a complex cultural phenomenon some ninety-years in the making. So it is that I find myself in the somewhat surprising situation of having to write in defence of the Loch Ness Monster.
Before I continue I should confirm that I agree with Carl Sagan that, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Currently such evidence as there is for Nessie consists of a large number of anecdotal accounts and a small collection of somewhat ambiguous photos, films/videos and sonar readings.[iii] Even a cursory perusal of The Grid of Reasonableness (patent pending), therefore, indicates that it is simply unreasonable to accept the claim of a monster in Loch Ness without significant further evidence, and that such evidence preferably be material.
Hoax, is not however the opposite of monster, and to claim it is would be engaging in a false dichotomy. What, in actuality, a hoax at its core is, at least according to Curator of the Museum of Hoaxes Alex Boese,[iv] is an act of deception. The claim that, “the Nessie story is a hoax,” is therefore one that needs to be supported with evidence that it is an act of deception. Thus, while it is of course entirely possible that the witnesses behind that body of anecdotal evidence are engaged in such an act, the evidence to prove that this is the case is significantly lacking.
This is not to say that Loch has not become a breeding ground for hoaxes, because, perhaps inevitably, it has. Most prominent of these is, of course, the so-called Surgeon’s Photo. Once the defining image of the monster, it is now generally accepted to have been a deception made with a modelled head and neck mounted on a toy submarine.[v] To claim, however, that the entire Nessie story is a hoax because a part, albeit a significant part, of it was hoaxed would be a fallacy of composition. This continues to be the case until all evidence has been successfully shown to have been faked.
A further concern is that with no agreed upon definition as to what Nessie is, the term, as scientific paranormal investigator Benjamin Radford points out,[vi] is nothing but a shorthand descriptor for a type of experience. The term Nessie thus refers merely to the witnessing of something unidentified in the Loch, rather than an actual monster, in much the same ways as UFO refers to the witnessing of something unidentified in the sky, rather than an alien spacecraft. To claim, therefore, that the Nessie story is a hoax makes about as much sense as claiming the UFO phenomenon is a hoax.
Finally, to claim that people reporting such experiences, whatever they may in fact be, are in actuality engaged in an act of deception, as the labelling of the Nessie story as a hoax would seem to do, would thus be highly insulting and fly in the face of the motto “respect people, challenge ideas,” which lies at the heart of positive scepticism. So, I conclude by echoing the call from paranormal investigator Hayley Stevens, an old friend of Cambridge Skeptics, to leave Nessie alone,[vii] or at the very least leave those that have experienced something they term Nessie alone, and please stop calling it a hoax.
And if all that hasn’t sufficiently convinced you then just look at the images used to illustrate this article and tell me, hasn’t this poor beastie suffered more than enough indignity as it is?
[i] (The Results, 2019)
[ii] (Blackstock, 2019)
[iii] (Campbell, 2002)
[iv] (Boese, n.d.)
[v] (Campbell, 2002, p. 29)
[vi] (Radford, 2010, p. 21)
[vii] (Stevens, 2019)
Binns, R. (1984). The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. London: Star Books.
Blackstock, G. (2019, September 15). Sir David Attenborough insists Loch Ness monster is all a hoax. Retrieved from Daily Record: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/tv-legend-sir-david-attenborough-20064294
Boese, A. (n.d.). What is a hoax? Retrieved from The Museum of Hoaxes: http://hoaxes.org/what.html
Campbell, S. (2002). The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd.
Radford, B. (2010). Scientific Paranormal Investigation. Corrales: Rhombus Publishing.