Discoveries and Discoverers

Henry Bauer


A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams. London: Orion, 2016. 365 pp. ~$20 on amazon shipped from UK (hardcover). ISBN 978-1-4091-5873-8.


[Readers should be aware that this reviewer is mentioned at several places in this book, not always in a complimentary fashion.]



What do the personalities of those who assert something tell us about the possible validity of what they assert?

On scientific issues, nothing, really. As I. J. Good was fond of saying, geniuses are cranks who happen to be right, and cranks are geniuses who happen to be wrong. Both exemplify stubborn persistence and a refusal to be swayed by critiques coming from lesser minds. Sheer luck plays a huge part in scientific progress (see, e.g., Stephan & Levin 1992). Nasty people can make significant scientific advances (see, e.g., such insightful novels as Balchin 1949 or Hilton 1947). Albert Einstein was less than nice to his first wife and their daughter. And so on.

In that light, this book is wrongheaded, in effect if not in intention. Gareth Williams focuses primarily on the people who have been drawn into the quest to solve the mystery of what the Loch Ness Monster is. He disclaims making a case for or against Nessies being real animals, and at the end suggests rather vaguely that the question remains open: “a place where almost anything could be hiding” (p. 295). But throughout the text, the book makes a case implicitly against the reality of Nessies by denigrating those of us whom he calls believers and by mis-describing the evidence through the lenses of the debunkers, whom he mis-describes as skeptics.

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