The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘geology’

Loch Ness Monster Activity is Likely Just Seismic in Nature

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2013

I ran across two articles recently about the latest research regarding the Loch Ness Monster.  And by “research” I really do mean serious scientific work: it seems that many supposed Nessie sightings over the years have been accompanied by audible rumbling and gas bubbling up to the surface of Loch Ness.  There seems to be a plausible geological (note: “geological” does NOT equate to “big freaking monster”, just to clarify) explanation for these phenomena.

As a lesson in critical thinking (or a lack thereof) in the media, let us compare the coverage of this research from two different sources, the Scientific American blog and the Huffington Post.  First, the SciAm blog…

The Earth-shattering Loch Ness Monster that wasn’t

Summer is traditionally Silly Season, when newspapers publish strange stories about aliens and monsters again and again to bridge holiday time – and so will July on “History of Geology” be dedicated to frivolous science stories…

In 2001 the Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi presented during the Earth Systems Processes meeting in Edinburgh a hypothesis explaining the supposed appearance of the sea/lake monster “Nessie” as a result of geologic forces.

According to Piccardi’s idea the historic description of the monster – appearing on the surface with great (earth)shakes and rumours – could be associated with bubbles emanating from the bottom of the Scottish lake of Loch Ness in response of seismic activity along the Great Glen fault system, passing below the lake. …


… Not only biological constrains, also the geology don’t seems to support the existence of an earthshaking monster in Loch Ness.  Common earthquakes from the Loch Ness area range between magnitude 3 to 4, larger events were recorded only in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901. These earthquakes don’t coincide with the years of supposed increased activity of Nessie (like 1933). Even the largest Scottish earthquakes were anyway too weak to cause any observable effects on the surface of Loch Ness (curiously the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 generated waves on Loch Ness, but no Nessie sighting is reported for this year).

Piccardi himself sees the value of his hypothesis more in the possibility to make geologists aware of the geological origins of some myths, as to propose verifiable cryptozoology.

Well, that seems pretty good: a well thought-out article regarding an area of actual scientific research, even going so far as to note the limitations of Piccardi’s hypothesis.

Now, let’s see what the HuffPo has to say…

Loch Ness Monster Mystery Solved? ‘Nessie’ Just Bubbles From Seismic Activity, Geologist Says (VIDEO)

… The first claimed sighting of “Nessie” occurred in the sixth century, according to Scientific American. Legend has it that the creature appears along with earth tremors and bubbling from the bottom of Loch Ness, one of Britain’s largest freshwater lakes.

Formed as a result of a long-ago collision between the northern tip of Scotland and the rest of Britain, the loch sits over the 62-mile Great Glen fault line. Piccardi argues that this position may have fueled centuries of Loch Ness Monster rumors.

“Loch Ness is exactly on the fault zone,” Piccardi said in 2001, according to The Telegraph. “When there are small shocks, it can create a commotion on the water surface. Along the fault there can be gas emissions, which can create large bubbles on the surface. There are many surface effects which can be linked to the activity of the fault.”

But Piccardi’s theory is not without critics, especially among Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts like Gary Campbell, president of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club in Inverness, Scotland.

“Most of the sightings involve foreign objects coming out of the water. There’s two most common — one’s a hump, and the other is a head and neck,” Campbell told ABC News. “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable. There’s something physical in there.” …


Where to begin?  First of all, the fact that the HuffPo elevates a pseudoscientific hack – in this case, the Gary Campbell who runs a fan club for the Loch Ness Monster – to the level of a serious critic of a pretty plausible area of scientific research speaks volumes.  Apparently, to the HuffPo, “scientist” equates with “anyone who can make sh*t up”.

Next, pay attention to Campbell’s response: “At the end of the day, there’s still sightings that are inexplicable…” So that proves… what exactly?  That there isn’t a full explanation?  And how exactly does a lack of an explanation provide any validity to the explanation via invoking Nessie?  This is a classic argument from ignorance, and one could just as easily invoke leprechauns or unicorns as an explanation using such shoddy logic.

Last, but not least, is the final few seconds of the video at the HuffPo link, wherein the host shows some TV anchors moaning about how they don’t want to accept the geological research of Piccardi because they like the idea of Nessie.  The HuffPo host summed it up as follows:

“Sometimes you just don’t want scientific reasoning, and you just want to believe.”


Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creationism Creeping into Mainstream Geology?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2011

I just received the following update from the National Center for Science Education, which states the newest tactic that creationists are attempting to employ in pushing their ideas as “science”.  The latest tactic is to have some creationists attend professional geology conferences and sometimes host a field trip afterward where they use cleverly disguised creationist language (meant to hide their overtly non-scientific notions) and then “Voila!” declare after the fact that they “presented creationist ideas at a geology conference.”

Of course, this is just plain silly, because they aren’t really presenting creationist ideas at these conferences; in fact, they are actively trying to conceal their creationist ideas except by making the most subtle references (so subtle that most people miss the references entirely!)  Had they actually presented creationist ideas, such as the so-called “evidence” for Flood Geology, they would have likely been laughed out of the room because – as this link to Talk Origins shows – mainstream geological science has found creationism to be wholly flawed.

The NCSE elaborates on this latest trick up the sleeves of the creationists…

“Creationism creeps into mainstream geology,” a report by NCSE’s Steven Newton, is the cover story of the July 2011 issue of Earth, published by the American Geological Institute. In his article, Newton discusses a geological field trip conducted during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in 2010. He explains, “it was an example of a new strategy from creationists to interject their ideas into mainstream geology: They lead field trips and present posters and talks at scientific meetings. They also avoid overtly stating anything truly contrary to mainstream science. But when the meeting is over, the creationist participants go home and proudly proclaim that mainstream science has accepted their ideas.”

“During the trip,” Newton relates, “the leaders did not advertise their creationist views, but rather presented their credentials in a way that minimized their creationist affiliations,” adding, “the field trip leaders were careful not to make overt creationist references. If the 50 or so field trip participants did not know the subtext and weren’t familiar with the field trip leaders, it’s quite possible that they never realized that the leaders endorsed geologic interpretations completely at odds with the scientific community.” But clues — such as referring to Cambrian outcrops as rocks that are “called Cambrian” and hinting at the continental extent of a “massive marine trangression” — were abundant “if you knew what to listen for.”

I particularly like the last section of the article, for it points out how open and accommodating scientific conferences can be.  Even though mainstream scientists may ridicule and roll their eyes, believe it or not, the argument is made that creationists should actually be welcomed to come present their ideas openly at these meetings.  Just because they are heard, however, doesn’t mean they should expect to be taken seriously…

Creationists love to boast about their participation in scientific meetings, Newton observed, even when it consists only of conducting field trips or presenting unrefereed papers and posters. But he suggested that it would be counterproductive for societies such as the GSA to exclude creationists from participation in their meetings, however, arguing, “We let a thousand flowers bloom, weeds and all. The best ideas from the meetings are further subjected to peer review in journals, which is where theories are built; conferences are more freeform. Geology will not suffer if creationists participate in our meetings, but the public relations damage from the misperception that we are systematically hostile to any view — especially religious views — is real.”

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Noah’s Ark Found… Again?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2010

Recently a story getting a lot of press is yet another claim by yet another Christian-oriented organization that they’ve discovered the mythical Noah’s Ark. For many Christians of the more fundamentalist stripe, the myth of Noah’s Ark is kind of like the Holy Grail – many of them believe that if it can be found that it somehow proves the validity of their particular interpretation of the Bible.

noahs ark mt ararat

However, some deeper investigation past the headline shows that this story is likely just another exaggerated claim, because – as skeptic Ben Radford points out – we’ve been here before… numerous times.  Yes, apparently, the mythical Noah’s Ark has been discovered (and re-discovered) a number of times “with definitive proof” that it is authentic.

Noah’s Ark Re-Rediscovered

A Chinese Christian filmmaker claims to have found the final resting place of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung says he and a team from Noah’s Ark Ministries found the remains of the Ark at an elevation of about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). They filmed inside the structure and took wood samples that were later analyzed in Iran. He claims the wood was carbon-dated to around the reputed time of Noah’s flood, which would be remarkable since organic material should have long since disintegrated in the last 5,000 years.

Yeung said that he is “99 percent certain that it is Noah’s Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating.”

While news of the find is making headlines around the world, there’s one part of the story that Yeung is conspicuously silent about: He is only the latest in a long line of people who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen others – all of them funded by Christian organizations – who have claimed final, definitive proof of Noah’s Ark. So far none of the claims have proven true.

Noah’s Ark is routinely re-discovered, because there are many who fervently want it to be found. Biblical literalists – those who believe that proof of the Bible’s events remains to be found – have spent their lives and fortunes trying to scientifically validate their religious beliefs.

There are several reasons why the new claims should be treated with skepticism. For example, Yeung refuses to disclose the location of the find and is instead keeping it a secret. This of course is inherently unscientific; for the claims to be proven, the evidence must be presented to other scientists for peer-review. Nor has the alleged 5,000-year-old wood been made available for independent testing.

… There is a long and rich history of Ark finds. Nearly 40 years ago, Violet M. Cummings, author of “Noah’s Ark: Fable or Fact?” (Creation-Science Research Center, 1973) claimed – without evidence – that Noah’s Ark had been found on Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film “In Search of Noah’s Ark,” (Scholastic Book Services) “there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah’s Ark really does exist…. Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark’s exact location on Mt. Ararat.” Yet again, no real evidence was offered.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gov. Jindal’s Prime-Time Stupidity

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2009

I don’t usually blog about explicitly political topics, but I really feel that a response to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s idiotic anti-scientific comments this last Tuesday is in order. When our leaders, or potential leaders, make blatantly ill-informed statements concerning science, it is most definitely not a time to be quiet.

gov. jindal

To summarize, Gov. Jindal (of Louisiana) was responding to President Obama’s speech on the economy & budget. In his criticism of Obama’s budgetary proposals, Jindal was attempting to point out examples of wasteful government spending. Here’s where he really screwed up…

While some of the projects in the [stimulus] bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes … $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC.

What Gov. Jindal is referring to is the U.S. Geologic Survey’s program (called the Volcano Hazards Program) to monitor volcanic activity in the Pacific Northwest as well as in U.S. territories such as areas around U.S. bases in the Pacific Ocean. It has been shown that these monitoring programs are most definitely a good use of resources because they have saved many lives! For a more detailed analysis of why this is the case, check out this post over at

I am stunned at the level of stupidity displayed by the Louisiana Governor’s comments, for two reasons:

1) They display an amazing lack of understanding of the utility in making basic investments in scientific programs and the desire to manipulate science for purely politically ideological reasons.

2) These remarks are an equally amazing exercise in hypocrisy. Gov. Jindal is the leader of a Gulf Coast state which is periodically slammed by monster hurricanes, which are monitored through a scientific network paid for with federal dollars. Perhaps if the Governor wishes to be consistent in his arguments, he should first willingly give up those hurricane tracking stations?

I think I have some idea of why it is that Gov. Jindal used the volcano monitoring stations as an example of “wasteful government spending” – he is a Young-Earth Creationist. We are, after all, talking about the guy who signed the nation’s only creationist “academic freedom” legislation into law. So to see him display a glaring lack of understanding of & respect for geological science isn’t surprising.

Posted in creationism, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »


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