The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘water’

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 »

Another Crappy “Lake Monster” Sighting in Canada?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011

Here’s a new one for the “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” files: a halfway serious ABC News report on a really bad video shot by someone who claims to have evidence of a lake monster in Canada called Ogopogo (basically, the Canadian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster).  Below is the video footage in question…

Oooh, scary!!!

That’s it?!!  That’s all there is to this supposedly astonishing story sweeping the world?  Some ripples/waves in the water which are likely caused by debris?

Sometimes I weep for humanity; if this is the best that cryptozoologists can come up with (and it pretty much is the best they can come up with), then it is no wonder they are mocked.  I think the following comment on the ABC News story sums it up best…

How come most quickly taken video’s are crystal clear but any UFO – Yeti – Nessie videos look like they were shot by a 2 yr. old with a Fisher Price camera???

‘Nuff said, folks.

Posted in cryptozoology, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More Media Fail and Silliness: Lunar Effect Babies

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2011

This week there’s been a story going around the media about a supposedly huge jump in births in a Sacramento hospital where “45 babies were delivered in 48 hours.”  Now that may or may not sound very unusual (it ends up it isn’t that strange – read on), but the really weird aspect of this is the claim made by the hospital officials with nary a skeptical thought:

“The human body is 80 percent water, after all. And, given that both menstruation and ovulation roughly follow a lunar cycle – occurring on a monthly basis – it doesn’t seem too far off to think that the moon could have a say in childbirth as well,” hospital officials said.

And, of course, the supposed mechanism for this “lunar effect”, as espoused by the hospital spokesman, is gravitational in nature:
According to the news release, the moon’s gravitational pull “can control a woman’s body” the same way the moon’s gravity controls tides.
*Cue spooky music…
Image courtesy of

First of all, the fact that 45 babies were born in 48 hours is not that significant.  Note the article states that there have been a total of 325,000 babies delivered at the hospital since 1937.  If you do the math, then this comes out to an average of about 12 babies per day – compared to the claim in the article (which basically averages out to about 22 or 23 babies in one day), this seems not very extraordinary because it shows that there was a weekend where the hospital had only double the average number of births!  100 times the average number of births would be statistically significant, but not 2 times the average.

Then there’s the stupid claim about the “lunar effect”.  Not only is this a bogus claim – click here to see why not – but it is also implausible from the standpoint of basic physics.  The hospital spokesman makes a common claim about the “lunar effect” being gravitational in nature, like the tidal effects on the Earth’s oceans.  However, if one takes a moment to work through the mathematics, this arguments falls apart pretty quickly.  For example, I perform the calculations for the tidal effects of the moon (whether it is full or not is irrelevant) on a person in my physics classes, and it ends up the tidal forces that act upon a person are stupendously small – about one-billionth the weight of a paperclip!  So whether or not you decide to wear a hat or use hair gel on any given day has more gravitational influence on you than does the tides from the moon!

That’s because the strength of the tidal forces that act on an object are proportional to the size of that object.  In the case of a large planet, like the Earth, the relative difference between gravity from one side of the planet to the other (this difference is the tide itself) is pretty big since the Earth is big.  But humans are so small on this size scale that the difference in gravity (tide) on us is miniscule.

So the next time you gaze upwards and see the full moon, appreciate it for all its beauty and wonder.  But don’t worry about it making you crazy; the failure of the media to accurately report science is a bigger threat of making you nuts 😉

Posted in astrology, mathematics, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Loch Ness Monster”… of Alaska?

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2011

So there’s this video going around the Internet where some fishermen claim to have discovered a new “Loch Ness Monster”… in Alaska.  Here is the article and related video wherein witnesses claim to have found evidence of the creature…

The Loch Ness Monster of Alaska?

Move over, Montauk Monster. Step aside, Nessie. There’s a new sea creature in town–maybe. Footage of a 20- to 30-foot long creature caught on tape by fishermen suggest we have an Alaska bonafide marine-creature mystery.

The black and white footage from 2009 is by no means definitive. It is taken on a rainy day with a shaky camera, which make it all the more confounding. But you can check out the testimony of people who say they witnessed the creature’s appearance in the video above.

The Alaska-dwelling creature has been labeled a “Cadborosaurus willsi,” which means “reptile” or “lizard” from Cadboro Bay, British Columbia, where it was originally spotted centuries ago. Called “Caddy” for short, it has a “long neck, a horse-like head, large eyes, and back bumps that stick out of the water,” according to a report on MSNBC. …

So “Caddy” is the newest craze to hit the cryptozoology community of “monster hunters”, it seems.  Sadly, the supposed “evidence” here is no better than the best ever provided for the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or any other of the many mythical creatures that cryptozoologists claim exist.  In this case, we have a video of very poor quality – it is out of focus, grainy, and shot under bad weather conditions.

The claims that “this cannot be a sea lion” are also very questionable, because this assumes that the “humps” appearing behind the head that surfaces are actually part of the creature’s back without any kind of confirming evidence.  But here is a more reasonable and plausible explanation: as any seafarer knows, oftentimes when a sea lion, boat, or any other waterborne craft/creature is moving across the surface of the water it produces a regular pattern of ripples, such as those shown below…

Looking at this boat and its pattern of ripples from the side at a distance can certainly make it appear like there is a series of humps breaching the water behind the boat, but that is simply an illusion.  It is my guess that this is the same kind of illusion which has fooled these fishermen into thinking they are seeing “Caddy”.

One would think that if cryptozoologists are actually serious about investigating their claims, they could come up with something better than blurry photos, crappy video footage, and a profound lack of alternative explanations which are consistent with the environment they are observing.  Color me unimpressed.

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

SHARE Relief Effort for Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 18, 2011

Folks, over the last few days I’ve spent much time and energy in trying to correct many misconceptions (and yes, some outright lies) concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Of course, while the Fukushima situation is serious, the level of severity due to the broader earthquake & tsunami damage is orders of magnitude worse; so, in the spirit of lighting candles in the darkness, I want to pass along this appeal from the Center For Inquiry’s SHARE (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort)…

As the grim news unfolds in Japan, the Center for Inquiry’s SHARE (Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort) is stepping up to provide assistance to victims of the earthquake/tsunami disaster.  Every dollar you give to SHARE will be sent directly to Doctors Without Borders, a wholly secular international organization.


Doctors Without Borders has sent medical teams to support the government-led earthquake and tsunami response in Japan.  Their teams are operating mobile clinics and conducting needs assessments.

Friday’s double tragedy has caused unimaginable misery.  In many areas there is no running water or power. As we write millions of people face a fourth night without water, food or heating in near-freezing temperatures throughout the coastal area devastated by Friday’s disasters.  People are suppressing hunger while dealing with the loss of loved ones and homes.  Ensuring that these victims can access the medical care they need is among the highest priorities.


We hope that you can give generously to the SHARE campaign to help the Japanese people who are in such great need. Thank you!

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bill O’Reilly Doubles Down on the Stupid: “How’d the Moon Get There?”

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2011

Recently, I’ve posted about how Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly displayed a great deal of scientific ignorance when he tried to argue that God exists because “we cannot explain the tides”.  Of course, scientists do know how the tides work (as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson states: it’s gravity from the Moon, duh); but rather than admit his error, Bill O’Reilly has decided to double down on the stupid.  Just watch this…

Once again, O’Reilly makes the all-too-common argument from ignorance, specifically the god-of-the-gaps argument. Of course, we actually do have scientific answers to many of the questions brought up by Mr. O’Reilly.  Let us examine some of his statements/claims… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Bill O’Reilly’s “Tides = God” Argument is Demolished by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 29, 2011

As a humorous follow-up to my recent post called God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly, I just wanted to share a hilarious clip from The Colbert Report with you.  In it, Colbert does a marvelous job of, in his satirical way, calling Bill O’Reilly to the carpet on his god-of-the-gaps argument when he says:

Now, like all great theologies, Bill’s can be boiled down to one sentence: “There must be a God, because I don’t know how things work!”

In addition, Stephen Colbert is surprised when astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson drops by for a visit and explains why the tides actually work 🙂 …

Posted in humor, physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2011

Oh man.  As a high school & college physics professor, I have to say that I’ve heard some pretty bad arguments regarding physics in my day, but I think this one is worth a mention: Fox News celebrity Bill O’Reilly displays his gross ignorance of basic physics by… well, by ignoring gravity.

Bill O’Reilly on Science: You Can’t Explain the Tides

Apparently, Bill O’Reilly has never heard of the moon. In a debate Tuesday with Dave Silverman, head of the American Atheist group behind this, the Fox host tried to prove the existence of God by citing the unknowable mysteries of the tides. “I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion,” he told Silverman. “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.” …

Yup, he’s ignoring gravity and replacing it with God.  Just watch the video for yourself (the relevant part begins at the 1:40 mark)…

Wow… just, wow.  Apprently, Mr. O’Reilly has never studied the universal law of gravitation (which is standard in any high school physics class) which explains quite clearly – without any mention of God, Zeus, Thor, or Santa Claus – where tidal forces come from.  Essentially, tides in Earth’s oceans exist because one side of our planet is closer to the Moon (or the Sun, both exert tides) than the other.  Thus, the side closer to the Moon (Sun) is pulled slightly more than the side further away from the Moon, resulting in the tidal bulges which lead to the rising and falling of the oceans.  This article on Wikipedia (ever heard of Google, Mr. O’Reilly?) and graphic can help illustrate the point I’m making:

Graphic of tidal forces; the gravity field is generated by a body to the right. The top picture shows the gravitational forces; the bottom shows their residual once the field of the sphere is subtracted; this is the tidal force. Source: Wikipedia

Essentially, O’Reilly is making a stunningly stupid argument from ignorance (in this case known as the god-of-the-gaps) by saying that just because he doesn’t know how the tides work, then that must mean that his version of God is real.  Of course, it might be interesting to ask Mr. O’Reilly’s feelings on the matter after he’s had a lesson in basic physics – would he then conclude that the tides are evidence against the existence of God?  That precarious position is precisely why serious theologians & philosophers do not engage in arguing from ignorance.

Such ham-fisted arguments are also why natural science separated itself from supernatural causes back in the 19th century as natural philosophy transitioned into what we now call modern science.  It seems that O’Reilly is still stuck in the 1800s.

In closing, despite my atheism, if Mr. O’Reilly or anyone wants to believe in God, that’s fine by me I suppose, just so long as they don’t piss all over science in the process.

Posted in physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Man Claims to Have Survived 70 Years Without Food or Water

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 13, 2010

There’s a story running all over the Interwebs like wildfire… about a man who is making the seemingly miraculous claim that he has survived for 70 years without food.  Essentially, the man – an Indian mystic named Prahlad Jani, is claiming that he can live on “spiritual energy” in the form of air & meditation.  These claims are equivalent to those made by a form of New Age nonsense called breatharianism.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Mr. Jani and his followers are basically lying, because there is no physical way that a person can live for a month, much less 70 years, without food & water.  Skeptic Ben Radford has a really good take down on this nonsense…

As remarkable as his story is, Jani is not the first, nor the only, person to claim such a supernatural power. The claim that people can live without food or water is called inedia, and is actually somewhat of a common claim among religious fakirs and godmen of India. Unfortunately none of the cases have withstood scientific scrutiny. The human body needs both food and water to function; it’s as simple as that.

It’s easy for anyone to claim that he or she has not had anything to eat or drink for the past few weeks or months (or years). But unless the person has been carefully and continuously watched during that time, it’s impossible to prove the assertion true.

Several people who have claimed to survive without food or water were later caught eating and drinking. It can take only a few seconds to eat something, and other than in specific areas such as prisons, conducting a close around-the-clock surveillance on a person is not easy. Often the person will ask for privacy to sleep or go to the bathroom (which is suspicious in its own right) – and then snack surreptitiously. One well-known breatharian advocate in the 1980s, a man named Wiley Brooks, claimed he did not eat yet was caught consuming junk food.

And here’s a very interesting point that Radford brings up regarding the fact that Mr. Jani apparently lost weight during the time he was being observed…

This is not the first time that Jani has made this claim. He was examined in 2003 for about a week, during which time, he apparently did not eat or exercise – but he did lose weight. If Jani’s abilities are real, it seems odd that he would lose weight during the time that his food intake was being monitored. If he truly gets all the sustenance he needs from air and meditation, there’s no reason he would lose weight when he doesn’t eat.

What’s worse is this: it seems that some people in the Indian Armed Forces are actually spending time & money on researching the “secrets” behind Mr. Jani’s supposed miracle.  I’m not kidding… there are high level Indian military people who want to learn how Jani pulls this off so they can apply it the techniques to soldiers in the field who could supposedly go for long periods of time without food and/or water.  What a colossal waste!  This lunacy reminds me of the, now infamous, debacle by the U.S. military when they wasted millions of taxpayer dollars researching “psychic warfare” – as outlined in the recent movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.

If Mr. Jani wants to convince skeptics of his supposed paranormal powers, I have a simple solution: round-the-clock observation by multiple watchers, including via constant video recording and even live-streaming over the Internet, where he is locked away in an empty room with no access to any food or water at all… for a month or two straight.  If he survives, then maybe we’re onto something.  My guess is, for obvious reasons, he would never submit to such a test – I wonder why not?

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy: What the Hell?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2009

Okay, I was shown the following Youtube video by a physics teaching colleague.  I cannot do it justice by attempting to write a description, you just have to watch it for yourself.  Just… wow…

Sprinkler Rainbow Conspiracy

I really hope this is a joke or a spoof, because if not, this is one of the most whacked out displays of scientific ignorance & conspiracy mongering that I’ve ever seen.  My favorite line: “This cannot be natural.”


Because she doesn’t understand how rainbows form – they are essentially an optical illusion based upon the physics of sunlight refraction & reflection with water droplets – she makes an incredible argument from ignorance and implies there must be some kind of government conspiracy to… poison/mind-control us?  In addition, note how she throws in the bit at the end about how “They” want to take away our constitutional rights and freedoms for extra added spooky effect.

This, of course, is an excellent display of how necessary it is for people to have a basic scientific education that teaches not only certain facts but also methods of logical & critical analysis.  Because, though you and I may laugh at the silliness of this video, there are those out there who are ignorant, paranoid, and – well – crazy enough to take what this woman is saying at face value.  And while we can laugh or giggle at the stupidity of this woman’s argument, what isn’t a laughing matter is that this exact same method of argumentation is employed time and time again by a variety of conspiracy theorists & pseudoscientists, whether they be Holocaust deniers, creationists, 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, New Age gurus, alt-med quacks, anti-vaccinationists, physics cranks, etc.  And there are plenty of people who buy into that crapola.

And one more thing: they get the same vote as you and me during election time – that’s what I find scary!

Posted in conspiracy theories, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »