Zealous (Pseudo) Scientists
by Revilo P. Oliver
ANGELS ARE creations of the imagination; such beings never existed and could not possibly exist. In the Cretaceous Period, near the end of the Mesozoic Age, and as recently as 64,000,000 years, the earth’s oceans swarmed with many species of plesiosaurs (elasmosauri, hydrotherosauri, etc)., but they, like the other dinosaurs, for reasons which are yet unascertained, became extinct at the end of the Mesozoic. It is not absolutely inconceivable, however, that a few of the huge creatures survived whatever force exterminated the rest, and left descendants, doubtless with some evolutionary changes, even to historical times, so that some of the innumerable reports about sea serpents may have had a basis in fact rather than in illusions and imagination. And when we remember that the coelacanth astonished the world a few decades ago by surviving from the Palaeozoic Age to the present in the ocean off South Africa and Madagascar, we must admit that it is not absolutely impossible, though highly improbable, that some descendant of the plesiosaurs could be alive today. Thus when it was reported in 1933 that such a creature had been sighted in Loch Ness in Glen More (northern Scotland), we could not be absolutely certain that the report was the product of an overheated imagination plus the human urge to make a good story better.
In a sane society, the report would have been received with scepticism by the inhabitants of the region and been forgotten when the supposititious plesiosaur gave no sign of its existence. But in a “democracy,” in which the only aim of human life is to cadge real or spurious money from suckers, newspapers are ever alert for some sensational tale to set their dim-witted readers agog, and the tourist trade itself could have been created for predators. So the monster was sighted often enough to sustain excitement in minds that were willing to believe in aquatic dinosaurs that miraculously did not have to eat. And the piffle-peddlers have kept nitwits excited for fifty years, while all sorts of technological gadgets have been employed to discover the creature, usually by “scientists” who were careful to render reports that would not blight the tourist trade.
It is a sad and discouraging commentary on our times that respected universities and research institutes have spent an inordinate amount of effort and money in serious efforts to investigate what had long since been an obvious hoax. Very elaborate sonar equipment was recently installed in the lake to detect any sounds that the coy plesiosaurs might make by swimming or otherwise, and, needless to say, the monster prudently gave no sign of its existence during the months the futile investigation lasted. A report of these results, with an analysis of the fallacies of earlier investigations, which are courteously assumed to have been inept rather than mendacious, appears in the Winter issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.
All this would call for no comment, except, perhaps, a line about the folly of scientific searches for mares’ nests, if there were not one more scientific datum. One of the earlier quests for traces of the monster was carried out by technicians with underwater cameras, and lo! wonder of wonders! they obtained a stroboscopic picture which they sent to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for “enhancement” by a computer — an always dubious technique. They then published in a respected magazine, Nature, what they said was their picture thus “computer-enhanced.” It showed a lozenge-shaped object which they identified as a “flapper” of the monster. Presumably plesiosaurs are camera-shy and object to being photographed, but the zealous scientists with their advanced technologic equipment were able to photograph one of the monster’s “fins” as it tried to escape publicity. This inspired a paleontologist, eager to savor the bliss of seeing his name in newspapers, to produce a Linnaean classification of the animal that must have such flappers, so the biological record was in turn enhanced by the addition of a new species, learnedly named Nessiteras rhombopteryx.
The authors of the article in the Inquirer thought of going to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and obtaining a copy of the original of the “computer-enhanced” photograph. It shows only a meaningless spattering of dots, which are either grain in the film or bits of the organic matter that is in suspension in the water of all lakes. They politely say that the published picture must have been “retouched.” It may have been drawn on the genuine picture, but it is obviously and flatly a forgery and a hoax, perpetrated to deceive persons credulous enough to take it seriously.
We live in a time in which the Jews, thanks to their racial solidarity and the degradation of their Aryan prostitutes in the press and government, have cozened and cowed the multitude into accepting their enormous Holohoax, so why shouldn’t small-time pimps filch a few coppers from the stultified masses when they have a chance?
It is true that in our time a pickpocket (if not a nigger exercising his “civil rights”) can be arrested, if caught in the act, and even convicted, if he does not hire an expensive attorney, and even sent to prison, if he has no friends among politicians. It is odd, however, that in a society so given to endless legislation, no one seems to have suggested prosecution of persons guilty of the far more serious crime of perpetrating pseudo-scientific swindles.
In the same issue of the magazine, there is an article of four pages by Martin Gardner and one of twenty-one pages by Ray Hyman, all devoted to refutation of a bundle of drivel entitled Mind Race: Understanding and Using Psychic Abilities, by Russell Targ (a physicist who learned that Uri Geller can bend spoons by thinking about them) and Keith Harary (who, according to an article in the press that is photographically reproduced, is a straggly-bearded wonder who can project his mind to go through walls and visit any place on earth).
I respect the authors of those twenty-five pages, and I do not wish to depreciate their efforts to preserve some chances for intelligent life on earth, but I am dismayed that it should be necessary to publish for the readers of the magazine a painstaking refutation of the buncombe about “psi” powers and the like. A century ago, a great practical sociologist, Phineas T. Barnum, milked the multitude of suckers with clever humbugs (e.g., a mermaid produced by sewing the torso of a monkey onto the tail of a large fish), but he limited himself to entertaining yokels, who always need something at which to gawk. He made, so far as I know, no serious effort to deceive educated men, and I am sure that Louis Agassiz, who was his contemporary, never found it necessary to prove to intelligent readers that Barnum’s mermaid was a bit of crude taxidermy.
Barnum is remembered for his maxim that a sucker is born every minute, a rule that must be recognized as a fundamental contribution to sociology, even if he drastically underestimated the birth-rate. So if “parapsychologists” supercharged with “psi” power, astrologers, and gypsy women who practice chiromancy for a bit of silver (they have to accept scrap metal instead these days) make a living by exploiting the infinite gullibility of the ignorant, no real harm is done. What is alarming is that the ignorant masses now include persons who were not only graduated from institutions that claim to be colleges and universities, but even had the degree of Ph.D. or S.D. bestowed on them. That is surely a symptom of a society that is near its dissolution.
A writer for the Inquirer attended this years’ “Bible-Science Conference” near Cleveland and reported on some of the funnier shenanigans of the theological and professorial clowns who try to refute the wicked doctrines of Darwin and Copernicus, but he ends his brief report with the painfully true observation that the preposterous nonsense of “Bible-Science” is “gospel to millions of voters.” And that is all you need to know about “democracy” and its future.
Incidentally, ‘gospel truth’ is a convenient designation for a fiction that imposes on a large number of individuals.
* * *
Source: Liberty Bell magazine, February 1985