Happy birthday Nessie

Friday 5 April 2013

Loch Ness monster at the Museum of Nessie (StaraBlazkova at the Czech language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons)

An expert from the University of St Andrews is delving deep into the history of Nessie spotters.

Dr Charles Paxton, a statistical ecologist, is working on the first catalogue of all known sightings of the Loch Ness monster in modern times.

The researcher will present his findings so far at a conference this weekend (6 April 2013), organised as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The special event organised by the St Andrews academic marks the 80th anniversary of the first official sighting of Nessie.  It was in April 1933 that Drumnadrochit hotel manageress Aldie Mackay reported “something resembling a whale” while on the road from Inverness.

Dr Charles Paxton, a research fellow at the University’s Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, is interested in how science handles anomalistic and low frequency data.

He will analyse all reported sightings for consistencies or patterns that could be explained by natural phenomena.

He said, “I am carrying out a statistical analysis of Loch Ness monster accounts since 1933, specifically looking for clusters in terms of what is reported.  In some cases there are multiple witnesses, or witnesses giving multiple accounts of the same event, which allow us to test eyewitness consistency.”

There have been more than 1,000 recorded sightings of ‘Nessie’ and Dr Paxton has so far sifted through over 800 of these cases.

Although he wryly notes more than a few hotel proprietors among the typical spotters, Dr Paxton says that ‘everyone’ sees Nessie, from ordinary locals to clergymen.

He continued, “Everyone sees Nessie from aristocrats and celebrities such as Gavin Maxwell and Compton Mackenzie to ordinary folk and children. Professions include cafe and hotel proprietors, chauffeurs, police inspectors, bank managers, students, town clerks, lorry drivers, clergymen, forestry workers, office workers, water bailiffs and fishermen.”

In some cases, spotters saw Nessie more than once, as Dr Paxton notes, “These cases are very interesting because they allow us to consider whether certain witnesses have a tendency to see Nessie more than might be expected by chance alone.”

Dr Paxton has trawled through old newspaper clippings, reports, books and records from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau of the 1960s and 1970s, for all recorded sightings that peaked especially after the infamous ‘surgeon’s photograph’ of 1934.

He explained, “Although the first recorded sighting of a monster-like creature at Loch Ness was by St Columba in 565AD, it was Mrs Mackay’s sighting in 1933 that launched the myth. After the initial reports, there were traffic jams all around the loch.. in 1933-1934 the Loch Ness monster became a massive global phenomena.”

The one-day conference ‘Nessie at 80’ is co-organised by author Gordon Rutter, who specialises in the paranormal, and will be held at The Counting House in Edinburgh.

During the special Nessie event, Dr Paxton will be joined by Nessie experts from around the world who will talk about the biology of the Loch, the history of the monster as a folkloric entity until 1933, the post 1933 history and the history of cinematic portrayals of the Loch Ness monster.

Dr Paxton is still analysing the data and will publish his findings in full later in the year.


Note to Editors

Dr Paxton is available for interview today on 01334 461811.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Ref: Nessie at 80 050413

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