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xx Scientists weigh in on supernatural (Pt1)
« Thread started on: Oct 11th, 2003, 08:31am »

This was posted in WisconsinEngineer at http://www.cae.wisc.edu/~wiscengr/Apr03/myth.shtml

Myth Match-Scientists weigh in on supernatural theories

By Kyle Oliver


After an encounter with a female bar patron in the opening scenes of The Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog is confronted by her overprotective boyfriend. "Uch! Go wash," the man scolds her. "You'll get warts."

Kermit, ever the seeker of truth, responds, "No, that's just a myth."

Mistaking Kermit's words, he says, "Yeah, but she's my 'myth.'"

"No, a myth, myth," Kermit repeats. At this point (to complete the pun) thinking she's being called, a lisping waitress appears: "Yeth?"


Photo By: Jon Newell
Missing link or elaborate hoax?
The "fact" that contact with a frog can cause warts is one of countless dubious statements about nature commonly considered to be a myth. Myths, often relegated to the realm of religion, superstition or "the supernatural," usually defy explanation. It is appropriate that The Muppet Movie's reference to myths is a joke; most scientists would say, like a joke, myths are not to be taken seriously.

"You're sort of on the fringe" says Dane Morgan, materials science and engineering research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking of unconventional scientists who are not so quick to dismiss stories of the strange. Morgan, for whom the topic is "just a hobby," gave a class for MIT's middle and high school Splash Program entitled "The Meeting of Science and the Supernatural."

One of the points he tries to make is the disparity between scientific and supernatural explanations for various phenomena, such as the opposing theories of evolution and creation. However, he goes on to describe research that has been done in what serves as a "boundary region" between these extremes. Scientific studies of presumably supernatural phenomena include ESP research at Duke University, a study on alien abduction at Harvard University and a paper on "therapeutic touch" in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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xx Scientists weigh in on supernatural (Pt2)
« Reply #1 on: Oct 11th, 2003, 08:32am »

There have also been recent attempts to find scientific explanations for two of the world's most popular and sensational myths: the Loch Ness monster and Sasquatch (Big Foot). These two mythical creatures have a lot in common. Both originate in ancient cultural tales-"Nessie" as a great beast supposedly slain by St. Columba in the sixth century and Sasquatch as a sort of human/animal hybrid out of Northwestern Native American traditions. Both have proven to be difficult to catch in photos or on film, and the authenticity of what little has been captured is the subject of much debate. Of course, they are also both said to be enormous-appropriate enough for tall tales, many skeptics would add.

Some scientists are not willing to give up on the existence of these legends. Small but dedicated groups of researchers are scouring nature for signs of Nessie and Sasquatch. New technology is facilitating the evaluation of collected evidence and even the search for the creatures themselves.


Photo By: Jon Newell
How close do they resemble humans?
The PBS television series Nova ran a special in 1999 called "The Beast of Loch Ness." It chronicled the efforts of a team of researchers led by Bob Rines and Charles Wyckoff, who have been investigating the Loch Ness mystery for 30 years. After supposedly seeing the monster in 1972, Rines set up a sonar-activated camera, complete with a strobe light serving as an underwater flash.

In 1975, his camera took pictures of what looked like a six-foot flipper after NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped enhance the image. Subsequent studies of the loch in later years by other groups, though not necessarily focused on looking for the beast, have turned up unexplainable sonar targets.

The expedition chronicled in "The Beast of Loch Ness" made use of an impressive array of technology. While the search boat was equipped with simple fish-finding sonar, it also pulled sophisticated Sidescan Sonar. This advanced piece of equipment is capable of sending ultrasonic waves in a 180 degree arc, and is more accurate because the transducer, which emits the waves, is not attached to the hull and hence avoids interference associated with boat movement.
A second boat was used to intercept sonar hits using GPS location data and attempt to photograph the monster using a low-light video camera and a car headlight. The five-day expedition did not yield conclusive results. Some sonar hits indicated an object of considerable mass and density-too dense to be a school of fish, according to marine biologist Arnie Carr - but no conclusive photos were taken.

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xx Scientists weigh in on supernatural (Pt3)
« Reply #2 on: Oct 11th, 2003, 08:32am »

The studies of Richard Smith, a journalist attempting to validate a 1934 photograph of Nessie, also yielded mixed results. Reconstructing the supposed original camera angle based on the distorted shape of circular ripples around the mysterious shape, Smith then took pictures of one- and four-foot Styrofoam models of a head in the water. Smith and Rines believe the new photos show the 1934 photo must have been taken of a four-foot object. Hence, testimony claiming that the photo had been falsified with a small submarine toy comes into question.


How intelligent are they?
Though admitting that none of this is hard evidence, Rines notes the numerous eyewitness accounts are at least partially corroborated by his consistently unexplainable findings. At the very least, he says, this should certainly raise questions. "If you don't have an open mind," Rines told Nova, "in my judgment, you're not a scientist."

That same attitude keeps Sasquatch researchers hot on its tracks, so to speak. While searching a 24-mile-long lake is a mammoth undertaking, searching hundreds of thousands of square miles of forests is even more daunting. Hence, research into the Sasquatch myth focuses mostly on evaluating already available evidence. First and foremost among this evidence, says Jeff Meldrum, anatomy professor at Idaho State University, are Sasquatch's tracks.

"A significant number of footprints," he writes, "are not so readily explained away." These prints not only suggest anatomy compatible with the way Sasquatch supposedly walks, they also nearly all exhibit similar "dermal images" (fingerprints) running parallel to the foot, rather than perpendicularly as in humans or diagonally as in all known primates. Additionally, video taken 35 years ago of a supposed Sasquatch has been analyzed by scientists who agree the combination of "leg movements, stride and speed" could not have been produced by a human in a suit or by any known primate. As with Nessie, many tests have been inconclusive, such as acoustic analyses of alleged Sasquatch recordings and DNA testing of hair and stool samples.

The jury is still out on both of these creatures, and scientists can be skeptical jurists. However, as technology continues to improve, inconclusive tests and searches could conceivably be augmented by better methods, and these myths may someday be substantiated.

Morgan does not think society's fascination with other myths is in jeopardy.

"I don't think it's likely that science is going to simply prove these things invalid," Morgan says. "They seem resistant to that. It's very hard to prove a negative in science."

Author Bio: Kyle Oliver is a freshman majoring in nuclear engineering. He edits The Lobby, ASME's monthly newsletter.

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