Yahoo “News” took a throw-away story about a fossil and turned it into a major mover this week. The incident reveals plenty about human nature.
The story involved a fossil of a large marine dinosaur, a Pliosaur, and the specimen in question showed signs of an arthritic condition that may have led to its death. Yahoo took the mildly interesting tidbit, and gave it this headline –
“Ancient Loch Ness Monster had Arthritis.”
Two or three times in the article the term Loch Ness Monster was used. The Pliosaur had flippers, you see. The article was soon “Trending Now” on Yahoo.
All you have to do is work something paranormal-sounding into the headline, and the soft sound of computers clicking will be heard across the countryside. UFOs, Bigfoot, psychics, or that 19th century favorite, ghosts. That’s all you need! The traffic pours in like mighty Niagara. Americans have to be the most obsessively superstitious people on the face of the earth, outside of Haiti. We rank 25th in the world in math proficiency, but we know the anatomical features of the Loch Ness Monster.
Or maybe we don’t, since the Loch Ness Monster does not have anatomical features, or existence of any kind, and never has. Next year is the 80th anniversary of Nessie. The whole thing was concocted in 1933, and no other year has had more reported sightings than that one. (The famous “ancient sightings” are untraceable.) The loch was a major tourist attraction in the 19th century, but not one word about a monster appears anywhere in the newspapers of that time. We have tissue samples and close-up video of narwhals in the Arctic Sea, but somehow after eighty years not one carcass, not one legit photo, not one scintilla of true evidence exists for Nessie. A real animal would not be that elusive.
If it was real it would be seen more often. This rule can be applied to all kinds of phenomena. One thing that’s not in question is the insatiable hunger of the public for nonsense. We see plenty of hard evidence for that, every day. They cannot get enough, and it’s important to occasionally ask why. Are we so bored and alienated and frustrated with this world that we long for the “otherworldly?” There are plenty of legitimate wonders and mysteries in science, but these never attract as much attention as the patent hooey.
When it becomes widespread enough, uncritical thinking has consequences for society. It’s a real problem, and there is no answer. Only talk about it now and then.