I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
T.S. Eliot The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Already July 2012 has witnessed giant strides in scientific research. First, we learned that physicists are 99.9 per cent certain they have discovered the Higgs Boson, the so-called God Particle. Then we found out that our saturated gardens will soon be vulnerable to a plague of Spanish slugs (the sinisterly named Arion Flagellus) which have gradually wiped out our less invasive British species (see: ). As if their football team achieving European domination was not enough, these voracious aliens seem intent on making this summer even more miserable for the English gardeners and farmers.
The Sun did not mince its words. These monsters molluscs can grow to 4 inches in length, digest twice their own body weight every day, and produce hundreds more eggs than our British counterparts. They are also proving a hazard to road users as cars and lorries are reported skidding on slicks left by squashed slugs. Worse, these Spanish cannibals feed on their own kind and gather on roadsides to eat dead comrades.
But amid these heady scientific revelations one story caught my attention more than any other. Researchers have trespassed on a sacred taboo. Despite a vast range of ancient and poetic, nay inspirational, testimony, scientists have declared that mermaids do not exist.
The NOAA boffins were responding to a television documentary on the American channel Animal Planet (Discovery's sister channel) called Mermaids: The Body Found which had the temerity to claim that there was a strong case for the existence of mermaids. The documentary was an X Files mix of computer-generated animation, historical fact, conspiracy theory and scientific speculation that so incensed the NOAA that they felt compelled to intervene.
NOAA's statement explained: "The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species. Magical female figures first appear in cave paintings in the late Paleolithic (Stone Age) period some 30,000 years ago, when modern humans gained dominion over the land and, presumably, began to sail the seas."
Discovery News countered by questioning the selectiveness of the NOAA response. On its own website it replied: "Why would NOAA bother to pour cold water on mermaids? After all, there are many mythical things that the government doesn’t explicitly deny exist. The United States Bureau of Mines doesn’t issue statements clarifying that no dragons or trolls have been discovered in underground caves or mines, for example." Discovery also pointed out that the NOAA, an agency charged with responding to natural hazards (look out guys the Spanish slug is heading across the Atlantic!), offered no conclusive proof to refute the existence of mermaids.
The NOAA statement followed closely on a similar announcement earlier this year from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring there was no conclusive evidence for the existence of zombies. "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead," a government spokesperson wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
Scientists estimate that we only know about the existence of 5 per cent of the creatures in our seas and oceans. But for YouTube enthusiasts mermaids abound.
So, it is up to you, dear reader. Which really exists? Higgs Boson, slug eating slugs, zombies or mermaids? You decide.
Dick Skellington 9 July 2012
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.
Cartoon by Catherine Pain