The loons are a few weeks late this year

Is there absolutely no public or media memory of previous ridiculous Amelia Earhart theories and corresponding failed searches tied to the flimsiest of evidence? I mean, most of it emanates from the same guy at the same organization seeking to perpetuate itself year-on-year. Last time it was the History Channel that got hoodwinked by some new guys, now the National Geographic Channel has laid down a wad of cash and gotten Titanic guy Robert Ballard involved, all on the “strength” of the picture below touted by the usual suspect. An Electra landing gear? Come now. This photograph has been hawked as showing a landing gear and proving Earhart crashed at this island for many years. I don’t care what “classified technology” has been used this time – it’s an 80-year-old old photo, fercripesake. Could’ve been a squashed bug on the original negative for all we know. Sorry, but I’m not buying it this time either.

You might think that the New York Times is only writing about this new search because of Ballard’s involvement, but they, like everyone else, most often file breathless copy every time some guy – usually the same guy – excitedly says stuff like, “This lip balm case cannot have come from anyone but Amelia Earhart. You see? Case almost closed!” And the Times foregone-conclusion headline this time – like every other time – is maddening: “Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue.” It’s not startling at all. The photo’s been shopped around since at least 1992, maybe earlier, with a new analysis we’re assured is of the highest tech done on it every few years. (“Hey, let’s try Image → Adjustments → Shadows/Highlights!”)

So once again, the media reword the press release en masse and ad infinitum and we’re off on another news cycle of steaming horse potatoes. It’s like Mars One, except that one at least died the undignified death it deserved. People don’t seem to realize that this Amelia Earhart malarkey is on a perpetual repeat cycle, with several different decades-old theories presented in an annual rotation. Another old theory they hope everyone’s forgotten about will be trotted out next year when they need more contributions. (“Whattaya think, maybe do the kinda sorta matching rivet pattern thing again this year even though it doesn’t really match and it’s the wrong aluminum manufacturer?” “No! Too soon.”)

Click this image and tell me that’s definitely for sure no doubt an Electra 10-E landing gear sticking out of the water at the left – which, I should add, no one noticed or investigated the day the photo was taken. I triple dog dare you.

In case you’re interested, here’s an IRS Form 990 for the non-profit that promotes this hooey, generally most visible around July of each year. There are just two salaried employees (line 15), the founder and his wife, and they’re paid handsomely. This group was founded in 1985 and is ostensibly devoted to historic aircraft recovery. They’ve collected millions of dollars in contributions, paid themselves quite a large chunk of that money (“Thanks, me!”), and have yet to recover any aircraft. This strikes me as being almost indistinguishable from a comfortable retirement plan.

The founder: “Amelia’s fame is like a faucet I can turn on and off with a press release.” And yes, he knew he was saying that out loud and in public.

Shocked, I tell you

Amelia Earhart ‘Lost Photograph’ Discredited

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” [Kota Yamano] said in an interview with The Guardian. “I was really happy when I saw it. I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

Allow me to postulate: Could it be that they did little research because finding the original source of the photograph carried a high probability of ending their project right quick-like? Maybe better to leave it as a mystery, eh? Or, since this fellow found it in under half an hour, maybe they did find it and, perhaps not being completely familiar with how the internet works, hoped no one else ever would, but this is a horribly cynical view that, in court, I’ll deny I ever had.

Also discredited: The overwhelming majority of media that’s always willing to unquestioningly present every new Earhart theory as near-gospel – National Geographic included. Even now, after the source was found to have been published a full two years before Earhart’s ’round-the-world attempt, NBC News…well, gee, they still aren’t sure: “Questions Raised Over Unearthed ‘Amelia Earhart’ Photo”. Yes, questions such as “How is it that anyone bought into this hogwash in the first place?” and “So you’re saying NBC News was once a respected institution?”

The thing I’ve never fully understood is why the most likely scenario by far, of Earhart and Noonan running out of fuel and ditching in the ocean, seems so unacceptable to those who prefer castaway and prisoner stories. Is it just too bleak, too sad? Look, sometimes real life is – why not accept that?

History Channel’s PR department is desperately trying to figure out how to spin their bozo behaviour into something positive, but will probably instead try to misdirect by quickly announcing a new series on the mysterious connections between ancient astronauts, sharks, and Hitler, waving their arms as they yell, “No, look over here! Historical sharks!”

It’s July and the loons are back

A man whose face you can’t see very clearly has a sharply receding hairline? A woman sitting on the dock with her back to the camera is definitely wearing trousers? Well, of course it must be Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. And one presumes their captors must have hidden their uniforms and weapons to avoid appearing ‘too gauche’ in the photo.

Has to be, right? Well, could be. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Oh, good grief.

“It’s my feeling that this is very convincing evidence that this is probably Noonan.”

Having a feeling of very convincing evidence that something’s probably true seems like it might be just a skosh shy of an oxymoron, especially when that evidence is just a receding hairline and a prominent nose. Why, that could be Richard “Ski Jump” Nixon for all I know, but I can’t quite tell if the man has the requisite sheen of cold sweat.

If there aren’t already, there ought to be scientific and legal principles that say your evidence is actually not very convincing if you find yourself repeatedly pointing out to others that it’s all very convincing while sounding like you’re just continuing your own efforts to talk yourself into it.

This puts me in mind of pop archaeologists fond of coming up with mighty extrapolations such as “This small hole in the stone wall, which some might deem insignificant, is very convincing evidence that this is probably an ancient astronomical observatory and almost certainly the site of harvest rituals, possibly attended only by tribal elders while lesser members cowered in their huts, perhaps forbidden even to look upon the secret and mysterious ceremonies.”

Here, let me try one:

Men landed on the moon and didn’t sink completely beneath the surface dust as a handful feared they might*, so that is very convincing evidence that the moon is probably made mostly of supportive cheese.


“But again, for me, those things are all somewhat suspect until you have that photograph, which corroborates that she was there.”

Does not.

“To me, that’s just proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Is not.

Can you think of anything easier to refute? It’s like they’re not even trying very hard.

Anyway, it’s my feeling that there’s no hard – or even semi-soft – evidence suggesting either one of the figures is anyone in particular. I also feel strongly that increasingly sillier Earhart “evidence” will be brought forth approximately annually until approximately the end of time, or such time as the “science” and “history” channels’ hawkumentary money runs out.

Edited to add, a day later: Shock, surprise! The photo’s been discredited. Who’d’a thunk it?

*Astronomer Thomas Gold’s paper “The Implications of the Ranger Moon Pictures” is here.

“We’re running low on funds. Any ideas?”

TIGHAR fundraising

“How about we use that highly dubious twenty-three-year-old item as the basis for our Fly to South Sea Isles 2015 campaign? I’ll wager almost nobody will remember its first appearance.”

“I dunno…I mean, gosh, the rivet patterns don’t match at all.”

“Well, what about this: We release a photo with a caption that says they’re a perfect match and just superimpose the pattern we had hoped to find on the original in the background as if it were actually there. Attention spans are measured in milliseconds these days. Who has time to actually examine the photo?”

“I guess you’re right — I mean, who are they going to believe, us or their lying eyes? And since Discovery ‘news’ prints anything and everything we stick in our press releases and then every other news outlet on the planet snaps it up within forty-eight hours, with each succeeding slightly inflated rewording of our release making the evidence seem more irrefutable, we don’t even have to do any work, really.”



If wishes were horses then beggars would ride
If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans
There’d be no need for tinker’s hands