Sunday, December 12, 2010

Amelia Earhart's Fate: Bone of Contention

Just a brief update on a post from this summer regarding the mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance.

The team that claimed to have discovered the Pacific island site where pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan allegedly perished as castaways has now announced new evidence: an object formerly identified as a turtle bone that may turn out to be part of a human finger bone.

"Finding Amelia," the two-hour program that aired on Discovery Channel tonight, contains the usual mixture of intriguing circumstantial evidence, free-wheeling speculation, and excessive padding with background information. Special feature of this program: horror-movie speculation about the dead or dying being devoured by vicious crabs.

Will the new information solve the case? As team leader Ric Gillespie says, "I crossed my threshold of belief long ago." Indeed.

To save you the trouble of watching the whole thing for yourself:

The program doesn't actually provide any answers about the finger bone—which seems to be the only thing new here; the rest of the information has been published in Gillespie's 2006 book and dribbled out in various news reports over the years.

The researchers still harp on the issue of "touch DNA," which, as I suggested last time, was less than a long shot.  Somewhat to my surprise, DNA was indeed present. I was less surprised when I learned the result: turns out that the DNA recovered from two small objects did not match Earhart's—because it was Gillespie's. Naturally, he is shocked and mystified, because he claimed he never directly handled the items.

His response:  "When you test the evidence and the answer is 'no,' the answer is not 'no': it's 'not yet.'" (huh?) "You have to ask the right questions," he says.  A revealing statement.

He may indeed have solved the mystery or Amelia Earhart, but the new evidence thus far turns out to be chimeric, and if the foregoing represents his idea of scientific method, it's no wonder he's having trouble convincing people.

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