So, what did I think of the Discovery show? Well, I thought it was by far the best TV portrait yet of our project, and generally represented it fairly. And I wasn’t as put off by the re-creations as I thought I’d be (Discovery at one point wanted US to do re-creations while in the field; we politely declined, having other things to do).
I do have two beefs:
First, I think it was too bad they made it so much The Ric Gillespie Show. That’s not because Ric doesn’t merit the exposure, and it’s not to say that he didn’t take his lumps. Nor is it to deny that Ric is the one who’s made the project go, all these years, or that he’s the central figure in the search. But one thing that really makes the project special is what producer/videographer Mark Smith calls its “Hive Mind” – the Earhart Project Advisory Council (EPAC), a free-wheeling group of experts and generalists who debate, argue, plan, scheme, critique, and in many ways both power and direct the research. Yes, several of us EPACers were shown doing our things – Kar Burns, Bob Brandenburg, Jeff Glickman, me – and it obviously would have been impossible to crowd everyone in, but some representation of the EPAC as corporate entity would have made the portrayal of the project more accurate. As would an occasional glimpse of the other scholars who’ve contributed their efforts, in and out of EPAC – my generous neighbor Tony Mucciardi and his mids at the U.S. Naval Academy doing materials analysis, Taylor Keen of the University of Maryland doing ground-penetrating radar and dendrochronology, Sharyn Jones at the University of Alabama analyzing the fish bones, Dave Wheeler introducing us to Kite Aerial Photography (KAP)….. As would some representation of the way some of us -- notably Randy Jacobson and Reed Riddle, occasionally I -- beat up on Ric, and dispute his take on things. Again, I know they couldn’t crowd everybody in, and the purpose of the show wasn’t to give everybody credit, but I think some portrayal of the interactive, collaborative nature of the research would have better informed the public about how such research is done, and better served TIGHAR as a research organization, than did presenting the thing as Ric Gillespie’s personal quest. Even though, on one level, that’s what it is.
Second, there’s the &^%$*&^% “smoking gun.” They trimmed the debate between Ric and me about smoking guns versus the preponderance of evidence (which I recall as being rather truncated anyhow) to the point of being meaningless, and made me seem as fixated as Ric is on finding the hot pistol. I’m not, and think it’s really unwise and unhelpful to keep pandering to the simpleminded about this. Maybe there’s a smoking gun to be found, probably there’s not, but what people ought to learn from our work is a little bit about how science (particularly a science like archaeology) is done. Particularly in a field like archaeology, smoking guns are rarely found, and the success or failure of a piece of research seldom if ever turns on finding one. Only a fool, I’d argue, would base research on the hope of finding a smoking gun, and we try, if not always with success, not to be fools.
With those caveats, I thought it was a good show. It’ll be interesting to see what its results are in terms of public interest.