|Cook & Peary by Robert M. Bryce|
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 1999
I flipped through it (Cook & Peary) quickly and conclude that it is basically about Cook. I have avoided looking at this book because I thought it would make me mad. The few things I have seen that are critical of the Navigation Foundation's work are so pathetic that they don't make me mad at all.
It is clear that this guy knows next to nothing about navigation and less about photographic analysis. Bryce seems to have gone to the Rawlins "conspiracy under every rock" school. For example, he comments that the two photos Peary took in the near vicinity of the Pole in which the sun appears (at exactly the right elevation) must be faked, because why else would they have been "suppressed". Who says these were suppressed? Peary took a few hundred photos on the 1909 trip, over 100 on the ice journey and probably about 40 in the near vicinity of the Pole. He published a small fraction of these. The only thing about having this book that annoys me is that I can't wait to find time to tear it apart page by page.
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2000
I managed to plow up to about p350 in Bryce. It is just amazing how everything in that book is told from the point of view of Cook. Although Bryce presumably ultimately concluded Cook did not make the pole, the book is obviously extremely sympathetic to Cook. Every nasty thing Cook ever wrote about Peary (after they had become bitter enemies) is reported as gospel. It was interesting to find out that Peary apparently saw, in 1908, the note that Cook sent to Francke from north of Cape Hubbard. So he knew he might have a fight on his hands.
Even before Peary left the U.S. in 1908, he knew Cook might attempt the pole, and said that he better bring back proof. Critics point to this and say that Peary applied a double standard, because he though Cook should have proof, but he had none of his own. This, of course, depends on the definition of proof. Rawlins likes to assume this means "scientific" proof, not including sights, which can be faked. In fact, there is no such "proof" that either explorer could have brought back. Rawlins says magnetic data would do the trick, but that could not be verified until someone else went to the pole, presumably many years later. Also, that would not be that accurate, and could be estimated based on known variation data at other points on the earth.
Of course, "proof" also includes eyewitness accounts, contemporary diaries that have the appearance of genuineness, etc. Civil matters and even criminal prosecutions in life or death cases often rely on "proof" that would not meet Rawlins' definition of "scientific" proof, that is proof that does not depend in any way on the credibility of the witnesses. Peary knew he would have witnesses, and went out of his way to have Bartlett and Marvin provide "certificates." He also knew that Cook was not likely to have any witnesses, other than his Eskimo companions, who, of course ultimately refuted Cook's claims. Cook also never provided a diary or sights (putting aside whether they could be faked). This is the kind of proof that Peary assumed Cook would have to produce.
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000
Here is something cool out of Bryce's book. This guy Shea was busy writing articles to try to prove that Peary did not reach the pole. Then he decided to team up with some of Cook's buddies to try to prove that Cook reached the pole, because then he would not have to try to prove Peary didn't. In other words, he wasn't objectively investigating the legitimacy of Peary's claim, but just trying to make sure Peary didn't get the honor of priority. The book is just full of stuff like this about trying to do Peary's claim in so that the American public, badly needing a hero, would turn to Cook. And Bryce says Cook was spending $130,000 per year to do Peary in (lobbyists, etc.). That is well over $1 million current bucks.
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000
I finished Bryce's tome. This is one of the most shamelessly biased books I have ever had the patience to make myself read, but there are some nuggets. But before the nuggets, a couple of things. (1) Nansen's farthest north is clearly not a fake because he was accompanied by one "fully literate" witness and because he provided unfakeable compass variation data. One must wonder at the need for a "fully literate" witness. Were there road signs? Historical markers? What bunk.
Bryce states that Peary's distances were impossible without even mentioning Henson's confirmation of the distance. In fact, he barely mentions Henson in the less than 5 pages that he devotes to analyzing Peary's claim, other than to cite a few snippets that he interprets as negative. Bryce calls the Navigation Foundation to task for relying solely on Peary's account to determine the timing of photos as if Henson had not said anything about the final part of the journey. Did Henson have to be "fully literate" to estimate miles or know how many hours they spent at the pole? Bryce might have defensible reasons for doubting Henson (maybe he thinks Henson was in on a plot; maybe he has evidence from which he concludes Henson was a poor observer or a fool, or whatever), but when he disregards Henson without explanation, one is left with the distinct feeling that race is at the root of this.
And what of Nansen's unfakeable compass variation? Cook's estimate that the variation was 180 degrees at C. Hubbard is inconclusive, since we have no way of knowing what it really was then, due to sun spots, etc. (Cook was off by about 40 degrees, according to the government's model—that's "gummint" here in Texas.)
(2) Cook might really have gone 520 miles out and back based only on his compass (heading in the wrong direction by 40 degrees, of course). He would have returned to approximately the same point from which he left. That is, the ice doesn't drift for Cook, only for Peary.
Here are a few useful points
1) One big question has always been, if Peary had all these nifty ways of staying on course, why didn't he explain them. Our answer was, he was afraid Cook would pick up on them and use them to bolster his claim. Bryce provides good support for that proposition. Cook apparently invented the Eskimo sun dial after a French astronomer proposed it as a possible way of staying on track.
Cook appears to have copied Peary's north pole sights (Peary applied two corrections in the wrong order - utterly immaterial to the outcome, but technically wrong. Cook did the same.) Peary was always more afraid of Cook (not unreasonably, in view of his immense popularity) than of disbelief of his own claim. This is the real damage Cook did to Peary.
2) Bartlett doubted the existence of Crocker Land, and told MacMillan so. I think this is helpful, since it shows that Peary and Bartlett apparently had discussions about what Peary thought he saw. Bartlett was not afraid to contradict Peary when he disagreed.
3) Based on handwriting analysis, we had figured that Peary asked a Bowdoin professor named H.B. Hastings to determine the accuracy with which left-right position could be determined by a latitude sight. Bryce has found a note from Peary to confirm this. One question, not addressed by Bryce, is why did Peary want to look into this? Was he looking for evidence to support his good result? The evidence would not be too helpful, since it shows he was a bit on the lucky side to miss only by 5 miles. So, maybe he dropped it. Alternatively, did he miss by a lot more than he thought he would (say, 20 miles), and was he trying to figure out why? This is a possibility, but even this would show that Peary at least thought his navigation was adequate. By the way, Bryce's attack on Peary is consists mainly of an assertion that the distance was impossible and on his theory that Peary's diary is a recopy of the original, which should have been grimy, etc., with the damaging parts left out. This begs an inquiry to the Scott Polar Research Institute.
I have seen a letter from Rawlins stating that Scott's diary is "immaculate." (Actually, Rawlins said "emaculate.") I think I will try to get someone from the Scott center to confirm this. Also, it is strange that the real diary never has shown up, but of course it could be the one thing Peary ever threw out in his life. It is also strange that he didn't fill in phony stuff, but just left blanks, in the parts that were unfavorable. What would be the point of that. Finally, assuming Bryce is right about all that, we must ask what about the entries that are there? Are they legit? If not, why would Peary phony some parts and leave other parts blank? And if so, they show that Peary really believed he made very long marches on the last 5 days. Finally, Bryce claims that Peary's accounts are full of internal inconsistencies, citing Cook and Hall. I guess this goes back to counting dogs or something.
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