The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

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by Krzysztof Sienicki

Chair of Theoretical Physics of Naturally Intelligent Systems, Topolowa 19, 05-807 Podkowa Leśna, Poland, EU.

A comment on Chris Turney's and Bill Alp's manuscripts

In here, I will not comment on the particularities of both articles, which are related to a previous article by Turney. Instead, I'm interested in recognizing the last and indeed summary line from Turney's comment, i.e.

It is a great shame that the value of the new research findings reported in the article are not recognised by Mr Alp.

Captain Scott’s journey to the South Pole was a definitive spatiotemporal event. The event was naturally bounded by all variables related to the journey; human (I'm ignoring here the dogs and ponies.) and physical.

Primary human variables included prior traits and function (position) assigned later during the expedition. Secondary human variables, which finally turned to be a determining factor in Scott’s, Wilson’s, Bowers’, and Oates’ deaths (P. O. Evans perished due to natural causes.), included all transcendental reminiscences of all past and future social issues back home.

The primary physical variables included all variables contributing to what in today's terms we call logistics. And the secondary physical variables, which continue to be secondary, included all geophysical variables. The above was supported (supplemented) by a limited volume of in situ diaries and notes, letters, and post-expedition recollections.

In terms of history and historical events of a similar measure, the volume of related primary sources and other evidence of Scott's journey is very small. Thus, one could expect that Scott's story is sufficiently well told and that not much new – if anything at all – can be presented, advanced, and discussed, especially so many years after the actual events.

But that is not the case, and new revelations are freely reported in the form of research articles, books, and recently Internet sites and blogs.

By saying "freely reported" I'm noticing that the editors of a journal named Polar Record, under the guise of publishing peer-reviewed articles, promote cargo cult science – a practice in which there is a semblance of benign science, but there is no following of a scientific method.

Much has been written about the scientific method. However, in here, and for the purpose of this short note, let me stress that the fundamental part of the scientific method is replication. In experimental sciences, scientists repeat experiments to re-confirm the original experiment. In theoretical sciences, scientists repeat given calculations.

And in historical research, the findings require a scientific method and close work on primary sources.

Thus, in between, a new historical discovery could be based on a finding, for example, a new primary source of significant measure. But not only finding, but also, and chiefly by sharing the content of a new primary source with the public and fellow researchers, belongs to the scientific method. Anything short of that is reading from tea leaves.

Turney’s bombshell "... Meares had left a letter informing others of his actions..." is worth nothing as Meares had never left a letter. It is Turney’s lie.

A Red Herring

Mr. Turney while contemplating that "It is a great shame that the value of the new [Mr. Turney's–KS] research findings reported in the article are not recognized by Mr Alp" apparently cannot recognize his own lack of scientific method in reporting. His circular reasoning mixed with relying on primary sources is a red herring.

He starts on a high note

Here I report newly discovered documents which, when placed in a wider context, raise significant questions over Evans’ behavior during the expedition.

The reader right away is placed on the right track of "...newly discovered documents...". But then he wonders why Turney's documents must be "...placed in a wider context...". It takes 14 pages in Polar Record for Turney to describe "...a wider context..." and to charge the then Lieutenant Edward Evans of "... deliberate sabotage" due to "...the evidence...[of]...shortage of food at key depots".

What are Turney's "...newly discovered documents..."? Here is how Turney justifies his findings

...recently discovered notes from meetings between Lord Curzon and the widows of Captain Scott and his confidant Edward Wilson, point to Evans’ unauthorised removal of food from depots that were meant for Scott and the Polar Party...

And now you know Turney's definition of a historical document. Based on obscured notes of Lord Curzon allegedly describing the meetings of Scott's and Wilson's wives, the second in command of the Terra Nova expedition was identified as a culprit. Sherlock Holmes must be turning in his grave. Two or three persons, who were on almost the opposite place on the globe, formulate a bogus bravado accusation based on nothing.

Why they did not ask about the math?

While preaching the scientific character of Scott's expedition as mentioned above, Mr. Turney shows a profound lack of an elementary (primary school) skill. Specifically, the demanding skill of adding numbers in the range between 0 and 35.

During the return leg from the South Pole, Petty Officer 1st Class Edgar Evans died on Feb. 17th, 1912. A month later on Mar. 17th Captain Lawrence Oates walked out of the tent to commit suicide. And the remaining party of Captain Scott, Dr.Wilson, and Lt Bowers continued the northward march, eventual to perish c. about Mar. 29th, 1912.

We all know or assume to know that the last party of Scott, Wison, and Bowers died of starvation and cold. While reading the diary of Captain Scott, anyone can easily notice his basic concern about getting late to the food/fuel depots placed along the returning route. One can see that Captain Scott believed that even a day’s lack of food/fuel could be terminal (fatal) for his group’s survival.

Reading his diary, one reads that on Mar. 19th "…we have two days' food but barely a day's fuel.". Just a few days later on Mar. 22nd and 23rd Captain Scott adds "…no fuel and only one or two of food left …". It causes a raising of eyebrows that while facing starvation, Captain Scott nonchalantly claims "one or two of food left".

With temperatures at -40°C, as claimed by Captain Scott in his letter to Sir Francis Bridgeman, and without fuel to warm pemmican, one cannot think of eating it. Using body temperature to warm pemmican and eating it, would mean a negative body energy balance. The perplexing question arises: how did the party, without food/fuel, with Captain Scott’s gangrenous foot, and after man-hauling for about 1300 geographical miles (2412 km), survive until about Mar. 29th, 1912?

The answer is indeed effortless and results from simple arithmetic of food/fuel rations available to Captain Scott’s party during the Barrier stage of the return leg. The following depôts were stocked with one-week food/fuel rations for 5 returning explorers (35 individual rations): Lower Glacier Depôt, Lower Barrier Depôt, Middle Barrier Depôt, and One Ton Depôt which was never reached by the party.

Since the food allowances were planned for 5 men, the deaths of P. O. Evans' on Feb. 18th and Captain Oates on Mar. 18th, 1912 resulted in a surplus of food/fuel rations not consumed by the deceased. Combining this observation with sledding times results in Figure 1 (below), which depicts food/fuel rations available to Captain Scott’s party.

Figure 1. The number of daily sledding rations available to Captain Scott’s five-man party (○: Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates, and Evans), four-man party (● and ▼: Scott, Wilson, Bowers and Oates) and three-man party ({[math]\color{red}\bigstar[/math]}: Scott, Wilson and Bowers) party, respectively. The triangles ▼ represent a hypothetical situation in which Captain Oates did not perish.

The conclusion is palpable. Captain Scott’s party, including himself, Dr. Wilson and Lt Bowers, had full food/fuel rations until at least Mar. 27th, 1912. The result seriously and principally questions Captain Scott’s integrity in reporting the actual causes of the party’s deaths back in late March 1912.


The most serious mistakes are not the result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong questions, and Turney does it. The right answer to the wrong question is still the wrong answer.

If Mr. Turney reads my book, he will certainly find more answers than he is able to ask questions.

In summary, however, the most important finding is that Scott had full food/fuel rations until at least Mar. 27th, 1912, and that is what Turney should ask everyone including himself.