“Tunnel Vision” is an exercise, by Butler, in applying the method of doubt to the official history to both the story of the North Head tunnels and the fate of the two Boeing Seaplanes. Butler believes that by pointing out the gaps in the evidential record, we can cast doubt on these official stores, thus justifying reopening the book on the investigation into both. I do not think he succeeds in this task, however, because whilst he does point out that there are some gaps in the historical record and that there is eye-witness testimony which suggests something else might have been going on, most of these gaps and pieces of awkward evidence can be explained by either the official theory or its auxiliary hypotheses.
Butler, in private correspondence with me, is fairly disparaging about my use of terms like “official history,” “official theory” and “orthodox history” with respect to the received wisdom about North Head. His problem is that as there is no single, written account of the development of the fortifications on North Head, and no written history about what might have happened to the Boeings, the fact that I keep saying “Orthodox history seems to say otherwise” puts the horse before the cart.1 His argument is that if you can’t point towards an actual token of an official theory, is there really an official theory to ostensibly point towards when critiquing a rival theory?
I say there is. In the same respect that we have an official history of the Holocaust despite no single Nazi document detailing the Holocaust in its terrible details, we can have an official history of North Head and the fate of the Boeings made up of the available archival evidence and the results of the archaeological surveys. Sure, it would be better if someone actually wrote it all up and put it online, but that, really, is by-the-by.
Now, it is true that the official story of North Head has gaps in it but it’s takes a good argument to suggest that those gaps allow for a radical new history of the Head to be developed. History, as a discipline, is happy with gaps; a lot of interesting material never gets archived because it happens to be personal correspondence and is never recorded, et cetera. We expect gaps in history, even relatively recent history. I’m certainly sympathetic to questions of “What happened?” but I’m not yet convinced that the official history isn’t the better explanation.
With regards to the eye-witness testimony, the official theory explains the discrepancy of the Earnshaw Dossier (as I will now call it) by appealing to what we know about the conflation and conflabulation of testimony over time. Butler doesn’t like this argument because he thinks the character of the witnesses trumps psychological and philosophical concerns about testimony. However, given that these philosophical and psychological concerns are not purely theoretical but, rather, are the counter-intuitive results of empirical research2, it’s not enough to say “My opinion differs.” You have to explain why these particular testifiers are different, which Butler doesn’t do.
Still, there is something to commend about Butler’s work: he actually went out and did some site investigation of his own. In an appendix to “Tunnel Vision” he details the results of some ground radar work he commissioned, and the results of these new scans are very interesting and, I believe, warrant further investigation. Martin is applying for permission to excavate in the anomalous areas and I really hope he gets it (although I would qualify that by saying he needs an archaeologist to undertake the actual exploratory digging). Whilst its possible that at least one of the areas he surveyed is a known-but-missing gun emplacement that Dave Veart and company tried to locate but never found, some of the anomalies, if they turn out to be tunnels, would be genuinely surprising and unaccounted for in the official history. As such, I’m eager for these anomalies to be investigated and, if they show the existence of hitherto only suspected tunnels, I’ll happily tell the world about it.
Would the discovery of new tunnels and perhaps the remains of the Boeing Seaplanes be disastrous for the official theory? Would it prove the existence of a conspiracy? Maybe, but not necessarily. New tunnels wouldn’t show that there was necessarily a conspiracy; for that you would have to show that the powers-that-be knew about them and deliberately sought to hide them. It would show that the official theory was, at best, incomplete and at worse plain wrong, but no proponent of the official theory seems to ever claim that “There are no other tunnels period.” Rather, what has been claimed is “There’s no good evidence for any additional tunnels.” It’s a burden of proof thing: bring in new evidence and the burden of proof can shift.
Which is why I’m keen for another round of excavations, based upon Butler’s new radar soundings. It’s exciting new evidence of something, so let’s find out what that something is. I’m willing to change my mind on the issue.
But is Butler? I suspect this will be the real test. If Butler gets to perform his series of excavations and all he finds, say, is filled in pits or something even less exciting, will he go “Well, my story seems increasingly unlikely?” or will he fall back upon “But the eye-witness testimony says something else is in there?” To turn his back on the story would be to turn his back on the eye-witness testimony, and my suspicion is, for Butler, the Earnshaw Dossier trumps every other consideration.
We will see. At the moment there is no new excavation, but there will be a new version of the book. I shall update this review when it comes out, if only because I want to see if he has any more choice words about me he wants to share.3
- And not the “house before the cart,” as I originally wrote↩
- Yes, even philosophers take into account empirical research sometimes.↩
- Over at the Tunnel Vision site Martin has these words to say about me:
Overall my assessment of Matthews article is that it qualifies as an unsubstantiated academic rant, possibly written after a few drinks when he was a little episto.
All in all, Matthew’s overall involvement and stinging attack on my ‘vanity-pressed historical account’ make his ‘professional’ opinion abundantly clear – unlike his motive for writing the comment in the first place. Which I suggest is more to do with the defence of his North Head lecturing over a number of years and his friendship with David Veart. Certainly there is nothing of value I could take from his article other than a lesson on intellectual arrogance. Whilst my ‘research’ techniques clearly do not conform to the accepted practices of Matthew Dentith (University of Auckland) or presumably David Veart (DOC) as neither of these gentlemen have managed to find a single tunnel at North Head, I am quite content to rely on the cognitive skills learnt in my own profession – related to critical thinking, judgment and decision making.< \blockquote>↩