Why didn’t they ask Evans? by Professor Chris Turney, published in the Polar Record, in 2017, has indeed stirred a lot of opinion. I myself felt compelled to address some of the issues raised in the article, in a post entitled, In Defence of the Defendable (awful title, I know).
On February 10th 2019, New Zealander, Bill Alp, published his Commentary on Chris Turney’s Why didn’t they ask Evans on this website, and even more recently, Chris Turney published his response to Bill’s article, entitled Response to Comment by Mr Bill Alp.
So today, said Mr Bill Alp, is publishing his response to that. Enjoy.
Response to Chris Turney’s Article:
Response to Comment by Mr Bill Alp
The article Why didn’t they ask Evans? by Professor Chris Turney was first published in Polar Record in September 2017. It claimed that Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans, contributed to a shortage of food for the returning polar party at key depots and that he failed to pass on a vital order from Scott for the dog teams to come out and meet the returning polar party.
I found Turney’s arguments to be unconvincing (poorly researched, with an unbalanced presentation and full of distracting detail) so I wrote Commentary on Chris Turney’s Why didn’t they ask Evans (Alp, 2019), which has been published in full on two websites:
tomcreandiscovery.com at: http://tomcreandiscovery.com/?p=4427
ResearchGate at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329864229
Turney’s 2017 article exceeds 9,000 words, raising many subtle arguments, inferences and implications. Much of his material appears to be only loosely related to the matter at hand, so I confined my Commentary to what for me were the three main questions:
- Given its sensational press coverage, does the article provide a well-reasoned and balanced analysis of factors contributing to the fate of Scott’s Party?
- Does the article present convincing evidence that the polar party’s food depots for the return journey had been tampered with?
- Does the article present convincing evidence that Scott actually gave the alleged instructions to Evans?
Professor Turney has subsequently published a long response to my Commentary (Turney, 2019). This article acknowledges and comments on his response. While the bulk of his response is simply a re-presentation of the original material, he did respond to my three concerns noted above. In short:
- He does not see any need for his research and analysis to be balanced. If reporters choose to create a distorted (sensational) impression of his article, that is not his concern, not his responsibility and he has no accountability.
- He agrees with my analysis showing that the returning polar party never went onto short-rations whilst returning across the Ross Ice Shelf. He agrees they consumed the quantity of food Scott had originally planned, right until their final week.
- He agrees that his pivotal reference to Gran’s 1961 book, the basis of his claim that Evans failed to deliver Scott’s orders, does not actually appear in Gran’s book.
On the subject of sensational press coverage, Turney responded “one can often only hope that the accompanying reports will be accurate and without sensation. Sadly, this is not always the case.” (Turney, 2019) He does not acknowledge his own contribution to sensational reporting, triggered by the unbalanced nature of his article.
Antarctic scholars have for many years agreed that Scott’s planned sledging diet fell well short of the calorific and vitamin content required for heavy sledge hauling, yet Turney was silent on this matter. As noted in my Commentary, Scott and his men were effectively on a ‘starvation diet’ from 10 December 1911 until their deaths in March 1912. Without that knowledge, reporters (not just the Daily Mail, as implied by Turney) have presumed that Evans’ alleged food thefts caused malnutrition and starvation in Scott’s Party. A short paragraph like the one in my Commentary (160 words) would have provided reporters with sufficient contextual knowledge to avoid this particular line of unjustified sensationalism.