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No, Nat Geo's bone-sniffing dogs are not going to find Amelia Earhart's skeleton.

by Brian Dunning

June 22, 2017

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Donate Well, that didn't take long. It's only been about six months since Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR made their last rounds hoaxing all the world's news agencies with his Amelia Earhart claims, and he's already at it again. This time he has persuaded National Geographic to finance an expedition with bone-sniffing dogs -- to look for her remains on an island that we know she could not possibly have gone to, but that is otherwise littered with bones from hundreds of people who lived and worked and died on the island for more than a century.

There is no chance that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan crashed on Nikumaroro, and no serious historians think so. But it makes good adventurous sounding "news", so that's why Nat Geo, Discovery, and others are so eager to promote the nonsense.

For decades, TIGHAR (a nonprofit formed by Gillespie to fund his Earhart obsession) has been successfully persuadingNational Geographic, Discovery Channel, and others into funding its various wild goose chases around the South Pacific. Gillespie’s claimed alternate histories for Earhart have never been persuasive to any serious historians, but since he’s the only one making noise, he’s the one whose press releases get trumpeted by the media.

There is no historical doubt to Earhart’s final resting place. She was in partial short-distance radio contact with the Coast Guard cutter Itasca as she ran out of fuel in the immediate vicinity of Howland Island, the planned refueling stop. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had followed Itasca’sradio direction finding signal to get there. The water there is very deep, and it’s unlikely that much survives of the plane to ever be found. There’s never been any mystery surrounding her loss at sea.

For some reason, Gillespie thinks they flew instead to an island called Nikumaroro, a full ten degrees off the course they are known to have followed, and which their fuel onboard made it physically impossible to reach. Nikumaroro was inhabited by hundreds of people for decades before Earhart’s flight, but Gillespie has pointed to practically every speck of trash (including part of a shoe and a shard of glass) as proof that Earhart was on the island. Such an identificationdefies rationality, as Nikumaroro was a British colony of about 100 men, women, and children; a coconut plantation; and an American Coast Guard station. Communities of pearl divers lived, worked, and died on the island since the 1800s. The island is loaded with trash from all of those, long before Gillespie and his believers began looking for signs of Earhart. They will find anything they want to find.

But will Nat Geo's bone-sniffing dogs find Amelia Earhart's skeleton? Of course not. After parroting and promoting the TIGHAR press releases as aggressively as they have for decades now, and presumably having a fact-checking department, we have to conclude that Nat Geo doesn't care whether the story is true or not. For an organization with such a storied history, it's a bit sad.

For a comprehensive examination of history vs Gillespie, see the full Skeptoid episode #245and all the primary bibliographic references. Here is a post with additional information. See this blog post for a discussion of the male arm bone Gillespie bizarrely asserts is Earhart's. See this blog post for a discussion of yet another circus-like press release where he successfully persuaded newspapers to report a piece of trash as unequivocally part of her airplane.

Listen to science, history, and reason -- not to sensationalized press releases.

(Correction 2017-07-16: An earlier version of this incorrectly identified the Coast Guard station as British. - BD)

by Brian Dunning

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