Assessing Titanic History


Oct 28, 2000
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Think of a bunch of pearls in a cardboard box. They have potential worth just as they are, but when organized properly their value skyrockets. The same is true with historic events. Each event has a given value, but that value is far less than the ultimate value of a graded, properly strung, pearl necklace with appropriate findings. Just so with history. Those individual facts gain their ultimate value only after being sorted, assessed, and finally strung in proper order as a necklace. Titanic's story is traditionally told by describing individual events as if they were loose pearls in that cardboard box. Alone, they really say nothing about the full tragedy. But when ordered on the string of time and sorted as to their intrinsic value those events give the closest picture we can have of what happened that "night to remember."

It is far more important to have an organized, scholarly method to research than it is to come up with some earth-shattering (or iceberg crunching) new theory. Without a systematic approach neither the researcher nor the scholars studying that historians work are able to assess its accuracy. True enough, each of us will have an unique approach to assessing Titanics pearls. But a system is necessary.

Let me illustrate by describing my approach to researching Titanic. Nothing new here. I've published it on this site and in one of my books on the subject. My point is not to astound anyone, but simply to illustrate how I developed a method to guide my research. The basic idea is simple -- sort the information by sources and then order the sources by credibility. In the following list the most credible sources are on top and the least credible at the bottom.

1. Documented photos obtained from the physical remains of the ship on the bottom of the Atlantic. There's old saying among forensic investigators that, "the iron never lies."

2. Other types of evidence obtained from the bottom (i.e. sonar, etc.) which can be interpreted by ordinary historians and does not require a single "expert" for analysis.

3. Sworn testimony take before a public body where the a sworn witness known to be who he/she claimed was under threat of perjury. All sworn testimony must be taken at equal value with all other such testimony until proven beyond a doubt to be wrong. No testimony may be discarded out of hand without cause. And, just because a witness was wrong on one detail does not mean that all his/her testimony is wrong.

4. News accounts of any sort whether in newspapers or in hastily-published books published immediately following the tragedy. Newspapers are especially suspect when it comes to veracity. You' can't trust what they printed as being the truth.

5. Autobiographical books by survivors written or published several years after the sinking. All too often the writer's deeds get more heroic and the events more terrifying as the mind works its magic on memories.

6. Interviews of survivors done late in life, especially after the Cameron film became popular. Once again, the mind tends to make the individual more heroic and events more terrifying as years pass.

My work always starts with a chronology -- a timeline -- that begins several steps prior to the event in question and continues on for several more steps after the event. This is to make me focus on the whole string and not just one pearl. More often than not, I've found that once the order of events is worked out the mystery of the sequence disappears. So many arguments here on the ET Forum and elsewhere are not over history, but over misplaced history. No matter how fine the pearls you have, there is no necklace as long as any are missing.

OK, that's what I do. How do you organize your research? I'd like to know because there are some people who have better ideas or are more clever than I. My point is not to argue over what's right or wrong, but to discuss methods that work and those that do not.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Aaron_2016

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Think of a bunch of pearls in a cardboard box. They have potential worth just as they are, but when organized properly their value skyrockets. The same is true with historic events. Each event has a given value, but that value is far less than the ultimate value of a graded, properly strung, pearl necklace with appropriate findings. Just so with history. Those individual facts gain their ultimate value only after being sorted, assessed, and finally strung in proper order as a necklace. Titanic's story is traditionally told by describing individual events as if they were loose pearls in that cardboard box. Alone, they really say nothing about the full tragedy. But when ordered on the string of time and sorted as to their intrinsic value those events give the closest picture we can have of what happened that "night to remember."......

-- David G. Brown

I agree, the truth behind the Titanic story is like stringing together pearls on a necklace or piecing together a broken vase. All available sources must be studied and carefully evaluated with an open mind to listen to all plausible theories and claims made by the survivors and the researchers who study the subject. All beliefs are welcome in the search for the truth. The condition of the wreck can tell us a great deal providing that the damage to the seabed and time itself has not altered the wreck to a deceptive degree.

I believe the survivors' perspective of the disaster is a key source of information as they were on the ship and survived and all sources that reveal their story need to be assessed carefully. Finding out if they were facing the ship or sitting with their back to the ship can tell us a great deal and evaluate the importance of their evidence. It was a traumatic experience and it was highly probable that many people who survived such a disaster would find it hard to use the right articulate words to describe exactly what happened in the exact order they transpired, and in some cases we have to go further and read between the lines to understand what exactly they were trying to describe in their present mental capacity, whether it be on the dock while speaking to a reporter surrounded by the confusion of traffic and the crowds, or decades later as they try to recount their experiences through the mists of time, or even at the Inquiry itself as the questions were fired at them without pause for thought at an alarming rate with the atmosphere in the room increasing their mental anguish and the pressures building to give a direct answer to each direct question without a moment allowed to stop and gather their thoughts.

Ever since Lightoller stated the Inquiry was a "whitewash" there has been speculation that the witnesses were being manipulated with deceptive questions so that the examiners could hear exactly what they wanted to hear and reach their own conclusions with the satisfaction of dismissing and excusing key witnesses that went too far, or keeping them out of the Inquiry altogether after evaluating their evidence from the US Inquiry or aboard the Lapland, or using senior figures such as Boxhall, Lightoller, and Ismay to speak up and over rule all other evidence that contradicted the company's innocence and the Californian's guilt.

A minority of survivors were allowed to testify at both Inquiries and because their numbers made up only a fraction of the evidence gathered, I believe in order to understand a bigger broader picture we should try to seek out and discover what the majority of survivors had experienced to find out the bigger picture. This is something that I continue to do as I search, evaluate, and string together the survivor accounts that relate to each other. A survivor who spoke to reporters may hold the answers, but since the newspapers are a primary source for a number of survivors who never spoke in public again we have little else to follow regarding that survivor's perspective. So rather than dismissing it entirely as a fabrication by the reporter I would prioritise it as primary evidence that relates to that survivor because it is the only evidence we have that relates to that survivor's experience, and for better or worse it is the best we can get for that person(s). Similar with survivors who spoke in their old age about their experiences. If it is all that we have regarding that survivor's perspective then I believe it is relevant to the story. Finding a rusty coin in the dark is better than finding no coin at all.

Rather than evaluating the sources in general terms as trustworthy or not trustworthy, I prefer to evaluate each survivor's account by the sources that are available to each person e.g. Mr. X spoke to the Inquiry and the newspapers. I would evaluate his Inquiry evidence with greater importance. If Mr. X had only spoken to a reporter and nothing else was available relating to that survivor's experience, then I would put that newspaper report as the main source of evidence as it is all that we have relating to that survivor's perspective. It might not be the best source, but for some (perhaps many) it is all that we have regarding their version of events and needs to be evaluated as such.

For instance during the 2012 anniversary a number of the survivor's relatives gave interviews to the BBC and were telling their stories, but they were in fact just reading newspaper accounts which they and the BBC presumably trusted. Same with documentaries and films. It is also helpful to read fellow researcher's work on the subject. e.g. Paul Lee's website which analysis the iceberg collision also uses quite a number of survivor accounts that are quotes from newspapers. As the old saying goes, if it's good enough for them.

To finish I will repeat what David said: How do you organize your research? I'd like to know because there are some people who have better ideas or are more clever than I. My point is not to argue over what's right or wrong, but to discuss methods that work and those that do not.


.
 
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Rob Lawes

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This subject is a complex and fascinating one that has troubled scholars for years. It's an area I've always had a fascination for because it greatly compliments our ability to work. It's linked closely with some of the fields I've worked in regarding training design and development, learning theories, the psychology of learning and how the mind works.

To try and learn some sort of formula to answer questions can be a very bad thing.

The process that you outline in your post David, is similar to one called Gray Scaling whereby statements are placed on a curve ranging from most true to most false. Interstingly, you place sworn testimony as third on your list of most credible and yet have long argued that some of that self same testimony is wrong. We both agree that a lot of what Boxhall says is not credible at all (cup of tea anyone?).

Beliefs are a dangerous thing. The very definition of a belief is as follows:

belief bɪˈliːf/ noun
noun: belief; plural noun: beliefs
1. an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.

I could write that I believe anything relating to the Titanic and that's completely different thing to it being true.

Beliefs should be a starting point, never a conclusion. They should always be tested, defined, ammended and reviewed.

There was only one true course of events that night. One way in which things happenend with one set of outcomes and consequences. What every body wishes to do is to find out as best as possible and with the greatest degree of accuracy what those events were. In this pursuit we have to accept that 99% of the ideas we come up with will not be true. That has to be the case as only one answer is correct and only ever will be. To that end then, we should be working together to add to the collective understanding. Testing our ideas and theories on each other and not being afraid to modify and develop these as they go along.

The first principle of research and study is to ask the simple questions. If you can not answer an honest, simple question then you don't understand the subject well enough or you are fooling yourself. If you find some testimony that sounds interesting but doesn't appear credible at face value then you must go further and test it again and again. Is there a more credible version of this story that can move the question up the scale but more importantly, much more importantly, is there anything that can move it down the scale. Being honest to yourself. I have seen this recently, in asking simple questions and having no response to the direct question I asked.

Jim C uses the phrase "Eureka Moments" and this I think is a very good one. It's what most people looking in to the Titanic story are always on the look out for. Once they find one they think they've found the answer to the whole truth and theirs must be the right answer and why has no one else noticed this before etc etc Normally, these Eureka moments don't stand up to the slightest scrutiny or have been seen before.

I would always look at it this way, in the first steps of the journey into research. What problem do I wish to solve??

I quote here, one of the people whose work never fails to inspire me, Richard Feynman:

The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. A problem is grand in science if it lies before us unsolved and we see some way for us to make some headway into it. I would advise you to take even simpler, or as you say, humbler, problems until you find some you can really solve easily, no matter how trivial. You will get the pleasure of success, and of helping your fellow man, even if it is only to answer a question in the mind of a colleague less able than you. You must not take away from yourself these pleasures because you have some erroneous idea of what is worthwhile.

What Feynman is saying here, I think, is don't try and solve everything in one day. Look at the easy things that people have missed, start by helping others with their ideas, test their theories and contribute where you can. Use what skills you have to the most benefit and as you do so, you'll gain more skills and knowledge then grow and be able to answer more questions and solve more problems.

My biggest area of interest in the whole Titanic story, is from the moment of impact until the boiler rooms were evactuated. As an ex RN sailor I have a good deal of training in how to fight to keep ships afloat and the methods used and theories behind them so I'd love to know what went on between decks on that night. I really should get off my backside and focus on this and do some work in that area. I've looked at some of David's pieces in this area and while I disgree with it, there is no smoke without fire as they say.

Part of the problem with a forum of this nature is that people are faceless, and therefore the context of the text is sometimes lost in the intention of the point. There are a number of people on here that are on my mental "meet for coffee" list in that should the occasion ever arise I'd love to sit down and have many of these conversations face to face, removing the keyboard barrier and enabling far better, more instant and wider understanding (including pictures). Posting discussions of such weight through a forum can more often feel like postal chess, always waiting for the next move and the game going on for ever and ever by which time we've completely forgotten what our original plan was and have moved on.

Another key element for research is to accept you are wrong or there are issues and move on. I have done this several times and it's very cathartic I can assure you all. As I've already posted, 99% of what we come up with is going to be wrong for the reasons I've outlined. Don't be so churlish as to cling on to a sinking (pardon the pun) idea but look at it again and ask yourself, how can I improve on this or do I throw it out and start again?

So, in my view, how do you organise research?

You start out with a wish to solve a problem. You form an idea and then you test that idea using all the available tools you can find. Don't fool yourself by looking for answers that support your idea and discounting others, use people to help you, put your ideas out there and see what others think. Have theories that can be tested, modified, adapted, used and abused but it doesn't mater how clever, elegant, simple or brilliant your theory appears to be, it it fails scrutiny and testing, it's wrong and that's that. That's the whole point of research, 99% of what we think is wrong but that's fine. Its contributed to the bigger story because it has removed another wrong answer from the pot. This is far more likely than stumbling on the right answer anyway.
 
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fresno

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According to some hypotheses, Titanic was doomed from the start by a design that many lauded as state-of-the-art. The Olympic-class ships featured a double bottom and 15 watertight bulkhead compartments equipped with electric watertight doors that could be operated individually or simultaneously by a switch on the bridge.

It was these watertight bulkheads that inspired Shipbuilder magazine, in a special issue devoted to the Olympic liners, to deem them “practically unsinkable.”
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But the watertight compartment design contained a flaw that was a critical factor in Titanic’s sinking: While the individual bulkheads were indeed watertight, the walls separating the bulkheads extended only a few feet above the water line, so water could pour from one compartment into another, especially if the ship began to list or pitch forward.
 
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I think we can do better than that, Fresno. We need to consider all aspects of the watertight subdivision.

Bulkhead height is only one element of many parts of the watertight subdivision. It is not widely appreciated that some of Olympic's watertight bulkheads were lowered in 1912-13 even at the same time as others were raised.

Welcome to the forum, by the way - I'm sure you'll enjoy many discussions with us.

Best wishes

Mark.
 
May 3, 2005
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This subject is a complex and fascinating one that has troubled scholars for years. It's an area I've always had a fascination for because it greatly compliments our ability to work. It's linked closely with some of the fields I've worked in regarding training design and development, learning theories, the psychology of learning and how the mind works.

To try and learn some sort of formula to answer questions can be a very bad thing.

The process that you outline in your post David, is similar to one called Gray Scaling whereby statements are placed on a curve ranging from most true to most false. Interstingly, you place sworn testimony as third on your list of most credible and yet have long argued that some of that self same testimony is wrong. We both agree that a lot of what Boxhall says is not credible at all (cup of tea anyone?).

Beliefs are a dangerous thing. The very definition of a belief is as follows:

belief bɪˈliːf/ noun
noun: belief; plural noun: beliefs
1. an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.

I could write that I believe anything relating to the Titanic and that's completely different thing to it being true.

Beliefs should be a starting point, never a conclusion. They should always be tested, defined, ammended and reviewed.

There was only one true course of events that night. One way in which things happenend with one set of outcomes and consequences. What every body wishes to do is to find out as best as possible and with the greatest degree of accuracy what those events were. In this pursuit we have to accept that 99% of the ideas we come up with will not be true. That has to be the case as only one answer is correct and only ever will be. To that end then, we should be working together to add to the collective understanding. Testing our ideas and theories on each other and not being afraid to modify and develop these as they go along.

The first principle of research and study is to ask the simple questions. If you can not answer an honest, simple question then you don't understand the subject well enough or you are fooling yourself. If you find some testimony that sounds interesting but doesn't appear credible at face value then you must go further and test it again and again. Is there a more credible version of this story that can move the question up the scale but more importantly, much more importantly, is there anything that can move it down the scale. Being honest to yourself. I have seen this recently, in asking simple questions and having no response to the direct question I asked.

Jim C uses the phrase "Eureka Moments" and this I think is a very good one. It's what most people looking in to the Titanic story are always on the look out for. Once they find one they think they've found the answer to the whole truth and theirs must be the right answer and why has no one else noticed this before etc etc Normally, these Eureka moments don't stand up to the slightest scrutiny or have been seen before.

I would always look at it this way, in the first steps of the journey into research. What problem do I wish to solve??

I quote here, one of the people whose work never fails to inspire me, Richard Feynman:

The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. A problem is grand in science if it lies before us unsolved and we see some way for us to make some headway into it. I would advise you to take even simpler, or as you say, humbler, problems until you find some you can really solve easily, no matter how trivial. You will get the pleasure of success, and of helping your fellow man, even if it is only to answer a question in the mind of a colleague less able than you. You must not take away from yourself these pleasures because you have some erroneous idea of what is worthwhile.

What Feynman is saying here, I think, is don't try and solve everything in one day. Look at the easy things that people have missed, start by helping others with their ideas, test their theories and contribute where you can. Use what skills you have to the most benefit and as you do so, you'll gain more skills and knowledge then grow and be able to answer more questions and solve more problems.

My biggest area of interest in the whole Titanic story, is from the moment of impact until the boiler rooms were evactuated. As an ex RN sailor I have a good deal of training in how to fight to keep ships afloat and the methods used and theories behind them so I'd love to know what went on between decks on that night. I really should get off my backside and focus on this and do some work in that area. I've looked at some of David's pieces in this area and while I disgree with it, there is no smoke without fire as they say.

Part of the problem with a forum of this nature is that people are faceless, and therefore the context of the text is sometimes lost in the intention of the point. There are a number of people on here that are on my mental "meet for coffee" list in that should the occasion ever arise I'd love to sit down and have many of these conversations face to face, removing the keyboard barrier and enabling far better, more instant and wider understanding (including pictures). Posting discussions of such weight through a forum can more often feel like postal chess, always waiting for the next move and the game going on for ever and ever by which time we've completely forgotten what our original plan was and have moved on.

Another key element for research is to accept you are wrong or there are issues and move on. I have done this several times and it's very cathartic I can assure you all. As I've already posted, 99% of what we come up with is going to be wrong for the reasons I've outlined. Don't be so churlish as to cling on to a sinking (pardon the pun) idea but look at it again and ask yourself, how can I improve on this or do I throw it out and start again?

So, in my view, how do you organise research?

You start out with a wish to solve a problem. You form an idea and then you test that idea using all the available tools you can find. Don't fool yourself by looking for answers that support your idea and discounting others, use people to help you, put your ideas out there and see what others think. Have theories that can be tested, modified, adapted, used and abused but it doesn't mater how clever, elegant, simple or brilliant your theory appears to be, it it fails scrutiny and testing, it's wrong and that's that. That's the whole point of research, 99% of what we think is wrong but that's fine. Its contributed to the bigger story because it has removed another wrong answer from the pot. This is far more likely than stumbling on the right answer anyway.
Just one .....(amongst many other things, of course !) ....One of the things I find most interesting about this website is the complexity and details of the entire "Titanic Story" as they are presented in these forums and the research that has gone into them.
I would use the word "layman" in my case in most of these.
I don't how it is on or in the other navies and/or other ships , but in my case my specialty rating and assignments were in the narrow field involving the electronic equipment aboard the ship such as the radar and radio communication systems. We didn't know or at least I assumed we were not expected to know about such things as navigation, damage control or many others that some persons seem to think that anyone who has served in the navy would be familiar. I am mentioning this since some of the more learned members of this website may think some of my remarks may seem a bit stupid or ignorant.
So the main point I would like to make is how much research and information on the many details of the complex "Titanic Story" is presented on these forums,
It is a never ending "learning process".
Thanks to all concerned !
 
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Rob Lawes

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I saw this the other day and it reminded me of Titanic research. Discussion about clock changes for example? :)

FB_IMG_1534285989947.jpg
 
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