Confession about Dr Ballard


Brad Rousse

Member
Nov 27, 2002
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This may be the wrong place, but I have to confess I really want to say it. I've been more of a lurker than I normally would have in the past, but my tastes in history have diversified exponentially while I was at college for the degree. So before I go to grad school at Fordham, I wanted to say something about Dr. Ballard.

I feel like a bit of a fool about him.

I first heard of Dr. Ballard the same time I first heard about the Titanic, when I was 6 (I'm now 22). It was an interview on Reading Rainbow so basically it was "This is the guy who found a really big ship called the Titanic. It sank and killed lots of people. Here's some pictures!"

And I was just amazed about what he did. I was transfixed by the images of this big, famous ship still recognizable after so many years at the bottom. I actually started to idolize him as a young boy in the sense of him persevering against seemingly incredible odds (finding the Titanic where so many had failed), and never giving up on something he wanted to do. It started a quality of personality people admire about me; my refusal to give up, to slack off, to perceive no matter what challenge or disaster happened.

Meanwhile, the interview had more profound results than becoming ensnared in the story of the Millionaire's Special over the years. My obsession with grabbing anything I could about the Titanic began a thirst for knowledge in general. It started my love of history and sharing my knowledge with people. And, perhaps with some justice, it was how I first started to find out about New York City, now the "icon" of my studies. Literally, a passing of the torch.

But above all was my respect for Dr. Ballard. When my entry essay for Susquehanna University had the prompt "who inspired you the most," I did it on Dr. Ballard. I gained early acceptance, in part because of the passion of my essay.

If you can't tell at this point, without that boyhood idolization of Robert Ballard, I would have been an entirely different person. Sure, I'd have heard of the Titanic at some point, but what turned into that profound seed would probably have been "Oh, a dumb chick flick" far too late to have such a profound impact.

Then came the past few years...

Obviously, as I grew up, my boyhood idealism started to fade and I saw him as, well, a human being. I learned that the discovery of the Titanic was a cover for a Cold War operation. That's okay, he still found her...

But, over the past few years, I've seen him turn into more and more of an egotistical jerk. The way he acts like only he knows what's best for the wreck. How he dismisses new discoveries and investigations with literally "Big deal... get over it." The sensationalist approach he took in his book and special "Return to Titanic." How he basically pulled the rug out from under the French half of the expedition. How he was coming up with bizarre solutions to save the wreck (painting it?!) and griped about his plaque being missing.

And, just today, something I never thought would happen happened: I read that letter from Nargeolet just now and I... was agreeing with him at some points. I was infuriated with the actions of RMS Titanic Inc, but now that I've seen the value of artifacts through my learning how history works, he seems even more of a selfish, egotistical jerk.

So, I'm really at a lost for words. It really does read as a stereotypical story: you meet your hero, and he's an utter jerk. Part of me is heartbroken that this is what's becoming(is?) of the man who inspired me so much. I've had suspicions about it, but the Nargeolet letter has been a bit of a nail in the coffin.

So... what do you guys think? Have I been a fool? Am I "justified" in a sense? Am I being too harsh or forgiving? Should I try to remember Robert Ballard primarily as the selfish egotist he seems to be, or the persevering figure that made such a profound impact on my life?
 
Jan 29, 2001
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Brad:

Please don't feel alone or guilt riddden about anything. On 1 Sep. '85 when the wreck was found I was moved to tears...I remember the Tom Brokaw's news report like it was yesterday. In fact after viewing the '87 "Return to the Titanic" (Joslyn) and as T. Savalas narrated..."And seen for the first time one of TITANIC's giant propellors". I was left confused. Dr. Ballard had previously reported that the props. were buried deeply in the sea-bottom. I wrote to Dr. Ballard in '88, and after a year wait received a reply on WHOI stationary. He stated..."We explored the portside where the prop was buried, and as luck would have it the FRENCH explored the starboard side where the propellor was exposed". We all know today that this is not the case...both the port and starboard wing propllors are exposed on the wreck today.

And furthur yet his artifact recovery condemnation is a far cry from the documentation he had proposed to recover artifacts scattered amidst the wrecksite. And even more his seemingly support of artifacts (including portholes) recovered from the doomed EMPRESS OF IRELAND is hypocritical at best.

If you'll notice that during interviews with Dr. Ballard during documentaries featuring TITANIC...he's quick to note..."When I found the TITANIC". But it was a joint US-FRENCH venture, and much of JACK GRIMM's previous failed attempt search charting was instrumental in the discover on 1 Sept.

What bothered me the most is when he stated..."These are not people of the sea" (RMSTI) Oh how correct you were Dr. Ballard...Tulloch and Co. were not people of the sea, but on the otherhand the contracted French IFREMER team are perhaps the "best" known people of the sea (as was J. Cousteau before his passing).

And let's not forget who funded the United States (Ballard and his team) joint half of the discovery of TITANIC's wreck. He was on borrowed time, and owing to the FRENCH's depletion of a vast search area, allowed Dr. Ballard to narrow his search field.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
Michael, Ive been reading Discovery of the Titanic since ive never read it, and after Ballards statement about finding new fragments of the wreck big deal comment like he doesnt care I noticed in his book the whole Titanic search wasnt a passion or what he wanted to find her for answering unanswered questions, His main goal of finding the wreck was to further his WHOI career so he could move up in the company`s rank and be more respected.

Feel that is not right to take and put a two face on, one that he is looking out for the best interest of Titanic but yet to him Titanic was just a way to further his career.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>and after Ballards statement about finding new fragments of the wreck big deal comment like he doesnt care<<

WHOA!!!!!

That thing was a statement taken way out of context by a media type after being hit with questions about an expedition which Dr. Ballard had no knowladge of and no part of.

>>His main goal of finding the wreck was to further his WHOI career so he could move up in the company`s rank and be more respected.<<

No it wasn't.

In fact, the whole expedition was more then anything, an afterthought. The original goal had been to test out towed submersible equipment on wrecks in deep water, specifically wrecked nuclear submarines which the Navy has some reason to want to keep tabs on. With those objectives met, there was still that desire to go after the Titanic and they did. The rest is history.

Look, Dr. Ballard may not be a saint, but he's not the evil Fu Manchu either. Love him or hate him if you wish, I know that you will, but at least get the facts straight and don't attribute to him motives that you can't possibly know about one way or another.
 
J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
I am by no means an authority on Dr. Ballard, and I am open to any observations or opinions about him.

What I do know is that he has had tremendous achievements in his field, and it is the case that many people who achieve great things also have a big ego. That ego (and confidence, and/or perhaps LACK of confidence and therefore fear of embarrassment if they fail) might be what gives them the drive (or need) to achieve what they do.

For example, Dick Rutan, who was the first to fly non-stop around the world (with partner Jeana Yeager) was an egotistical jerk by her account. And, Richard Branson seems like a nice guy but I imagine is also "overconfident" to put it nicely.
 
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>>I am by no means an authority on Dr. Ballard,<<

I don't think anybody is short of Dr. Ballard himself. A few years ago, I was inclined to take "Sides" in the often noisy debates about the man. These days, I'm just tired of it.

Mind you, I'm not saying he's above criticism. In the arena of ideas and opinions, he pays his money and takes his chances the same as anyone else. I just wish some of what's out there wasn't so bloody gratuitous.
 
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Aside from his hypocritical stance...he is first and foremost a geologist. And yes, the discovery of the TITANIC was the last leg of an expedition,
originally slated to observe the current ('85) status of the sunken
nuculear submarine SCORPION. And, as Mike S. mentioned, to test the newly developed R.O.V.
technology. In fact en-route to his search for TITANIC, the R.O.V. was altered from the original status, which enabled it to penetrate
the missle/reactor areas of the SCORPION.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
Maybe the media did take it out of context, but in his book i read the exact words that was written by him that his goal of Titanic was to get him on the map and open up new opptunities for him and the submersiable was just as good as the sonar was.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Maybe the media did take it out of context<<

They did take him out of context. We discussed this in the thread dealing with the documentary which the The History Channel was making.

>>but in his book i read the exact words that was written by him that his goal of Titanic was to get him on the map and open up new opptunities for him <<

Okay. Why is that a problem? Lots of people look for opportunities and I just don't see anything wrong with that. Why should Dr. Ballard somehow be held to a different standard just because it's the Titanic?

>>and the submersiable was just as good as the sonar was.<<

Yes. And?
eh.gif
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
well thats what his whole point was to prove that sonar wasnt better better than using Alvin at the time. The people running sonar and working in the sonar research field was saying that sonar was the future that alvin and submersiables like alvin are of the past.
 
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>>well thats what his whole point was to prove that sonar wasnt better better than using Alvin at the time.<<

Looks to me like the man was right about that. You can do a lot with ROV's and sleds which are towed behind a ship, but eventually, you just have to go down for a far more detailed look.
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
The only thing that really got me is that he is kinda two faced, in the National Geographic finding the Titanic was shown they portray Ballard as always being interested in Titanic since he was young but in his book it says otherwise.
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
i agree, sonar is only so good. At the time the Sonar was being used to map the mid atlantic ocean ridge and thats when Ballard was pushing for Alvin to be used that Alvin even though you cant see far is still important.
 
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Jeff Kelley

Guest
Ballard may well be two-faced, or he may not be — I am not commenting on that. But, being from a generation that grew up before the Titanic was discovered, I think EVERYONE had “an interest”￾ in the Titanic to some degree or another. It was such a compelling mystery — this huge ship went down with no trace of it ever being seen again. If the media portrayed him as some sort of Titanic fanatic when he was younger, then of course that may not have been true, but I am sure he was as fascinated as anyone was, perhaps even more so since he was obviously interested in the ocean and maritime subjects.

I also wonder if some of the celebrity he gained from the Titanic discovery served to place him in a different category, with or without his approval. For example, I had written to him once and asked if he ever considered searching for Amelia Earhart’s airplane. He wrote back and said that he had already been approached with a suggestion to do that but he was already busy planning another expedition (to explore ancient shipping routes in the Mediterranean.) So, to some extent, the opportunism now follows him.
 
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>>The only thing that really got me is that he is kinda two faced, in the National Geographic finding the Titanic was shown they portray Ballard as always being interested in Titanic since he was young but in his book it says otherwise.<<

So who do you believe? Dr. Ballard or National Geographic's take on what he may or may not have said? To call the man "two faced" is a bit harsh, especially since most human beings have a marked tendency to be conflicted on their opinions. He may not be 100% consistant on every little point in his worldviews, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone who is.
 
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What it all barells down to is that Dr. Robert D. Ballard is an *in-house* member of the Nat'l Geo. Society. Simple enough. For their views on such a critacl subject as Ballard & slavage...just have a look and see @ the '87 *epilouge* for TITANIC issue of Nat'l Geo.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
well like they say everyone has their opinions, I just see Ballard as that. He might be the finder of the Titanic but he didnt contribute that much to what we known unlike Cameron and the other expeditions after Ballard found her. It wasnt national geographic saying he was, if i remember right he said himself he was interested in the Titanic long before he got interested in the geological aspect of oceanography.
 
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>>He might be the finder of the Titanic but he didnt contribute that much to what we known unlike Cameron and the other expeditions after Ballard found her. <<

Except for the fact that the expedition he led along with P.H. Nargolet found the ship in the first place. Absent that, we wouldn't be having a lot of the discussions we're having here, and the subsequent expeditions would never have happened.

Look, I'm not saying the man's a saint, but a lot of the tearing down is, to put it mildly, nihilistic. I don't respect him because he's a nice guy. I respect him because of what he acheived and what that acheivement made possible.
 
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Matt Pereira

Guest
Well i understand that but even if Ballard didnt find the Titanic someone else would have. I even remember that the French half of the team came within a few hundred feet or so on their first run of picking up the Titanic on the sonar.

But my whole point is that besides finding the Titanic he didnt contribute much other than finding the wreck. He did go back and explored the Titanic first hand and everything and sent the ROV`s in but I guess you could say i kinda wished he would have done like Cameron did or tried to cause in 86 when he went to view the wreck first hand the wreck was in way better shape than when Camron did his. We could have lost valuable evidence that was still around or visable in 85/86. But I understand that "JJ" was alittle on the big side but he only took the rov down to what B deck of the grandstaircase and said that nothing remained no wood and didnt go any futher.
 
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>>but even if Ballard didnt find the Titanic someone else would have.<<

Woulda, coulda, shoulda...only that's all speculation. Maybe somebody else would have found the wreck but we don't know that. One of the problems is that the only other contender...Jack Grimm...was looking in all the wrong places and who knows who else would have operated under the same assumptions that he did?

No matter, what anyone else might have done has no bearing on what did happen. Ballard and Nargolet got there first, they did it by checking out an area that others had pretty much ruled out, and it wasn't even a close race.

>>But my whole point is that besides finding the Titanic he didnt contribute much other than finding the wreck. <<

And my point is to take a look at everything this simple achievement made possible. Whatever anybody else's contributions, none of that happens in the absence of the wreck being found in the first place.
 

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