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    Re: Navigation and whaling
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2009 Feb 11, 17:27 -0000

    In the thread "lunars in literature", [7201] and [7218], I had quoted
    stories about the casualness with which the navigation of some American
    vessels was conducted in the mid 19th century; reports relating both to
    transatlantic merchant ships and to whaling vessels. These were no more than
    anecdotal, so their evidential value was certainly limited.
    Responding to my claim in [7201]
    " ... I've read several accounts of merchant vessels being "spoken" by New
    England whalers, asking for a position, who hardly knew what ocean they were
    Frank argued, in [7208] "I've read through over thirty logbooks of American
    whalers specifically, and I don't think that this was true in any general
    sense. They recorded their position every day, by account if weather did not
    permit observations, and they sometimes used methods that might have been
    considered sophisticated, including lunars. But these were practical people,
    and they used every available method to determine position ..."
    Well, of course, there would be well-navigated vessels, and
    casually-navigated vessels. I had argued, in [7227], that only the better
    whaling logs would have been preserved in museums, and the others scrapped,
    so Frank's thirty logbooks would not have been typical of American whaling
    logs as a whole.  To my comment about the great majority of these tatty old
    "They've gone into the bin, over the years, not into a museum. So it's now
    impossible to judge, from what has been preserved in museums, what was the
    general standard of practice at sea. Frank doesn't know it, and neither do
    I. We just have to keep an open mind."
    Frank replied, in [7279]
    "Oh come on now! The fact that we have imperfect evidence does not mean that
    we should ignore huge amounts of evidence. There are so many whaling
    logbooks that it's likely that no single person has ever read them all, but
    they are loaded with solid evidence of the history of whaling. Yes, you do
    need to bear in mind the biases introduced by selective preservation. For
    example, logbooks from small coastal whaling voyages are rare, but that's
    obvious enough. Logbooks from long-distance whaling voyages exist in large
    numbers and they provide tremendous "primary source" evidence. That evidence
    beats speculation any day."
    And I agree, there is much evidence, on many questions, to be found in those
    logs that should not be ignored. But the question that's being asked can be
    answered ONLY if we KNOW that Frank's studied collection of thirty logs is
    somehow representative of all whalers' logs, good and bad. And because we
    "need to bear in mind the biases introduced by selective preservation" (to
    use Frank's own words) unless he can demonstrate that there has been no such
    bias, then no such conclusions can be drawn. Frank has said nothing about
    how those thirty logs were selected from the "large numbers" that still
    exist today in museums, or how those logs that found their way to museums
    happened to survive from the many logs that were compiled. Without evidence
    on that score, Frank's judgments on the question are no less speculative
    than are mine, based on contemporary anecdotes. I repeat, we have to keep an
    open mind.
    contact George Huxtable, at  george{at}hux.me.uk
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    Navigation List archive: www.fer3.com/arc
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