Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), is plagued by conspiracy theorists. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, since the disappearance of MH370, “conspiracy theorists have been busy trying to solve the mystery themselves. Many have contacted Dolan.”
“You’ve got this big mystery and everyone wants to know the answer and everyone wants to help,” the SMH quotes Dolan as saying. “It’s unhelpful, for the sake of the families more than anything else, in the sense that it has the potential to undermine confidence in what we are doing.”
I feel somewhat guilty for being one of those peanut-gallery denizens who have tormented him. Along with my fellow obsessives in the Independent Group, I’ve been straining my brain for the last eight months trying to make sense of the strangest aviation mystery in history. Yes, I’d like to be helpful; yes, I’d like to know the answers. And yes, I may have unwittingly undermined confidence in what the ATSB was doing, for instance by publicly saying that I thought they were looking in the wrong place. (Though, to be fair, they were in fact looking in the wrong place.)
Nevertheless, I must take issue with one aspect of the article’s characterization of my subculture: the use of the term “conspiracy theorist.” Now, look: I get it. My wife says that I remind her of the Kevin Costner character in “JFK.” I ruminate about the intracacies of a famous case and try to piece them together in a new way that makes more sense. I’m obsessed.
There’s a big difference, however, between true grassy-knoll conspiracy theorists (or 9/11Truthers, or the-moon-landing-was-faked believers) and MH370 obsessives like me. It’s this: there is no default, mainstream narrative about the missing Malaysian airliner. There is no story that officials and all reasonable people agree makes sense.
This isn’t the result of laziness or incompetence. It’s just that the data is so strange.
A lot of people don’t get that. Ever since the mystery began, certain voices have been invoking the principle of Occam’s razor, saying that when we try to formulate a most likely scenario for what happened to the plane, we should choose the answer that is simplest. People who are making this argument are usually in favor of the argument that the plane suffered a massive mechanical failure and then flew off into the ocean as a ghost ship, or that the pilot locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit and committed suicide. However, as I’ve argued over the course of several earlier posts, neither theory matches what we know about the flight.
Instead, I’ve argued that an accumulation of evidence suggests that MH370 was commandeered by hijackers who had a very sophisticated understanding of airline procedure, air traffic control, avionics systems, military radar surveillance, and satellite communications. In other words, what happened on the night of March 7/8 of this year was a intentional act. And when it comes to human schemes, Occam’s razor goes out the window. Instead of simplicity, we should expect complexity, not to mention red herrings and any other form of subterfuge.
Whenever I hear Occam’s razor invoked, I inevitably find myself thinking of something that Sarah Bajc said on CNN. Bajc’s partner, Philip Wood, is one of the missing passengers, and she has been very open minded in considering alternative explanations to what happened that night. “There are 40 crazy stories that you could tell about MH370,” she told the anchor. “And one of them is going to turn out to be true.”
I’ve come to think of this as the Bajc Postulate, which I think should replace Occam’s Razor in situations like this. It goes like this: “When trying to unravel human deception, don’t expect simplicity.”