The Editor’s Desk: Theories before facts

The Editor’s Desk: Theories before facts

What caused the Elephant Hill wildfire? Who knows? But facts aren’t getting in the way of theories.

The Onion is a satirical website that parodies contemporary news stories, and which occasionally turns its eye on news of the past. One memorable “news story” they published in a series called “Our Dumb Century” was dated November 22, 1963, and had a headline reading “Kennedy Slain By CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters, Freemasons.” A subhead read “President Shot 129 Times From 43 Different Angles”.

This is, of course, a nod to the many theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and who was responsible, that have proliferated since 1963. I was reminded of this “story” at the weekend, when I read a Facebook post by someone stating as fact who started last year’s Elephant Hill wildfire, and how (burning trash).

I sighed as I realized that this takes to seven the number of “causes” of the fire that I have come across; eight, if you count the people still clinging to the idea that it was trains, or rail activity, that started the fire, despite both of those causes having been officially discounted (those still arguing that it was trains claim there’s been a cover-up).

Naturally, everyone who has put forward one of these causes says that they know, for a fact, that they are correct, in which case I hope they have all contacted the toll-free tip line put in place for anyone with information about the fire’s cause, and told authorities everything they know. I somehow doubt that this has happened, however.

And it’s not hard to do the math. If all the people who “know” how the fire started and who did it, are correct, then by my tally the Elephant Hill wildfire was caused in seven different ways by anywhere up to several dozen people, by accident and on purpose. I’m not a trained fire investigator, but I have a strong suspicion that this is highly unlikely.

I spoke with Staff Sergeant Annie Linteau, senior media relations officer, BC RCMP Communication Services, on May 24, 2018, and asked if there were any developments in the investigation into the cause of the Elephant Hill wildfire. Her reply—quoted here verbatim—was “I can confirm that the investigation into the Elephant Hill wildfire is active and ongoing. There are no update [sic].”

So at this stage the RCMP, who—along with the BC Wildfire Service—have been investigating the Elephant Hill wildfire for 11 months have no updates and are still investigating; which would seem to indicate that none of the causes espoused thus far have panned out. This is undoubtedly galling to the theorists who “know” how the fire started, and are waiting for vindication, but good news for those who would prefer a solid investigation involving little things like evidence and facts, rather than wild speculation that often displays an appalling level of casual racism. (If you come across someone who claims to know the cause of the fire, and who prefaces their comments by still calling it the Ashcroft Reserve fire, it’s probably best to stop reading, unless you need proof that racism is alive and well.)

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, and Sherlock Holmes said, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Please: let’s wait for the facts to come out, and keep the theories—conspiracy and otherwise—to yourself.

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