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Eugene Rodgers on: The Idea of Scientific Study in Antarctica
Eugene Rodgers Q: How did Byrd use of the promise of scientific discovery to sell his expedition? How real was that science?

ER: Science has played a major role in Antarctic exploration. And Byrd truly wanted to contribute to science. Antarctica was virgin territory. It still is in many ways. Virgin territory for scientists. Glaciologists had to study how much ice was there and how it moved. The weathermen had to study the air patterns, the geologists had to study the rocks down there. So gathering scientific knowledge about Antarctica was very important at the time. And Byrd truly wanted to make scientific contributions. So he gathered scientists and did scientific work down there. And it was truly important to obtaining the global picture of things. The Antarctic portion of the earth is huge, look at a globe, it's a huge portion of the earth. And at the time, especially in the 1920s, very little was known about it. So what data Byrd was able to gather, and his men were able to gather, enabled weather forecasters to make better predictions even for the United States, oceanographers to understand currents better and so forth. Scientifically although Byrd didn't do a lot of science in that first expedition, what science he did was very good and very worthwhile.


Q: He didn't just kind of use it as a carrot, as a way to sell the expedition, he really had a genuine interest in it.

ER: At the time Byrd mounted his first Antarctic expedition, science was a very important part of expeditions. But it was also a way to raise money because scientists and science were very popular at the time. People were interested in educating themselves. They loved to read anything about science in the 1920s. So Byrd used science, not only as a means of contributing to humanity which he truly wanted to do, but also as a way of gaining attention to his expedition. So he hyped the expedition by claiming he would do great scientific things. He stretched the truth a little bit. He talked about possibly finding enclaves with maybe people like Eskimos and weird plants and animals, maybe something prehistoric. He was hinting that they might find dinosaurs down there. And there was, I suppose some possibility this might happen although scientists didn't think they'd find anything like that and in fact they didn't. They found rather routine things, but very important things to scientists. Byrd's expeditions contributed greatly to our scientific understanding of the polar regions.

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