Monday, July 21, 2008

Photo truthiness II

"Iranian missile launch, July 2008" (altered)

"Iranian missile launch, July 2008" (original)

These photos of Iran's test launch of missiles caused quite an international stir a few weeks ago. It was discovered that the original photo -- showing three missiles -- had been photoshopped to show four. This gave everyone an added incentive to shoot their mouths off (Condoleeza Rice concluded, "The Iranians are just trying to show they're tough" ).

Filmmaker Errol Morris also weighed in at the NY Times with an op-ed called "Believing is Seeing." Proving the principle that every conspiracy theory needs at least one doctored photograph, his take is on the excitable side. "...what is the purpose of these Iranian missile photographs?" Morris asks. "They are clearly altered. Why, and to what end?" [italics his].

"The photographs tell us little about the real threat of Iran, " he concludes. "Is it a threat? A warning? Or a bluff? All we really know about the photograph is that the government of Iran wanted to get the attention of the world, and it succeeded."

I almost wish it were so. Who among us, after all, doesn't secretly adore the sudden skin-crawling realization -- with photos to prove it -- that we are up against an evil mastermind???!!! Irresistible. Of course, there might be other possible explanations. For instance:

A lickspittle Iranian apparatchik with great hopes of promotion has been placed in charge of the missile launch. After months & months of preparations, he is confident that everything is finally in place. His hand-picked photographer is ready. At his nod, a technician pushes a button & three missiles roar majestically skyward...but the fourth...misfires. No, it can't be, the apparatchik stares in disbelief at the single missile resting stupidly in its launcher & thinks: My career is in ruins!! No matter what I say, the photograph is there, & it will not lie. The apparatchik considers his options. By chance, he overhears one of the technicians in the control tower say to his friend, "Dude, no problem, we could just fix it in photoshop..." [translated from the Persian]

Next day the blatant Iranian fakery of its missile launch photos is on the front page in newspapers everywhere & the apparatchik & the technician are shish kebab at the mullah's prayer lunch.

One possible moral: If explaining an action means choosing between evil genius & ordinary human stupidity, always go with the latter.


Todd W. said...

There's actually a name for that: Hanlon's Razor.

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

Tim Connor said...

Todd, Thank you. I believe I've been waiting for that one all my life!