Less than a year ago, Steve Sheridan's photo from Illinois that showed an intriguing woodpecker with a red crest and white shield was made public. For quite some time before that, the photo had been known and circulated in secret.
In looking at that image, we all went to substantial lengths to explain its features and explain away its anomalies. The presence of the white shield, the absence of visible dorsal stripes, the shape of the neck stripe, all that was contemplated and discussed at length. When we found things that didn't quite add up, we attempted to account for them as tricks of light, oddities of posture, whatever. We did this even when we could not find any good supporting evidence that our hypotheses were plausible. Why did we do this? Well, because Steve appeared completely sincere and forthright about his image, and because it seemed clear that he would lose far more by fabricating an image than he could possibly gain. Even when we got the first hard data that suggested the image might be bogus, we assumed the data were wrong. Not until the third time those measurements were confirmed did the wall begin to crack; in fact, Steve actually cracked first and confessed before any of us had the chance to proclaim the image a fraud.
In the case of Steve Sheridan, both his sincerity and his photograph were faked. But why?
Steve had been searching in the area extensively. He had both audio encounters and sightings that he was unable to document with recordings or photographs. He knew there were Ivorybills there; he might have been right about this, we can't say. But he could not come up with the proof needed to get others to share his conclusion. In a fit of frustration, he fabricated the proof. In his mind he was only generating the photo that he should have been able to capture legitimately; he was not misrepresenting the presence of Ivorybills at the site, he was in fact trying to help the Ivorybills by getting others to believe in them as well. His certainty in the presence of real Ivorybills at the site probably made it easier for him to project the facade of sincerity and honesty about his bogus image. It is far easier to lie when you are convinced that the lie really could (or should) be true.
He may have been right; there may have been Ivorybills there, and he may have seen and heard them. Nonetheless, his photo was fake.
We who do not learn from our past are condemned to repeat it.