The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Canada faked its place in space


The picture above shows a spacewalk during the space shuttle mission STS-114 in 2005. The astronaut in the picture is Stephen Robinson, an American, but the giant robot arm to his left is Canadian: It's the "Canadarm1," a high-tech robotic arm.

You can probably guess that the arm is Canadian, of course: It has a huge logo on the side that says "Canada" and the familiar maple leaf flag.

But did it really have that logo there? The Economist notes that while the above version of the photograph appears on a number of Canadian government Web sites (and many other sites), the version shot by NASA quite clearly shows no logo at that spot on the arm (although there is one, seen upside down, closer to the end of the arm).

It doesn't take a expert to realize that the image has been digitally altered: A quite generic Canada logo has been pasted onto the arm. Exactly how this happened is unclear (notably, the Canadian Space Agency’s official Tumblr account appears to have removed the image after the Economist pointed out that it was fake).

The Canadian government isn't alone in official Photoshop fails, however. In China, local officials have virtually made bad photo editing into an art form. Perhaps most notorious is the one released last year by officials in Ningguo, an eastern province of Anhui, which was designed to show them meeting a local elderly resident:

And while local Chinese officials may have been the most egregious offenders, there have been problems at a higher level too: This image from 2004, which appeared to show Premier Li Keqiang visiting Liaoning province (when it quite clearly didn't), has become legendary as a Chinese government Photoshop fail.

Unsurprisingly, North Korea has had a number of similar problems. Enjoy this photograph of Kim Jong Un from last year, for example:

More subtly, Alan Taylor (no relation) at the Atlantic makes a convincing case that at least of two of the hovercraft in one KCNA photograph released last year had been digitally added, apparently to make this military exercise look more menacing.

To a degree, China and North Korea's photo editing follies are understandable: They're largely a byproduct of rapidly changing technologies and autocratic governments that are used to doing as they please. And isolated instances of bad Photoshopping exist all over the world, of course (memorably, in 2007, a magazine owned by a friend of the then-French president ran curiously flattering images of Nicolas Sarkozy, for example).

But Canada's apparent photo forgery perhaps seems more bizarre — especially given that it's Canada that was apparently doing the photo-forging.