Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pseudohistory and pseudoscience

I've alluded to this similarity before, but DarkSyde posted an interesting piece about the similarities between the fallacies used by Holocaust deniers and those used by creationists. He begins:
Most people can get by fine without ever being taught evolutionary biology just as most folks can get by fine without being taught cosmology. So if there's no harm, why should we teach evolution but not creationism or the evidence against evolution?

Most folks can also get by fine in life without 'believing in' the Holocaust. You can learn a trade, get married, have kids, raise them, retire, and enjoy leisure, all without acknowledging it at all. Would it materially change the life of most people if they were taught in K-12 schools that the Holocaust might be a hoax?

There's a group of folks who advocate exactly this in spite of the evidence. They're called Holocaust Deniers or Holohoaxers. These people are not Nazis and I'm not trying to imply, directly or otherwise, that they are or that creationists are Nazis. These are mostly regular Joe's who are to some degree or another skeptical about the extant of the Holocaust. What they are is misled by sources they implicitly assume are being truthful; just like most run of the mill creationist supporters.

Those misleading sources point out that witnesses could be lying or exaggerating, they point out that most of the living survivors still around were pretty young at the time and they could be suffering from imperfect memories of a simple internment camp or false memory syndrome and so forth. They suggest documents have been faked or taken out of context. They point out other possible uses for the installations/ruins of the 'alleged' concentration camps. They quote mine credible historians so as to make them appear to doubt the Holocaust, when in fact those academics fully accept it. They say that even if a few Jews were killed, so were a bunch of Germans and Poles and Gypsies and so on. They subtly play on prejudice by suggesting it's in the interests of the "Zionists to play it up for all the world's sympathy they can get" and go on to claim that Jews "control broadcasting, publishing, and academia" so it would be easy for them to do so. They correctly point out that the victors write the history books.

Overall, this is an excellent article, and it quite correctly points out similarities in the arguments and tactics used by pseudohistory pushers (Holocaust deniers) and pseudoscience pushers (such as ID advocates), wondering sarcastically what's wrong with teaching pseudohistory like Holocaust denial in public schools and then "letting the kids decide what to believe" if it's OK to teach pseudoscience like creationism based on a similar argument.

Unfortunately, I have one not-too-minor quibble with one statement DarkSyde makes. While it is quite true that cranks often use the same sorts of fallacious reasoning and conspiracy-mongering to win adherents, the main reason I've been very reluctant to use the exact comparison DarkSyd has made, to compare the logical and scientific fallacies used by the ID crowd with those used by Holocaust deniers, is that the comparison is so toxic that it carries a grave risk of drowning out the reasonable point. Creationists will whine that they are being called "Nazis" or "anti-Semites" when in reality what DarkSyde is doing is simply showing that they are using the same sorts of fallacies of logic, evidence, and science as Holocaust deniers do.

There is a reason that this comparison is so toxic. Although DarkSyde is correct to state that comparing fallacies used by Holocaust deniers and creationists should not imply that creationists are Nazis or anti-Semites, he is at least partially incorrect when he makes the qualification that Holocaust deniers are not "Nazis." In a literal sense, it is probably quite true that most Holocaust deniers are not Nazis or formal members of white supremacist groups, although certainly such groups are the most vocal advocates of Holocaust denial. However, their belief in such utter bilge as Holocaust denial implies at the very least that they have a strong sympathy for the sorts of "ideals" that Nazis and anti-Semitic white supremacist groups hold dear. In my experience virtually all Holocaust deniers are anti-Semites or have neo-Nazi tendencies (often both), regardless of where they were exposed to the ideas behind denial. Period. Oh, I suppose it's possible that Holocaust deniers who aren't anti-Semites might exist, but in my eight years of doing my little part to fight the lie of Holocaust denial online, I haven't encountered a single Holocaust "revisionist" yet who can hide his anti-Semitism when questioned closely.

Given that one famous neo-Nazi once, in a rare moment of candor, actually agreed with Deborah Lipstadt's statement that "the real purpose of Holocaust revisionism is to make National Socialism an acceptable political alternative again," it should not come as a surprise that there is such a high correlation between belief in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic and/or neo-Nazi beliefs. One effective way to find this out is to ask a Holocaust denier why the "myth of the Holohoax" persists. They will try to remain vague and equivocate, but if you push them just a little, you can almost always get them to blame it on a Jewish conspiracy of some kind; or they'll use shopworn codewords for "Jews," such as "bankers," the "media," or various other obvious terms. An old Usenet trenchmate by the name of Allan Matthews had another, more amusing technique for driving this point home for all to see. Every so often, on alt.revisionism, he would post a brief article entitled, "Where are all the revisionists who aren't neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?" Here is one such post:
Gee, you'd think that after many months of posting this at least one revisionist who isn't a neo-Nazi or anti-Semite would have come forward and said "Here I am!"

But, no. It appears that there just aren't any such revisionists around.

Based on their past posting history, the few bozos who have bothered to claim that they aren't neo-Nazis or anti-Semites were, upon examination of their claims, found to be clearly lying. Of course, given the general behavior of revisionists, this lack of honesty isn't surprising in the least.

However, just in case some revisionist 'scholars' have missed my question to date, here it is again:

Where are the revisionists who aren't neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?

It's a fair question. After all, how can revisionists hope to be taken seriously if they all have such apparent biases, agendas and axes to grind?

So, then, if Holocaust revisionism is an intellectually honest endevour, where are the revisionists who aren't neo-Nazis or anti-Semites?
As Allan intended, a variety of Holocaust revisionists (in actuality, Holocaust deniers) would inevitably reply to his posts, drawn like moths to a flame. In doing so, they always eventually demonstrated their anti-Semitism or Nazi sympathies in very obvious ways. Always. For example, here is one such reply to Allan:
You mean "Jewish Holocaust revisionists" Allan. Get it straight. You have no problem with anyone dissecting the relationship between Eisenhower and McArthur regarding the Korean War.

You couldn't care less whether revisionists pick apart the details of the Boer Wars, or the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

You and the Cockroach Clan are single minded in your efforts: To protect the fabricated and "sanctified" image of Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis during WWII, and to absolve Jews of any guilt regarding the atrocities committed under Bolshevism and Communism.

There is much at stake, isn't there Allan?

If the general perception of the public were to change . . if people no longer viewed Jews as the "poor, picked-on, innocent scapegoats" that they have been portrayed to be . . . What would be the consequences?
It never ceased to amaze me that Allan's little ploy, even though it was mind-numbingly obvious to all exactly what he was doing by posting his challenge, always worked. It never failed to reveal the anti-Semitism or Nazi sympathies of the Holocaust deniers who responded to deny that they were anti-Semites. I could only conclude that either Holocaust deniers were so stupid that they didn't see what Allan was doing (unlikely) or that (more likely) the intensity of the anti-Semitism that led them to a belief in Holocaust denial, despite the mass of evidence supporting the historicity of the Holocaust, was such that they just couldn't keep the façade up for very long or very convincingly. Still, I do try to keep my mind open to the possibility that there might, just might, be out there somewhere a Holocaust "revisionist" who is not an anti-Semite and/or Nazi sympathizer.

I have yet to find one, though.

This very high correlation between Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi beliefs is the very reason why comparisons to Holocaust denial are so toxic and also why I rarely compare the techniques of pushing "intelligent design" creationism (or quackery, for that matter) to those used by adherents of Holocaust denial, even though excellent cases can be made for the similarities in the distortion of evidence and fallacious logic used. If I don't include a lot of explanation, I leave myself open to the charge of comparing creationists to anti-Semites and/or Nazis. Unfortunately, by the time I get through all the qualifications and explanations necessary to try to convince people that I am not implying that creationists are anti-Semites or Nazis, the message ends up hopelessly muddled or diluted.

And the qualifications and explanations don't work anyway. Creationists still whine that I'm calling them Nazis. I suspect that they will do the same to DarkSyde, should they become aware of his otherwise excellent article.

17 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 8/04/2005 8:48 AM, Blogger Axiom said...

"Creationists still whine that I'm calling them Nazis."

Perhaps it's time that we all moved away from enabling pseudo-politically correct speech. For example, perhaps it's time to actually use sentences like: "I am not calling you a Nazi. I am saying that all of the evidence ever gathered shows that your fable is incorrect. If you wish to continue to argue against these facts of reality, you're not a Nazi, you're a fool."

Phil Plait is doing something quite like that right now.

 

At 8/04/2005 9:24 AM, Anonymous Jeff Z said...

Interesting analogy, but regardless of its accuracy, I believe using it would be counterproductive. ID'ers are not Nazis, not only in the literal sense, but in terms of their motivations and goals. Using the Nazi trope would distract from your point and discredit you as a source. Also, using the Nazi trope for any but the most serious matters is morally dubious. There is a terrific article on the web about this at:

http://oracknows.blogspot.com/

Scroll down to the Monday, July 25, 2005 entry with the heading
"Arthur Caplan finds the Hitler zombie in bioethics"

I don't know if you've heard about this Orac guy, but he's pretty sharp. You should read his stuff.

 

At 8/04/2005 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose, when people of my age have all died out, it is going to be even easier to maintain this lie, but anyone who saw the pictures, in the newsreels, we know the truth.

 

At 8/04/2005 11:01 AM, Anonymous Mark Paris said...

There is another group that makes an interesting comparison - the defenders of the Confederate side in the American Civil War. Many of them insist that the Southern position in the Civil War was not a defense of slavery but of states' rights. They miss the fact that the particular right in question was the right to own people. I don't have the time or connection speed right now (24K bps if you can believe it) to explore this.

 

At 8/04/2005 11:57 AM, Blogger Dr. Charles said...

my last comment died in cyberspace somewhere - basically it said 'nice post'.
have your read this? http://slate.msn.com/id/2123647/nav/tap1/

nothing new to you i know...

 

At 8/04/2005 2:16 PM, Blogger M@ said...

My question is, what ID-related argument is equivalent to Allan Matthews'? Would it be useful to ask "where are all the atheist (or agnostic, or non-religious) ID proponents?"

Although it's probably fruitless, this line of questioning does help point out that ID is still a matter of faith, not science. But that's the crux of the argument as far as I can see: whether faith and belief have anything to do with valid scientific conclusions.

The mind-shift one needs, I think, is to realise that the universe doesn't give a damn what one's beliefs are. You'd think that would be an easy one to make, but the fact that the word "belief" crops up in almost every justification for ID in the classroom (including Junior's speech the other day) leads me to conclude that this paradigm is somehow a difficult one for the Christian fundamentalist to shift to.

 

At 8/04/2005 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Paris: Many of them insist that the Southern position in the Civil War was not a defense of slavery but of states' rights. They miss the fact that the particular right in question was the right to own people.

Although I won't argue that some people conveniently ignore this point when hoisting their rebel flags, only the shallowest understanding of American history (precisely the kind taught in most American schools) would paint the American Civil War as merely an act by the heroic Union to liberate black slaves from the evil Confederacy.

The fact that we now recognize ownership of human beings to be unquestionably morally repugnant cannot change the fact that, at the time, Abolition was at least as much an issue of political opportunity as a moral issue.

Most people today don't understand that, in terms of cohesion, early America was much more like the EU of today than the sort of monolithic nation in which many of us reside. The Republicans of the day specifically wanted a stronger Federal government than originally designed for the United States.

Their opportunity arose from a confluence of events: Slavery in the 1850s was on the decline nationwide, but the Northern states industrialized quickly, while the Southern states' economies remained largely agrarian, and thus more dependent on slaves. The Northern states were thus able to replace much of their labor with mechanical power. What skilled labor they required was filled by a recent infusion of a million desperate and hungry Irishmen who were only nominally free men. It speaks to the selectiveness of the Union's nobility that the Irish remained in circumstances often far worse than those of black slaves for a very long time after the abolition of slavery.

Abolition was thus not simply an act of liberal generosity, but an economic attack that devastated the South, and to which effects the North was largely immune. Abolition is obviously the Right Thing to do today, but in many ways it was the "gay marriage" or "medicinal marijuana" or "assisted suicide" issue of the day, and just like those issues today, it was hotly debated whether the states or the Federal government should decide the issue. The emotional charge of the issue itself aside, there was a valid legal question whether under the 10th Amendment the Federal government had the authority to abolish slavery at all.

Here's where the analogy you allege breaks down: I can make these observations without denying that Abolition was necessary and proper. I can do so without inventing a conspiracy on anyone's part to disguise or distort historical fact. The following statements are undeniably true: "America once employed slave labor, most by far from African sources. This was an unspeakably foul legacy I wish we could deny, but we cannot. We abolished slavery, and the nation is better for it."

To extend the analogy to the usenet question: "Where are the proponents of the states' rights theory who aren't racists?" Well, right here, for one.

We shouldn't allow holocaust deniers to rewrite history into something they like better, but neither should be allow ourselves to oversimplify history to better satisfy our desire for narratively satisfying "good guys" and "bad guys" in the story. There's usually more to it than that.

 

At 8/04/2005 7:41 PM, Anonymous chaperonin60 said...

First - "Nazi" is a horrible term and its use, in my opinion, should be limited because very few things are "Nazi" -like.

I would refer everyone to this quote before s/he delves into the cause(s) of the Civil War.

Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, referring to the Confederate government: "Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery . . . is his natural and normal condition." [Augusta, Georgia, Daily Constitutionalist, March 30, 1861.]

I'd like to see proof for the comment that slavery was on the decline nationwide in the 1850's. Here are some numbers taken from the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center at UVA.

1850 census data is on top and 1860 data below (full data is on the website - link below)
Alabama
342,844
435,080
Arkansas
47,100
111,115
Texas
58,161
182,566

The only places where slavery decreased
Delaware
2,290
1,798
Maryland
90,368
87,189
New Jersey
236
18

No other Northern States had slaves

http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/php/newlong.php?subject=9

I fail to see the nationwide decrease in slavery in the 1850's. In fact it was flourishing in the South and was in no way declining.

We could have an entire blog discussing the 10th Amendment but in short, your States Rights comments are incorrect. For the most part, there is no such thing as States Rights (exceptions - eg. The Feds can't force a state to enact legislation, force an elected official to do something, etc) - the only Right that the Southern states were interested in was owning people (Of note, it was the Feds that allowed slavery to continue - see eg. 1850 Compromise/fugitive slave act).

I don’t have time to address your other comments but I do disagree and will come back later with a more in-depth posting if I can find the time – my apologies for half a posting.

Cheers

 

At 8/04/2005 8:55 PM, Blogger Jay said...

I concur that comparisons with Holocaust deniers are counterproductive. Comparisons with moon-landing deniers are much better.

As for revisionists:

"... why are the people of the United States and their government always the villains in the eyes of the revisionists? Why can't our enemies--such as the king of Spain, and the kaiser, and Hitler, and Geronimo, and Villa, and Sandino, and Mao Tse-tung, and Jefferson Davis--why can't these each take a turn in the pillory? Why is it always our turn?"

-- Robert A. Heinlein, "To Sail Beyond the Sunset"

 

At 8/04/2005 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The strict enumeration of slaves is not an adequate measure of whether slavery as an institution was succeeding. An economy based on slavery doesn't scale well. Slaves were an expensive liability, and the expansion you note was not paying off in terms of superior economic growth relative to non-slave-owning states. In most cases the value of the slaves themselves outstripped the value of the plantations on which they worked.

Not that slaves should have been expected to wait for stagnation to lead to ruin, but the practice was unsustainable.

It is granted that slavery was the trigger issue, and certainly the one that most antagonized Southerners. It is not granted that the benevolent wish for the freedom of black people was the sole motivation for abolition. Slavery was the overt issue used to justify an unprecedented consolidation of Federal authority.

That it is still impossible for most people to separate the politics of the era from their moral assessment of slavery is a testament to the success of that strategy.

Regardless, this issue remains a poor analogy for the intellectual cesspool that is holocaust denial. Or, for that matter, Intelligent Design. Both of those issues use a sham academic debate to disguise a sinister social agenda, which as far as I am aware does not exist in the Civil War case.

The abolition of slavery does, in fact, bear a stronger resemblance to the debate over medicinal marijuana than to holocaust revisionism. The overt question whether marijuana should be available for prescription by a physician is one important aspect of the issue, but the question what happens when the state and federal government are at odds over the overt issue is another important aspect, and to my mind, probably the more interesting one in the historical sense.

 

At 8/05/2005 3:39 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

I'd go along with Jay that a comparisin with moon landing deniers might be better than the risky comparison with holocaust deniers, which, while in many respects ostensibly true, nevertheless has the Hitler Zombie sniffing hungrily...

One thing, though, Orac - your post does seem to come awfully close to conflating 'anti-semite' with 'neo-nazi', and this too is arousing the interest of the HZ (yes, I know you did not quite conflate the two but you came damn close). I'm sure that in your usenet arena the forms of antisemitism and holocaust denial were indeed close to nazy sympathizing; however, there's a large - very large - population which is profoundly anti-semitic and which also tends to believe in the falsity of the holocaust without being neo-nazi in any way, shape or form: just look East.

 

At 8/05/2005 8:51 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Put it this way: Virtually all neo-Nazis are anti-Semites, given that anti-Semitism is part and parcel of Nazi beliefs, but most anti-Semites are not Nazis.

Does that clarify things?

 

At 8/05/2005 9:47 AM, Anonymous Mark Paris said...

Thank you, chaperonin60.

I still have limited bandwidth, but I want to point out that anonymous (and I don't blame him/her for wanting to remain nameless) extends my point far beyond what I said. I did not say that the "American Civil War [was] merely an act by the heroic Union to liberate black slaves from the evil Confederacy." In fact, if the South had simply let other states enter the union as free states, slavery would not have ended as it did. Who knows? Perhaps even today southern slaveholders could sit around sipping mint julips while the slaves picked their cotton. But, poor guys, they wouldn't have rebel battle flags to stick in their pickup truck windows.

 

At 8/05/2005 10:56 AM, Blogger OutEast said...

"Does that clarify things?" Asked Orac.

As the dread scent faded, the feared Hitler Zombie's step faltered... it looked confused, hesitant, then began slowly to shuffle back to its rank tomb...

Whew!

 

At 8/05/2005 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is all a bunch of hogwash. Why can't we teach ALL sides of an argument, so kids can learn to think critically and make their own decisions about what they want to believe? After all, THEORY is the keyword for both evolution and creation. No one knows, and no one can prove it. Why not give kids in schools non-biased teachings? Also, what about all the other religions? Is Christianity the alpha and omega of everything? How about teaching world religions (all forms) as a real class in. Then kids (and parents) can figure out their values, knowing all the information, not just some (either creation or evolution). The extreme evolutionists and creationists are both lacking in balance. Not even an evolutionist can prove the beginning of existence. Hogwash. And as for the anti-Holocaust argument, it doesn't make any sense. Should we NOT teach kids that there are anti-holocaust idiots out there? What are we trying to protect them from? The truth is America has lost its ability to think critically because schools have become censored, biased, ethnocentric, and myopic. Let's get out the tunnel vision.

 

At 8/05/2005 5:52 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Poster anonymous above me:

Are you joking? Or trolling?

If not, here's a brief answer. The reason why it's not productive to always just teach the controversy in schools is twofold: 1) Time is limited 2) Teaching the controversy implies teaching each side as equals when most often, the sides are not equal. Not unless you think we should teach the controversy over heliocentrism.

Forget it, if you're not joking, I'm pretty sure you're trolling. You didn't read the post right there on the main page explaining why not to teach the controversy.

Fuck off and stop expecting us to hold your hand through the basics. At least learn the most elementary parts of the issue before joining the discussion.

 

At 8/05/2005 7:02 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

On the slavery issue, Robert Fogel's research has pretty conclusively shown that slavery was economically profitable throughout the decade prior to the Civil War. The "slavery was dying on its own" argument has pretty much been put out to pasture.

 

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Links to this insolence:

Create a Link

<< Home