Complementary and alternative medicine History Holocaust Holocaust denial Intelligent design/creationism Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

Pseudohistory and pseudoscience

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgWhile I am on vacation, I’m reprinting a number of “Classic Insolence” posts to keep the blog active while I’m gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I’m guessing that quite a few of my readers have probably never seen many of these old posts.) These will appear at least twice a day while I’m gone (and that will probably leave some leftover for Christmas vacation, even). Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. I will be checking in from time to time when I have Internet access to see if the reaction to these old posts here on ScienceBlogs is any different from what it was when they originally appeared, and, blogging addict that I am, I’ll probably even put up fresh material once or twice.

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.

This post originally appeared on August 4, 2005 on the old blog.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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