Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pseudoscience Bonanza!

One of the few advantages to living in an area with a lot of fundamentalists is that you can obtain crackpot works of pseudoscience very cheaply at the local book sales. I'm not sure why the fundies like these things, but my guess is that credulity in one area leads to credulity in others.

I like to have these books so I can be prepared to answer their arguments, but I don't like enriching the authors. So buying used copies satisfies both desires. (I admit, however, that if the book is still in print, buying a used copy indirectly benefits the author anyway, since it decreases the supply of available copies, thus making it more likely that someone else who wants one will have to buy a new copy.)

Here's what I picked up for a total of $4 at the recent Canadian Federation of University Women booksale in Waterloo:

The work of Barry Fell is particularly interesting, because the author was, at one time, a legitimate scientist, holding an appointment in marine biology at Harvard. His archaeological ideas, however, are pure crackpottery. Fell claims that linguistic evidence, inscriptions, and architectural evidence points to substantial colonization of North America by the Iberians, Celts, Greeks, ancient Hebrews, and Egyptians, beginning about 1000 B. C. E.

Fell's arguments, such as they are, were entirely eviscerated by Kenneth Feder in his marvelous book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. I recommend Feder's book to any skeptics interested in phony archaeology.


paul01 said...

When I was a teen I used to devour the works of Commander Kehoe (re UFO's), the works of James Churchward (re the lost continent of Mu) and (at a later date) the Works of Velikovsky- so many original theories, beautiful in their way, like science fiction I suppose. I even touched on the works of Charles Fort, the great collector. One of my favorite movie moments of all time was the falling frogs in Magnolia. I sat there in the audience and said to myself, I know exactly what these suckers have been reading.

Then there was my first debunking book! I wonder if it was the first of all time? It was Lands Beyond by Willy Ley, the German rocket scientist. He put paid to Mu and Atlantis in about an hour of reading. It was kind of sad but exhilarating.

It always strikes me as odd and wonderful the degree of superstition to which even educated people can be prone. (Your friend Kirk D. is an example. Somehow I almost admire his moral courage).

Well, I really don't have anything substantive to say. just reminiscing.

Anonymous said...

I like to have these books so I can be prepared to answer their arguments, but I don't like enriching the authors. So buying used copies satisfies both desires.

I do the same thing. Another down side is that I am not up on the latest and greatest pseudoscience. This is ameliorated by the impressive recycling tendencies of Creationists and other pseudoscientists.

Alex said...

Barry Fell isn't even unique in this: Prof. Steven Jones was once a respected Physicist, and he still teaches at Brigham Young University. On his off time, he writes "research papers" claiming that Jesus visited Central America, and carries out "experiments" to prove that the World Trade Center was demolished by the US government using "nanothermate".

Just goes to show that a doctorate doesn't necessarily make someone either intelligent or sane....

Anonymous said...

... claiming that Jesus visited Central America...

Well, it's all there in the Book of Mormons! Therefore, I think, it would be futile to argue with the professor over that. It is almost impossible to beat any kind of (intensive) religious indoctrination!

paul01 said...

I guess it is only fair to mention that
Lands Beyond
was a collaboration between Willy Ley and L. Sprague de Camp.

Chris said...

I've experienced the same conundrum. A local retail bookstore in Guelph had Behe's 'Edge of Evolution' on the severely-discounted table... I considered buying it just so I could familiarize myself with his arguments directly, instead of through second hand reviews. Sadly, even the severe-discount wasn't enough for me to go through with it.

Maybe I'll wait for it to appear on the mad-mad-mad-mad-madly discounted table.

Anonymous said...

Do you have "The Case of the Midwife Toad" by Arthur Koestler? He was an anti-Darwinian hack. If not, I could send a copy your way.

Just don't ask for my copy of Spetner's "Not by Chance".

My rule of thumb with these hacks is: Never buy their books new; only used.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Thanks, that's very kind of you. I don't have that one, although there was a guy across the hall from me my junior year who was very taken with it.

In return I can offer my spare copy of Humphrey, Leaps of Faith.

Erdos56 said...

Zecharia Sitchin and Velikovsky were always my favorites. I think there is a natural appeal of ideas that are fantastical--they tweak the same circuits that are responsible for religious faith--because they hold forth a special place for humanity.

Of course, as a teen, I was more impressed with Niven's cohesive Known Space history or Azimov's Foundation and whatnot. At least they had the talent to make a good story.

Eamon Knight said...

Hooray for used-book shops and rummage sales! That's how I got Darwin's Black Box, A.E.Wilders' Man's Origin, Man's Destiny and -- an old, old classic -- The Harmony of Science and Scripture by Harry Rimmer. So far, I've only read the Behe (the downside of cheap books is I can easily afford to buy far more than I have time to read). I've skimmed the Rimmer, and I have to say he makes even people like Hovind look like paragons of sanity and sweet reason.

S.M. Elliott said...

"my guess is that credulity in one area leads to credulity in others"

And my guess it, your guess is 100% correct. As the skeptical spouse of a 9/11 Truther, I find that the people who are concerned about pseudoterrorism are also concerned about chemtrails, occult mind control, tapwater, etc.

I don't want to enrich the pseudohistorian/archeologists either. I've found some gems of mystical bunkum at
2ndhand bookshops, most recently "The Secret Places of the Lion" by Adamski acolyte George Hunt Williamson and "Secret Places of the Andes" by Brother Philip (same dude, different name).