Swedish academic archaeology has a few hard-core post-modernists. Their attitude to the discipline tends to be meta-scholarly (they study people relating to the past rather than the remains of the past), radically knowledge-relativist (they reject rationalist science with its aim to gain cumulative objective knowledge about what the world is like) and influenced by Continental philosophy, sociology and “critical theory”. My attitude to these colleagues is such that if I were the one who decided who gets research funding and teaching jobs, they would all be doing fieldwork on highway projects or driving a bus. And this is of course in all likelihood a mutual sentiment.

Cornelius Holtorf of the Linnæus University’s Kalmar campus is one of these post-modernist stalwarts. To get a feel for his work, consider his studies of fake exotic ruins and ancient architecture found in animal pens at zoos and Las Vegas casinos. My opinion of this work is that to the extent that any academic should study these things at all, it should not be done on funding intended for archaeology. I’ve criticised Holtorf in print (2005a, 2005b, 2007), among other things on the grounds that he advocates friendly relations with pseudoarchaeological fantasists and charlatans (as in this 2005 paper of his). But of course, to a radical knowledge relativist, the difference between science and pseudoscience is simply a matter of sociology.

Cornelius Holtorf has now done something in line with his convictions, that is, something I consider extremely irresponsible and which causes me to palm my face and groan. He has invited Semir Osmanagić to speak at the university library in Kalmar.* Does that name ring a bell? The title of the talk is “The Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids in Context”.

Yes. Sad but true. Cornelius Holtorf is lending academic credibility to the Bosnian nationalist who believes that certain mountains in his beloved homeland are the world’s biggest and oldest pyramids, and that the Maya were space aliens from the Pleiades. This is von Däniken country.

The Linnæus University’s small but solid archaeology department is otherwise home to scholars whose work I admire and follow with great interest, including Joakim Goldhahn whose Bronze Age rock art project has featured prominently on this blog for years. These people must be deeply unhappy to see their workplace associated with Osmanagić. I’d like to think that the choice of venue, in the library, not one of the university’s lecture halls, betrays a small attempt to distance the Linnæus University symbolically from one of the biggest cranks in current European archaeology. But still, in years to come, Semir Osmanagić’s web site will proudly proclaim the recognition he’s received from the Linnæus University, Kalmar, Sweden.

* Tuesday 18 October, 14:00-16:00.

Johan Normark shares my opinion.

Comments

  1. #1 Welsh Andy
    October 14, 2011

    Wow. Now I consider myself soething of a theory geek and I think it would be wrong to dismiss the importance of meta-studies on how people relate to the past and the social role of archaeology and heritage. But Jeeeeeeeeeus H Corbett! I would have a massive problem if my department decided to ship this guy across to give a talk.
    Though it could serve as an interesting study in how NOT to do archaeology. It would also be interesting to see how the discipline could improve outreach and education in order to starve kooks like this of an audience.

  2. #2 Birger Johansson
    October 14, 2011

    “Post-structuralist” archaeology? Everything goes… reminds me of the recent BS about finding hair from the Yeti.
    BTW if you give me time I can certainly find a local rock formation that looks like a petrified ship. Then we can all sell tickets to the tourists wanting to see Noah’s Ark :-)

  3. #3 Cornelius Holtorf
    October 14, 2011

    Thanks Martin for taking this up. Yes, indeed, we do have different views on archaeology and its significance and character in the present. These we do not need to reiterate here. Nor do we need to exchange insults about our respective research interests.

    More to the point of the particular event in question, I wish to say a few things here.

    Academia should always critically discuss ideas and approaches that are current in contemporary society. To refuse somebody the right to speak on the basis that a large proportion of scholars in the field does not agree with some (or most!) of his or her ideas and instead admires the work of others, is narrow-minded and ultimately harmful for both the social relevance of academia and for innovation in academia itself. Yes, there are certain limits to this, and I would not agree to give the floor to dangerous political extremists or criminals but I am satisfied that this is not the case in this instance. I would very much welcome a talk from you too, despite our disagreements about the basics of archaeology.

    As I wrote in a press statement today (apologies to your international readership that this is in Swedish, try google translate): “Vi bjuder in honom inte därför att vi tar hans tolkningar på vetenskaplig allvar men därför att vi tror att vi måste diskutera hans verksamhet och dess effekter. De bosniska pyramiderna har påverkad inte bara turism och synen på kulturarvet i Bosnien men den berör också hur vi ser på kulturarvet i samhället mer allmänt. Kan påhittad kulturarv ha detsamma (eller större) effekt än genuint kulturarv? Vad är det som turisterna egentligen efterfrågar när de besöker kulturarvsplatser? Hur presenterar man arkeologi och kulturarv till världsmedia så att den får genomslag? Hur ser Osmanagich själv på hans kritiker inom den vetenskapliga arkeologin och på arkeologerna som jobbar i Bosnien?”

    To set the record straight on two other things:
    - the library location was chosen so we have a big room from which we can easily transmit the lecture even to our other campus at Växjö. We decided not to use the lecture hall we had booked initially.
    - we did not ship him across and he will not receive any payment from us.

    Cornelius

  4. #4 Martin R
    October 14, 2011

    To refuse somebody the right to speak … is narrow-minded and ultimately harmful

    Not inviting a speaker does not entail refusing him the right to speak. I certainly haven’t done anything to silence Semir Osmanagic, but I haven’t invited him to speak at my workplace either.

    As to the political aspect you mention, has it slipped past you that a) former Yugoslavia is an area plagued by ethnic tension, b) Osmanagic is a Bosnian nationalist?

    I’d like to know your views on my main point, viz that you are hurting your employer’s long-term academic credibility.

  5. #5 Cornelius Holtorf
    October 14, 2011

    I am aware of the situation in Bosnia but, after consulting with others who are more knowledgeable in this area than I am, I do not share your implied characterisation of Osmanagic and his work in this context.

    My University aspires to be a strong agent in society. I take this to mean that it is not desired to operate in a closely guarded ivory-tower but instead to seek contact and discussion with members of society whenever feasible. Our credibility as a serious agent in society will be enhanced by open debate and an engagement with phenomena that are significant in society.

  6. #6 Martin R
    October 14, 2011

    But society around you does not measure academic credibility by your relativist yardstick. In practice, almost everybody who comes into contact with your university sees an important difference between academically solid research and pseudoscientific fantasies. You may not accept this distinction. But you are not like the target audience in this respect. The Linnæus University’s brand value, to borrow one of your own terms, is decided by people with an absolutist view of scientific truth.

  7. #7 Irna
    October 14, 2011

    I would add that, in my humble opinion, there *is* something almost criminal in Semir Osmanagic’s enterprise in Bosnia.
    1° It ‘hijacks’ a fair part of the country’s feeble financial resources to pseudo-archaeology, when there still are tens of real heritage sites endangered;
    and 2° it promotes anti-intellectualism and popular pseudo-culture, in a country where higher education -and education in general- is in a catastrophic state.
    I call that criminal, and the fact that Semir Osmanagic benefited from the complicity of a large part of the Bosnian political establishment doesn’t alleviate his responsability.

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    October 14, 2011

    Bosnia has not yet built a robust democratic infrastructure, so it is easy for charlatans who want to glorify the nation’s past to find sympathetic ears -remember Himmler and his coterie of pseudoscience nuts.

    Here is the kind of enthusiasm that could stem the growth of pseudo-science. Just in: “Fans Of Victorious Nobel Laureates Riot In Stockholm” http://www.theonion.com/articles/fans-of-victorious-nobel-laureates-riot-in-stockho,26345/

  9. #9 Jaime Almansa
    October 14, 2011

    When I saw the tweet a while ago I was a bit scared. Then I read the post and I felt quite weird. And when I read the comments I understood a bit more.
    First of all I have to say that this is a really interesting debate on something I have been thinking a lot lately. Then I have to admit that am one of those ‘radically knowledge-relavisits’ although I don’t have that feeling. I started being interested in popular culture and how people related to the past while working in a highway for commercial archaeology and suffering every day the misconceptions that society had about archaeology. And after seeing your point of view (Dr. Rundkvist) I understand some things. I expected that as ‘public speaker’ your concern about public engage was, let’s say, different. What’s wrong with studying people relations with archaeology? Isn’t that rational? It’s plenty of ‘normal’ archaeologists to study remains, but we lack a lot of knowledge on people and how to interact with them.
    Anyway, let’s go back to Bosnia. I understand the concern about having Osmanagic in the hall… and I would be against if he was going to give a lecture about ‘archaeology’, but I believe the objective is learning how to improve our way of doing things and to understand a bit better what moves people into heritage. And that, Dr. Rundkvist can save our future as professionals. Osmanagic might be an example of pseudoscience and charlatanry, but he has done in a few years what none of us have been able to do in our entire life. He has been able to ‘sell’ heritage in a successful way, and maybe we can learn a bit from it, not from his ‘archaeology’.
    Of course, the impact of his work in Bosnia has been huge (and awful for traditional archaeology), but archaeology is a bit broader nowadays and the conception of survey-dig-lab is not sustainable anymore. We need to add social value, and these guys know how to do it. Criminal? I might agree with Irna, but we have this same problem in Spain with ‘real’ sites… starting by Atapuerca (that at least os good) or Pinilla del Valle (a shitty site, now managed by Atapuerca team) in a regional level.
    Holtorf’s call is brave from my point of view and can provide more knowledge and debate that another conference of another site that we are bored of hearing about…

    Jaime

  10. #10 Martin R
    October 14, 2011

    What’s wrong with studying people relations with archaeology? Isn’t that rational?

    Sure, that’s rational. And it’s sociology, not archaeology. Check any dictionary.

    the conception of survey-dig-lab is not sustainable anymore. We need to add social value

    That conception looks pretty sustainable to me, and I usually pull a good crowd to my lectures on real archaeology. As for engaging with the public, I suggest you check back over my past years of blogging and speaking.

    If you get bored by real archaeological sites and prefer to listen to fairytales about Bosnian pyramids, then why are you in archaeology? I could use your funding.

  11. #11 Jaime Almansa
    October 14, 2011

    1. I stopped labeling stuff time ago… you want to call us sociologists? That’s ok for me, but not despising research that can give you funding one day.
    2. Maybe the great Swedish society funds with no limit archaeology projects (I have no idea), but most countries are cutting funds in heritage extremely and that directly affects archaeological projects. I can tell you that today, this model is not sustainable alone. And commercial archaeology is being a living proof.
    3. I don’t doubt you have a strong background engaging with the public, but if you need more funding, you are doing it worse than Osmanagic.
    4. Yeah, I get bored with plans, typologies and analysis… had enough. I’m in archaeology to try make a positive impact in the communities that owe this heritage. Others find out about the past better than me.
    5. Sometimes these fairytales are useful, others, just fun. But be sure, non-archaeologists love these fairytales much more than real archaeology because we don’t do our divulgation work properly.
    6. And et’s say it again, archaeology belongs to society… and they deserve something better… If it is Osmanagic who can teach us how to do it, my ears are open. We will have time to attack his misconception of archaeology and the pyramids.

  12. #12 Steven Blowney
    October 14, 2011

    Certain ideas, methods and conclusions need to be debunked. Without them being voiced, they are not, and no one learns anything.

    While this may seem hopelessly idealistic, isn’t learning the point of colleges, universities, etc? One of the reasons I read this blog is to try to understand the opinions and methods of a well-known archaeologist. Why? Because, for better or worse or in between (and there’s a lot in between), I have to understand the discipline in order to understand what interest me.

  13. #13 John Massey
    October 14, 2011

    #3,#11 – Forgive me for saying so, but I think you are killing your own profession.

    Of course making up fairy tales is more exciting and sexy for the public. Let’s all go and watch Star Wars. Great fun. Then let’s be grown up adults again and come back and be serious. Of course it is more difficult to make serious archaeology more interesting to the public. Martin does a good job of making archaeology accessible and interesting, but inevitably there is an element of bringing people down to earth – this is a very important process for them to understand history, past human behaviour – everything. It is not until they get that seriousness, the importance of rigor and sound science that they can then truly begin to enjoy it on a solid foundation of understanding the way things really were.

    But once you lose your credibility as professionals, you have lost everything.

    When I see a Vendel Period brooch, beautiful craftsmanship and exquisite aesthetic sense, that is fantastic enough. The way that people really lived, the things they made, the fantastic skill and sense of what was beautiful or awe-inspiring to them tells me volumes.

    When I saw the Pompeii exhibition, it was breathtaking. I wept, and I’m not the kind of guy who goes around blubbing every day – I wept because I felt like I could reach out and touch those people who died in 79 AD and the everyday objects that they lived with, understood their lives, saw the beautiful things they made and used. This impact was far stronger on me than some mad story because it was person to person across nearly 2,000 years, it touched me profoundly, adnd because I was certain that it was real and presented accurately – I will never view the world quite the same way again.

    I have this little argument with Martin – he says archaeology is entertainment, and I think it is something much more deep than that. When you connect people to the past, you change the whole way they see the world and how they start to operate their own lives. Maybe we are talking at cross purposes and really mean the same thing.

    If you want people to populate the world with pyramids and yetis, then you will degrade everything into a Hollywood movie, and then serious scholars have lost, and you have seriously damaged the reputations and the value that people place on your academic institutions, because ultimately these hoaxes will be exposed and will receive the ridicule they deserve, and poeple will rightly point the finger at your institutions for not guiding them, for letting them be so badly misled, for wasting their time, and for letting them down when they relied on you to tell them the truth.

    I am a pretty average member of the lay public when it comes to archaeology – not well educated in the field, but interested in it and wanting to learn a lot more from reliable sources who won’t fill me full of fairytales, and I tell you that I don’t give a damn about engaging in public debate with people who are con-men or off their rocker. I care about good science and guidance presented in a lively and accessible way from rock-solid professionals like Martin Rundkvist.

    I am sorry, I don’t wish to speak harshly, but from my persepctive you are absolutely wrong, and Martin is absolutely right, and you will cause great damage to your profession and to the public reputation of your institutions if you persist in this way.

  14. #14 Jaime Almansa
    October 14, 2011

    Hi John, I’ll try to do it short.
    1. Publics. There are many different publics and we cannot approach them the same way. Some love archaeology as it is, others would prefer to kill us before we go to their works once again, others don’t give a shit, and others believe there are aliens/gods who created us and deny the past. I can assure you that loving ones are the less…
    2. Outreach. There are many different ways of doing it. I don’t doubt Dr. Rundkvist’s is great for his public, but his public is not all the public, even a good part of it. The challenge is in engaging all those other publics and concern them about the value of heritage and its conservation. Easy? No. In order to do it, we need to know them better, and also know those who are currently engaging them (pseudos).
    3. Pseudos. Have anyone said that agrees Osmanagic’s ideas about the Pyramids? NO. We have clear this is bullshit supported by nationalistic ideals. But this charlatan attracts more people and funding than any of us doing good archaeology. What is interesting is to know and discuss the way he interacts with this context.
    4. Reputation. Ivory Tower – Elitism -> Is that university? I thought it was an open place for discussion and knowledge. If you don’t like this universty is ok, don’t go… but I would have killed to study somewhere like that and not a place full of selfish traditional archaeologists that don’t know (or give a shit about) what’s outside their office. I value Holtorf the same after this.
    5. Damages. I have spent the last 6 years working hard for the profession. Actively fighting for better studies, labour conditions and public concern. I am very proud of my work and know (with proofs) it is being for better in the field. Want a list? Just this year: A draft for a labour agreement in archaeology we will start negotiating in a couple of weeks, a new teaching platform to offer all those things we cannot study in university yet (as simple as surveying, works control, pottery typology, bureaucracy or didactics), stopping the pollution of a river that had become a health issue in the community (yes, from archaeology), and ‘converting’ a couple of pseudos that now value archaeology as it is and not with fairytales. This is Public Archaeology, or you can call it as you want. But even if you don’t believe it, we are working for a better archaeology (and I can say that successfully) and initiatives like Holtorf’s help to continue in this way.
    Anyway everybody is free to think/do what they want… just would expect a bit more respect for what others do. I don’t mind the Bronze Age, but still value people working on it… We don’t have to be so narrow-minded, there is more world in archaeology besides the pottery/stones.
    (And sorry if my language is not very good/polite, I swear too much)

  15. #15 John Massey
    October 15, 2011

    Jaime, where did you get the impression I think that universities should not engage with the public, or that somehow I do not respect the work you have done as an archaeologist? Where did I say that? I don’t know you, I have no idea what you have done. Great things, maybe, and I haven’t said otherwise.

    What I am saying is don’t give this crook a platform. He is damaging your profession and cheating the public. He is not even an archaeologist. Why are you so keen to give him even more opportunities, and an aura of respect? Being fair minded is fine, but this is going to far.

  16. #16 geoff
    October 15, 2011

    OK. I’m with John on this one. We’re having too much trouble with health and safety issues, low wages, job security, the continued weakening of heritage protection legislation, etc., as it is, without turning the profession into a 3-ring circus with bogus pyramids (the latest Erich von Daeniken clone). This guy already has enough venues where he can peddle his wares; we don’t have to give him more opportunities.
    Jaime: well-intended, but too much like some of the people who argue that Holocaust-deniers should have the right to speak at universities, etc.; that they also have the right to make their case heard. I’d direct you to Deborah Lipstadt’s work on that (“Denying the Holocaust” was the one that led David Irving to sue for libel). She refuses to “debate” them because to do so, to give them a platform, is to validate them.

  17. #17 Birger Johansson
    October 15, 2011

    Beware! The Bosnian guy is trying to… RELEASE SUHTEK!!!!
    “Dr Who: Pyramids of Mars”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ufzB8LEXoE&feature=related

    An episode with the great Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) who sadly passed away this year.

    — — — — — — — —
    A more sober comment: I find it strange that so many of my friends (who usually have a hundred times better judgement than I have) accept stuff like astrology, alternative medicine, the existence of lake monsters and the idea that one single ideology contains all the answers.

  18. #18 Jaime Almansa
    October 15, 2011

    I think we are having a communication problem here.
    #John, I didn’t make it clear, but the comments were mostly general. Concerning universities, is about making it public, open for debate. We used to have something in Spain called ‘criterion of authority’ that was ‘truth is here’. I know we are postmodern and all that, but there is more people with things (more interesting) to say than people in universities. About respect was mainly for Martin and his first paragraphs against Holtorf.
    #Geoff, this debate is already somewhere else, and didn’t want to enter there, but these two topics are totally different, and I suffer it here with people denying the repression after the Civil War. There are a priori proven facts like Holocaust whose denials must be shut. In this case, there is a ‘proven fact’ which we need to rebut, and in order to do it, we need to analyze the issue properly with all the agents, and the political and social influence make it difficult.
    #All:
    We all agree this guy is a charlatan, the pyramids exist in his imagination and he cannot be taken seriously from an archaeological perspective.
    This conference is NOT about the pyramids, is about Heritage. Osmanagic can tell fairytales, but they got him one of the most powerful sites in Europe, even if it is not real. The questions for the debate are ‘Can fictional heritage have more impact that real one? What do tourists look for? How can we present heritage to be that successful? What is his position versus real archaeologists?’
    These questions can help us do better our job as heritage managers and public archaeologists, and if we need to do it debating with him, as far as we get good answers, it is good.
    The conference can end up as a total failure, but we don’t know it yet… and the approaches are really brave and useful from my point of view.

  19. #19 kai
    October 16, 2011

    The questions for the debate are ‘Can fictional heritage have more impact that real one? What do tourists look for? How can we present heritage to be that successful?’

    Isn’t it already fairly well established that pandering to your audience, tickling their prejudices (“building on what they know”) and putting entertainment value before facts are effective methods. I’m sure you can present heritage successfully to a mass audience with some good rides, well-built sets, and an engaging sound track and avoiding all tentativity, uncertainty and suggestion that daily life probably was pretty boring most of the time in the past as well. But will you not then have told lies about your heritage then? Will it be worth it? If you want to rake in the money, or, convince the audience of a ideological standpoint (“this land is ours and our history is long and mighty”), sure, but personally, as an academic, I would much rather tell the truth, fragmentary and contradictory as it may be. I’m on the side of the potshards.

  20. #20 John Massey
    October 16, 2011

    Jaime

    “we need to analyze the issue properly with all the agents” – Rubbish. The issue is as clear as day. This is just fluffing around to try make yourself sound like a serious scholar and to justify the farce.

    “The questions for the debate are ‘Can fictional heritage have more impact that real one? What do tourists look for? How can we present heritage to be that successful? What is his position versus real archaeologists?’”

    More rubbish. This geezer is just one of dozens. Recent history is absolutely littered with them. Are you trying to tell me you can learn NOTHING from all of those case histories, but you will learn something from this guy that will make this farce worthwhile?

    I just don’t believe you. Either you haven’t even tried, or this is just a thin tissue of lies, a trumped up reason to try to justify it.

  21. #21 Irna
    October 16, 2011

    Jaime, I can understand your position, but I do not think it was useful to invite Osmanagic if the only aim of the conference was to discuss his success. His methods are well known, and there is no sense, in my opinion, in inviting him to “contextualize his work in Bosnia in relation to other pyramids around the world”.

  22. #22 Birger Johansson
    October 17, 2011

    The only sense in discussing O:s work would be in the psychology of delusion, and how the charlatans and self-deluded manage to latch on to our desire for mystery.

    In the matter of bogus medicine I can understand the desperate yearning for a cure feeding delusion, but in pseudoarchaeology things are more subtle. There is potential for a whole new field of research here, combining psychology, sociology and the study of religion, with only the need for some minor input from archaeology.
    If we understand how these beliefs get started and propagate we are on the treshold of understanding larger memes like religion -clearly something too big for overworked archaeologists!

  23. #23 John Massey
    October 17, 2011

    Birger, my point is that there is no point in discussing his ‘work’ unless people have first made a decent attempt to analyse at least the most directly relevant of the previous case histories. It is even possible someone has done some of the research you refer to.

    The first such person I became aware of as a child was ‘Lobsang Rampa’ aka Cyril Hoskin, but there have been many before and after Cyril. Last I heard, Cyril had retired comfortably to Canada on the proceeds of his writings (or should I say his cat’s writings), where he has since died.

    Unless people have done their homework first, I don’t see how they can justify entertaining Mr Ozmagic on funding for archaeology, presumably paid for by the Swedish public purse.

    If I were Swedish, I would be doing more than writing mildly irritated little notes on my friend’s blog – I would be requesting an audit.

  24. #24 Birger Johansson
    October 17, 2011

    John, I remember Lobsang Rampa and his opaque writings (groan). Blessed are the grifters, because they will loot the Earth.

  25. #25 Birger Johansson
    October 17, 2011

    Addendum to the previous comment: In “Lobsang Rampa’s” manuscript “A Visit to Venus” (1957) he describes how he visited aliens on Venus. Distractions caused him to fail to notice the 500 C heat and the haze of sulphurous acid.
    The astronomical connection makes my pun about the pyramids of Mars even more appropriate. Wait…I suppose this means I am a psychic! Guys, I can use my powers to help you locate artefacts, if you just give me your credit card number.

  26. #26 g724
    October 17, 2011

    Martin, you are making serious mistakes in the way you’re going about this.

    First I should mention that I utterly detest postmodernism and knowledge-relativism. I would happily sentence the adherents of these pernicious doctrines to jump off a high place and then give them the choice between a hospital that practices science-based medicine, and any faith-healer they choose, anywhere on Earth. And then I would insist that they write an essay about knowledge-reletavism and theories of gravity and medicine, to be published under their own names.

    The error you’re making is to conflate together some strong arguements with some truly weak ones, such that the latter undermine the former.

    The whole line of arguement to the effect that a university that invites a charlatan to speak, tarnishes its image and the image of the field the charlatan claims to represent: that’s terribly weak. At root it comes down to brand-identity protectionism. My brand vs. the other guy’s brand; and “image” in the minds of the ill-informed and under-educated public: a public of which nearly half (in the US) positively disbelieve in the theory of evolution. The moment you care what idiots think of you, you become subject to the will of idiots. Are you so sure you want to go there?

    The line of arguement about funding, risks coming across as merely sour grapes and jealousy: “that raging liar over there gets paid good money while me and mine are doing honest work and struggling!” In point of fact it may be TRUE, but you have got to be exceedingly careful how you state it: more careful than in your postings here.

    The strongest arguement is that which is grounded, uncompromisingly, in the position that science deals with measurable facts and falsifiable hypotheses, that these are the gold standards for ascertaining truth about natural phenomena, and that postmodernism and knowledge-relativism are not only false but provably false, perniciously false, and viciously false.

    From there we can reasonably assert that the purveyors of pernicious falsehoods deserve zero public funding and zero privileged treatments including access to archaeological sites (or research facilities in other sciences) at public expense. If the liars, lunatics, charlatans, and their enablers, want to fund their excremental escapades with private donations, that’s their right as members of a free society. But government and thus the taxpayers, must insist on adherence to the gold standard of scientific truth as a precondition for funding or privileged access to resources.

    That takes the whole thing out of the realm of mere brand identity and jealousy over funding, and puts it squarely in the uncompromising domain of hard facts and their logical implications. That is an arguement from a position of strength. It forces the other side to defend itself using propositions such as the non-existence of facts, that are readily seen as delusional by anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

    Force your opponents to reveal that they are downright nuts. That’s how you win these things. Possible exception for American congressional elections, but that’s another discussion for another day.

  27. #27 Sandgroper
    October 17, 2011

    My favourite was ‘Wisdom of the Ancients’ where Cyril (or his cat) had all the Tibetan monks jumping through the snow like kangaroos.

  28. #28 Birger Johansson
    October 17, 2011

    Cornelius, Jaime et al, I hope you do not think the snark is directed at you personally, but de-fanging the charlatans is usually best done by ridicule (like when the home-brewed vocabulary of the KKK was exposed; never mind their dumb racial theories, a group lead by an “imperial wizard” will get no respect). A habit that rubbed off from Pharyngula :-)

    We can and should aim to get the public access to science in different ways that by-pass the “dusty museum exhibit” mental reflex of those who get bored easily. I lack the imagination to come up with novel ideas myself but I do know that the nutters thrive on publicity. Psychology research shows that sometimes de-bunking a claim actually reinforce the faith of “believers”.
    Of course if a blatantly harmful meme is spreading (“vaccines cause autism”) it should be confronted head-on with much publicity, but the merely dumb ones (“the Lemurians trapped the evil abnors in underground caves, from which they continue to wreak mischief through telepathy”) can be left to die from lack of oxygen.

  29. #29 Jock Doubleday
    October 18, 2011

    I’m a freelance writer based in California.

    On August 10, 2011, I traveled to Visoko to check out the pyramid claim for myself.

    I helped on two digs on the steep slopes of the Pyramid of the Sun. I also helped excavate Ravne tunnel labyrinth. I have been inside Ravne tunnel over 20 times. It has been an amazing experience.

    North America too has ancient pyramids, although the scientific orthodoxy labels them “mounds” and suggests that they are earthen structures heaped up relatively recently by Native Americans. (See, for example, “Monk’s Mound.”) Theoretically it would be possible to satisfy one’s inner archaeologist by helping to excavate these North American pyramids, but the truth is that the orthodoxy will not permit excavation of these structures in North America. So I will stay in Bosnia.

    If anyone wants to read about my time here in Bosnia, please go to:

    http://anamericaninbosnia.blogspot.com/

    I also started a Facebook page for Ravne tunnel labyrinth. Come over if you want to see photos of: the labyrinth, artifacts and structures found within it, and smiling and hard-working volunteers:

    http://www.facebook.com/ravnetunnellabyrinth

    I also started a youtube channel for the short videos I shot in my time in Bosnia:

    http://www.youtube.com/archaeologicalpark

    Sincerely,
    Jock Doubleday
    http://jockdoubleday.com

  30. #30 JustaTech
    October 18, 2011

    Why is it always “Oh, aliens built those pyramids!”? That is so rude and disrespectful to the people who really did build the pyramids, or Machu Pechu or whatever. When people say that aliens built something, what they are really saying is that the speaker does not think that the ancient peoples who did build the structure in question were too stupid, or ignorant, or primative, to have done this work.

    Jock Doubleday @30 does this explicitly: “North America too has ancient pyramids, although the scientific orthodoxy labels them “mounds” and suggests that they are earthen structures heaped up relatively recently by Native Americans.” I.E. Jock does not think that relatively modern Native Americans were capable of building these structures, therefore there is a mystical solution.

    Ethnocentric bullshit.

  31. #31 Birger Johansson
    October 19, 2011

    “Oh, aliens built those pyramids!” -Actually it was the other way around; the aliens learned about pyramids by humans, and started pyramid-building until the habit was usurped by Bender
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csCc4eAwrTQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhNJbabkebA&feature=related
    — — — — — — —
    Conspiracy theory logjam: http://www.xkcd.com/

  32. #32 Cian O'Halloran
    October 19, 2011

    Besides the question of the university’s reputation and giving Semir Osmanagich a platform, I really don’t see how this is even feasible as a lecture. What good is it inviting a speaker when the entire premise of the lecture is that his work is pre-accepted as nonsense and then asking him what we can learn from it for our own projects?

    How does Semir Osmanagich himself feels about the speaking opportunity? If even Dr. Holtorf, the inviter, is casting aspersions on his “scientific seriousness” and already (correctly) referring to the Bosnian Pyramids business as “fictional heritage”, it doesn’t sound like this’ll be a very productive lecture for anyone.

    Is he expected to put his hands up and ‘confess’ that it’s all unverifiable nonsense so that the audience can pick his theory apart and acquire lessons on how to capture the public’s imagination? Perhaps he’ll take this as a challenge, to try and win over the audience, but it doesn’t look like anyone will leave this lecture with what they wanted.

  33. #33 Birger Johansson
    October 19, 2011

    You can find interesting science stories without going off into Dänikenland with long-ago pyramid builders… here are two very recent examples:

    Youngest planet seen as it’s forming http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-youngest-planet.html

    Quantum levitating (locking) video goes viral http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-10-quantum-levitating-video-viral.html

    Personally, I think this fulfills the criteria of “cool”. And there is not a single mysterious Ancient One involved.

  34. #34 Aga
    October 22, 2011

    Om tio år kommer de flesta att drömma om att ha Osmanagic på sin universitet som gäst… Åk till Bosnien och bedöm själva var inte primitiva som åsnan där uppe :-)