Pseudo-disciplines

There is a fascinating short essay ‘Ancient History and Pseudoscholarship‘ over at Livius.org. I don’t share the author’s belief that most laypeople are able to distinguish pseudoscholarship from professional work, nor that there is an absolute decline in pseudoscience over the past few decades. I do absolutely agree that the prevalence of faulty reasoning and uncritical use of evidence by scholars in the historical and social sciences is far more problematic than the more outlandish pseudoscientific beliefs such as the ancient astronaut hypothesis. And it will come as no surprise to you that I share the author’s conviction that a robust and broad training (in my work, that would include linguistics, archaeology, history, anthropology, and cognitive science) in order to allow professionals to avoid pseudoscientific errors in their own research and teaching.

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6 Comments

  1. The author does not discuss the very important fact that trained scholars are usually not very interested in a wide audience, and are seldom rewarded for making their knowledge available “where it counts.” There is a lot of ambiguity in that phrase.

  2. The point about availability of the ‘good stuff’ is the strongest thing there, and it is very strong. I find this when trying to hyperlink my blog posts so that people from outside the field have a chance to know what I’m on about. I refuse to link to Wikipedia, because it might change under me and say something different before the reader actually clicks through; but I also refuse to link to stuff inside paywalls because there’s just no help there. And between these two, there is often very little one can use, and that’s when you know what is roughly fair and correct. How is someone who doesn’t going to fare?

    • It’s true. Scholarly work only benefits scholars (towards tenure, promotion, etc.) if it is in peer-reviewed journals and books, often only available under a paywall. I could very easily publish everything I write here, or as PDFs on a website, but this would do me absolutely no good professionally. So the entire model of knowledge-dissemination is skewed towards pseudo-knowledge.

  3. I think at this point we have to answer the question that most have to answer at some point in their lives: how seriously do we really take information? Yes, the author could be a stickler about what is written and go insane in the attempt to be as accurate as possible, however, is it not up to the reader to understand that nothing is perfect? Further examination, i am sure, would lead to issues of the Freudian-ego from both parties, however, the point being said: No matter who is writing what, either as pseudo-scientist, or expert citing resources, let the audience remember that you, the author, are not there to provide them with every nuance of the education required to understand a given topic. If the reader is so inclined, they will study it further, and the success they garner from it will be much more enjoyed when they have to work for it. (Just don’t make it impossible for them to get the knowledge)

  4. Pingback: Links of concern « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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