Wednesday, 8 July 2009


The successes and failures of wikipedia are both very notable. That it is unprofessional is not so much an indictment of wikipedia (as no-one is forced to take its articles at face value) but of existing social and economic models for their failure to fill its niche in the internet with something professional.

I’d have thought that a national government could subsidise graduates to work on an academic version of the same thing. However, neo-liberalism increasingly disparages the thought that the state can do anything useful. Instead the state should make follies for those left behind by the free market to work on.

In scientific terms there is a debate that an intense focus on peer reviewed magazines is both expensive and stifling debate. Perhaps they should use open-access publishing sources more frequently in something akin to a hyper-wikipedia. It does seem to me that the scientific community (if there is such a thing) is becoming increasingly tribal and unflexible in its academic isolation.

This is most evident from the near religious way in which Darwin's theory of evolution is treated by academics, who do not like to debate it, even philosophically. The hounding of Michael Reiss for stating that teachers and lecturers should be PREPARED TO DEBATE creationism was one of the most unpleasant things that I have read about. Furthermore it is deeply unscientific. Karl Popper once described Darwinian evolution as ‘theology’ for its lack of falsifiability; Darwin’s self-appointed heirs seem determined to provide inquisitors for the theology.

On The Scientist website there has been a running photograph of a man standing beside a life size cutout of Charles Darwin. Darwin was himself a modest man and would no doubt be horrified at this.

In his book ‘A Devil’s Chaplain’ Richard Dawkins proudly displays a letter that he co-wrote with Stephen Jay Gould imploring academics not to talk to Intelligent Design advocates.

Whilst I have no interest in intelligent design, I find it difficult to see that stifling debate is ever positive. Of course, the reason could be because of the ID argument that Darwinian evolution through gradual natural selection itself leaves a vast amount unexplained.

This is NOT a valid argument that there is a creator. But it is a point that benefits the Popperian view of science, though not a point that most evolutionary scientists think should be heard by the unwashed hordes. In fact some scientific articles I’ve read actually seem to present evolution AS design. One instance is an article in response to a vital question, which has gnawed at man since the dawn of time: why are Greeks hairier than Africans?

The ‘scientific’ response was that hair protects from blood sucking insects. However, given that moderately more body hair would not be a significant advantage, I fail to see how gradual streamlining can work in this case. Anyway, midges in Scotland are worse than anything in Greece, yet this has not created a notably hairy people. If the incidental Greek mosquito puts hair on the chest, then surely the hordes of winged bloodsuckers in Scotland should create a race like this:

the midge problem in Central Ross-shire-joke for Russian audience)

Still, to return to Wikipedia, this ‘meme’ is evident in other fields. According to wikipedia mainstream scientists have not been debating the ‘conspiracy theorists’ in the Architects and Academics for 9/11 truth movement because THROUGH DEBATING THEM THEY WILL GIVE THEM UNWARRANTED CREDIBILITY.

I saw Richard Gage’s two hour talk on the issue, and thought that he made many very good points. I would define a ‘conspiracy theorist’ as someone who makes positive arguments rather than simply stating that the official account is deeply flawed. Gage does not advocate a conspiracy theory by this criteria.

I am entirely with ‘The Antiterrorist’ in using Okham’s argument against conspiracy theories. For all I know giant lizards may be ruling the earth, but I have no evidence and it is better to ask questions rather than to provide 'answers'. It is better to make the positive statements that we can make.

But the mainstream scientists think that this is nonsense, that through answering question about the third tower, primary accounts of multiples explosions and the shipping of the debris to China, they would be GRANTING CREDENCE to conspiracy theories.

In other words ‘put your unanswered questions away, and shut your mouth’ (apologies to Steven deSouza).

The humanities side of wikipedia is very similar. If a source is published, then it is worthy of respect. If not, it isn’t. This is becoming increasingly ambiguous as articles are published for their adherence to ideology rather than any intelligence or honesty of their writers.

The wikipedia page on ‘The Trap’ is a case in point. This is an excellent documentary about how diverse ideas helped to make selfishness appear a virtue in the West.

Our media increasingly treats economic liberty as the only liberty worth having. Yet Britain is turning into a dictatorship. Curtis is very open about how these theories arose through the failure of opposing theories: the terrorism of Soviet Russia and Revolutionary France; the economic stagnation of post-war Britain; the difficulty of facing the unimaginable during the Cold War.

And yes, The Trap does have its flaws. Curtis contradicts himself over the neo-conservatives stating they want democracy and demonstrating that they supported dictators. He similarly over-emphasises Thatcher’s ideas of freedom. And he exaggerates the totalitarian impulse of Putin, or at least the idea that Putin is any more authoritarian than his predecessor.

However, the central thesis is sound. We only need look at how the British state has coddled Berezovsky as a ‘dissident’ to see how theories of economic freedom have metamorphosed into Mammon worship.

Whilst British tend to disparage the concept of European liberty based on the fact that they still have state run industries, Privacy international proves that any smugness is unfounded.

In all, Curtis’s theories are worthy of respect. But the two articles invert the story of the Dutch boy and stick their fingers into the holes to destroy the dyke.

A bewigged troll in The New Statesman decides that the theories are so far fetched they are far fetched. No comment about the increase of greed in discourse of freedom. No, it made her confused therefore it was incoherent. Curtis-

‘Dug up footage of Donald Rumsfeld saying the same things of the USSR as he later did of Osama Bin Laden, an echo that had liberals rubbing their hands in glee.’

That goes to show he is biased towards the moonbat libruls, what with showing them real life footage and everything.

The other published source wikipedia links to as evidence of the documentary’s shortcomings is a piece in ‘Prospect’. Again it uses the word ‘paranoid’ in the headline. Not that they make any intellectual refutation of Curtis’s central hypothesis, that greed and selfishness have come to be portrayed as the foundations of freedom, but it is paranoid… because it is paranoid.

I’m not using this to bash wikipedia. As a historian I would never rely on wikipedia as a viable source, though as a casual websurfer it has its uses.

It is limited by the received wisdom of the day. Whilst its science pages have received some praise, its political articles are shackled by the limiting chains of neo-liberal editors. It is a reflection, not a parody of published material on politics.

Will academia or capitalism provide a comparable source of information? And will this be beneficial to the scientific community as well as th reading public?


  1. Wikipedia usually gets the basic facts rights so it is best to use it as quick reference.

    The Reiss affair is sickening. When it was still a hot topic it made me think whether the chaps in Royal Society have any experience with teaching. Becuase if they did have at least some empathy with the teaching profession, they would know that teachers do not get to choose their students, and would not act like obnoxious elitists.

    I think they should all sit back in some comfy place, relax and imagine themselves in a class full of Bengali Muslims in East London. The poor biology teacher ready to defend Darwin's theories would be a monkey boy for the rest of the school year.

  2. Hi Leos

    I think that our leaders have a very paternalistic attitude towards our Muslim population. They will never make the offensively patronising comments that they make towards Muslims as they do towards creationist Christians. I'm sure that a higher percentage of Muslims will be more sceptical of evolution than Christians are but this is not mentioned.

    And with the refusal to GIVE CREDENCE to conspiracy theories by debating them, I think they are further alienating the Muslim community.

    The 7/7 bombings were very mysterious and the government's refusal to have an open enquiry is deeply suspicious.

    But how do the BBC respond to the government's secrecy? They launch a stupid rant at a bloke who made an amateur video on the subject:

    I've seen John Hill's film and it contains large flaws: without giving any evidence, he works on the hypothesis that all the 'terrorists' were part of an anti-terrorism exercise.

    However, he also makes some important points, which are largely ignored by the media (why the news of police shooting the terrorists? Why so many questions about the impacts of the explosions? Could home-made explosives do this? Why were the suspects so different from the usual demographic? Why did Commissioner Blair mention four terrorists? And most importantly, was it an effort to vindicate the 1984 surveillance system that is blooming through Britain?). I do not go for 'conspiracy theories', but often it is only conspiracy theorists who ask the right questions. Yet the BBC morph this into blaming Hill for misleading the poor, simple Muslims:

    'Muad Dib's conspiracy video has been picked up and held up as truth. A copy of his film was sent to a survivor of the attacks and to the Chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque, Dr Mohammed Naseem.

    He has long harboured doubts about the government account. "The Ripple Effect is more convincing than the government statement," he says.

    Dr Naseem made 2,000 copies of 7/7 Ripple Effect for the mosque. At Friday prayers he asked the congregation to raise their hands if they did not accept the government version - nearly the entire gathering did.'

    'Nearly the entire gathering'. Is this because of a DVD (the badly written article leaves it ambiguous as to how many of the congregation, if any, saw Hill's DVD)? Or is it because of the lack of government transparency?

    The Muslims are right to question the orthodoxies of the media establishment, but when attacking conspiracy theorists, the MSM will always choose a more politically correct white, Christian/agnostic target.

  3. Hi Gregor,

    interesting points here and I enjoyed catching up on your posts from the last week that I've missed because I've been preoccupied moving house for the last couple of weeks.

    I have to take issue over Darwin and Michael Reiss though.

    If science is based on trying to objectively understand the world through evidence, research and theory - and this has led to the scientific consensus that life on this planet has evolved through Darwinian evolution then any attempt to scientifically challenge this view should also be based on evidence, research and theory.

    If this process is abandoned then we're effectively talking about superstition and belief based on human ideas that can't be substantiated - that way witch burning lies !

    Creationism is not a scientific theory - it's a belief that's based on 'evidence' that can't be tested or examined. As such creationism has no place in scientific discussion - if it is brought into scientific discussion then why not discuss Greek, Nordic, Australian Aboriginal or Hindu creation myths along with Christian ones?

    I also think that we have to give the benefit of the doubt to a scientist like Richard Dawkins who would presumably change his mind about Darwinism if the evidence was such that it was more likely that the theory was wrong than right. Whereas a 'Scientific Creationist' already has the mountain of evidence weighing down on him but refuses to concede to the evidence and instead clings to the shreds of evidence that support his world view.

    Interesting to read your comments on 'The Trap' too - I've found a version of it on Google so I'm going to have a watch of it later on. I thought it was an excellent program when I watched it last time a couple of years ago.

    Hopefully see you soon, G

  4. Hi Gareth

    Good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

    'Creationism is not a scientific theory - it's a belief that's based on 'evidence' that can't be tested or examined. As such creationism has no place in scientific discussion - if it is brought into scientific discussion then why not discuss Greek, Nordic, Australian Aboriginal or Hindu creation myths along with Christian ones?'

    ID is not explicitly Christian, based on Genesis, but raises the view that life is designed which would be the view of many religions (even Russell's flying teapot). Michael Reiss merely said that biologists should be able to debate this.

    I could understand if through saying that evolution can be debated, Reiss started a Socratic philosophical discussion, an exchange of letters, a shared podium, but he didn't. He was given the bum's rush.

    'that way witch burning lies !'

    Sounds grim, but how to stop this? Through debating or through saying 'I won't bother to discuss that. If you disagree with us you are stupid and we will not patronise to share our knowledge with you'. Is that going to gain support for Darwinism?

    The evolution v ID thing reminds me of a story by Borges, where a Rabbi is found murdered in front of a typewriter with a cryptic message. One detective says 'A lost burglar broke in here by mistake and stabbed him', the other detective replies 'It is possible but not interesting. You will respond that life has no obligation to be interesting. I will reply that life does not have that obligation but a hypothesis does... not the imaginary bunglings of an imaginary burglar'.

    I think that this is what Reiss meant (though he was not asked for clarification, but given the boot). No one can disprove the ID concept, but only demonstrate its philosophical shortcomings.

    Thus to debate it would be to admit that Darwinism is not a fact but a theory in the scientific sense. It is (albeit immensely loosely) falsifiable and which leaves a lot unexplained but which makes a good attempt to explain the fossil record and is supported by some research. But ID (as Steven Poole put it) is 'not even a theory' in the scientific sense.

    As for Dawkins, did he provide a falsifiable hypothesis for his meme theory?

    Hope your house move is going well, and you'll come to say hello sometime.

  5. I must say I feel a little schadenfreude towards the Multiculturalist project. Muslims are not immune anymore to attacks form athiests, that the 'majority' Christians enjoyed for decades and I bet we will see more in the future because there are already sings. The criticisms of Islam might have been foolishly dismissed as racist in the past but what the leftists that pushed this idea forward want to see in reality is a world without culture and religion and borders.

    So you have people like Christopher Hitchins, who has previously been reading Trotsky, cheerleading the Iraq war and becoming and expert on Islam almost over night. The American Neocons may be playing the evangelical card but their European supporters like Hitchins seem to either overlook that fact or notice more the spread of the democratic ideal which would dissolve the tradition identies in a system without meaning all across the globe.

    I must say I like the presence of Muslims because they now represent the only group that seriously this universialist ideology (call it multiculturalist, neoliberal, marxist, trotskyst or whatever, to me they are but the other sides of the same cube). I am an optimist in this, since it presents a unique opportunity for Christians to reassert their identity. What I am afraid of are Christians who would jump around the universalist critism of Islam because it is directed against Muslims. A very telling is how they applauded the youtube vloger Pat Condell not realising that Pat feels the same way about them.

    An example of assertion of identity among Christians are the Orthodox. If you look at the church building in the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, it looks like an agricultural storage rather than an Orthodox Church, but the more recent ROCOR church in Chiswick is built in a nice Russian style. I was told by a monk in the Monastery that when the place was founded it was difficult to build monasteries in the traditionally Orthodox style because the laws did not allow it but Muslim preassure changed the standing laws. The Anglicans may however be in a more problematic position.

    I do not care much about the circumstances of terrorist attacks but more about what is done by governments in their aftermath. 9/11 came to the neocons as a blessing from the heavens. In its aftermath they could enact laws and policies which would otherwise be questionable. Terrorism does not benenfit the image of Islam and gives more encouragemnt to those who would not dare criticise Islam before out of feer of being called racist. The event of the congregation raising their hands is nothing but a subtle way of saying that Muslims are irrational freaks without taking the harder way of criticising them. They could just as well not report anything about the doubting Muslim congregation. The effect is the same as saying that Hill's film misleads the Muslims.

    The system of political correctness works on racial basis. Just look at the ethnic monitor, the 'ethnic monitor' does not meassure ethnicity (which is linked to culture and religion) but race. It does not assume that it is only skin deep. People have ideas, feelings and beliefs and they like to express them and are not
    just economic units.

  6. Ad. Evolution

    There are people around who challenge the 'big bang' theory because it has religious connotations. But the real issue is not that Darwins theory may be disputed but that it is like with every Scientific theory devoid of deeper meaning and its implycations are that we human beings are just accidents of nature. Max Weber's essay 'Science as Vocation' explains this issue.

    Arguing against religion with Darwin is not going to do away with religion because Darwin's theory is devoid of meaning. Meaning to it can be provided by such awful things as eugenics or German National Socialism or Soviet Communism.

  7. Hi Leos

    Christopher Hitchens originally jumped ship during the Yugoslavian conflicts. He somehow managed to morph this counter-response to a multicultural, secular, humanist idea into his pre-existing dualist concept of reactionary forces against progress.

    That an atheist socialist led Serbia did not stop him from making this an issue of evil reactionary Orthodox Serbs against secular, progressive Kosovans.

    To read Hitchens you’d think that the Kosovans were Rousseauist forces of reason. They were better described by Alan Clark as ‘thugs with drugs’. Kosovo was a typical war with neither side right nor wrong to begin with and protracted messy killings by traumatised young men on every side.

    Yet to neo-liberals nothing is so complex. In fact, I will not be surprised if the forces which wrenched apart Tito’s Marxist concept of multiculturalism will also destroy British multiculturalism. I read an article on The Independent’s now defunct website called ‘Muslims feel like the new Jews of Europe’. There were hundreds of hate-filled responses from British readers. Many of whom seemed to be atheists.

    I’d say that Orthodox culture is neither Eastern nor Western but has elements of both. Anyway, the Greeks are deeply antipathic towards neo-liberalism and will probably pay a price. The Brits patronise themselves as champions of individualism and liberalism even as Orwell’s predictions come truer everyday. Sadly I think the term ‘sheeple’ applies more to Brits than even the Americans. We have the leading CCTV surveillance system and are soon to have a DNA database. Yet I suspect that our country is just a model for what they want to do to every other nation on earth.

    I had long noticed that the Greeks have a very different attitude towards authority than the British have and find it astounding how Brits trust their rulers. Yet there has been a mysterious wave of violence in Greece, and the ministers want to install a comprehensive CCTV system in Athens in response.

    When they last installed CCTV during the last Olympics, they were pressured to remove it immediately. Now, I don’t know.

    The traditionalist Orthodox Church is also loathed by the neo-liberals who dislike any competing source of ethics and thought. From London to Greece, the Priests are compared to Iranian Mullahs, the ‘Ayatollah of Athens’ cliché can be found on either corner of Europe.

    This brings us to Islam. I myself have ambivalent views. There are some features that seem predominant in Islamic cultures that I dislike: open misogyny, racism, intolerance, violence, censorship and xenophobia.

    Yet there is also a lot that is positive: good manners, family values and a negative attitude towards neo-liberalism. And (perhaps most importantly of all) they are not slaves to television.

    There is a lot that I find beautiful in Shia Islam, which sadly had a peaceful history which turned spectacularly violent in recent decades. Yet I wonder if there is a reason why the Greek clerics are so often compared to the Iranian ones? Could it be that they expect a similar confrontation with modernity? Who knows?

    I would agree that the BBC through using the word ‘conspiracy theory’ when discussing the Muslims raising their hands is deeply biased and implies that they are irrational. Saying that they do not trust the official account is one thing, a conspiracy theory is something else.

    I would like to think that ‘almost everyone in the room’ would raise their hands if they were British. But sadly, I doubt it.

  8. 8-) Did I really write 'Hitchins' instead of 'Hitchens'? That's very Czech of me.

    The real problem with this guy is that he drinks and brags too much about things he knows nothing about and gets payed ungodly sums of money for doing so and sadly is respected many gullible individuals. But he is not alone in this.

    Its good that you brought up the comparison of Orthodoxy and Islam made by some fiery critics. I must say I find that very shallow but then again I find that these critics always have a shallow view of any religion or culture. The truth is that the Orthodox and Muslim theologies do not match. Only some outward appearances such as the Mosque architecture in Anatolia and the Balkans, and the long beards of the priest might make the comparison feasible and this is all that their arguments rests on.

    To me Islam is, to frame it in the words of St. John of Damascus (the one saint that resembled the Ayatollahs the best with his turban and beard) a 'Christian heresy' tailored to suit the military needs of Arabic pastoralists and infused with some Iranian features. But this is my simplified view of it. :-)

    In reality Islam is such a complex issue that can only be understood after years of study. It is of course to be feared when some hot-headed Imams declare war on the infidels but our elites do not care much about that as the wars in the Balkans and in Iraq clearly show, their concern lies with the girls in hijab in our schools.

    The hijab is seen as a symbol of oppression by our elites raised on feminism when in reality it more a symbol of identity worn most of the times willingly and frankly it is a minor thing to care about.

    On the Shia Islam, I must say it had some pretty violent oubursts in history and that is why most of the time it acts peacefully. Islam is both peaceful and tollerant and violent and hateful in the many forms it comes. They all stem out of the its birth among the warlike Arabs, conquest, consolidation of power, eschatological Iranian ideas and the lack of the ascetic and mystical in basic Islam and search of it. The Koran can also be interpreted in many different ways.

    The Greeks and other Orthodox seem to be independent minded on the geopolitical scene. This trait goes back to the past, I think they would have a hard time accepting the Western universalist ideas from Brussels. But the biggest fun would start when Turkey joins. The Orthodox and event the Turkish are not Western although they might sometimes seem like they are.

    You seem to be a lot concerned about the presence of CCTV in our cities. The system however is costly and largely ineffective in reducing crime and I bet it can do little to prevent a terrorist attack from happening. Its only benefiting the producers and sellers of this system. It is the corruption behind this mock security rather than the cameras themselves that I am most concerned about. There other things that can be done about reducing crime and the threat of terrorism but they are less visible and sometimes less costly.

  9. 'The real problem with this guy is that he drinks and brags too much about things he knows nothing about and gets payed ungodly sums of money for doing so and sadly is respected many gullible individuals. But he is not alone in this.'

    'Not alone' is putting it mildly. I'm reminded of a phrase by Jorge Luis Borgs 'milking applause from dimwits'; that applies to the overwhelming majority of so-called intellectuals.

    'You seem to be a lot concerned about the presence of CCTV in our cities. The system however is costly and largely ineffective in reducing crime and I bet it can do little to prevent a terrorist attack from happening. Its only benefiting the producers and sellers of this system. It is the corruption behind this mock security rather than the cameras themselves that I am most concerned about. There other things that can be done about reducing crime and the threat of terrorism but they are less visible and sometimes less costly.'

    I'm certainly concerned about it. I think for many Brits, reading 1984 is a 'rite of passage'; I remember reading it at 10 or so. It was so shocking, especially the somnambulent world Smith lives in. The historical background to totalitarianism is also given so smoothly, and the really terrifying potential of the media to shape opinions. And of course the incessant surveillance.

    Maybe you are right about CURRENT CCTV, but 1) I oppose it in principle and 2) If they wanted to know if the british people would protest, they've got their answer.