Tag Archives: appeal to ignorance

In Search Of Pseudoarchaeology.

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I wasn’t around when In Search Of was on the air, but my dad loved this show. He liked it so much he watched the reruns when I was a kid, and that got me hooked. To be fair, it didn’t take much to get me hooked on something sci-fi and fantasy-ish. I like to tell people I’m a second generation gamer, my parents teaching me how to play DnD at a very early age, and I was fed a steady diet of 80’s and 90’s SF/Fantasy movies, TV, books, and comics. I regret nothing.

Oddly enough though, my dad didn’t buy into anything he watched in these shows. I’m pretty sure he believed alien life was out there, somewhere, but here on earth? Nope.

I also remember wanting to own a whole set of those Time-Life Book series The Enchanted World and Mysteries of the Unknown. I still love this stuff (and still want a full set of both) but I don’t believe any of it. I think that’s a gift of my early exposure to role-play and my parent’s critical love of SF/F (and horror, thanks mom).

Today, I have the delightful hobby of still watching shows that build off the success of In Search Of, and tearing them apart like a rabid raccoon.

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It’s usually pretty entertaining to me, and as I’ve grown with it over the years, I moved from simply making fun of the things that “clearly don’t make sense, dude,” to wondering why people believe in the things they do and how I can tap that to try and change things. It’s a mental shift and I suspect one tied to gradual maturity.

Thomas Jefferson supposedly said,  “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” But what makes Accent Aliens unintelligible to me, and so damn believable to others? Why are so many people, oft of a certain demographic, so desperate for White Europeans to be the first to the Americas? Why do people believe the original Shakespeare manuscripts are buried on Oak Island?

More importantly, can they articulate their reasons for their beliefs, or are they amorphous, out of focus, beyond their own understanding? If that’s true, is it fair for me to simply boil it down to Racism, Colonialism, and Ignorance? Ugly words for ugly concepts, but does that make me wrong? How can I explain this to people, about their beliefs, getting them to think about it and without offending them?

I don’t know, which is why I enjoy this. It’s mental exercise for me, keeps me honest, makes me question myself, my own beliefs and the world around me. Also, there’s a not-so-small part of me that just loves the ridiculousness of it all, and well, it’s funny in a laugh-or-you’ll-cry way. I swear….


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Myth and the Science of the Past

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Absence of Evidence

*In the long absence created by my return to school, I thought I’d finish migrating my old posts to this site. So, enjoy!*

“This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” ~ Carl Sagan

The first time I heard this quote was in field school. We’d spent the majority of the summer excavating the residence of Dr. J.H. Ward and found about nothing…though I did learn that a claw hammer will totally own century old cement…When asked what he was going to say about the residence since we’d had such a lean collection of artifacts, Dr. Mullins (go read his awseome bolg on material culture) told me, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” This was quickly followed with a rather comical debate over what a particular artifact really was to which I was told, “When you hear hoof beats, think Horses not Zebras.”I took both quotes to heart, often repeating them to myself when faced with questions in the field. I still like both, even though recently I learned that the Carl Sagan quote is actually a misquote. The full quote is listed above and can be found on Wikiquote…or better yet in his book Demon-Haunted WorldTo put it in context, Sagan uses this phrase in his “Baloney Detection Kit”. He uses it as a tool to identify and reject an “appeal to ignorance”. The phrase appears in Chapter 12, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” in the “The Demon-Haunted World”

“appeal to ignorance – the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist – and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

So, this quote didn’t mean what I thought it meant. What Sagan appears to be doing here is pointing out that absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.

What does this have to do with archaeology you ask? Oh my, so much. Especially when you are dealing with pseudoarchaeology.

I’ve been doing research for a video that will be on Ancient Astronauts building the Pyramids, not a topic I was familiar with, and frankly the more I “learn” the more my brain hurts. What I’ve been finding is that Ancient Astronauts supporters use the appeal to ignorance to support their claims, up to the point of quoting Sagan. This tells me is that not only do they not know anything about ancient Egyptian civilization / building techniques, they also have never read Sagan. This bothers me since in both cases they are speaking as if from positions of authority, and five minutes on the internet can blow their arguments out of the water.

I blame von Daniken for this. The man simply refuses to see fact, even when it’s place right before him. He is also a prolific author on the topic of pseudoarchaeolgoy, claiming that professional archaeologists either don’t know what they are doing, or are purposefully covering up the “truth”. To him I ask, what do we have to gain by hiding the truth?

Daniken likes to point to known artifacts, hieroglyphs, and paintings, claiming that Archaeologists translated them incorrectly, that they are really ancient depictions of aliens, or even parts of a spaceship. He goes as far as to say that everything we know is wrong, and we have something to gain by not telling the lay public the truth. Daniken apparently never had the benefit of someone telling him to think Horses not Zebras.

To all this I say, Ancient Astronauts supporters: you have no evidence, you have no facts, most damningly, you have no practical applied experience. When you misquote Sagan, you show you have no grasp of basic concepts. As in all things, Occam’s Razor comes into play, and since your extraordinary claims cannot be backed with extraordinary evidence, you really should let it go. Have a little faith in your own species, we really are a very clever and capable ape.