Thursday, May 29, 2008

Writing the wrongs

I've been away for a few days in Edinburgh and it looks like I've missed all the fun on Curly's blog, where I've become an opprobrium magnet for daring to criticise a spook book written by Mike Hallowell and Darren Ritson. Presumably the posters are the book's authors Hallowell and Ritson, or maybe it's a mischievous poltergeist. You never know on t'internet.

I could respond on Curly's blog, but I don't want to further damage my welcome there - and I wish to avoid being slapped with another 'use your own blog' yellow card.

However, I wasn't sure how to respond, or if I should. Would a response feed their apparent self-righteous indignation or would a challenge provide them with a sense of credibility they don't deserve? Or both?

The whole episode is a bit odd. A couple of short tongue-in-cheek critical comments lit the touch-paper and attracted such fury and lengthy, pained replies. Imagine the phone call between the "two battle-hardened paranormal investigators" (seriously, that's what they call themselves):

"Darren? Yeah, it's Mike. We got trouble on the internet."

"What's up Mike?"

"Some guy has posted on Curly's Corner Shop. He says our book is shit."

"He did? Let's get spooky on his ass. I'll post with awful grammar just so no one thinks I'm a poltergeist."

"Good stuff Darren. I'll try and look outraged, and I'll rope Dave in to blow off his usual anti-blogger angst."

"What about BA Baracus?"

"He won't let no fool get him on no plane."

"Pity. But it's still a good plan."

"Go team paranormal!"

I know I should have gone for a Scooby/Shaggy thing, but the A-Team is way cooler.

Anyhow, I resolved I shouldn't go for a full blow by blow response to their desperate attempts to avoid looking like complete tits, and decided to just concentrate on one whopping howler. Ritson provided a classic and quaintly amusing example of fatuous ignorance in this misconception:
"Did’nt [sic] people once mock and ridicule Christopher Columbus after telling people the world was in fact round and not flat?"
No Darren, they didn't, but chances are that if there were such people, those doing the mocking would have believed in the supernatural too.

However, a conscientious and objective researcher (or a history head like me) would know that during Columbus' time most scholars and navigators worked on the basis that the world was spherical. It wasn't a new concept: the ancient Greeks had provided observational and mathematical proofs and even local boy Bede described the characteristics of a spherical world at least 750 years before Columbus. The main contention with Columbus' adventure was over his estimation of the planet's circumference, and over that, Columbus was wrong. This isn't to take anything from Columbus' achievements: history is made by such risk-takers.

Even without referencing Ritson's historical inaccuracy, his argument is based on a creaking non sequitur fallacy - mockery or ridicule has no value in establishing the truth or otherwise of the statements being mocked. And yes, I am aware of the faint irony.

Fair due to Ritson, the 'Columbus was mocked' assertion is a common misconception, fed by reliance on poor source material. Perhaps next time though, before accusing someone of knowing nothing, Ritson could employ some intellectual rigour first and check his facts before making himself look like a complete numb-nuts.

Columbus should have texted to put him straight.


Michael said...

Hmmm, wasn't Columbus mocked because he thought the world was much smaller than it actually was and that Asia was where South America is? In fact, he died believing he'd landed in India.

Seems like a wholly appropriate example to me!

rossinisbird said...

Indeed he was - but history is littered with triumph through dumb luck!

Michael said...

Yeah, that and shit literature ;)