Ancient Zodiacs, Star Names, and Constellations: Essays and Critiques
Some Comments on Issues Relating to Particular Critiques
Copyright © 2015-2018 by Gary D. Thompson
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Some Comments on Issues Relating to Particular Critiques
Scholars and others look for new ideas and debate the veracity of new ideas. For history to be credible it must be grounded in historical data. Arguing on the basis of unfounded suppositions is without credibility. History-without-facts is simply not history. Factlessness is speculation only. Unfortunately, some people believe that making evidence-free claims is not a problem. (And even like to label critics "contrarians." However, trying to bring a sense of historical credibility to dubious claims is not without merit.) In the absence of adequate/suitable historical data the gaps are inevitably filled with hypotheses, some of which have little merit. The persistence (constant invention) of pseudo-history in disregard of contrary historical evidence seems inextinguishable. Still, persons supporting fantastic propositions with fallacious reasoning and false/irrelevant data invites critical analysis and comment. The current high volume of pseudo-historical claims (speculative garbage/spectacular humbug) is burdensome. Overlooked is the reasonable concept: What are we safe in assuming? The hazards of speculative scholarship would benefit from the use of "one may wonder whether," "it is possible to see," "it is easy to suppose" and similar phrases when introducing a host of speculations unsupported by solid evidence. Proof is not needed in order to have faith in an idea. A critical approach to establishing knowledge must challenge, not respect, obviously questionable claims. Rigorous thinking should not be scorned.
Some independent researchers/alternative historians seem to be introducing the notion of "alternative facts." (Some of the assertions they make are certainly proof they are using hyperbole.) However, can anyone seriously believe that provable facts have contradictory alternatives?The conviction that there is such a thing as objective truth that can be discovered and delivered through dispassionate research and that the product of that effort, if thoroughly documented, can be accepted as reliable (for the present state of knowledge), is not misplaced. Unfettered by credible evidence we can assume belief in historical fancies of our choosing.
Alternative archaeology/alternative history is being used to influence/distort modern ideas about the past and present. A typical example is the content of popular television programs on archaeology. Popular representations of archaeology in the media give large amounts of time to the uncritical presentation of alternative archaeology/alternative history claims as guides to the past. So-called independent archaeologist/independent scholar and researchers are making a contribution to factless speculation. Professional scholars with specialist training and experience remain open to legitimate possibilities. The caution that factless speculation must be kept to a minimum is being ignored by amateurs entering into the fields of archaeology and history. The suggestion is being promoted that traditional professional archaeological/historical theory is 'terminally ill' or even 'dead.' Unfortunately pseudo-archaeology/pseudo-history remains unextinguishable. Even some professional scholars construct and promote factless speculation, and are using professional venues to do it. A typical example is the content of conference proceedings. This latter example has become interesting some self-described independent researchers make constant same-theme presents which are constantly published. Their aim seems to be that this will suffice as an eventual informal credential for acceptance of their claims and also as a means of their moving from dilettantism to wide acceptance of their authority on the topic. However, they are overlooking that persistence in propagating wholly speculative claims is an exercise in zealotry, and confirms that legitimate evidence is wanting.Critique is a disciplined method for the systematic, critical evaluation or analysis of written or oral claims. It involves questions regarding the veracity of the claim and supporting evidence. Because it involves the methodical practice of doubt (the adoption of skepticism), critique is commonly regarded as fault finding and negative/derogatory judgment. However, the practice of doubt/skepticism is not about being stubborn and not wanting to believe in particular claims. Doubt/skepticism is about wanting sound evidence - and that's where numerous scientific-sounding pet theories fail. The response, "Anyone reading his "analysis" of my opinions on his Web site might think that he knew what he was talking about.", is inadequate to deal with the approximate 50 criticisms made of the veracity of "opinions." Also, "But he has assumed unto himself the unusual mission of supreme arbiter of other people's publications: who is right and who is wrong in our area of expertise. He butts the heads of other authors. He instigates monologues, not dialogues. He tars authors with unfair labels. His criticism is commonly nitpicking and subjective. It touches on incidentals. ... As for me, it has been years since I got tired of reacting to Gary's scattered lashing out in my direction on his website.", is also inadequate to deal with the approximate 25 criticisms of the veracity of claims made. Also, how these particular "reactions" were made (where published) and the content is not explained. It is misleading to suggest I am engaged in quibbles and nitpicking quarrels. I am not bothered with engaging in minutiae (trifling matters/incidental details) but rather glaring fundamental problems that go to the core of accuracy of claims being made. To infer that with my annotated website and critiques I have set myself up as 'judge and jury' on other people's views would only make sense if I also prevented their responses - which I don't; I have always invited their responses.
The accusation that I am small-minded in my understanding and outlook is an attempt to dismiss consideration of, and legitimacy of, the contrary evidence. Some of the known reactions deserve a study in themselves. What both these persons have in common is the belief that there has been no legitimate arguments against their respective claims. In other words, their respective claims are correct. On a slightly different point, there are really no detailed criticisms or 'corrective' publications existing. A point also to be made is that expressing doubt/skepticism is not arrogant self-appointment. The fact that I have the temerity to be feisty is not really an issue. Both science and morality depend on a highly developed culture of criticism (and self-criticism). I view my contributions as modest. Apart from some comments to Hastro-L my thoughts are expressed nowhere else but my website.
The informal, uncontrolled, unfiltered, and freewheeling context of the Internet enables a 2-edged approach with the dissemination of information about the history of astronomy (and any other topic). Quality information can be made readily accessible to a large audience. However, misinformation about the past can be readily disseminated to a large audience far more quickly than in the pre-Internet period. Fictions about the history of astronomy can be spread by anyone with a computer and any Internet provider enables nonsense to be shouted to the world. The Internet provides the opportunity for repetition. However, repetition of failed claims does not make them any more convincing. But repetition serves as a device to propagate ideas. However, the Internet also provides a means for critics to readily shout back. There are also some fine websites that respond explicitly to historical fictions (and other) the nonsense that now doggedly seeks a hearing.
If any person promoting their pet theory is making a historical case then the person needs to initially ensure they have reasonably looked at all key historical sources dealing with the subject, and later they need to ensure they take informed criticisms brought to their attention into account and re-evaluate their claims. Proponents of pet theories are not interested in looking for other at least as appealing alternatives to their own particular thesis. This of course ensures their proposals cannot be called properly researched. I believe my critiques are dense with facts and information. When reasonably established history puts a pet theory to disadvantage it is unreasonable for their proponents to simply dismiss established historical ideas and/or those that point the matter out. The issue of types of criticisms i.e., constructive or not misses the point that some pet theory proponents do not really change any key aspects of the assertions regardless of what is contained in criticisms.
To show that claims that are exerting influence actually have no foundation is a valuable thing to do. The demolition of such claims avoids further distraction by them. Fictitious claims are obviously misleading and corrupt our understanding of the past.
"I know, Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life." - Sherlock Holmes, 1891.
"The interests of truth have nothing to apprehend from the keenness of investigation, and the utmost severity of human judgment." - Dr. Stubbins Ffirth, pioneering medical investigator, 1804.
A reasonable "rule of thumb" is the judgement that the burden of proof lies with the proponent of the claim being asserted. A number of people are only supporting their viewpoints using "cherry-picking" methods (i.e., ignoring evidence that is contrary to their claims) instead of employing more critical standards.
It remains surprising that some people promoting pet theories object to the request for rigor. Within the history of astronomy it ought to be a sine qua non (an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient) of any and all work. The developer of a historical theory should be the harshest critic of that theory, particularly when there is scant evidence to construct it around. The nature of historical knowledge is limited by the character and extent of the evidence. At best, scholarship aspires to tentative claims based on historical probability. Unsurprisingly, a few persons critiqued (in essays throughout the website) - and some persons supporting their viewpoints - dislike the essays, and some people are unbothered. Some people lack continuing interest in particular ideas they have promoted. Some people understand that later research will propose new interpretations and conclusions. However, some people have shown they will continue to promote their pet theories regardless. They fail to understand the interpretations they offer are not absolute. (Also, some people seem determined to take offence if criticised.) Those few persons who dislike the critiques, however, decline to respond to them in any type of open discussion where this is available. (I remain disappointed that some people seem to think that sound evidence (and/or need for rational discussion) is an optional add-on.) What is substituted is a number of disparate propositions that display disparate values. They originate from persons annoyed with my articles critically examining their claims, or simply critically examining claims they are sympathetic with. The main propositions are:
Proposition (1): An emphasis on being published as a foundation for the entitlement to critique publications.
Proposition (2): An emphasis on formal qualifications as a benchmark for ensuring expertise with critiques.
Proposition (3): An emphasis on publishing original research as a qualifier to critique the published original research of others.
Proposition (4): The accusation that there is a disturbing trend that only written evidence is taken as proof of a historical claim.
Proposition (5): The position that they will not respond to any of my criticisms of their ideas until I publish my own original research on archaeoastronomy.
Proposition (6): Critics are demonstrating they are closed-minded and "superficial nitpicking meanies."
Theses assertions are intended to act as "stoppers" and distract from the real debate. Once again, these claims/propositions originate with those persons (and supporters) proposing radical speculative ideas - not from dispassionate academics offering methodological judgment. Once again, the fact that I have the temerity to be feisty is not really an issue.
The frequent assertion by persons that they have conducted and published research but I have not ignores a number of important issues (apart from the obvious "So what!"). Apparently authors posting their material directly to arXiv.org or to Academia.edu is not valid and can be ignored. Apparently, though, persons presenting accepted papers at a conference and the papers being afterwards published in conference proceedings, outside of any referee/peer review process, is acceptable (and proof of academic legitimacy). At the end of the day little is being said about the need to deal directly with proponents of radical viewpoints who publish outside of peer-reviewed journals. Conference papers (presenting and publishing) are interesting. The process is initiated based on a "Call for Papers." Submissions of "Abstracts" of 100-300 words (= proposals) is the next part of the process. Usually no extended abstracts are accepted. There may also be a requirement for a biography of 50-100 words to accompany the submission of the abstract. Categories of submission can more completely entail: (1) abstract, (2) biography, and (3) full paper. The initial call for papers will stipulate the length of the presentations - usually 20-45 minutes (including question time). With fully professional conferences the abstracts will be peer reviewed and persons whose proposals are accepted are expected to submit full papers prior to the conference, and these will be published after the process of peer review. The process of peer review of full papers may be completed when they are submitted for presentation (i.e., before presentation). The SEAC XXI Proceedings that were published in a special volume of the journal of Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry were subject to peer review and a minimum of 2 referees (per the journal's usual process). The SEAC also has a system of referee appraisal of proposed conference presentations. The issue is: How can claims be definitely concluded prior to review by the specialist/expert community?
A quick initial response to these propositions before responding in detail:
(1) There seems to be the hint of an underlying theme that "commoners" should not criticize "elites," especially publicly. There seems to be some confusion here between the issue of amateurs becoming members of professional organisations (something which is opposed by myself) and the entitlement of an amateur to an informed point of view.
(2) Mostly their published articles are in popular publications that do not referee/peer review. In the case of Clyde Hostetter, he has only published a few articles on the topics of interest (4 that I can identify) and has only published in popular publications. Also, Hostetter has self-published (his 2 small books) and simply privately circulated a few unpublished essays (but constantly). Obviously Hostetter has every intention of perpetuating his 'opinions.' Perhaps there is a small 'cult' of believers. Success is not being marked by veracity but by perpetuation.
(3) It takes considerable research effort (and time) on my part to deal with the multiple pet theories espoused by persons such as Hostetter and Alexander Gurshtein, and show where their ideas fail. They decline to give any recognition of this fact. A few comments on research: Some people think that 'flopping' around the internet constitutes research. The internet is certainly a useful resource for getting started and/or for uncovering unsuspected leads that otherwise would easily have been missed. The internet enables access to an enormous volume of information, but of varying quality. The internet is an "echo chamber" of repeated information regardless of quality. The internet is no substitute for referring to the complete copies of books and articles and archive material via libraries, and intelligently analysing and assessing the material. Also, communicating with experts employed by universities and museums, etc. And, remembering that everything is not posted on the internet.
(4) Whilst they obviously wish to gain permanent recognition for their respective pet theories they have no wish for the existence of any permanent criticism. They overlook that first-rate scholarship takes nothing for granted.
Regarding proposition (1) and (3): As an initial first comment: Apparently being creative but not adding value to the history of astronomy is okay. Some people like to use their imagination to fill the gaps in our knowledge. I believe we will increase our chances of actually knowing less about the history of astronomy by too readily accepting such ideas. I am not suggesting that speculative theories should be readily dismissed as that would stifle creative thinking. That does not mean that all sorts of speculative theories are credible and have legitimacy. That would be mistaking what is logically possible for what is historically possible and reasonable given what sources we have to work with. As an initial second comment: I am bemused by the fiction that I have never published anything. Despite these rumours I still remain convinced I have had multiple articles published. Hostetter's publishing history regarding the 'Cynthia bowl' and 'Inanna's descent': Basically, Hostetter's published article on his 'copper bowl' claims appeared in the Griffith Observer (which is not refereed/peer-reviewed) which states it prints popular articles on astronomy, and its editor has an open-minded policy of including articles that express viewpoints that might exclude the article being published elsewhere. (This is the same as Victor Mair's approach with his ongoing Sino-Platonic Papers. The result is the publication of some very flawed ideas.) One of Hostetter's 2 published articles on his ‘Inanna's descent’ claims also appeared in the Griffith Observer. The other appeared in the journal Archaeoastronomy. At the time, the article was published at the editor's discretion (it was not refereed/peer-reviewed). Hostetter has published 12 articles - none in a refereed/peer-reviewed publication.
It has only been possible for Hostetter's lengthy material to be published by self-publishing. There is every indication that Star Trek to Hawai'i (1991) was self-published by Hostetter. The Diamond Press, 48 Los Palos Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 was Hostetter's home address at the time his 1991 book was published. Estate information for the address describes it as a 6 room condo home; built 1976, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 parking spaces, 1,293 sqft., sold in 1998 for $179,000. All that is really required is a printing company to do the production work (typeset, print, and bind). His privately circulated manuscript article (2010). was never published or made public, but may have been incorporated into his self-published Kindle pamphlet, Is Inanna Dead? (2014, 53 pages).
In the approximate 35 years (1976 to 2012/2013) from copper bowl purchase to my 2012 identification/British Museum 2013 identification of the copper bowl as Qajar period (circa late 18th-century CE, Hostetter persisted with his claims without any scientific paper being published (none ever has been published). How exactly the early history of astronomy is to advance in these circumstances is puzzling. Hostetter has exercised complete control over the copper bowl and his analysis of its iconography. The ability for independent analysis of the iconography has been under his control,. This is a form of protracted protectionism. What has not been under his control is the sufficiency of his photographs of its decoration to enable the period (and approximate dating) of the copper bowl to be identified.
Between 1993 and 2005 (inclusive) Gurshtein published 10 English-language articles to do with his ideas on the origin of the constellations. 3 articles were published in Vistas in Astronomy (which did not referee/peer review articles; articles were published at the discretion of the editor); 2 articles were published in Sky and Telescope (which did not referee/peer review articles; articles were published at the discretion of the editor); 2 articles were published in Physics-Doklady (which did referee/peer review articles; but supposedly only published the most significant new research in physics being done in Russia); 1 article was published in American Scientist (which did not referee/peer review articles; articles were published at the discretion of the editor); 1 article was published in the Journal of Indo-European Studies (which did referee/peer review articles); and 1 article was published as a conference paper (which (as far as I am aware) did not referee/peer review articles). Thus only 3 of 10 articles supposedly went through a referee/peer review process. However, the content of the 2 articles appearing in Physics-Doklady were mismatched (the subject matter was out of place) to the stated aims of the journal. The first article was a 4-page succinct summary of Gurshtein's ideas of the origin of the constellations. This indicates the referee/peer review process is uncertain and perhaps indicates editorial discretion with the publication of the articles. The American Scientist, despite the journal title, does not publish research articles, but rather, publishes articles of general interest. Sky and Telescope has a tendency to publish popular articles; many articles being written by their staff writers. Vistas in Astronomy is now discontinued; replaced by New Astronomy Reviews. As far as I am aware Gurshtein has published nothing further on the constellations since 2005.
Regarding Sky and Telescope: An example of its ability to publish erroneous articles is demonstrated by the publication of "Astronomy and the Fall of Babylon." by Vahe Gurzadyan (Sky and Telescope, July 2000). In his original Letter to the Editor the historian of early astronomy, John Britton, wrote: "The recent article ... is full of factual errors, flawed in its methodology, and all but certainly wrong in its principal conclusions. It is surprising and indeed disappointing that you published such a poorly researched report ...." (Vahe Gurzadyan first presented his ideas in the paper "Astronomical records dating the fall of Babylon." ay the Oxford VI Conference on Wednesday 23 May 1999.) Gurzadyan's material was also critiqued by Peter Huber (See his August 2000 paper: "Astronomy and Ancient Chronology."). Regarding Physics-Doklady (from official descriptions): Doklady Physics is a monthly journal containing English translations of current Russian research in physics, technical physics, astronomy, and mechanics from Doklady Akademii Nauk (Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences). The Proceedings appear 36 times a year; the physics sections are collected, translated, and published in 12 issues a year. Doklady Physics publishes the most significant new research in physics being done in Russia today, thus ensuring its scientific priority. The Editorial Board of Doklady Akademii Nauk (Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences) accepts new articles in the Russian language, formatted in accordance with the Rules for Authors. The article must be presented for publication by acting Russian or foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Beginning in July 1961, the AIP's translated journal Soviet Physics-Doklady will be published on a monthly basis instead of every other month as in the past. The journal, offering brief reports on Soviet research and covering most aspects of pure and applied physics, is a translation of the physics sections of Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR (the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, USSR).
The Journal of Indo-European Studies ... serves as a medium for the exchange and synthesis of information relating to the anthropology, archaeology, mythology, philology, and general cultural history of the Indo-European speaking peoples.
Gurshtein has particularly used the term "publish his own scientific results" as a condition. The use of the term 'scientific' is most interesting. What we are dealing with is historical research and associated explanations. History is generally classed within the humanities/arts/social 'sciences.' However, it's a long way from these disciplines. History is not science (i.e., it is certainly not comparable to a natural science such as physics or biology). Ultimately, there isn't such a thing as "the historical method." Science is exact, history isn't. Historians deal with incomplete information. When historians discuss new research on the past they may simply mean the reinterpretation of the materials that formed the evidentiary basis of older viewpoints. Researching history does not provide answers to definitive scientific problems. The sample size dealt with is one. There is no such thing as repeatable historical conditions. The study of history has epistemological limitations that prevent it from applying the scientific method. There is nothing to prevent the historian from spinning conjectures. Rigorous historical research has a focus on finding facts instead of beliefs - insofar as that is possible - and on using the best available empirical evidence. History is sound scholarship. History is strengthened by incorporating various sources of evidence, like archaeology, or paleoclimate science, or geology or evolutionary biology, etc. Gurshtein makes heavy-handed use of hypothetical (conjectural-deductive) reconstructions. These do not fall within the category of "scientific (research) results." To my knowledge I have more historical research articles posted at my website than Gurshtein has published. Some of mine that are approximately 10 pages in length have been painstakingly put together over 5-10 years from uncovering mere snippets of information (i.e., one or two sentences at a time from difficult to locate sources). The category for the claims proposed by Hostetter and Gurshtein is conjectural history. Also, something proposed on scant evidence or having a high level of subjectivity is an idea or thought (something imagined) rather than being a theory/hypothesis. Once you eliminate everything from Hostetter and Gurshtein's work that is based on assertions and circular logic supporting what they already believe their essays are empty.
An essential element added by the Greeks to the development of scientific method was formal logic, both deductive and inductive. One's reasoning must be sound, clear, and without basic fallacies and contradictions. One must be able to draw conclusions that follow from the evidence and data and not make leaps that contradict basic principles of methodology that are well established.
Regarding proposition (2); The person who has set it out as a requirement had no relevant formal qualifications at the time. They have an undergraduate degree that is irrelevant to the issues. Amazing really. That a professional qualification (at least a relevant one) will be sufficient in-it-self to ensure quality of argumentation is simply nonsense. Simply spending 15 minutes Googling on the internet will demonstrate the fact. (It also appears that if a person with a pet theory and relevant formal qualifications promotes the ideas of someone with a pet theory but without relevant formal qualifications then that is fine. So many rules!) As far as I am aware Hostetter has an undergraduate degree in journalism. As far as I am aware Hostetter and also Gurshtein are without any special training in the history of astronomy/archaeoastronomy subjects they discuss. Some proponents of pet theories appear to have no academic qualifications. Two of my 4 OHS qualifications are a Master of Applied Science (OHS) Degree, and a Graduate Diploma of Occupational Hazard Management. I have other formal qualifications unrelated to Occupational Health and Safety.
People with theories and ideas that by the nature of their claims invite a thorough analysis, but also asserting that it is their prerogative to set conditional entitlement requirements regarding who and how (and when?) their ideas can be critiqued, whilst not offering any similar impositions for themselves regarding where, how, and expertise basis they will likewise impose for themselves seems to be odd. It is perhaps unsurprising that they would nominate themselves as the voice of reason on the matter! This of course advocates limiting critics and what they can say. They are asserting their right to challenge and reject deemed orthodox theories without themselves being specialists in the subject matter. It reinforces specialness and ignores giving a value to the veracity of contributions deemed critical to their speculative ideas. It's also a technique for imposing censorship against others and suggests a cabal mentality. There is material out there where the only real accuracy is the sequencing of the page numbers. Proponents of ideas that don't stand up to scrutiny should consider the need to rethink their ideas. People usually don't like information that challenges ideas they hold.
Regarding proposition (4): Regarding the common spurious accusation made by proponents of pet theories that opponents will only accept written evidence as proof of a historical claim (with the further spurious claim that this is a disturbing trend): This is an exaggeration/distortion mixed with fiction. By who, and exactly how and where, this supposed 'trend' became established is never explained. Firstly, the written evidence from Mesopotamia is evidence against the conjectures of Gurshtein and Hostetter. This is something they obviously do not want to deal with. The claim is dispelled by the example that archaeological evidence is certainly not rejected. A disturbing trend would be accepting speculation without the requisite of evidence. Proponents of imaginative claims for ancient astronomy (Hostetter and Gurshtein amongst them) assert that opponents will only accept written evidence as proof for historical claims. This is not true. As examples:
(1) An archaeological contribution to understanding Aegean religion: "The Archaeological Correlates of Religion: Case Studies in the Aegean." by James Wright. In: Politeia: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age edited by Robert Laffineur and Wolf-Dietrich Nieme. (1995, Pages 341-348).
(2) An archaeological contribution to understanding Native American ritual: "Bear's Journey and the Study of Ritual in Archaeology." by Megan Howey and John O'Shea. (American Antiquity, Volume 71, Number 2, April, 2006, Pages 261-282).
(3) An archaeological contribution to understanding Norse cosmology: "Can archaeologists study prehistoric cosmology?" by Richard Bradley. In: Old Norse religion in long term perspectives edited by Anders Andrén et. al. (2006, Pages 16-20).
The contention that scholars ignore pre-history, because by definition, it recedes writing, is simply false. The absence of written records is not a barrier erected by historians and historians of science. They proceed to utilise other methods that are relevant. There are multiple methods for investigating constellation origins. However, theories concerning aspects of the origin of the constellations remain somewhat speculative due to the limitations of each method used. Analytical tools and methods able to be applied to the problem of the origin of the constellations ranked in order of approximate reliability and importance are: (1) Historical (extant astronomical texts), (2) Philological (analysis of constellation names), (3) Anthropological (anthropological analogy regarding the purpose of constellations), (4) Archaeological (iconography), (5) Statistical (statistical analysis of information and items), (6) Mythological (constellation myths), (7) Precessional (past constellation positions), and (8) Comparative (related to archaeological method).
One proponent of a pet theory claims to have made a rigorous reconstruction that unites many fragments of evidence into a single logical system. The interpretation of history is not forced by logic but by evidence. I presume what is meant is their 'theory' is characterised by sound reasoning. But it can only claim to appear to be logical. Without sufficient actual evidence they are only proposing a 'theory' that is built of extended speculations/assumptions. They are "constructing a house with a stone." Pet theory reconstructions of history enable the line between history and fiction to blur. Where reliable written records exist a person with what is largely hypothetical (conjectural-deductive) reconstruction needs to be able to validly account for this evidence (and its implications) rather than simply ignore it or contradict it. Both Hostetter and Gurshtein fail to prove any of the radical historical claims they make.
Informed judgment is one thing but speculative 'deductive logic' that holds lack of evidence as a suitable starting point for 'claims to possible knowledge' is quite another. Any assumption of value for the method is dubious. It is not a theorising process but a baseless speculation process.
Regarding proposition (5): Interestingly (and somewhat odd as a position) it is being stated they will respond publicly (whatever this means) to my relevant critique when I publish what is deemed original research on archaeoastronomy - but apparently will not comment on my article(s) published/placed on my website. This seems to be a refusal to engage in normal academic debate. Overlooked is the fact that my critiques are made while many proponents are still living and able to defend their ideas. The opportunity for discussion exists. At the very least the opportunity to assess the cogency of my critiques is presented. It is puzzling that it is readily declined. Overlooked is their responsibility to provide adequate proof for their claims. I have shown in great detail that they have not done this. The proponents of pet theories that are critiqued at my website have nearly always attempted to reach a popular audience and they have nearly always avoided publishing in academic refereed journals. For some (such as Hostetter), the claim of original research can hardly be justified when critical methodology is lacking - allowing beliefs and speculation to dominate claims of evidence. The classic statement to me by one proponent of a pet theory is: "Why don't you just shut up." To respond as if they are immune to criticism is surprising. But determinism to convince others is made all the easier if they have no critical opponents. Some persons may believe that lack of critical comment confirms the truth of the claim. Distortion of history feeds upon itself indefinitely unless corrected. In the natural sciences there is usually a presumption that if an idea (hypothesis) appears to fit the facts (at least on a preliminary assessment) then it stands until it is superseded or refuted. In other words, there is a presumption that the idea being proposed is correct. If the idea/argument stands up to rigorous critical assessment then merits should be acknowledged; if the argument does not stand up to rigorous critical assessment then unfortunately it will not always go away by itself. This is especially so if it is continually promoted in the absence of any critical input. When any proponent of a pet theory I am critical of dies it will likely be stated that the criticisms I make are unfair because they are now unable to respond. That my critiques do involve time-consuming original research is something that neither Hostetter or Gurshtein apparently wish to concede. I remain disappointed that some people seem to think that sound evidence (and/or need for rational discussion) is an optional add-on. Without such we are like Odysseus listening to the Siren's song. Ensuring sound evidence and rational assessment helps keep us tied to the mast. The fact that I have approximately 100 essays posted at my website - most based on original research - is conveniently ignored.
Regarding proposition (6): When some people promoting pet theories notice that others disagree they tend not to consider it an opportunity for discussion and perhaps reconsideration of their position but rather feel impelled to insist on there being fundamental errors in the opposing views. Quite independently of careful reinvestigation they consider the opposing views and arguments "wrongheaded," ground in an inaccurate understanding of the issues. It is the critic who is being "closed-minded." One adherent of a pet theory sent me an e-mail demanding "Open your eyes!" I fully agree that it's good to have an open mind. However, the proposition: "You have to have an open mind" does not qualify as evidence, but it does qualify as annoying. It is not the same as "Here's some good evidence for why my idea is correct (or has merit)." It has nothing to do with their argument being correct. If someone was insisting they had a 10 centimetre tall pink elephant behind their living room couch who teleported to Mexico every time somebody looked behind the couch and, when faced with persons who were skeptical (critical) of their claims and asked for some suitable standard of evidence in support of it, insisted that, "You have to keep an open mind" … would that be considered a good evidentiary argument for their tiny pink elephant claim?
The critiques have been given a systematic form and the analysis for each is very comprehensive. They form part of an ambitious project to unpretentiously provide balance for some particular speculative views that continue to be promoted, and ensure a sober, critical account of the issues. Skepticism is an honourable term that is used by persons who are guided by credible evidence. In the present context the intention is to encourage good history. As example, the lauded: The Great New Zealand Myth: A Study of the Discovery and Origin Traditions of the Maori by David Simmons. (1976). David Simmons is acknowledged as an outstanding scholar and student of Māori art and culture. His senior degree is an MA with Honours from The University of Auckland.
Further, whenever a person promoting pet theories demands their critics to be open-minded do they honestly think that a critic who can offer some 50 specific criticisms - encompassing the whole framework of their pet theory - has not legitimately considered the issues and the evidence? However, nothing could persuade some people that they are mistaken. So on what basis are holders of pet theories accusing critics of being the closed-minded ones? The "closed-minded" canard ignores that critics are most usually not stating they are 100 percent certain. Critics are most usually stating they are certain enough that the pet theory being promoted isn't plausible or isn't supported by any good evidence, and that until they see better evidence, they are going to continue to conclude that the pet theory is almost certainly wrong. It doesn't take very much initial research to identify that Hostetter's/Gurshtein's claims can't be reconciled with known historical evidence. The scenario that critics are "closed-minded" attempts to turn the debate about the evidence for pet theories into the proposition that critics are "superficial nitpicking meanies," and critics are rude or intolerant to make critical remarks in the first place. Hostetter and Gurshtein refuse to acknowledge that the individual pieces of the 'evidence' they give are more fragile than robust. Too much of their argumentation has a Rorschach-y element.
"Believers tend to insist on openmindedness except when it applies to themselves. (There is also the request for a "sympathetic hearing.") It is not some noble notion of intellectual fairness which these people promote. The openmindedness argument is simply an appeal to sympathy made by those who have no good evidence in their support and no good response to criticism. It's whining...nothing more." -- Brant Watson.
The silliest proposition recently put to me is that on the Myers-Briggs personality test I would come out as a limiting personality type: "In the Myers-Briggs world, such an approach would fit a S/T type who needs everything to be nailed down precisely or it gets rejected." (This falls into the substitute-for-evidence argument category.) Overlooked is the fact that because of its unscientific basis the Myers-Briggs personality test is not recognised as being scientifically valid and is not used in mainstream psychology. It instead has the status of a nonsense fad. It would seem that some persons believe that there is a 'truth' out there that I am held back from through my own limitations (criteria) and that I need to use intuition and the 'vacuum cleaner technique' of gathering data in order to achieve a 'break through.' I am not convinced that wanting reasonable standards of evidence is explainable as a limiting personality type on my part. I thought I just wanted to ensure I was utilising already established reasonable standards of evidence. A usable objective benchmark independent of my own felt 'intuition.' (This kind of thing had affinities with the personal anecdote. The plural of anecdote is not data.) Let's clearly identify speculation as speculation and perhaps also give it some sort of credibility value. Some speculations are more plausible than others. That puts it back into the hands of experts. Excessive speculative claims for early astronomy and Mesopotamian astral science that periodically emerge alongside the rigorous investigations and achievements of specialist scholars belittles their achievements. It is worth remembering the quip by a comedian: "Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise it'd stop."
Appendix 1: Cherry-picking
The term "cherry picking" is a colloquialism usually used in informal speech but also used in writing. It denotes the act of selectively choosing from available information that which seems to confirm a particular position while ignoring significant information that does or may contradict that position. Because its use has the intent of obtaining an advantage in establishing a case by presenting an argument in the best possible light, and in doing so subverting the normal goal of accurate assessment, cherry picking always has a negative connotation. It is biased evidence ("evidence" hunting). There is no attempt to work critically with the best available body of (historical) evidence. The intention is to only seek "affirming" evidence. It manipulates the reader/listener through presentation of selective evidence, to convince them to accept the same view. Ignoring inconvenient evidence identifies the lack of impartiality. Another technique/strategy is "framing;" the attempt at influencing by the way information is presented.
Appendix 2: Research principles
The human imagination can produce many more hypotheses/explanations than can possibly be tested in some legitimate manner. This requires criteria to be utilised in order to select the most promising ideas. Also to be kept in mind is the sciences are surprising in that what is rejected today may be accepted several years in the future. The example I have in mind is Alfred Wegener's theory of "continental drift" proposed in 1915 but not generally accepted until the 1960s. However, it was only able to succeed when suitable evidence became available. Plate tectonics only gained wide acceptance in the 1960s. Part of the problem was that Wegener had no convincing mechanism for how the continents might move. Also, Wegener's theory was wrong in one major point: continents do not plow through the ocean floor. Instead, both continents and ocean floor form solid plates, which "float" on the asthenosphere, the underlying rock that is under such tremendous heat and pressure that it behaves as an extremely viscous liquid. Further, this is why the older term "continental drift" is not quite accurate -- both continents and oceanic crust move.
Some principles for guiding historical research:
(1) Ask good research questions.
(2) Remain open-minded to contrary evidence.
(3) Act against personal bias.
(4) Recognise that sources have bias.
(5) Admit lack of knowledge.
(6) Acknowledge guesswork.
(7) Build an argument with credible evidence.
(8) Avoid absolute conclusions with no qualifiers.
(9) Recognise the limits of interpretation of evidence.
Belief regardless of evidence is something no scientific hypothesis can allow. Any attempt at establishing a hypothesis should consider credible opposing ideas.
Some proponents of pseudo-historical claims do not even perceive any stalemate with obviously patchy data. Authors who can deal with difficult and incomplete data need to also to be able to pursue competent discussions.
Appendix 3: Scholarly traits
Scholarly traits. A scholar:
1. Stays informed of current developments.
2. Does not ignore discrepant data in own and related fields.
3. Cites independent corroborative support for their argument.
4. Limits speculation.
5. Does not base claims on speculation.
6. Acknowledge evidence that poses a problem to their claims.
7.. Weighs the evidence.
8. Avoids giving all evidence at least equal (or greatest weight to the least significant evidence).
9. Discusses alternative explanations.
10. Withholds criticism until reading something on the issue.
11. Conducts research rather than culling the literature to 'cherry-pick' snippets they can force-fit into their pre-conceived ideas.
12. Considers new ideas.
13. Considers interdisciplinary methodology/synthesis.Appendix 4: Issues with historical explanations
Historical explanations need to differentiate between interpretation and speculation. In the absence of solid evidence there are multiple possibilities for what might have occurred. Deeming interpretation as proof is mistaken. Interpretations are transient. A synonym for speculation is conjecture - an opinion or conclusion that is based on incomplete information/evidence. Plausible speculation should perhaps not be contentious or controversial. A synonym for interpretation is explanation.
Some concepts involved with historical explanation:
(1) Speculation does not imply valid evidence. It means "no evidence exists" as proof.
(2) Hypotheses involve assumptions regarding the likely interpretation of the known evidence. A hypothesis is a possibility and falls short of being an opinion.
(3) Interpretation implies understanding the issues by means of a thorough knowledge of the subject. Interpretations (as explanations) are not permanent but are subject to alteration by new evidence.
(4) Proof is a body of evidence and reasoning used to support an interpretation. The quality of the work that creates the body of supporting evidence determines the sustainability of the conclusion.
Appendix 5: Lack of evidence
Some would-be experts making controversial claims are fond of saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (= the claim they are making is based on lack of evidence to the contrary/or the variant: evidence for their claim may yet be discovered). Where surviving evidence is scarce the "lack of evidence" argument cannot be used with any legitimacy. Recourse to circumstantial evidence is usually the remaining option when dealing with limited data from scarce evidentiary sources. (Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact.) Argumentation using circumstantial evidence does not generate an inescapable hypothesis. However, the statement "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" confuses 'evidence' and 'proof.' It is more correctly stated as absence of proof is not proof of absence. The absence of evidence is not a valid justification for a claim (especially a controversial claim) - it is not proof. It is invalid to imply the lack of evidence against a claim/for a claim establishes any legitimacy for the claim to remain part of a controversial discussion. The tactic seemingly enables claims that go beyond available historic evidence and rational reasoning. It is a meritless tactic to establish a false framework of 2 equally valid opinions. Absence of evidence is unusually strong evidence, though not proof, that something does not exist. It is invalid to imply that lack of evidence establishes anything other than there is no evidence both for or against the claim - that there is nothing that can be 'tested.' It is an attempt (ploy) to establish an 'empty' argument, an argument from ignorance.
On the proper use of the argument from silence see: Proving History by Robert Carrier (2012, Pages 117-119).
Appendix 6: Use of the term independent researcher/independent scholar
Independent literally means 'without any institutional affiliation.' The term seldom means an unemployed academic. An independent researcher/independent scholar may lack formal qualifications. (The genuine independent scholars will cite their academic qualifications and recent academic work.) Independent researcher/independent scholar can easily be a euphemism for 'amateur' or 'dilettante.' A person self described as an independent researcher/independent scholar may be someone bent on pursuing their 'pet theory' as a hobby - a crank. Usually they are someone who cannot obtain an academic position, does not require grant funding, and has another means of support (which could be a "day job" or their spouse working). An independent researcher/independent scholar is most usually unpaid. If laboratory work was being done then it would need to be paid for by the independent researcher/independent scholar. It is not unusual to find that literally no biographical information is available for them. Some independent researchers/independent scholars produce high calibre papers - some simply produce trash.
The term 'private scholar' infers no academic employment. It is not to be confused with the European term privatdozent. Privatdozent (for men) or Privatdozentin (for women), abbreviated PD, P.D. or Priv.-Doz., is an academic title conferred at some European universities, especially in German-speaking countries, to someone who holds certain formal qualifications that denote an ability to teach (venia legendi) a designated subject at university level. In its current usage, the title indicates that the holder has permission to teach and examine independently without being a professor. The title is not necessarily connected to a salaried position, but may entail a nominal obligation to teach.
Independent scholar/private scholar is a self-regulating concept - a label that a person can freely apply to himself/herself to have effect. So it offers a convenient way of disguising the lack of a formal academic qualification and expert knowledge and can be used by an enthusiast or even a fantasist. An independent scholar/private scholar who has formal qualifications and expertise will most often readily identify such. There is now popular dissatisfaction with mainstream scholar's explanations of history. In part this is due to avocational investigators who seek to introduce controversial ideas (with the explanation that mainstream academics are suppressing the real facts of history). The avocational/amateur investigators will usually self-declare themselves to be independent scholars and are typically provocative. They have become a tribe more numerous than plumbers. They are effectively a subculture comprised of pseudo-historians. They pervert how the general public perceives the past. There is a battle for public perception of history/archaeology. We now have a whole generation of alternative historians who feel self assured in hijacking public perception of history/archaeology from professional academics, with competing distortive interpretations of history that are irrational. A key method for pseudo-historians is to ensure their publications containing their archaeological and historical fantasies are readily accessible/affordable. Another key method is to persistently present their ideas on forums and at various conferences (with the aim of their presentations being (repetitiously) published in conference proceedings). Some are described as being established outside the academic establishment (and even globally renowned; which presumably means their ideas are believed by other alternative history fantasists).
Appendix 7: The demand for discussion protocols
To consolidate their believed status as independent scholars and researchers, dilettantes and pseudo-historians will commonly call for a show of respect to one another and the display of an exemplary, objective approach to scholarship, where persons are not defending a position uncritically, but seeking to learn in a truly collegial spirit. Their assumption is they are presenting something important that is not a time-wasting exercise. This is regardless of how immediately inane their claims obviously are. The point is that with pseudo-historians and the like we are not dealing with equal merit ideas/arguments. Dilettantes and pseudo-historians view themselves as scholars and will commonly set out requests that their new ideas are to be discussed openly, objectively, and dispassionately with everybody being professional, courteous, and people are not to be 'out-of-hand dismissive' of their ideas (and with one another). This is basically a control measure for the discussion under the guise of intending to ensure a strictly objective discussion. Dilettantes and pseudo-historians foster the view that opponents have vested interests in defending 'old ideas' and have much to lose. As a way of claiming an equal right to be heard, and their own open-mindedness and model scholarship, dilettantes and pseudo-historians state that the goal is for everybody to help each other to 'be right,' and to search for and find truth. Perhaps the best approach is to simply request an independent researcher/independent scholar publish their claims in a peer-reviewed journal. This is what legitimate and capable independent researchers/independent scholars do.Appendix 8: Understanding and misunderstanding/misrepresenting science
A number of pseudo-historians attack science as being only a culturally relative activity without its own firm foundations. The supposed quoting, by one pseudo-historian, of Anthony Aveni writing (Apocalyptic Anxiety (2016)) "The recent myth we call science" is without proper reference, or indication of being a literal quote, or content. As the "quote" is given within the context of supporting the theme of Hamlet's Mill perhaps the intended meaning is "Today's science is tomorrow's myth," but this is still not adequate clarification. What I am concerned with here is the mistaken belief that somehow science and its body of knowledge is fickle and relative. To believe this is to completely misunderstand science and it methodology. What scientific methodology has determined by experimentation, the use of statistical probabilities, and empirical inductive logic is what constitutes factual knowledge. Factual knowledge is not "perfect certainty" but rather it is "rational assurance." "By applying statistical knowledge to new factual data this knowledge provides the basis for building scientific hypotheses, theories, and laws over time. Thus, scientific knowledge becomes self-correcting as well as cumulative. Scientific knowledge is of a sequential nature that revises, adds to, and builds upon old ideas and theories as new theories are developed based upon new knowledge." (Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Robert Krebs (2004, Page xii).) "This is ... in contrast to the recent irrational philosophy of the history and sociology of science that views science, not as a unique, self-correcting human empirical inductive activity, but as just another social or cultural activity where scientific knowledge is conjectural, scientific laws are contrived, scientific theories are all false, scientific facts are fickle, and scientific truths are relative. These ... [irrational philosophical beliefs] believe postmodern deconstructionist assertions that no scientific idea has greater validity than any other idea and that all "truths" are a matter of opinion." (Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Robert Krebs (2004, Page xi).)
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