More tweaks

August 1, 2006

Still working out bugs.  Is this new style easily readable?  Is it more readable than the old one?  Please write and let me know.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

August 1, 2006

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

History is bunk – oops!

August 1, 2006

In a blog post which I assume was designed to provoke comment, The theory of “Intelligent Design” is neither intelligent nor a design,” The Opinionator at CapeCodToday takes on Florida’s new law dictating that only the “facts” of history be taught — I noted the law earlier, here. It’s an entertaining post.

He closes his post:

Some law makers are saying that their history is the best history. They fail to understand that history, like the law, changes and evolves over the decades. If they loved history more, they would understand this. Perhaps they don’t love or even understand history. Perhaps they agree with the American cultural giant Henry Ford, whose 143rd birthday we celebrate today. He once said, “History is bunk.”

Oops. Ford said something like that, but not quite that. According to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations Sixteenth Edition, Ford gave an interview to Charles N. Wheeler, published in the Chicago Tribune on May 25, 1916. In that interview, Ford said, “History is more or less bunk.”

Nit-picky, yes. Let’s strive for accuracy.

Jefferson on religious freedom

August 1, 2006

Thomas Jefferson *

In his Autobiography Jefferson recounted the 1786 passage of the law he proposed in 1779 to secure religious freedom in Virginia, the Statute for Religious Freedom:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and the Infidel of every denomination.

Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Modern Library 1993 edition, pp. 45 and 46.

* Image is a photo of detail from a painting of Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, courtesy of the New York Historical Society by way of the Library of Congress.

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