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March 6, 2004

More Censored Science

Cremo & Thompson's Forbidden Archeology

Some time ago now, when I was putting the material together for Kicking the Sacred Cow, a good friend by the name of Robert Lightfoot recommended that I read the book Forbidden Archeology, with a view to perhaps adding a section on the subject. Well, the content was pretty much fixed by that time -- as with much of engineering, there comes a point in putting a book together where you have to freeze the design if it's ever to see the light of day. But eventually, out of curiosity, I slotted it in among the rest of the things that make up this business we call life. It's a pity it was too late to include it. Kicking the Sacred Cow deals with areas of science where minds seem closed to evidence that conflicts with preconceptions or ideology; where the argument is from theory to fact, instead of the other way around. Forbidden Archeology would have fitted right in.

Around hundred years ago, textbooks carried, and students were conversant with, large amounts of evidence in such forms as pieces of worked bone, stone artifacts, and skeletal remains, suggesting that humans indistinguishable from those alive today existed long before the conventional picture based on evolutionary assumptions permits. But the evidence has since been expunged from scientific literature and teaching to the point where virtually an entire generation of graduates are unaware that it exists, and form their perceptions accordingly. This produces a knowledge filter that selects the evidence according to its agreement with prevailing beliefs, and then points to the resulting pattern as support for those beliefs, when giving equal consideration to all the facts would yield no discernible pattern at all.

What constitutes an acceptable "fact?" All too often, it seems, whatever leads to the required answers. A strong case that Cremo and Thompson make all through the book exposes the double standards with which claims consistent with orthodox theory are treated, compared to ones that challenge it. Stringent criteria invoked to dismiss "anomalous" finds -- for example that a skeleton found at too low a depth "might have" found its way there via a fissure that subsequently closed without leaving any sign of disturbance in the overlying strata -- would invalidate every accepted textbook case and museum exhibit if applied equally. Where all else fails, totally unsupported speculation--such as that an otherwise inexplicable fossil at the base of a cliff must have been carried there by an iceberg -- is called in, that would never have been dreamed of if the evidence were compatible with preconceptions. A chapter on radioisotope dating in theory and practice shows it to be far from the infallible last word that many imagine. Once again we find a long history of double standards in action -- alleged contamination requiring elaborate corrections until the answers come out "right" when they don't fit, but ready acceptance when they do -- and the circularity of pointing to the results as proving a pattern, the assumption of which guided their selection in the first place.

A fascinating and informative read. Be warned, though. It has 914 pages, practically all of them the kind that make you -- well, me anyway -- put the book down for a minute to think about what you've just read. Not that it's technically abstruse. It's actually eminently readable. But when something that seems solid and meticulous goes against just about everything you've read and been told and thought to be incontestable about a subject, it takes some reflection and digesting. Forbidden Archeology, Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson, Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing Inc., 1998, 914 pp., ISBN 0-89213-294-9

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