Last week, Graham Hancock and Michael Shermer debated the existence of a lost Ice Age civilization on the Joe Rogan Experience, and as I noted at the time, it did not make either man look good. Shermer was at times unprepared and often uninspiring, while Hancock was emotional instead of logical and far too quick to anger over every moment of disagreement. Similar anger issues emerged when Hancock attacked skeptic Marc Defant, the author of a harsh forthcoming review of Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods in Skeptic magazine, one that was available online in draft form from January until last week. (The Google cache copy is here.) Well, Hancock seems to have recognized that getting angry isn’t a good look for him, and on Facebook he has tried for some damage control with a pseudo-apology in which he pretends to feel sorry that his tone was unpleasant while, in reality, throwing himself a pity party:
After 25 years of academics deliberately smearing me, misrepresenting me, taking my words out of context in order to create a straw man that they can attack, and unleashing fusillades of vile ad hominems at me, etc, etc, I just boiled over at the article University of South Florida geologist Marc Defant posted online, on his website, "for his students" about me and my work. That article, originally titled "Magicians of the Gods: Conjuring up a Lost Civilization from Nothing", had been online since 10 January 2017 and was a draft of an article to appear in the June 2017 issue of the Skeptic magazine. I was at least glad to hear Shermer apologise for its tone and its misrepresentations during the show and disassociate Skeptic magazine from it. Subsequently Shermer had Defant take the article down.
You can read the full post here:
The article has a few errors of interpretation and some smallish factual errors (which Hancock explained in detail here), but as I noted last week, this is due less to Defant’s error than it is to the fact that Hancock is often deliberately obscure about his own truth claims, and a reasonable reader might infer that one is supposed to believe claims that Hancock will later claim to merely be reporting on behalf of some source that he then professes to be unsure about. The bottom line is that Hancock was mad about one line that was, in tone if not content, harsher than it needed to be: “Hancock has a real knack for conning a hellacious number people into buying his books.” I personally wouldn’t have said Hancock was “conning” people, but I can’t say that my conclusions, under slightly more temperate language, were significantly different.
Just a side note: Shermer takes the copyright to any article appearing in Skeptic, which is one reason I don’t publish there anymore. My Skeptic articles appear on my website because I have Shermer’s written permission to use them on my own website in perpetuity. But the copyright control is why Shermer could order Defant to remove the article from his personal webpage.
I don’t want to focus too heavily on the Defant article because I’m a bit conflicted about the tempest in the teapot, and also because Defant directs readers to my own review of Magicians of the Gods for the factual and evidentiary errors Hancock makes. “Jason Colavito has written an extensive critique of Magicians in which he draws particular attention to the numerous errors and misunderstandings of the myths Hancock cites and/or quotes. Consequently in this review, I will focus on the loosey goosy misuse of science both Hancock and his sidekick, geologist Randall Carlson, use to make their preposterous and unfounded claims.” It does not escape my notice that Graham Hancock attacked me by name in his book but has been silent on my review of his book while attacking others who have had much less to say about him than I.
I would, however, like to point out Hancock’s selective memory. He criticized Michael Shermer for writing a brief piece for Scientific American criticizing Hancock’s lost civilization claims in advance of their debate:
Meanwhile I can only conclude that Shermer felt in advance that he would “win” the debate and that nothing he would learn about me or my work during the debate would change his mind in the least. Otherwise how am I to understand the fact that Shermer contributed the following linked article (https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/no-there-wasnt-an-adv…/) for Scientific American which was written some weeks ago and published on the same day that we appeared together for our debate on the JRE? It would have been better science -- and better journalism! -- if Michael had published his Scientific American article AFTER we had met and had a chance to talk, not before. But that, I suppose, is the way of the world.
I point this out because on April 30, a few weeks before the debate, Graham Hancock published a massive article on the same subject as the debate and strenuously advocating his position. Given that Scientific American typically works with several weeks’ lead time, it’s likely that the articles were both completed around the same time. Yet Hancock does not follow his own advice, for he was so sure he would “win” the debate that he did not see the need to wait to talk to Shermer before publishing his piece. Now why might that be?
Hancock claims now, based on YouTube comments left on the debate video, that he has been “transformed into a hate figure,” and apparently, since he spends most of his online time reading his fans’ glowing messages on social media and his own website, he doesn’t realize that YouTube is full of people who lash out in vile ways on every video.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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