Greensboro College Professor: Graham Hancock Is Showing Archaeologists How to Ask Real Questions
You can already hear the excitement in the alternative science and fringe history world over an exceedingly positive review of Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods by Jon Epstein of Greensboro College because an honest to goodness academic not only endorsed the book with a full-throated celebration of Hancock’s claims, but also because he has blasted archaeology for refusing to engage with Hancock or to embrace findings from disciplines outside archaeology, such as geology, astronomy, mythology, etc. Epstein, a sociologist, and the Department of Sociology and Political Science will host Graham Hancock for a lecture and panel discussion on November 23, and his book review is actually a thinly veiled celebration of Hancock’s battle against archaeology. Get a load of Epstein’s praise of Hancock, whom Epstein seems to hero-worship, and his condemnation of academia:
Graham Hancock is NOT a scientist, and has never claimed to be one. He does, however, possess an honors degree in sociology from Durham University where he trained with criminologist Stanley Cohen, a major intellectual figure in British sociology, and where he learned the techniques of social science research. What he is, is an investigative journalist. An investigative journalist armed with the training and knowledge of how to do thorough research.
The whole review is like that, but longer. Despite admitting to be unqualified to assess Hancock’s claims, Epstein found them convincing, and his allegations that “something a bit like a conspiracy is at work in science” (as he says in Magicians) to be “thoroughly professional.” Now as it happens, I am every bit as qualified to evaluate Hancock’s claims as he was to make them (seeing as how I was the Distinguished Graduate in Social Sciences in my graduating class), and I have laid out in great detail reasons why they are unlikely to be true, and why is research is laughably bad, to the point of outright ignorance of his sources. But that isn’t my purpose here.
Epstein is a professor of sociology and criminal justice, so you’d think he might have had at least some of the tools to look into Hancock’s claims beyond simply accepting them. Epstein claims that he has spoken to archaeologists who have dismissed Hancock as a crackpot, but he says that he has never found one who has read even a word of Hancock’s work.
I have found, again without exception, that not one of them had actually read as much as a single word of his work. Not a single word. Worse, I was told by a world famous, highly credentialed, respected and well placed member of the archaeological establishment that they didn’t need to read it to know what it is: dangerous nonsense that disrespects science. I replied that I had no idea it was that insidious, and thanked her for her time.
Clearly, our professor has never spoken with archaeologists who have read and reviewed Hancock’s work, not least Ken Feder, who reviewed Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods in American Antiquity a few months ago. That said, while it is always best to criticize from a position of knowledge, this is a bit like asking quantum physicists if they’ve spent their time contemplating Deepak Chopra, or doctors if they’ve studied the latest homeopathic findings. How likely is someone to reach a startlingly new but brilliant insight when not conducting original field research, new archival research, etc?
Epstein went on to blame this condition on two factors: the conservatism of archaeologists, who are slow to accept new evidence, and inductive logic, which Epstein feels forces archaeologists to make more conservative estimations of ancient times. Epstein prefers deductive reasoning in which large general principles are expressed, and the evidence for them is then fitted to the theory. He gives the example of the Sphinx: Inductive logic, he says, leads us to date the Sphinx to 2500 BCE because of specific details: its location near Khafre’s pyramid, its inclusion in Khafre’s funerary complex, a statue of Khafre found in its temple, a possible portion of Khafre’s name found on a stela set up 1,000 years later. Deductive logic, he says, is very different. Starting with the principles that it last rained heavily in Egypt 5,500 years ago and that the Sphinx shows signs of water erosion, it is therefore 5,500 years old. I assume that most readers can see that there are problems with this dichotomy. He gives a second example, claiming that his knowledge of sociology tells him that the Inca lacked the “prerequisite social organization, division of labor, innovation and technology” to plan and build Machu Picchu and other Incan sites. Therefore, deduction proves that an unknown people were responsible, even if they left no trace of their presence anywhere.
But here’s what gets me: Epstein accuses archaeologists, many of whom are underpaid and overworked, of succumbing to politics and letting ideology blind them to new ideas, but he doesn’t note that Hancock’s motivations can’t be described as entirely altruistic. As Hancock himself told the Daily Mail back in October 1998, his Fingerprints of the Gods made him a millionaire—and that was in British pounds. In American dollars, he became a multimillionaire. Surely, if ideology can bias archaeologists, cash money might have some impact on Graham Hancock. By his own admission, Hancock turned to writing fringe literature to revive a career he saw skid into the rails after devoting years to crafting propaganda for the dictator of Ethiopia and losing himself in a marijuana-induced haze of paranoia. His books tended to track trends: Sign and the Seal followed the Indiana Jones movies, while Fingerprints of the Gods built on the wild popularity of the Mystery of the Sphinx documentary. His Mars Mystery came out right after the peak of the X-Files-induced UFO and ancient alien trend, and now his comeback is tied to trendy catastrophic climate change and Walking Dead-style apocalyptic longing for the End Times.
It’s hard to think that there isn’t a little more to Hancock’s ideas than mere interdisciplinary genius.
9/21/2015 02:21:15 pm
You beat me to it - I was planning on writing about this review at some point this week!
9/21/2015 02:41:10 pm
I only found out about it because the Daily Grail linked to it today and made a big deal that an "academic" reviewed the book. I'm sure you have plenty to add from inside academia and archaeology that I can only touch on. I'll be interested to see your take on Epstein's criticism of archaeology, particularly the argument about inductive vs. deductive logic.
9/21/2015 02:49:40 pm
Yeah, that's what I'll talk about if I get around to writing about it. I think his characterization of the line between induction and deduction in archaeology important to understand for what it is (wrong).
9/21/2015 02:40:13 pm
Epstein sounds bitter. I imagine it had to do with archaeologists planting their feet firmly between his diaphragm and spleen, via his colon, after opining the Inca didn't build their own civilization.
9/21/2015 04:13:53 pm
-and spookily, as I was reading those words, British Museum archaeologist Dr Jago Cooper was just beginning his explanation of the antecedents to Inca civilisation on the repeated BBC4 series "The Inca: Masters of the Clouds".
9/21/2015 04:02:46 pm
Years ago I picked up a Psych journal and was surprised to see an article on "remote viewing." Over the years I've read some really "interesting" social science articles..and while you do have folks with a background in physical science who promote somewhat "interesting" ideas as well..one has to admit that most of social science isn't "science" at all. Hayek did a nice job 70 years ago exposing some of the failures of social "science" as not being really science At least Archeology does use physics to some extent. Sociology I do wonder..economics..(other than the Austrian School) as well....and I won''t even go down the road of "gender and diversity" departments...
9/21/2015 04:05:08 pm
If you can show an idea to be wrong based on evidence and then revise your idea and generate new expectations that can be compared to evidence . . . you're doing science. Archaeologists and other social scientists do that all the time. That's why we know more about the past than we used to.
9/21/2015 04:18:50 pm
- and even more spookily, I was going to type almost exactly that thought in relation to history as a science, as soon as I'd finished my Jago Cooper note. Clearly, supernatural forces are strong in my house tonight.
9/22/2015 08:33:40 am
I disagree. Science is about being able to test your theories in controlled situations time and again and get the same results which either support your theory or don't. The problem with social science is you can't get controlled conditions, humans are very unreliable in terms of behaviour staying the same in similar situations. So what you have is theories which the social scientist then attempts to "find" data to either support or not (hence the over reliance on statistics in social science). Take macro economics, they create very elaborate equations and then since they can't test them, try and find 'data" which supports them in the past. I'm not saying you can't come up with useful theories in social science but it really isn't science.
9/22/2015 08:44:46 am
Titus, by your overlt limited definition, neither biology nor astrophysics can be considered "real science," since the vast majority of both can only be observed outside of "controlled circumstances." (Seriously, how do you fit a galaxy inside a laboratory?). Observation within context has ALWAYS been part of science.
9/22/2015 09:17:13 am
Unfortunately, a lot of people conflate "science" with "experiment," thinking that if you can't do an experiment you can't do science. That's simply wrong. Geology, paleontology, astronomy, ecology . . .
9/22/2015 10:02:14 am
I knew I should have left this one alone. :)
9/22/2015 02:45:27 pm
For disciplines like archaeology and history, the past does not have free will. What really happened is immutable, and the science of history is to form hypotheses and theories which can be tested against new evidence of that immutable past as it is found.
9/23/2015 06:24:06 pm
I should have added that science is predictive. Social science isn't predictive, look at economics. Sure Asimov psychohistory in his foundation books took a fictional stab at this. Good work using scientific methods like carbon dating and say geolchemistrycan be used to explain human history but even then so much is subjective. Google causes of the great depression and see my point. I don't mean to demean archeology, I find the subject really cool and if I had a second life wish I would have done that.
MILTON A SMITH JR
11/22/2022 08:38:10 pm
Are there any real sciences since experiments seem to all have assumptions, too few samples, bias that cannot be identified as such with any surety and arbitrary reference systems. I guess I have just gotten to confused with the values of the critics.
9/23/2015 12:34:30 pm
I once spoke to a retired sociology professor and asked him if sociology was a science. After a long explanation, the answer essentially, was "No". I think that both sociology and psychology are mostly pseudosciences.
terry the censor
10/2/2015 06:42:33 pm
A friend of mine was a psych major in university, very much a science-based behaviorist. One semester, scheduling problems forced him to take a sociology course -- a subject he looked down on. My friend wrapped the textbook cover with a brown paper bag and wrote "WITCHCRAFT" on the spine.
busterggi (Bob Jase)
9/21/2015 04:06:38 pm
"I am not qualified to assess many of the assertions Hancock makes"
8/16/2016 01:02:21 pm
Then neither is Epstein, which was his point... you moron...
8/23/2016 03:14:27 pm
That WAS Epstein, which was his point... you moron...
9/21/2015 04:09:37 pm
So it's a book review by an academic in an unrelated field about a book written by an author with no credentials regarding what he's "investigating." Hancock has even admitted he turned to writing to make money, it only makes sense he's going to write what will sell, and he's doing well. What better field than fringe theory because nothing can be proven?
9/21/2015 09:53:56 pm
Back in the day, when I was an anthro major, I always suspected that sociologists were sociologists because they lacked the capacity to be a real social scientist. Hypothesis confirmed.
9/22/2015 09:53:19 am
9/22/2015 10:02:47 am
Sociology classes were GPA builders. One theory covered everything, and bonus if it was a "film" class.
MILTON A SMITH JR
11/22/2022 08:51:40 pm
My advanced degree (MS) is in electronic engineering so I don't have an opinion to mention. :=)
9/21/2015 04:35:24 pm
"Epstein is just one of many examples of an accredited scholar who latches on to one, or more, fringe claims and of course has a deep distrust of those disciplines, and such fields are accused by said scholar of being hidebound, dogmatic et.. That the scholar in question has little or no knowledge of the field(s) h/she distrusts is also very common.
9/21/2015 04:38:08 pm
Got an attack of verbal excess. Most of it was removed but still too much.
9/21/2015 06:12:38 pm
Your observation, "The delicious sensation of feeling that they are being daring, bold and forward thinking for advancing fringe notions," sounds about right to me.
9/21/2015 09:59:58 pm
I think Pacal is probably dead on target. Dr Epstein has a PhD from Kent State. That's impressive, and I would think that could lead to some good opportunities. But looking at everything from comments by his students to the titles of his publications (including a couple of long empty gaps) to the number of positions he has held, it looks like his heart and mind are much more focused on being a free spirited musician than on being an academic.
9/27/2015 12:22:47 pm
Nooo! It's a good comment.
9/22/2015 06:57:31 am
The troll Krampus
9/22/2015 10:13:01 am
Oprah loves that jelly.
9/22/2015 01:31:05 pm
Per Epstein: "Graham Hancock is NOT a scientist, and has never claimed to be one. He does, however, possess an honors degree in sociology from Durham University where he trained with criminologist Stanley Cohen..."
9/27/2015 03:15:19 pm
Regarding quoted passage - do many people regard Gobeklie Tepe carvings as "sublime" or "masterful" ?
9/27/2015 06:27:36 pm
The Göbekli Tepe carvings are hardly "sublime" or "masterful" in comparison to the Upper Paleolithic paintings at Chauvet Cave, Lascaux, Altamira, etc., which are 10,000 to 25,000 years earlier--at least in the context of a modern aesthetic.
8/23/2016 03:18:55 pm
"Sociology and Criminial Justice" is where people who don't belong in college go, because high school won't take them back. That includes far too many cops.
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