On Twitter, ancient astronaut writer Philip Coppens criticized an unnamed skeptic for not reading his latest book, The Lost Civilization Enigma, before criticizing him, and for requesting a review copy of said book for critical review.
This is quite possibly a reference to me since, a while ago, I complained that New Page Books (his most recent publisher) had stopped sending me review copies of its new alternative history releases, and I also challenged Philip Coppens that if he truly felt that his newest book made a convincing case for his prehistoric advanced civilization, he should send me a copy to shut me up. Since he personally replied to my tweet about this today to accuse me, predictably, of making a “personal attack” upon him, I suppose I guessed the “skeptic’s” identity correctly. It also irks me that Coppens strips out my Twitter handle from his replies, presumably so his followers will have a harder time finding me and my work. (I previously complained that he refuses to link to my writings in criticizing them, presumably for the same purpose.)
It is standard practice for publications (even my blog) to request and receive review copies of important new works for critical review. It is hardly shocking that I—or any other critic—would make such a request. Publishers cannot assume that critics can afford $20 a book to review each new release. Keep in mind that Coppens’ books are published by a small press, and, according to database searches, his newest is not available in any of my local libraries.
I wonder, of course, if Coppens took his own advice and bought my Cult of Alien Gods and Critical Companion to Ancient Aliens before criticizing me. Prometheus Books makes review copies available to qualified media personalities, and he can contact them via their website. The book is also available in most major world libraries. I’m happy to send him an e-copy of Critical Companion upon request, though the material is also available on my blog anytime for free.
But this incident raises an interesting question: How much of an alternative theorist’s work does one need to read before one can criticize him? (Hint: This is a fallacious question.)
I’ve read all but two of the alternative works of Graham Hancock, more than 75% of his published alternative output, so I suppose that means I am qualified to criticize him. I’ve also read ten of Erich von Däniken’s twenty-something books, nearly every one that was translated into English. (This is less onerous than it sounds since the later books contain almost word-for-word copies of parts of his earlier ones.) Is that enough to criticize him?
Now what about David Childress? Regular readers know that I’ve gone through his Technology of the Gods page by page (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), and I’ve read the relevant chapters of his earlier works that he strip mined to assemble Technology from their parts. Is this enough?
When it comes to Philip Coppens, I’ve listened to him on Ancient Aliens and on Joe Rogan’s radio show; I’ve watched his movie; and I’ve read his online articles. I’ve also read selections from his books relevant to specific claims that he has made. Is this enough, especially since he, like Childress, rarely makes a specific claim but instead summarizes others' claims and then links them with speculation?
But here’s the thing: I am not criticizing people. I am criticizing their ideas, and their ideas exist outside their body of work. If Philip Coppens tells us Atlantis was real (as he does in The Lost Civilization Enigma), this claim can be evaluated based on evidence. If I want to say “Philip Coppens fails to make a case for the reality of Atlantis,” then I need to see the evidence he presents in his book to make that judgment. But to say “there is no compelling evidence for the existence of Atlantis” requires nothing from Coppens since the question is independent of the claimant. Surely it is possible that somehow Coppens has found the one piece of evidence that shatters 2,500 years of history, but if so, that fact exists independently of his book.
But do note that when I do criticize Coppens, I am careful to limit my criticism to specific claims. For example, I have not read The Lost Civilization Enigma, so I cannot speak to what he does or does not claim in that book. But Coppens offered up a specific claim about Atlantis and about Gobekli Tepe in an interview about the book. When I criticized that claim, note that I carefully referred only to the actual words he spoke. These words were wrong. I do not know if he said something completely different in the book, and I do not claim to know that.
Notice the very important distinction: My criticism is about specific claims, evaluated against the evidence presented for those claims. Those rare times when I criticize a theorist directly for a personal failing, as I did with Childress and von Däniken for recycling text, I did review all of their prior works to make the case. Even then, my criticism was restricted to their professional competency as writers and marketers of “original” materials.
Coppens wants his critics to stop evaluating specific pieces of evidence—which exist outside his control because they have some relationship to the outside world—and instead focus on the more nebulous philosophical case of “what if” presented in his proprietary materials: his books. This benefits him twice, first in removing the need for solid evidence and second in forcing critics to give Philip Coppens money to read his ideas, which have heretofore proved wrong. His books may well be filled with perfect syllogisms, but if these are built on faulty facts, they are worth less than the paper they are printed on.
As I have said more than once, it is not my purpose to present a philosophical counterargument for why ancient aliens are impossible. They’re not impossible. They might have come, or they might not. My purpose is to critically evaluate evidence—not philosophical musings or elaborate analogies or what-if scenarios—to see if that evidence holds up to scrutiny. This evidence exists outside ancient astronaut writers’ control because it is their only real claim on reality, and as such can be critically evaluated by examining facts. So far, not a single piece of “evidence” has held up under careful examination. And no amount of ad hominem complaints or name-calling can change that.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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