The capital's conservative daily, The Washington Times, devoted an unusual amount of space recently to a work of pseudoscience from Algora Publishing, a small press that distributes a number of books on "alternative" archaeology. On February 25, Fox News columnist Martin Sieff wrote a lengthy review of Emmett Sweeney's new Atlantis: The Evidence from Science (Algora, 2010), praising the book for its evenhanded exploration of the science supporting claims that Atlantis really existed. This review, however, seems to reflect a hidden anti-science, perhaps even creationist, agenda.
Sweeney is the author of a number of volumes defending the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, the 20th century writer who claimed that the planet Venus was really a comet that swung by earth in prehistory, influencing the course of civilization when it parted the Red Sea, destroyed Minoan civilization, and what-have-you. According to Velikovsky and Sweeney, earth's history has been grossly distorted by historians and must be set right. Velikovsky, whom Sweeney follows, claimed that the Dark Age between the Mycenaean era and Archaic Greece (the period from 1200 BCE to 800 BCE) did not exist and was the creation of close-minded scholars. By happy coincidence, if one accepts Velikovsky's claims, the historical chronology given in the Bible could be reconciled with Egyptian king lists and records, thus proving that the Bible was literally true.
None of this was discussed in Sieff's Washington Times review, which instead attempted to give legitimacy to Sweeney's catastrophism by giving a foothold to his work on Atlantis. At no time does Sieff discuss a troubling conflict of interest. Sieff is a founding member of the pro-Velikovsky group, the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies, a former editor of its magazine, and an active proponent of catastrophism. He wrote more than two dozen articles in support of catastrophism, some as late as the 1990s. (Here is his entry in the Velikovsky Encyclopedia.) By hiding Sweeney's connection to Velikovsky, as well as his own, Sieff plays the part of the disinterested journalist, legitimizing an ideological agenda in the guise of journalism.
Sieff even goes beyond Sweeney to argue that a "sophisticated global, seafaring civilization certainly existed in the geological conditions before the last ice age." He bases this claim on the work of Charles Hapgood, a professor who misread ancient maps in the mid-20th century and imagined that they showed Antarctica, not officially discovered until 1818. These maps were supposedly so accurate only a sophisticated global culture could have made them; however, repeated debunkings over the past 50 years showed conclusively that Hapgood was wrong, a fact even Hapgood seemed to acknowledge before his death.
That Sieff relies on discredited and false evidence to support a radical rewriting of ancient history is no surprise; everyone who supports "alternative" archaeology does so at some point. What is extremely surprising is that the Washington Times ran this bit of rank pseudoscience. Here, it seems that a hidden agenda is at work. As noted above, acceptance of Atlantis is the stepping stone to legitimizing Velikovskian theories--or at the very least, de-legitimizing secular archaeology. Once the accepted, secular story of cultural evolution has been questioned, creationist theories become that much easier to put on par with actual science.
Given that the Washington Times is a known outlet for conservative attacks on science, as well as for the views of its owner, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the entire affair seems to be of a piece--covertly attempting to subvert science in the name of dogma, catastrophist, religious, or otherwise.
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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