"Science" in India

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Sat Oct 21 14:45:37 UTC 2000

On Thu, 19 Oct 2000, Steve Farmer wrote:

> The nonsense that Kak, Rajaram, et al. dish out could not come from
> anyone even with a moderate training in philology or ancient history
> in general.

Well, I admit that my view of Frawley's writings were affected for the
worse when I saw how many of his footnotes referred to the Motilal
Banarsidass Newsletter.  (No offence to MLBD or the Newsletter, which is
surely not intended even by its editors as an academic journal.)

However, I think that you are quite wrong on this point.  Very well
trained humanists can write untruthful books.  As you know, David Irving,
the holocaust denier, recently lost a libel case in this country (UK)
against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, for some of the things she
said in her book _Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth an
memory_.  In the course of the court hearings and the summing up of the
judge, it became clear that Irving has an excellent command of historical
fact and method.  He also has extraordinarily well-developed skills in
rhetoric.  (More at
http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/i/irving-david/judgment-00-00.html)  In
section 13.7 of his Findings, Hon. Mr. Justice Gray even said that,

as a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his
works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking
research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians
and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained
unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his
case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his
knowledge of World War 2 is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the
historical documents is remarkable. He is beyond question able and
intelligent. He was invariably quick to spot the significance of documents
which he had not previously seen. Moreover he writes his military history
in a clear and vivid style. I accept the favourable assessment by
Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving's military
history (mentioned in paragraph 3.4 above) and reject as too sweeping the
negative assessment of Evans (quoted in paragraph 3.5).

The judge went on to explain that, specifically in regard to Irving's
claims about Hitler's attitude to and treatment of the Jews, Irving had
indeed distorted the evidence (# 13.9).

Irving's motivations can only be surmised, but they are clearly different
from those of most academics in university jobs.  When Zaehner gave his
inaugural lecture at Oxford (Foolishness to the Greeks) he emphasized how
happy and relieved he was that at last he was in a profession which was
officially dedicated to the pursuit of truth (he was formerly in the
diplomatic service).  And it is a commonplace that university academics in
free countries are interested in truth.  I don't know what the motivations
of people like Irving are, but they do not seem to be about establishing
historical truths.  One supposes that they have to do with power (enter
Foucault), adulation, recognition and approval by a coterie of supporters
whose approbation is sought or cared about, etc. etc.  The judge's remarks
in #13.136 ff., and esp. 13.163 address Irving's immediate motivation,
i.e., "a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own
ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of
historical evidence. ", but I feel this falls short of a full exploration
of human motives.

It is interesting that several of the judge's dismissals of Irving's
various arguments rest on the fact that Irving repeatedly uses citations
from biassed sources (Nazis, sympathisers, etc.) as though they were
balanced evidence (e.g., #13.13).

I am particularly interested in the judge's use of the idea of "the
convergence of evidence" (#13.72-78), which is an idea I used in my
article Science and the Veda, and which I cited from Steven Weinberg.
It's a useful concept, a sort of historical gestalt.

Anyway, I digress.  To sum up, it would be very nice if we could attribute
the historical distortions of Rajram etc. simply to poor workmanship by
people unqualified to attempt the job they have taken on.  This certainly
may be the case.  But it does seem beyond question, sadly, that even
highly skilled historians defend false views, beyond what might occur due
to reasonable error.  Of course, at the risk of boring everyone, I also
think it unlikely that people not at all trained historical method will
produce worthwhile ideas and theories on historical topics.

Dominik Wujastyk
Founder, INDOLOGY list.

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