Antarctic Farce

Some people praise Graham Hancock for his “scholarship.” They associate the inclusion in his books of footnotes, appendixes and bibliographies with scholarship and depth of research. The mere presence of these features, however, is not evidence of scholarship. Content matters.

In the first place, the vast majority of Hancock’s references are to other fringe or alternative writings, and he frequently ignores entire swathes of academic bibliography on subjects about which he presents himself as an authority. The reader is left to himself or herself to track down contrary views or to dig out more up-to-date or reliable information. Few of Hancock’s readers, of course, will actually do such research to check the reliability of his references; more will accept at face value what he presents to them. They are perfectly within their rights to do so, since readers do not routinely assume that an author is presenting them with questionable or outdated material. Disappointingly, aspects of Hancock’s presentation do just that.

One example will suffice to illustrate this point. In only the third paragraph of his Fingerprints of the Gods(1995) Hancock states:

The best recent evidence suggests that Queen Maud Land [in Antarctica] and the neighbouring regions shown on the map, passed through a long ice-free period which may not have come completely to an end until about six thousand years ago.

As substantiation for this claim, the reader is directed, by n. 2, to C.H. Hapgood’s Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (published in 1966).

Thus, according to Hancock writing in 1995, a 29-year old book constitutes “the best recent evidence” for the age of Antarctic ice. Apparently, there have been no international scientific explorations of the Antarctic ice since 1966 which consistently show the ice to be tens or hundreds of thousands of years old. Further, Hapgood’s claims have long since been refuted (for a recent summary, see G.C. McIntosh, The Piri Reis Map of 1513 ([2000]) .

So not only his Hancock’s source outdated, it is also disproven. His claim about the “best recent evidence” for the age of the Antarctic ice, therefore, has no basis in fact. To find this out, the reader would have to check Hancock’s note, track down Hapgood, and then, with no help from Hancock, investigate Hapgood’s claims independently. How many will actually do this? And, recall, this is just one footnote among hundreds that “support” one claim among hundreds. How many are dubious, like this one? Who has the energy to check all those claims, one by one?

Hancock justifies his procedure of systematic omission of relevant but countervailing information by claiming that the “orthodox” view of such matters saturates the public consciousness, that he is not required to be encyclopedic, and that his readers are free to “make up their own minds” about his claims; he is just a writer presenting his side of the story.

In reality, how many people are have clear knowledge of the numerous subjects Hancock touches on? He seems to assume that the general public are in possession of up-to-date information on, in this case, the age of Antartic ice and the methods by which it is dated. But elsewhere in his book Hancock makes claims that touch on the history of cartography, geography, geophysical history and theory, Inca archaeology and history, Andean archaeology, Latin American studies, Mexican history, astronomy, geology, mathematics and numerology, archaeological method, the history of archaeology, comparative mythology, Vedic scripture, palaeo-linguistics, Cambodian studies, Egyptology in all its forms, the history of Easter Island and Polynesia, among others.

How many members of the general public who make up Hancock’s readership really have full understanding of all these subjects, or even some of them? So how realistic is it to say that the “orthodox” view saturates the public consciousness and that an investigative writer like Hancock is not obliged to inform his readers about the actual state of play in these various fields before presenting his position? Does he really have the right just to ignore prior work in these areas, save outdated, maverick, or disproven hypotheses that happen to support his position and then present himself as an authority, pronouncing established knowledge as misleading and experts as clueless? (One example: section 3 of chapter 34 of Fingerpints is entitled “Rampant Stupidity” and challenges “academic Egyptologists” for proposing ramps to explain how Egyptian pyramids were built – none of the evidence on which these theories have been formulated is presented to the reader, who is left thinking academic Egyptologists are rampantly stupid, as a class.)

In short, how can people “make up their own minds” about issues they are not being properly informed about? In reality, of course, when presented with an apparently authoritative claim in an apparently well-researched and authoritative book, most people (quite rightly) will trust the author not to be misleading them. It is the job of authors, not their readership’s, to do their homework and present their findings openly and honestly to the reader. That’s why Hancock pays research assistants; it’s how he makes his living. For him to leave it up to his readers to check his accuracy therefore borders on the ludicrous. It is Hancock’s job to make his readers’ life easier by offering them fuller and more current information on the age of the Antartic ice. That he does not do so (in this and other instances) reveals a lot about the reliability of his presentation.