The Distortions of Google
Suppose you have heard of my book The Closing of the Western Mind, a study of what happened to Greek philosophy at the end of the Roman empire. (Some of it was absorbed into Christianity, some was not). You want to hear more about it. Perhaps you start with Amazon and when you access the US and UK sites you are pleased to find that there are 86 reviews to read. This will surely give you some idea of how the book has been received. Fifty of these 86 are five star and another 22 four star to make 72 four and five star. In contrast there are only six one or two star reviews. Not everyone agrees with the book but, inevitably with a title the way it is, it has caused a great deal of debate. I have been invigorated by the many discussions on the book with all sorts I have had in the nine years since it came out. The North American sales to March 2011 were just under 69, 000 and I would like to write a second edition one day to strengthen my arguments with the fruits of recent research.
Now try Googling ‘Freeman Closing of the Western Mind’ and the first to come up will be a review by one James Hannam, a UK ‘historian of science’. Hannam makes no secret of the fact that he is Christian apologist. (Google ‘James Hannam Why the Catholic Church Must Fight Back’). He wrote a book on the Middle Ages which came out in the UK as God’s Philosophers. Many were taken in by it and it was even shortlisted by the Royal Society for its Book of the Year Award. ( Amazed at this, I wrote a critique on the New Humanist blog.) In the United States God’s Philosophers has found its true niche under the title The Genesis of Science, How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. It is published by the conservative publisher Regnery and listed on Amazon alongside ‘also buys’ such as Rodney Stark’s The Case for the Crusades and a work arguing that Adam and Eve actually did exist. No one would now take it, or Hannam, seriously as an objective history/historian of science.
James Hannam has no background in the ancient world, his PhD is on sixteenth century Oxford and Cambridge (although, in the discussion we had on my New Humanist critique he admitted that had renounced his thesis – sixteenth century humanism was no longer a positive force, as argued in his PHD, but a reactionary one) and his review of Closing is highly misleading. Yet it has remained the top listing for some years. I am a bit of an innocent on these things but when I asked around I was told that one can actually manipulate rankings in one’s favour. But surely one person can not manipulate so blatantly in his own cause? Apparently they can. I was alerted to none other than one James Hannam on the subject. If you go to his blog under the present name Quodlibeta (quick before he gets there before you), find the archive on the right hand side, access a posting for October 3rd, 2006, ‘How to Get Published’, click on the link ‘here’ after ‘book proposal’ you find the book proposal he made to his publisher for Genesis of Science, the title of his book as it has actually appeared in the US. At the end of the proposal one finds:
‘I intend to use my website as a promotional tool for the book. Its penetration into Christian cyberspace is considerable and will do much to sell the book to that market. The website has many American readers who are very positive about the concept of the book. They should help promote it and will write reviews for Amazon.com and their websites. However, I will also construct another website that addresses a mainstream audience specifically to promote The Genesis of Science. As well as the usual links to reviews and endorsements, it will contain several of my articles on history of science, details of my academic achievements and a more detailed bibliography than provided in the book. I will use my contacts on the web to ensure a high Google rating for the new website (this is determined by how many other sites link to a page and so having plenty of friends with websites is invaluable).’
Hannam is clearly an expert at these things and this explains the high rating of his review of Closing. Now he is at it again. If you Google my new book Holy Bones, Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe, the second entry is from his blog Quodlibeta. If you open it you find that it is no more than a discussion about my book by Hannam and his supporters even though none of them have read it. This does not stop them, of course, being disparaging about it. I was hoping that the Quodlibeta discussion would make the top spot to make my case here even more compelling but, in this case, Google appear to have been more successful. Although I have done nothing to arrange this, my own article on my own book from the New Humanist takes the top spot. The Quodlibeta entry seems forever doomed to be at number two. Hannam is clearly losing his touch! Still with every review of Holy Bones that I get from professional historians, the more ridiculous the Quodlibeta discussion becomes. I hope it stays at or near the top to show how distorted the Google system can become as a means of finding helpful and objective knowledge.
Who knows what other distortions go on?
About the Author
Charles Freeman is the author of The Closing of the Western Mind.