Who Needs Evidence When You Have Publicity?

Oh good, another piece of Imaginative History, or The Case of the Peekaboo Evidence. Not unlike the Clonaid festivities last week, when the ‘Raelians’ announced the birth of the first cloned baby, but when invited to provide DNA evidence to support such a surprising claim, came over all bashful. There is a good deal of sly wit in Natalie Danford’s Salon piece about retired Admiral Gavin Menzies’ claim that the Chinese sailed to America seventy years before Columbus. It was a shrewd move, for example, to rent the lecture hall of the Royal Geographical Society as the place to announce his ‘discovery’. And publicity does do the trick: there has been so much attention that Menzies’ American publishers have advanced the date of publication by five months. Danford talks to three experts in the field who are unimpressed or plain skeptical of Menzies’ claim, and she wonders why a serious publisher like Morrow ‘didn’t question these unorthodox research methods or the veracity of the statements Menzies has built on them’. The executive editor Danford spoke to resorted to speculation on motives rather than answering the question.

Wachtel theorized that skeptics are threatened by Menzies’ attack on the status quo: “People don’t like the basis of their fundamental knowledge to be challenged, and we all know that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Ah. That explains it then. Because people don’t like their knowledge challenged, therefore bizarre claims based on shaky or no evidence are true. Interesting argument.

But of course we like this kind of thing. Think The Education of Little Tree. Think of the ‘Chief Seattle’ speech, that was actually written by a Hollywood hack. Think of Black Athena, and The Goddess, and The Gentle Tasaday. Think of Tacitus’ wildly romanticised version of the Germans, people he’d never laid eyes on and knew nothing about, but used to vent his hatred of ‘decadent’ Rome. No doubt the Chinese arrival in America in 1421 will soon be on the curriculum of many a school.

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