Reality always outdoes the worst sarcasm I come up with. Just a week ago, I was half joking when I told Hontas Farmer to be careful with his/her (nobody is quite sure which) enlightened stance on history. The warning was that people will “hit you with the "postmodernist" label from one side while the usual naive scientism progressive hammers you with the "f***ing holocaust denier" sign from the other.” Today I find almost precisely this happening in the real world.


Franz Hörmann, professor at the Vienna University for Economics (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien), distinguishes between Expert-Knowledge (Fachwissen) and Experience-Knowledge (Erlebniswissen), the latter resting on memories formed by personal involvement. He has not personally experienced the Nazi-Jew holocaust; he has no Experience-Knowledge of it. He is not an expert on history, and so he claims therefore no Expert-Knowledge on the holocaust either. Nice – somebody who is humble enough to admit not being an expert on everything. Hörmann states that:


I agree with the statement “I believe that under the criminal reign of the third Reich mass killing camps were operated.”, because I trust both, the statements of the experts’ of history as well as those of the eye-witnesses.


He admits to be no expert and so he withholds his own opinion and trusts the experts. This is what self-appointed skeptics usually tell us to do. The Vienna University for Economics seizes this opportunity to get rid of somebody who dared to speak up in the occupy-movement. They want to kick Franz Hörmann out for saying that history is always subjective and never free of ideology (“weil es keine objektive und ideologiefreie Diskussion über diese Frage gab”) and they now press criminal charges against him!


They have the nerve to charge him as a holocaust denier – not for denying anything, but for not on cue expressing a sufficiently politically correct (PC) opinion on something that he is not an expert on. Instead of "skeptics" coming to support him, those hounds licked blood. Somebody who is not politically like them can be bashed as a Nazi – oh yeah, let’s join the feeding frenzy. Convenient bashing of people who are already on the ground is what the skeptics’ scene is to a large part about, but more on that later.


Franz may have a screw or two loose with being a roman catholic, founding the “human way party”, and predicting the end of money in 2011 (didn’t we pass this already?). I will not defend his science as there is little science in economics. His distinction between history and personal memory is fundamentally suspect – both are constructed records. One could start all kinds of reasonable criticisms, which however has not been pursued by the university or the “skeptics”. They just want to shut up a critic, and the way they rationalize it should be a red flag to all of us.


There are two positive aspects worth pointing out in relation to what Franz actually said, and it is these that are criticized and led to him being charged in court (!):


1) Historians are well aware of that history is his-story, the story of the winner, rationalization and justification of current power structures. Science-fiction turns always out to be more what people of a certain epoch thought the future would be rather than what the future turns out to be like. History is a sort of reverse-SciFi. Constructionists may have a hard time to argue their points in the face of physics, but history is their reliable source for supportive examples. As a physicist, I might add that there are many possible futures, and physics, as far as we know, is fundamentally time symmetric. For all we know, there are indeed many possible pasts but no one true past.


2) Holocaust political correctness is not ethical. It is not the holocaust that stops me from killing Jews. If it turns out that indeed the holocaust was no more than yet another piece of distorted history, I will not start gassing Jews. The obsession with the holocaust is mere hypocrisy that saves us the bother to care about modern day exploitation.


For saying such one can be charged with holocaust denial in Germany and Austria and who knows where else, as is actually done now to Franz Hörmann. The ugly thing for the science blogosphere and “skepticism”: it is supported by them, for example by the German science blog “Kritisch Gedacht”, whose writer is one of Hörmann’s competitors at the same university***.


The German SB, much like its US overlord, apart from having a few original scientists that are well worth reading (see my favorite Hier Wohnen Drachen), is overrun by mediocre science careerists who make themselves a platform via so called ‘skepticism’. There are three of them now in the physics section alone, all proud members of so called skeptics organizations like the “GWUP”, a club for “science and critical thinking” that does zero critical thinking but a whole lot of what Germans call “Eso-bashing” – think lambasting every little instance of homeopathy with great fanfare and superiority signalling chin-stretching.


These sorts of science bloggers reheat platitudes, like how weird the quantum is and how marvelous the many stars in the sky, how super great Einstein was and all the scientists generally, and they like to fire slightly modified press releases and twitter-feeds in rapid succession to always stay on top on the SB home page. The main aim however is: Bashing anything that does not toe the party line on naïve scientism and “progressive” PC politics. All much like PZ Myers is doing in the English speaking world – except, PZ is compared to the German wannabe counter parts quite knowledgeable at least as far as his own field is concerned. The newest addition to the German SB physics section has difficulties to grasp the fundamentals of his own field.


If skepticism goes against astrology or dowsing being taught at universities, and if it is done with correct arguments, fine. Sadly, correct arguments are rare and bad ones eventually backfire; people further distrust what is shoved down their throats packed under the “science” label. Pseudo-skepticism decreases the public trust in science just as much as fashionably lefty “progressiveness” makes the right wing smile in anticipation of many more people joining them. In the name of critical thinking and skepticism, lets not give these pseudo-skeptics any longer a free ride in the science media.

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***Remark and UPDATE: I mentioned "competitor" to give Ulrich (that Science Blogger) a taste of what it feels like if facts are taken out of context and distorted. He should have thought about this before jumping on a bandwagon to bash people whose comments have been distorted and cut out of context by some student run uni-paper. He could have pointed out that those students pretended to ask about occupy but forced unrelated holocaust questions onto Franz until he was worn down enough to say something that can be distorted, and if it is as benign as "sorry, I do not have any opinion on this, can we please talk about something else". Ulrich has since complained about "competitor" and also claimed factual errors in this post, but after asking and waiting for a long time now, he has not reported any factual errors. He has instead, as is typical for pseudoskeptics, started to insult me in places where he can be sure of his believers' applause.

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