University Wields Holocaust Denial Lawsuit To Silence Critical Economics Professor, Skeptics Smell Blood
    By Sascha Vongehr | January 29th 2012 04:42 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

    View Sascha's Profile
    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.

    ***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.


    More from Sascha Vongehr sorted Topic for Topic


    American skepticism is disappointing as well. Going to meetings I had to ask if there was more to skepticism than ridiculing religion and Bigfoot.  And if James Randi, the foremost American skeptic, can't be skeptical about the methodology of some of the more aggressive claims in climate science (and he could not - he tried to invoke skepticism but ran for the hills when the entire group behind him went after him), then no one can.

    I suppose postmodernist name-calling can also be an issue, but it is not as prevalent as the Holocaust denier metaphors, since there are a lot more scientists on the left and therefore know a lot more postmodernists.  
    American skepticism is disappointing as well.
    ?!? I hope I did not somehow let it appear as if this is a German problem. Not at all. Actually, it is mostly a US-American problem. The worst German science bloggers are merely copycats who dream of getting the same sort of attention as PZ. They get wet in their pants whenever Randi coughs. The internet is the great homogenizer. There is still original and skeptical thought in Germany, but it does not get much attention anymore, even inside Germany itself.
    First of all, you did not present the Vienna University of Economics' charges against Professor Hörmann, which is enough to make one skeptical about your presentation of the case. In short: if you believe Professor Hörmann has been falsely charged: lay out the charges and respond to them.

    Secondly, you veer off of your into an attempt to dissociate Holocaust denial from anti-Semitic ideologies or actions, and then make the absurd claim that scholarly interest in the Holocaust prevents people from being concerned with contemporary events.

    Thirdly, for a science blogger, you seem to be unaware that academic disciplines have protocols for handling evidence. History is one of those fields. Holocaust denial is not welcome in academia not because of a moral taboo, but because as a hypothesis it fails on the volumes of evidence-- thus exposing denial as pure ideology. You even claim that historians' efforts to prevent ideologues from corrupting historical memory is somehow unethical.

    Yes, we get it, Mr. Vongehr, you have an ideological horse in this race-- and it doesn't take a scientist to realize that.

    you veer off of your into an attempt to dissociate Holocaust denial from anti-Semitic ideologies
    There was no holocaust denial. Don't know which blog you are referring to. Sure you meant to make a comment to my post?
    the absurd claim that scholarly interest in the Holocaust prevents people from being concerned with contemporary events
    Learn to read. I did not write about scholarly interest, I wrote about being obsessed with the holocaust and using it as a political truncheon against critical voices.
    Holocaust denial is not welcome in academia not because of a moral taboo, but because as a hypothesis it fails on the volumes of evidence
    Then why does academia do not care a fraction of this about the US worldwide terrorism for example against Cuba and the whole of southern America (and yellow and brown and black people)? No evidence? You are the prime example for somebody who is brainwashed to defend the new Hitlers. Wake up! The gassed Jews are dead - nothing brings them back. People are suffering and dying right as we speak from the war on drugs and the war on terror and pure capitalist exploitation that people like you do not care about because they are preoccupied with how bad and evil some guy almost a century ago was.
    you have an ideological horse in this race
    Wow - here we go. Lighthead could not contain his urge to try hit anything he has not got the IQ to grasp half with the convenient Nazi truncheon.

    I don't want to discuss the merits of this post, but the starting point is true: we believe things because we trust experts and eye-witnesses. Do I believe that the Standard Model is a very, very good fundamental theory of physics? Yes I do, although I didn't check it myself (and I'm a physicist). I trust the experts.

    You write:

    "(...) academic disciplines have protocols for handling evidence. History is one of those fields. Holocaust denial is not welcome in academia not because of a moral taboo, but because as a hypothesis it fails on the volumes of evidence (..)"

    I agree. But did I check those protocols? Did I check if Holocaust denial "fails on the volumes of evidence"? No, I didn't. I believe, because I believe experts and eye-witnesses. (I wonder if you checked it all.)

    You also write:

    "Secondly, you veer off of your into an attempt to dissociate Holocaust denial from anti-Semitic ideologies or actions."

    That's not as absurd as it may sound. In the beginning of the 90s a Belgian (Gie van den Berghe) wrote a book about the Holocaust. In the first part he showed that the Holocaust is undeniable. In the second part he wrote about the political uses of the Holocaust, and for that he was called and anti-Semite.

    To couvent who asks, "I wonder if you checked it all."

    My academic training is philosophy. I have examined the epistemological protocols that historians of the Holocaust use as opposed to those used by deniers. So yes, I have checked.

    As to the case of the Belgian writer (I am unfamiliar with the case so I cannot comment as to the specifics): There are plenty of anti-Semites who believe that the Holocaust occurred. However, Holocaust denial, as an ideology with no scholarly merit, is anti-Semitic. After all, there are a great number of beliefs that are anti-Semitic, but not all anti-Semites believe every anti-Semitic belief.

    Gerhard Adam
    I have examined the epistemological protocols that historians of the Holocaust use as opposed to those used by deniers. So yes, I have checked.
    Actually you didn't.  You checked the experts and based on their methodology you concluded that their evidence must be correct.  You did not and could not check the evidence.  That is the basis of why we believe.

    I found your particular comment regarding the Holocaust [relating it to anti-Semitism] somewhat telling because it invokes a different kind of denial.  That of ignoring the gypsies, communists, gays, handicapped, and others that were killed in equal measure during that period. 

    In addition to Jews, the targeted groups included Poles (of whom 2.5 million gentile Poles were killed) and some other Slavic peoples; Soviets (particularly prisoners of war); Romanies (also known as Gypsies) and others who did not belong to the "Aryan race"; the mentally ill, the Deaf, the physically disabled and mentally retarded; homosexual and transsexual people; political opponents and religious dissidents.  Taking into account all of the victims of Nazi persecution, they systematically killed an estimated six million Jews and mass murdered an additional eleven million people during the war.
    I believe it is this element that is an important comment of the post.  There's absolutely no question that the European Jews were targeted by the Nazi's and represent a bonafide effort to carry out genocide.  However, it is equally important to recognize that this isn't some singular event perpetrated by some historical "evil".  It is with us today and occurs regularly because people don't wish to learn the lessons of history.
    However, Holocaust denial, as an ideology with no scholarly merit, is anti-Semitic.
    Actually it's just misclassified.  In other words, claiming that it is anti-Semitic [given the total number of others that were also murdered] is ideology.

    Having said that ... I now will wait to see what I'm accused of. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam

    After talking to Hörmann a couple of times myself, I can understand why Pregetter started to get so alarmed. Especially clear in my memory is the moment when I asked Hörmann whom he thought had created the universe, the sun, stars, moon, the sea, mountains, people etc if not a God? Hörmann answered with complete certainty: “We, humans, created the universe.” Reality is just a chemical reaction in our brain.

    As someone who studied philosophy at university, I know there is no philosophical, logical or scientific basis for the view that there is no God. There are arguments for and against the existence of God.

    I personally believe in the existence of God but on the basis also of sound arguments.
    Hard to imagine a more biased and ideological piece. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I have read the article by Jane Burgermeister, and it seems to be a bit like those comments to Telegraph Blogs which ascribe things to a New World Order, which is going to enslave us all through banks, media manipulation, etc.

    It seems to me that the author’s reasoning process is one of connecting one thing which makes her recoil (Hörmann’s expressed contra-theism) with others such as Neo-Nazism.  In other words, “this gives me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, therefore it follows from or leads to other things which give me similar feelings”.  One can also make such connections among things which affect one by their “feelgood factor”, in other words, “association by endorphins”.

    At the end of an essay On the Intellect of Yesterday (1931), G.K.Chesterton wrote:
    One way of putting it is that this is a psychological age, which is the opposite of an intellectual age. It is not a question of persuading men, but of suggesting how they are persuaded. It is an age of Suggestion; that is, of appeal to the irrational part of man. Men discussed whether Free Trade was false or true; [now] they do not so much discuss whether Empire Free Trade is false or true, as whether it is booming or slumping; whether it is based on an understanding of Mass Psychology, or whether its opponents or supporters have what Americans call Personality. It is all great fun, and there is doubtless a truth in it, as in other things. But, whatever else it is, it is not a mark of stronger mentality, and any old Scotch Calvinist farmer, who could follow his minister’s desolate and appalling sermon to Seventeenthly and Lastly, had an immeasurably better brain.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    ... American skepticism is disappointing as well. ....

    As an Australian I sometimes think the concept of Australian Skepticism is an oxymoron. But I'm a freakish member of this tribe and prefer to keep away from the many brightly burning fires, usually involving men throwing, hitting, or catching balls of various shapes and sizes. Intellectually, despite the pretensions of various Australians, Aussies are not exceptional. We do exceptionally well in biomedicine and agriculture and ??? . Oddly enough though we have produced very iconoclastic philosophers, Singer and David Stove, the latter makes funny and cutting digs at most of philosophy. Very enjoyable, he makes a mockery of the selfish gene concept by suggesting that if true incest should be all the rage.

    We have our own problems with PC and I confess that only tonight I said to a friend that there must be some real idiot left wing "progressives" in our academia because recently it has been proposed and pushed by those quarters that our constitution should be changed to recognise the aborigines as the first inhabitants of the land. Our Prime Minister and left wing Labor Party have agreed to this, the govt has put up a small bundle for some bunch of expert to write a report on the issue, which recommending this change. Two critical points:

    A Constitution should in no way make reference so some "special people" within the country because that is inherently prejudicial and gives that people a privileged position. This violates what is admittedly only an ideal in democracy - equality under the law etc - but it is an ideal worth having if only because the myth keeps the populace in a better state of mind.

    We can never know with certainty whether or not the aborigines were the first inhabitants of Australia. There are the gracile phenotypes at Kow and robust phenotypes at Mungo, the Tasmanian aborigines may well have only survived because at the end of the ice age Bass Strait flooded leaving them cut off from the mainland and I presume the tribes that kept chasing them southward across the continent. (Incidentally, there are some similarities here with the Teirro del Feugans - spelling!). There are various studies, though not from Australian anthropologists, that have put forward the proposition that aborigines may represent a hybrid of modern humans and archaics but the mtDNA studies tend to contradict this, though those studies are now contradicting themselves as time goes by. Then there are the Bradshaw paintings ... . My point is this: we are going to insert into our Constitution a claim that we can never prove, may well be false, and privileges a segment of the Australian community.

    The first point is a legal one and can be safely raised. The second point will probably land me in mountains of trouble! This happened to me long ago on Anthro L, my only saving grace was a professor who headed the forum came to my rescue by citing Brain Res papers which did imaging studies and some cellular analyses which clearly show that Australian aborigine brains are different. Different does not mean bad but sadly I suspect it does mean a lack of advantage in contemporary society. If I were to raise these issues at a face to face level, I can assure I would be extremely careful about my audience.

    The idea of a Skeptics Society seems to be an oxymoron. You are going to join a group that will tell everyone else what to be skeptical about? In my experience Skeptics seem too confident in their skepticism. I suspect too much scientism in their ranks.

    BTW, I am a sort of left winger but mainly in the sense that I think the Right's emphasis on invisible hands (Smith) and spontaneous orders(Hayek) is magical bollocks. However, and I suspect this is because of the postmodernist infiltration into the humanities even way down here, I am finding it increasingly difficult to respect the left wing dominated humanities intellectuals that continue to have substantial influence in public debate. I think some of them are either very dishonest or not smart enough for the job.

    ...It is with us today and occurs regularly because people don't wish to learn the lessons of history....

    That refrain has been around for so long. Perhaps it is because we can't learn the lessons of history. Not sure why Gerhard but the evidence is that we don't. It may simply be the case that each time and place is sufficiently different that the lessons of other times and places are of little use. Don't know welcome suggestions.

    The Holocaust. Oh please like that is so unique. Australians pride themselves on never being an aggressor nation. The reason for that has nothing to do with being Australian but rather that we're the only friggin people on the continent and we quickly extinguished any threat from the aborigines. The more neighbours you have the more likely you go to war. That is being human.

    Gerhard Adam
    That refrain has been around for so long. Perhaps it is because we can't learn the lessons of history.
    In my view, it's much simpler.  We don't learn the lessons of history, because invariably we think somehow we're different and those lessons don't apply.  It was only those "bad" people that were capable of such "evil" actions, so since we're the "good guys", then only good consequences will result from our actions.

    This is why I find it disturbing when people talk about how evil Hitler was, or the Nazis.  That's incorrect.  The true horror is how bloody ordinary they were.  How almost any society could rationalize its way into such choices and decisions.  The decisions that gave rise to the Holocaust was a group's unparalleled view that they were "right" or "justified".

    In the U.S., this is the problem in arguing about Guantanamo Bay prisoners.  People use all manner of rationalizing arguments regarding terrorism, the attacks, etc.  However, there exists a cognitive dissonance when a society can claim that "no one is above the law", while denying the law the others.  Unfortunately it's another one of those decisions that we will come to regret and wonder how could we have done that ... and another lesson of history will be lost because most assuredly in the future we'll do it again because "this time it's different". 

    Mundus vult decipi
    the problem in arguing about Guantanamo Bay prisoners
    This, to my mind, does not have any solution in the real domain.  When they were first sent there, my immediate impression was that this was done to keep them away from Human Rights lawyers.  Look at the mess we have now in Britain, with the European Court of Human Rights telling us to grant bail to Abu Qatada.
    I think you might like this snippet:
           “[The camp] was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as
             lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it.”
             Bret Harte, The Outcasts of Poker Flat.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I mostly agree with you, but would put it differently. We don't learn the lessons of History because drawing proper lessons from counter-examples is an art that's alien to herd animals.

    One may think Jesus undergoing crucifixion was meant to save the world by providing the standard example of counter-example necessary to a standard illustrated lecture on the matter. Sadly, it is still pending afaik.

    it seems as if there's an essential struggle to cast the holocaust a Religious Truth rather than a historical event.

    if we want to prove we have freedom of expression then we should do it by the approved mocking of Mohammed rather than by blaspheming against the Almighty Holocaust.

    To Ian Thal who posted on 01/29/12, I find it incredible that he can make the statement: 'Holocaust denial, as an ideology with no scholarly merit, is anti-Semitic'. He obviously has not looked into the writings of any revisionists regarding claims made by holocaust believers to see that not only are they highly scholarly, but also often highly scientific. He should do himself a favour and search for example through the 'archive' section of the website run by the 'Institute for Historical Review', at Looking up articles written by revisionists on various claims made by holocaust believers (especially those written by Professor Robert Faurisson) will render his comment invalid.

    I'll tell you one thing that this economics professor knows nothing about: economics.

    "Franz Hörmann criticized the existing financial system . He holds a relevant paradigm shift both in economics , and society as a whole in terms of need. His criticism is directed against the system of compound interest and the double-entry bookkeeping , in which it is his opinion to outdated models. He criticized the creation of money , the existing system of banks in 2009 and predicted the disappearance of the currency already in 2011. To cope with this transition can, he called for "specialized electronic coupons" into a transitional phase and favored an unconditional basic income in the form of goods or services."

    If you want to start criticizing economics professors for not knowing what they are talking about, you can turn to more important cases earning top money at Harvard and Yale. They didn't skip a beat all the way through the financial crisis that they themselves helped to bring about.
    Clearly a case of setting a trap. Interestingly the WU Wien got an additional €6 Mio. in money after that. Of course there was something given for a reason, but...
    Thanks to You, Sascha, for stating the obvious!
    Joerg Karkosch from Germany