Graham Hancock, expert in bulls*it

By Razib Khan | June 20, 2006 9:42 am

EurekAlert obviously doesn’t have quality control, as of right now their top press release in the Biology category is Graham Hancock, international expert on lost civilizations. If you don’t know, Hancock is a pseudoarcheologist. Basically he is just Robert E. Howard with a little more world-creation talent and more literary panache. Hancock reminds us of an important point: quackish beliefs are not the monopoly of religous fundamentalists. In fact, I would argue that religious fundamentalism, for whatever reason, reinforces quackish beliefs, but those beliefs are somewhat innate in most human beings (ergo, Creationist appeals to “common sense”).

  • Paul S

    I think what appeals to “everyman” is simplicity and completeness – otherwise known as the pat answer. People want to understand things, want the world to make sense. Reality is often complex, real knowledge is often incomplete. So when a simple, complete answer shows up (“God created the world,” or “aliens helped a pretechnological civilization build the pyramids”) people will tend to view it as actually of better quality than the shoddy, poorly built true state of things.
    There’s also a certain amount of schadenfreude there, I think. “Those scientists think they’re so smart,” you know. Something that “takes them down a peg or two” is attractive to many people. So reports of the paranormal or unexplained are likewise attractive.
    On the other hand, there is a counter-tendency that laymen and scientists alike fall prey to: scientism. This is the belief that any scientific explanation is better than any non-scientific explanation. That might sound attractive at first blush, but scientism is another part of what gave us creationism. It’s no longer sufficient to say “God created the world.” In order to give such a claim currency, you have to make it look scientific. Hello, Intelligent Design.
    Science has its place, of course. But scientism is to science what kudzu is to agriculture.
    There’s not a lot that science can do about these basic human traits, except to plug ahead and build up a reputation based on real successes, while bearing in mind that it’s not the answer to every question.

  • Rob

    The space alien stuff is silly. But the there was a fairly advanced civilization on the coast of somewhere wiped out by the ice age is actually testable-we should find lots of undersea ruins near coasts.
    Is it likely? nah, but possible.

  • Munango-Keewati

    “Basically he is just Robert E. Howard with a little more world-creation talent and more literary panache.”
    You meant _less_, right?

  • NuSapiens

    There is at least a grain of truth in what Hancock says about ice age civilizations. Now, maybe that “advanced civilization” was some paleolithic beach bums who built some sand sculpture of vaginas (you know, the kind of thing we dig up and put forth as evidence of “prehistoric man’s dawning naturalistic intellect” – hah). People have always lived mostly by the coast. Nothing far out about the suggestion that some things got wiped out during (fast or gradual) coastline changes in the last few 10,000 years.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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