The 2010s were a difficult decade which destroyed our ability to believe in some solutions to problems, but did not provide alternative paths to follow. That decade left many of us in a state of what the Greeks called aporia. At the start of the decade, Jona Lendering had some thoughts about one problem, the spread of misinformation from bad pop books, documentaries, and the Internet. Here is how he saw it in the hopeful time around 2010.
Jona Lendering, “Ancient History and Pseudoscholarship” (2009) https://web.archive.org/web/20111116035805/https://www.livius.org/opinion/opinion0017.html
“Since 1995, I have been writing articles for the general audience on the internet. I have also published a newsletter, guided people through foreign countries, and published several books. Over the years, I have probably answered 3,200-3,600 e-mail messages. Many of these are inquiries or suggestions for improvement, but often, I notice that behind a question lurks a misunderstanding. In 2005, I realized that there was a pattern. People almost never write about pseudoscholarship; errors are nearly always the consequence of outdated information that has been presented by a credible author.
Of the fifty mistakes I have discussed in my little book on common errors, thirty-seven were made by people with a Ph.D. speaking on subjects outside their field of competence.
“Ancient History, Poor Information, and the Internet” (2010) https://rambambashi.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/ancient-history-poor-information-and-the-internet/
Information about Antiquity is divulged through several media.
- Living history-projects (like Archeon and the Roman Festival here in Holland) are usually very good.
- Specialist magazines (e.g., Ancient Warfare) are also very good, but have a limited reach.
- Radio and TV do not really contribute; people look at it as amusement.
- The quality of popularizing history books appears to have decreased.
- The main source for poor information is the internet.
Items 4 and 5 are in fact the same, as many books are now based on information from the internet. I have in several books seen outdated information from my own website.
As far as I am concerned, I think that at this moment, we must refrain from spreading new insights, and must instead focus on the refutation of errors. It is logical to concentrate on the internet and books first.
“Something seriously rotten” (2010) https://rambambashi.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/something-seriously-rotten/
Every month, I publish a newsletter (in Dutch), in which I summarize that month’s online news about ancient history. One of the discoveries I made, was that of the archaeological press releases, about 40-45% contains serious inaccuracies, mostly exaggerations.
What I am stressing is not that our academicians are corrupt, but that they are rapidly losing credibility. That is sad, because the great majority of them are still trying to find the truth. So, I would have expected that our academicians would do everything to regain our respect.
Lendering also observed Gresham’s Law of Information: on the Internet, free information drives out good (defined but not named in Wiki and Pseudohistory, 2009 compare confusedofcalcutta in 2006 here (backup on archive.is) which has the name but not the definition). At the time, his solution was projects like Encyclopedia Iranica, the Interent Encyclopedia of Philosophy, digitized catalogues of art, and the Portable Antiquities Scheme which place up-to-date information in plain language where anyone with an Internet connection can view it. There are more projects like that today than in 2010, but they do not always find the audience which we hope.
Do any of my gentle readers know of people who are working to build better information systems? Corporate social media, old media, and trade publishing have failed so we need something better for the days of ubiquitous communication.
Being honest and factual does not pay the bills, so if you can, please support this site.
(scheduled 25 May 2023, updated 18 June 2023)