ISIS trips, stumbles, and falls
As a student of the history and the philosophy of science, I have been dumbfounded to discover that ISIS, a prominent journal in the history of science, has published a review of a book on astronomers that was edited by T. Hockey, THE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMERS, by N. M. Swerdlow, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago (ISIS 101:1 (2010), pp. 197-8), in which he assails Nicholas Kollerstrom, Ph.D., an historian of science and scholar whom I admire, on the alleged ground of anti-Semitism.
While Kollerstrom has conducted scientific research on the Holocaust related to the use of zyklon gas to exterminate inmates, it has nothing to do with his contributions to THE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMERS, where his entries on John Couch Adams, John Flamsteed and even Issac Newton are completely independent of research related to the Holocaust. The only reason for introducing it at all, therefore, has to have been to fashion an ad hominem attack on Kollerstrom, a gross abuse of Swerdlow’s role as a the author of a review, which ISIS should not have accepted for publication.
Even if he disagreed with Kollerstrom about the Holocaust, those views ought not have been cited or used to attack him. They had nothing to do with his research on the astronomers whose entries he authored, which included one on Newton, which reflected great confidence by Hockey in Nicholas. It is as if Swerdlow had intended to demonstrate to the world his ruthless dedication to the extermination of any vestiges of (what he considers to be) anti-Semitism. Astonishingly, he not only adopts the extreme measure of discouraging any library from purchasing the encyclopedia but outrageously suggests that the book itself should be pulped!
So Swerdlow not only commits the ad hominem fallacy by discounting Kollerstrom’s research on astronomers because of his interest in questions about the Holocaust, a point that should have been apparent to ISIS, but he practices an extreme form of guilt by association by condemning the entire contents of this volume on that basis, which means that he compounds one fallacy by committing another—and it is one that, from the perspective of intellectual history, actually appears to be even more egregious as a form of group punishment for the sins of one of its contributors.
Having spent 35 years teaching students to avoid fallacies of this kind and having an extensive background as the founding editor of MINDS AND MACHINES, of which I was the sole editor for ten years, and having spent another decade as an associate editor of SYNTHESE, which is devoted to methodology, epistemology and philosophy of science, I was shocked that a journal of the stature of ISIS should have permitted this offense to have occurred, which not only taints Kollerstrom but stains the journal itself.
The charge of “anti-Semitism”, alas, has often been used to impugn the character of anyone who conducts research on issues that may adversely affect the interests of Israel and its Zionist allies, which I, as the Founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, have repeatedly encountered as a consequence of discoveries that implicate the Mossad as having a role in 9/11. I have published about this myself, “Is 9/11 research ‘anti-Semitic’?” While Nick has made no such charge, the evidence supports it.
Significantly, Kollerstrom has conducted rather extensive research on 7/7, including publishing TERROR ON THE TUBE (revised and expanded, 2011), which exposes the role of government agents or of those acting on its behalf to arrange for the terrorist acts that were attributed to four young Muslim men, who appear to have been used as patsies, when the circumstances of the case—including missing a train that would have brought them to London—made it physically impossible for them to be present.
This case has been brilliantly exposed by John Anthony Hill, who is also known as “Muad’Dib”, in his DVD, “7/7 Ripple Effect”, which I recommend to everyone who cares about 7/7. We live in a world, alas, where governments lie more than they speak the truth and spend much of the national treasury promoting initiatives, such as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are inimical to the interests of their citizens, squandering enormous resources both financial and personal for the benefit of corporations and their profits.
Because it is extremely difficult to expose government complicity in atrocities of this kind, I have greatly admired Muad’Dib and Nicholas Kollerstrom for their dedication to exposing falsehoods and revealing truths about these events, which has included featuring them both as guests on “The Real Deal”, an internet radio program I host, where those interviews can be found in its archives, http://radiofetzer.blogspot.com and as the authors of or the subjects of blogs at http://jamesfetzer.blogspot.com.
Swerdlow’s actions are so unwarranted by any reasonable professional standard that I personally suspect that they were deliberately contrived to punish Nick for research not only on the Holocaust but on 7/7 as well. I therefore volunteered to compose a letter to ISIS, in which I explained why I believed Swerdlow’s assault was completely unjustifiable and deserved to be remedied. Nick and I discussed my letter in some detail, which the journal accepted and published in ISIS 102:1 (2011) as follows:
Re: ISIS 101:1 (2010), pp. 197-198
During a recent visit to the UK, I met the scholar, Nicholas Kollerstrom, whom I have previously interviewed on “The Real Deal”, an internet radio program I host, about 7/7, his book, TERROR ON THE TUBE (2009), and aspects of 9/11 and other atrocities.
He has been a productive author with multiple books, including ASTROCHEMISTRY (1984), THE EUREKA EFFECT (1996), and NEWTON’S FORGOTTEN LUNAR THEORY (2000). For a fine collection of his articles, visit http://dioi.org/kn/index.htm.
Nick is one of the few academicians I know who has the courage, the mentality, and the integrity to assume the role of a public intellectual, not only relative to 7/7 and 9/11 but also by pursuing scientific questions concerning the history of the Holocaust.
Reading N. M. Swerdlow’s revisew of Thomas Hockey, ed., THE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMERS, I was taken aback to find a discussion in ISIS that commits fallacies I spent 35 years teaching freshmen and sophomores to avoid.
Nearly 30% of this review is devoted to a slashing “ad hominem” attack on Nick Kollerstrom! After cursory remarks about Nick’s entries, Swerdlow makes a variety of allegations that are either false or completely irrelevant to the essays in question.
Nick, for example, is an historian of astrology, not an astrologer. With N. Campion, he has co-edited GALILEO’S ASTROLOGY (2003), perhaps the definitive work on the subject, which is relevant to his essays but Swerdlow does not deign to acknowledge.
He also has a (perfectly legitimate) intellectual interest in horoscopes, which he has pursued, as well as in the factual accuracy of the (widely embraced) history of the Holocaust, both of which Swerdlow either exaggerates or grossly distorts.
Neither these interests of his nor his conclusions that 9/11 and 7/7 were “false flag” ops in which elements of the US and UK governments were complicit, however, has any place in a review of his essays in a collection of biographical studies of astronomers!
Laws against expressing doubts about the Holocaust, in my view, are simply absurd. If you believe in the Holocaust, as I do, then it should be apparent that serious research will lead to its vindication and, if it does not, we are all entitled to know. Truth is paramount.
Something that stuns me, moreover, is that, unless Swerdlow has studied 9/11 and 7/7, he cannot possibly know that Nick is wrong! Having done quite extensive study of 9/11 and considerable on 7/7 and it is obvious to me that, on the contrary, about both, Nick is right.
The very idea that the reviewer should single out Kollerstrom because of his research on matters unrelated to the essays he authored and discourage other scholars and libraries from purchasing the book on that basis “crosses the line”! It smacks of burning books.
Nick and I discussed the matter and agreed that it would be preferable for me to speak on his behalf, since a letter from him might be interpreted as self-serving. As another scholar who has devoted himself to issues of this kind, I have been glad to address this matter.
Swerdlow has conducted an unprofessional and unwarranted vendetta for which he owes the profession an apology. We should be standing in support of those few among us who have the strength, integrity and courage to investigate the controversial issues of our time.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
McKnight Professor Emeritus
University of Minnesota Duluth
The editor of ISIS, Bernard Lightman, apparently felt that Swerdlow deserved another opportunity to wield his axe, which he pursued with relish. Swerdlow asserted that he saw no reason to modify his position, suggesting that Nicholas regarded Auschwitz, for example, as a very hospitable environment, where Zyclon-B was used as a disinfectant rather than as a method of extermination. While he has concluded that there were certain amenities at Auschwitz, which he has discussed, without having studied the evidence, how can Swerdlow be so certain that he is right and that Nick, who has actually been studying it, is wrong?
Strikingly, Swerdlow compounds his assault with a counterpart attack on me for research I have done on the death of President John F. Kennedy and for editing a collection of studies on 9/11, which he presents in as unsympathetic a fashion as possible. This attack is even more revealing than his assault on Kollerstrom, since I organized a research group in 1992 consisting of the most highly qualified experts and scholars to investigate the death of JFK, which, I am confident, he himself has never studied.
These have included a world-authority on the human brain who was also an expert on wound ballistics; a Ph.D. in physics who is also an M.D. and board certified in radiation oncology; a physician who was present when JFK was brought to Parkland Hospital and, two days later, was responsible for the care of his alleged assassin; a legendary photo and film analyst; and another Ph.D. in physics with a specialization in electromagnetism, the properties of light and of images of moving objects.
I have chaired or co-chaired four national conferences on the subject, published three books by experts on different aspects of the case, and produced a 4.5 hour documentary about the assassination. I have made hundreds and hundreds of presentations and interviews, including lectures at Cambridge, Harvard and Yale. Indeed, my background with respect to 9/11 is comparable, where I edited the first book from Scholars, THE 9/11 CONSPIRACY (2007), organized its first conference in Madison, Wisconsin, and produced its first DVD, “The Science and Politics of 9/11”.
In lieu of reasoned arguments, Swerdlow appeals to popular sentiments by taking for granted that widely-held beliefs must be true and that views at variance with them have to be mistaken. Thus, unless you have actually studied the evidence, it might be difficult to appreciate that there are more than fifteen indications that JFK was set up by the Secret Service, where he appears to have been taken out by the CIA/military/anti-Castro Cubans/local law enforcement, where the FBI covered it up and LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover were principals with financing from Texas oil men. For an overview, see my “Dealey Plaza Revisited: What Happened to JFK?”
Those familiar with the history of the UK, however, might be less surprised than Americans, since Shakespeare would have had little to write about were it not for plots against the kings of England. But there were technical aspects to the cover up, where JFK’s X-rays were altered to conceal a massive blow-out to the back of his head, another brain was substituted for the original, and the home movies of the assassination were revised to conceal that the driver brought the limo to a halt to make sure that he was killed. See, for example, studies by David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., John P. Costella, Ph.D., and me archived at http://assassinationscience.com.
Others who would like some reassurance about the quality of our work should follow this link to reviews of MURDER IN DEALEY PLAZA (2000) — http://assassinationscience.com/booktwo.html — and to access the Preface and the Prologue as well as endorsements by Michael Parenti, Ph.D., Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D., Michael L. Kurtz, Ph.D., and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, among others. Of special importance is the review by George Costello, J.D., THE FEDERAL LAWYER (May 2001), pp. 52-56. This journal (formerly: THE FEDERAL BAR NEWS AND JOURNAL) is a publication for attorneys who work for the federal government, who practice before federal agencies, or who appear before federal courts. Its author would receive a commendation from the journal for his review, which is archived at http://assassinationscience.com/george.html.
Relying upon his correspondence with Bernard Lightman, the Editor-in-Chief of ISIS, Nicholas had formed the rather strong impression that he would be given the chance to respond to Swerdlow’s reply to my letter. He therefore drafted a response that ran exactly the same number of words as Swerdlow’s second bite of the apple, which was 470. It was therefore a bitter disappointment when Lightman declined him the opportunity to set the record straight, a nice example of his adding insult to injury.
On the basis of an article by Nicholas relating to the controversy over the now-obligatory visits to Auschwitz by UK schoolchildren — archived at http://www.codoh.com/incon/incontrip.html — Swerdlow claims that Kollerstrom asserts “that Auschwitz was a pleasant place for its guests”! But while he does report that there were various amenities for the inmates, including a swimming pool and orchestras, he restricts himself to features he has been able to establish rather than the atmosphere. This suggests ISIS should have refereed his review more vigorously. As Nick has remarked to me, the accounts we have from Auschwitz tend to be fairly dire.
Suppose that Kollerstrom were wrong about his conclusions based upon his research. Does an historian of science deserve to be ostracized for advancing opinions that are at variance with prevailing views? Nick’s article also cites significant differences on the question of how many may have died there. Is that question also ruled out as a subject for historical research? Shouldn’t we discover if popular views are more than political myths? Surely Lightman ought to have published the following letter, which Nick submitted to him, as the final word in this nasty and unprofessional exchange:
Letters to the Editor, Isis WORD COUNT: 470
There is something deeply ironic about a journal devoted to the history of science publishing an attack upon me for conducting scientific research on one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th C. As Professor Fetzer observed in his letter, what do we have to fear from research on the Holocaust? If it was real, then its reality will be confirmed; and if it was not, then surely we all deserve to know.
N. M. Swerdlow falsely asserts, ‘[Kollerstrom] defends Nazis and condemns their victims and supports his claims by links to strident Jew-hating websites’. If true, that would be a hate crime. For the sake of the integrity of ISIS, if he cannot substantiate this allegation, ISIS should demand an apology and retraction. Outrageous distortions not only discredit him as a source but also tarnish your reputation for accuracy and truth as a professional publication.
While I have authored TERROR ON THE TUBE about the July 7 London bombings, currently in its 3d edition, anyone who reads it will know that I make no such claim as that the event was “the work of ‘international Zionism’”. Swerdlow is advancing criticisms he cannot sustain, which should never have appeared here–defaming both my book and its publisher.
Swerdlow declares that, “a line has been crossed that should never be crossed”. But how can that apply to scientific research about an historical controversy without begging the question? I have an interest in the several investigations of residual iron-cyanide in the walls of Auschwitz labour-camp buildings, which carry residues of how and where zyklon (granular cyanide) was used sixty years ago. But this is a scientific question that can only be addressed by conducting scientific research.
In his second attack, Swerdlow also asserts I have “nothing original” to say. But I have actually established the ‘control’ values for the normal background levels of ferro-cyanide found in kitchens, dormitories and such, of the German labour-camps by synthesising the two sets of Leuchter and Rudolf cyanide values on the basis of objective measurements of insoluble iron cyanide.
Nothing could be less original than using the phrase, “Holocaust denier”, to bash the reputation and standing of those of us who believe controversial events are those we most need to address. He alleges I contend “Auschwitz was a pleasant place for its guests”! But who in the world could believe so insane an idea? Only someone willing to distort research could try to pin this on me.
Like Fetzer, I am an historical revisionist, who cares about the truth and getting it right, especially concerning monumental events, such as the death of JFK and reality of the Holocaust. But that is precisely what the study of history is all about, where efforts like ours to insure the record is factual rather than fictional deserve praise, not condemnation.
Perhaps most importantly in relation to this decision, Nicholas had written to Bernie Lightman on May 27, 2011, “to request that you ask Swerdlow [quite specifically] which are the ‘strident Jew-hating websites’ which he reckons I link to: I believe this is hate-crime which your Journal has accused me of, as defined by 2010 European Union legislation.” And the Editor-in-Chief of ISIS, replied to his request as follows:
“I did not tell you that you would be able to reply to Swerdlow’s
reply to Professor Fetzer. I told you that the journal’s policy was
that there could be one reply to a review (you chose to have Fetzer
reply for you) and then that the reviewer was given the opportunity to
respond. The matter then comes to a close. That is the policy and I
will not deviate from it. Regards, Bernie Lightman”
Since ISIS has facilitated the publication of what appears to qualify as a hate-crime under European Union legislation, surely ISIS had an obligation that justified going beyond its normal policies. In my opinion, this decision by Bernard Lightman was an astounding affront to every member of the profession, whose ability to respond to allegations that should never have been allowed into print were thus circumvented. Given the new venom injected by Swerdlow in his reply to my letter, even if under ordinary conditions one reply would have been enough, a second was justified here.
For the sake of comparison, the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE committed a blunder by adding a preface to a special issue of the journal, “Evolution and Its Rivals”, as a consequence of pressure imposed upon them by proponents of Intelligent Design, in which they expressed concerns for “the tone” of one of the contributions. Their act created an academic scandal that was discussed intensely across a broad spectrum of forums, where nearly 500 scholars endorsed a boycott of the journal or called for a formal apology and retraction of their preface, many calling for their resignations.
Those who may stand in disbelief that a matter so relatively trivial compared to the repeated abuse of an historian of science by a prominent journal that is devoted to the history of science should visit some of the blogs and other venues in which it has been discussed, which range from Brian Leiter’s influential philosophy blog to The New York Times. Since the offense that ISIS facilitated in the first instance was compounded by the second, I am at a loss as to how a professional society could accept these actions without a formal protest. Under these circumstances, I believe that Bernard Lightman ought to resign.
THE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASTRONOMERS, of course, is a collaborative academic publication from Springer, one of the world’s leading publishers of technical and scientific journals and books, which has an enormous number of contributions from a very large number of contributors, where its Table of Contents is simply staggering http://www.springer.com/astronomy/astronomy,+observations+and+techniques/book/978-0-387-31022-0 Swerdlow faults the volume for having a few entries of which he does not approve. But that appears to be highly selective on his part and a very cheap shot.
These are not issues about which the authors are remotely likely to be unqualified. Swerdlow’s review—even apart from his attack on Nick—appears to be suspect on its face. And how could anyone in their right mind allow Swerdlow’s suggestions that libraries not purchase the volume and that it ought to be pulped to stand without vigorous protest, even if one of the contributors has an interest in research on subjects that some—perhaps even most!—may disapprove? What kind of standard is that? How is that being fair to the contributors, the editors, or the publisher? That is a disgrace.
There are some 1,550 entries in the encyclopdia, which were authored by 430 scholars, of whom Nick Kollerstrom is only one, under the supervision of an Editor-in-Chief and a team of six associate editors. I would be willing to conjecture that a significant proportion of them may well have vices of their own, such as addictions to alcohol, pornography, adultery, S&M, or who-knows-what other practices of which public disapproval may be widespread. Should those authors be ferreted out and have their entries abolished, too? No, let’s just pulp the whole book!
I am reminded here of the occasion on which I first became involved in serious research on the assassination of JFK. It was in mid-1993 and I was lying in bed, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the paper, when my wife came in and said, “You won’t believe this!”, while turning on the TV. The image appeared of a distinguished man in standing behind a lecture with the logo of the American Medical Association, who was denigrating every serious student of the assassination from Mark Lane and Robert Groden to David Lifton and Charles Crenshaw.
He was especially caustic in attacking Oliver Stone’s “JFK”, which offers the most comprehensive, accurate, and complete depiction of what actually happened in Dealey Plaza on 22 November 1963 ever presented to the American people through the mass media. The person turned out to be George Lundberg, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the AMA. I was stunned that someone of his stature would appear to be abusing the journal for political purposes and citing interviews with the autopsy pathologists as though they were science. That convinced me that perhaps some of us with special backgrounds and abilities should become involved.
Swerdlow’s abuse of his position has similarly convinced me that, once again, if those in positions of authority are abusing them for political purposes, some of us who might not otherwise have become involved in questions of this kind also have an obligation to pursue them. The issues involved are as important as they could be for the defense of academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, especially about controversial historical events. If the Holocaust is a reality, as I believe, then responsible research should confirm it; and if it is not, we are all entitled to know.
Perhaps the ultimate irony concerns the ethics of Swerdlow’s review. The essence of morality is treating other persons with respect. But by recommending that the other contributors, the editors, and the press should be punished for the perceived sins of one of the contributors, he is promoting the practice of collective punishment, contrary to the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. It was even condemned by the Nuremberg Tribunal in the prosecution of Nazi war crimes. In his zeal to condemn Kollerstrom for pursuing research on the Holocaust, therefore, Swerdlow has gone off of the deep end and committed an intellectual offense that is completely grotesque, which thereby exposes the immoral core of his own position.
The Egyptian goddess, Isis, after whom the journal is named, was long worshiped as the matron of nature and of magic. She has been described as the friend of slaves and sinners, by some accounts, which makes her name all the more appropriate here. In my opinion, Nicholas Kollerstrom was savaged by N. M. Swerdlow, not for offenses against the history of science, but for transgressing boundaries that are intended to protect sacred myths from refutation. In Swerdlow’s view, Kollerstrom deserved to be pilloried, not for his entries in an encyclopedia about astronomers, but for doing something that is forbidden–conducting scientific research on the Holocaust. And not even the Editor-in-Chief of ISIS has been willing to grant him a fair shake.