Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Good Reference Book on Holocaust Denial

There in my public library was Denying History:  Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why do They Say It?, by professional skeptic Michael Shermer and historian Alex Grobman.  It was published in 2000, but from what I can tell, it's still up to date.  Depressing but necessary reading, at least for me.


JDB said...

You must think more highly of Shermer than he does of truthers! He draws epistemic comparisons between holocaust denial and trutherism here:

which links to

(To avoid misunderstanding, I myself would be very hesitant to draw these comparisons, since unlike Shermer I don't know enough about Holocaust denial. I haven't ever found myself initially trusting someone who turns out to be a holocaust denier, and I haven't ever found myself committed to a movement some of whose influential members turn out to be holocaust deniers, and moreover I've never encountered an apparently serious person who is a holocaust denier, so for me holocaust denial has never met the minimal conditions meriting time and resources.)

JDB said...

In any case, while it might be surprising for me not to take advantage of such delightful material, I don't exactly see the justification for your statement in a previous related post:

"If the 9/11 Truth Movement is or becomes merely another tool for anti-Semitism, then I certainly wish to leave it behind. There are more important Truths that need looking after."

Or to clarify, the principle in the statement itself is fine, but I don't see the justification for thinking it actually applies in this case. Even if many individual truthers deny the occurrence of the Holocaust (which they are a priori likely to deny anyway, because of their epistemic practices), it doesn't follow that the Truther movement itself, as a movement, has become "merely another tool for anti-Semitism."

Yes...... this is me telling you not to give up your truther commitments so readily...

Bilbo said...

I think highly of Shermer's book, Denying History, which is, as far as I can tell, very well researched. I think less highly of his group's criticisms of other things, such as 9/11 Truth or ID.

JDB said...

I think one fact in favor of your judgment is that it doesn't look as if Shermer himself has devoted as much time to 9/11 as he has to holocaust denial. The piece he links to from HuffPost, for instance, is by Phil Mole rather than Shermer. I'd agree with you that the few things from Shermer himself on 9/11 (that is to say, the few things I was able to discover with 10 seconds of Googling) seem pretty cursory and non-serious.

As I mentioned on that other blog, the one thing I would be interested in hearing more on is the philosophical differences between various "arguments by anomaly." Several people, e.g. both Shermer and Chomsky, have cited the usage of anomalies by truthers as being defective in some way, but neither to my knowledge have gone into any depth about what constitutes a good or bad use of an anomaly, which anomalies threaten theories, etc.

Bilbo said...

I don't have problems with arguments from anomalies, but with the interpretations that are offered for them. For example, it was at least partly because of anomalies that the theory of relativity was proposed as a replacement of Newtonian physics.

From the very little I've read of Holocaust denialist literature, it's not at all clear that we have an anomaly. We have evidence that delousing chambers show lots of blue in their walls, and from this it is argued that the lack of blue (or of as much blue) in other bricks or wall material shows that there were no extermination gas chambers. But as far as I know, there has been no experimental evidence to show that extermination gas chambers should have resulted in blue bricks or wall material. Meanwhile, we have what seems like a perfectly good explanation as to why we shouldn't expect to find blue bricks: it took far less time to kill people with gas than it took to kill lice, and once they were dead, the chambers would be quickly aired out. If denialists want to pursue their argument, they would need to provide some sort of experimental evidence that the bricks would have turned blue, anyway. As far as I know, they haven't done that.

If we apply that standard to Truthers, I think they have succeeded in providing at least some experimental evidence in support of their arguments from anomalies. One can argue that their evidence is insufficent, but at least they've done more than merely point out supposed problems with the official story.