The rogueclassicist Skept-o-meter

While wading through my backlog the other day (which is huge) it occurred to me that I could start giving ‘points’ to articles cluttering my box making skeptical claims. To do so, of course, I would need some sort of metre stick of credulity, and came up with the following list of items which set of alarm bells in the rogueclassicist’s noggin:

  1. Claim is made by someone who is not a specialist (i.e. with a degree) in the discipline
  2. Claimant has an “Indiana Jones” type epithet, often self-imposed
  3. Topic of claim is one of the long-standing mysteries (e.g. Cleopatra’s tomb, Alexander’s tomb, anything related to Atlantis, the Ark of the Covenant, something biblical, etc.)
  4. Claim is initially made on a press release site and later picked up by mainstream media
  5. Claim has not appeared in a scholarly journal nor is ‘in press’
  6. The word “decode” is used at least once in the cliam claim
  7. The phrase “years of research” figures prominently
  8. Claimant justifies position with references to the Trojan War or Galileo
  9. Claimant suggests a “coverup” of some sort by academics
  10. Claim is made on a significant date (especially if related to early Christianity … Easter and Christmas are the big dates)
  11. Newspaper report doesn’t actually ask a specialist for a contrary opinion
  12. Mention of a documentary to come is made in the concluding paragraphs

Of course, many legitimate claims might fall into one or more of the above categories, but it’s the combination of (usually) 3 or so or more which set off the alarm bells. I’ll apply this scale to a really bizarre claim in the next day or so.

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10 thoughts on “The rogueclassicist Skept-o-meter

    • … no argument from me (who has had at least two professors who fit most of the categories, except the specialist part)

  1. Not everyone who has a degree knows something (or is an “expert”), and not everyone who doesn’t have a degree is ignorant.
    (I’m just saying…)

  2. Have you ever considered judging a claim by its internal logic, its documentation from verifiable sources, and its overall plausibility?

    The ability to spell or proof-read would also figure among the requirements, as in your item 6: “The word “decode” is used at least once in the cliam.” (sic) Those who sit in glass houses should not throw stones!

    Most of your skept-o-meter items smack of academic disdain for folks without a relevant degree, as if a sheepskin could convey legitimacy or an ability to judge. The very fact of attributing credibility to a degree alone exposes a lack of judgment on the part of the attributor, and an abdication of independent thinking comparable to many medical researchers’ habit of using a probability of p = 0.05 as a measure of significance when in fact it is a clumsy substitute for thought.

    As a counter-example to your list from the ivory tower, let me submit my solution of a long-standing mystery which could qualify as a “decoding” although I did not use that term. See the pages linked to http://phaistosgame.com/Phaistos012content.htm, including the articles from popular-archaeology.com reproduced on the pages http://phaistosgame.com/PopularArchaeologyArticle1.htm plus 2, 3, and 4 in that series, with more to come on 12/1.

    I am not suggesting any “cover-up” by academics, but I quote several examples of “botch-up” by bloviators with impressive academic titles and prominent grant sources who only succeed in illustrating Horace’s “Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.” (The mountains will be in labor, and a ridiculous mouse will be brought forth.) In that context, your skept-o-meter smells like a rat.

    • Thanks for the spelling correction … fixed above.

      That said, of course I judge on internal logic … as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, none of these things stand on their own and it usually takes three or more. A nice case in point in regards specifically to not having a relevant academic degree: there are plenty of Roman reenactors who do not have such and at the same time, they have incredible knowledge of Roman military history and, evenmore impressive, the weapons and armour. Not having a degree does not automatically dismiss a claim … it’s when that is combined with assorted other things to make clear to the reader that the claimant clearly has not read widely enough in the subject to support their claim. Even then, however, it is — as mentioned above — a situation where alarm bells go off. That doesn’t mean I reject it automatically and to suggest that I’m in the ivory tower is laughable.

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