Thursday, July 23, 2009

The intellectual dishonesty of Allan Quist

Ever since the recent outbreak of sanity in Kansas, Texas has been virtually unchallenged in its position as the state with the most embarrassing people in charge of its education system. To maintain their dominance, they have taken to poaching fringe ideologues from other states. One of the most recent attempts was an unsuccessful effort to recruit Minnesota's Allen Quist for a board tasked with doing to history what they had already done to science.

At first glance, Quist would seem a natural for the Texas education system. He has impeccable conservative bona fides. During three terms in the Minnesota state house in the eighties, he was famous for his anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-pornography rants. His platform when running for governor in 1994 included the usual planks of tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and states' rights. His wife runs a group called EdWatch--which publishes his books and posts his essays--dedicated to fighting liberal curricula and promoting home schooling. He says all the right things about the Judeo-Christian origins of the United States, young earth creationism, and the "hoax" of global warming. But for some reason, the other board members couldn't bring themselves to support his candidacy and his nomination was dropped.

Those last three positions might be what got him into trouble. While Christian nationalism, creationism, and climate change denialism are almost articles of faith for the modern conservative movement, all three involve a certain amount of conspiratorialism. Too often, a little conspiratorial thinking is a thin wedge that opens the door to a lot of conspiratorial thinking.

Michael Barkun wrote about this phenomenon in his 2003 book, A Culture of Conspiracy. Barkun has written several books about American apocalyptic sects and the religious beliefs of racist groups like Aryan Nations. In researching these groups he was surprised to find that believers in one form of fringe thought often embraced other, unrelated, forms of fringe thought. Timothy McVeigh was a UFO buff. Militia groups often push natural foods and alternative medicine. Occultists become anti-vaccination crusaders. The key, he explains, is that all of these groups trade in something he calls "stigmatized knowledge." The basic concepts of each group's beliefs have been rejected by mainstream intellectual authorities. These authorities, as perceived from the fringe, constitute monolithic blocks that wield their power to suppress the truth as perceived by the fringe. Once fringe believers take the first step of rejecting conventional authority in one area, it becomes easier to reject it in other areas and, eventually, in all areas. Once they have made the adjustment to seeing hidden forces working to suppress the truth in one area, it's easy to accept the claims of other fringe believers that hidden forces are at work suppressing their truth. The final step is to determine that all of these hidden forces are actually one all embracing conspiracy.

In Quist's case, it's clear that he has made the jump from believing in conventional conservative bogeymen (secularist, liberals, environmentalists) into a more broadly conspiratorial worldview. His latest essay, available on the EdWatch site, uses a staple of pole shift theory in an effort to discredit the idea of climate change driven by human activities (global warming).
A recently discovered and publicized ancient map of the globe disproves the theory of man-made global warming. The enormous significance of the map has only now become apparent as Congress considers sweeping legislation intended to combat global warming supposedly caused by human activity.

The map was discovered in the Library of Congress, Washington DC, in 1960 by Charles Hapgood. It was drawn by well-known French cartographer, Oronteus Finaeus, in 1531. There is no serious question about the authenticity of the map. Finaeus was a well-known scholar and was an expert in cartography, astronomy, mathematics and military weaponry. The map is based on numerous source maps, some of them going back to the time of Alexander the Great (335 BC).

One section of the map pictures the globe from the perspective of the South Pole. Antarctica is clearly shown on this map and is pictured as being largely ice-free with flowing rivers and a clean coastline. Some of the mountain ranges pictured on the map have only been recently discovered.

A section of one of the Curriculum Modules, written by Quist and offered by EdWatch, is dedicated to the "ancient maps" idea made famous by Hapgood in his 1966 book, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. This book was an expansion of one line of evidence that he used for his earlier work on polar shift theory.

Polar shift theory is an idea that the earth's crust occasionally slips with reference to its spinning core and mantle. The part of the surface that used to be over the pole moves to a lower latitude and a new part of the surface slips over the pole and begins to freeze. The driving mechanism, according to Hapgood is ice. As polar ice builds up, it creates a great weight at the poles that destabilizes the crust. For the Earth's spin to be stable, the greatest weight should move out to the equator. Thus, when enough ice gathers at the poles, the entire crust of the Earth begins to slip toward the equator. When the ice caps reached a warmer latitude, the ice all melts, flooding everything and destroying civilization. Naturally, this explains Atlantis, Noah's flood, and frozen mammoths. Hapgood was neither the first to propose polar shifting nor the first to propose that mechanism, but his exposition is the best known and the one quoted by later pole shift writers.

The source of our trouble, the Oronteus Finaeus map of 1531.

The ancient maps enter the story as evidence of advanced pre-slip civilizations. Hapgood pointed out that, although the coast of Antarctica wasn't sighted until 1818, Renaissance mapmakers had portrayed a southern continent in considerable detail three centuries earlier. This could only have been possible if sixteenth century mapmakers had access to earlier maps by mariners who were intimately familiar with the coastline of Antarctica. Hapgood went on to say, that, since the Renaissance maps do not mention an ice cap, Antarctica must have been ice free when those ancient mariners visited it. According to Hapgood, the 1531 Oronteus Finaeus (Oronce Finé) map is the most accurate Renaissance map of all. Quist's statement that the Finaeus map is "based on numerous source maps, some of them going back to the time of Alexander the Great" is founded on Hapgood's speculation and nothing else.

Before going into what the Finaeus map does or does not portray, it's worth fisking Quist's version of how the map came to light. Quist says:
A recently discovered and publicized ancient map of the globe disproves the theory of man-made global warming. ... The map was discovered in the Library of Congress, Washington DC, in 1960 by Charles Hapgood.

To his credit, Hapgood never claims to have discovered the Finaeus map except in the sense that it was new to him. In Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings he tells how he came to know of the map.
In the course of this investigation I arranged to spend some time in the library of Congress during the Christmas recess of 1959-1960. I wrote ahead to the Chief of the Map Division asking if all of the old maps of the periods in question could be brought out and made ready for my investigation, especially those that might show the Antarctic. Dr. Arch C. Gerlach, and his assistant, Richard W. Stephanson, and other members of the Map Division were most co-operative, and i found, somewhat to my consternation, that they had laid out several hundred maps on the tables of the reference room.

By arriving at the Library the moment it opened in the morning and staying there until it close in the evening, I slowly made a dent in the enormous mass of material. ... Then, one day, I turned a page and sat transfixed. As my eyes fell upon the southern hemisphere of a map drawn by Oronteus Finaeus in 1531, I had the instant conviction that I had found here a truly authentic map of the real Antarctica.

From his narrative, it's clear that the map was not something in a dusty back corner of the library, forgotten for centuries. The LOC staff were familiar enough with it to know that it met the requirements of Hapgood's request. Furthermore, their treatment of it, laid out on a table and left there for days, shows that it was not a rare item requiring special treatment or care. The Finaeus map was not a drawn map, it was a printed map and dozens, possibly hundreds, of copies still exist. A glance at the Bernard Quaritch auction catalogs from the 1880s and 1890s (viewable through Google Books) show copies of the map for sale almost every year, and multiple copies in some years. The Finaeus map was well known in historical, art, and cartography circle long before Hapgood ever laid eyes on it.

The map itself, is quite beautiful (if you like maps, and I do). The projection, called double-cordiform, looks strange to our eyes, but was quite advanced for the time. The right hand side of the map is dominated by a southern continent called Terra Australis, which Finaeus describes as "recently discovered but not yet explored." The aspect of the southern continent that most excited Hapgood and other lost world writers is its two lobed shape which they find suspiciously similar to the shape of Antarctica as we know it.

Robert Argod lost world alignment of Terra Australis and Antarctica.

The above map from Out of Antarctica by Robert Argod is a fairly typical example of how lost world writers line up Finaeus' Terra Australis and our Antarctica to maximize the similarities. However, even in this portrayal, the lack of the Palmer Peninsula on Finaeus' map is a glaring problem. That great hook reaching toward South America is arguably the single most distinctive feature on Antarctica. How could the ancient mariners have missed it? Hapgood handles the problem by pointing to one of the bumps on the smaller lobe of Terra Australis, and identifying it as the base of the peninsula. He then points out that the rest of the peninsula would actually be an island without an ice sheet to connect it to the mainland. His unspoken conclusion is that someone then forgot to draw the island.

The superimposition of the two southern continents involves some trickery without which the dissimilarities between the two would be much more glaring. To make the two continents line up, Hapgood and his followers needed to ignore the position of the south pole on the Finaeus map. I've marked Finaeus' pole with a green dot. The Hapgood alignment also depends on changing the orientation of Terra Australis. On the Finaeus map, Terra Australis is rotated (on its pole) 70 degrees counter-clockwise. Even if the Palmer Peninsula was on Finaeus' continent, it wouldn't point at South America; it would point at Hawaii and South America would point at the blue spot that I've placed in the sea at a little past eleven o'clock.

Finally, and most significantly, Terra Australis is several times larger than Antarctica. Antarctica, for the most part, lies within the Antarctic Circle. The curve of East Antarctica follows very closely to the circle and the two great embayments, the Ross and Weddell Seas, push deeply south of the circle. The Antarctic Circle is entirely enclosed by Terra Australis whose coasts almost reach the Tropic of Capricorn. South America is separated from the continent by the Straits of Magellan and nothing else. Diego Cuoghi, an Italian writer, prepared a more accurate comparison of the two southern continents (below).

The correct alignment of Terra Australis and Antarctica and as shown by Diego Cuoghi.

The pole slip explanation for the amazing concordances that Hapgood and his followers see in Renaissance maps of the world is not the theory preferred by Quist. Quist dates the mighty mariners who mapped an ice-free Antarctica a mere twenty centuries ago rather than the ten to twenty thousand years ago preferred by the pole slip believers. Rather than Atlanteans, Quist prefers Romans.
How can the accuracy of this map be explained? One of the earliest authorities on map-making was Claudius Ptolemaeus (referred to in the West as "Ptolemy") who lived from about AD 85-168. Ptolemy was a cartographer, mathematician, astronomer and geographer. He lived in Alexandria under the Roman Empire.

Ptolemy wrote a monumental work on map-making, Guide to Geography, also known as Geographia, in about 150 AD. Geographia was lost to most of the civilized world for more than a thousand years until it was re-discovered around 1300 AD.

By "lost to most of the civilized world" Quist means the text was well known to the Muslim world. The Kitab surat al-ard ([Book of the Description of the Earth) composed by Al-Khwarizmi around 820 incorporated Ptolemy's geography. Al-Mas'udi, writing around 956 described a colored map of the world based on Ptolemy. Al-Idrisi studied Ptolemy to create his influential map of the world completed in 1154.
The book demonstrates that Mediterranean people of 2,000 years ago had the knowledge and expertise to sail far and wide and to make accurate maps of their travels.

Ptolemy's book describes longitudinal and latitudinal lines and how they are drawn. The book identifies the location of numerous geographical sites by means of those lines. The book additionally specifies how important locations can be accurately placed on maps by means of celestial observations. ... When Ptolemy's Geographia was translated from Greek into Latin in Western Europe in 1406 its global coordinate and navigational system revolutionized European sailing and mapmaking abilities-putting them on a previously unknown scientific basis. The knowledge Europeans gained from Ptolemy enabled them to engage in their own explosion of exploration and cartography beginning in the 15th Century.

That's some pretty powerful exaggeration. Ptolemy's Geographia arrived in Europe just as Europeans were attempting long distance sea travel. For a thousand years or so, European maps came in three types: fairly accurate local maps used for delineating property; navigation maps, which showed important landmarks along a coast or road, but rather indifferently depicted the shape of that coast or road; and mappamundis, illustrations that showed the entire world as a religious allegory. What the new explorers needed were accurate large scale maps. The practical map making tips in the Geographia seemed to be the perfect answer. But there were problems.

While his advice was good, Ptolemy's facts were of mixed quality. The idea of using lines of longitude and latitude to identify locations was almost four hundred years old when Ptolemy wrote the Geographia. Ptolemy's contribution was to attempt to unify various earlier measurements into a single coordinate system. While measuring latitude was a fairly straight forward task in his day, Ptolemy had no method for measuring longitude except for making rough approximations based on reports of travel time between various points. Such a method was useless for maritime navigators. Realistic longitude measurements wouldn't become possible until the development of clocks that could work on a pitching ship, without losing more than a few seconds per day. Ptolemy's Mediterranean was several degrees of longitude too wide. However, Ptolemy's prestige was so great that Renaissance map-makers had difficulty rejecting any part of the Geographia.

Ptolemy's Geographia was a summation of the best geographical and cartographic knowledge the Mediterranean world had to offer. In many respects, it was superior to anything Europe had to offer at the start of the Renaissance. By the time Finaeus set out to compose a map of the entire world, the most important advice he could gather from reading Ptolemy, was the discussion of map projections. Finaeus' cordiform projection was one possible solution to depicting the surface of a sphere on a two dimensional surface. His contemporary, Gerardus Mercator, used the projection eight years after Finaeus and before developing the projection that now bears his name. Mercator's cordiform map makes changes to the northern hemisphere, but copies Finaeus' southern hemisphere in almost every detail, especially Terra Australis.

A later copy of Mercator's cordiform map of 1538.

The Terra Australis of Finaeus and Mercator not a map of Antarctica based on lost Roman sources. Ptolemy, the Romans, and the other peoples of the Mediterranean were good, but not that good. Terra Australis is a big blob that only superficially resembles Antarctica, and only if you turn your head sideways and squint. By that same logic, if I stand far very away, in deep shadows, and don't speak, I look just like Antonio Banderas.

But Finaeus and Mercator's blob was not a figment of their imagination. They were not fantasists. Both were serious scholars trying to solve a difficult problem. Finding the best projection to represent the whole world was only one part of the problem. The other part was trying to make sense of the new and disjointed information that came in every day from sailors, priests, and spies. Finaeus and others tried to connect and faithfully represent these fragments of information using what seemed to be reasonable conjecture to fill in the blank spots.

In 1569, over thirty years after his cordiform map, Mecator published a new map of the world incorporating additional information. This map still featured an enormous southern continent beginning in Tierra del Fuego, but this Terra Australis featured some place names along the coast. From Tierra del Fuego, the coast tends straight east before jutting north to form a headland named Promontorium Terrae Australis in the South Atlantic near the Tristan da Cunha island group. Further east, it forms a second headland. near a group of islands called Los Romeros. The coast then loops south before turning almost due north the tropic of Capricorn where it almost touches Java. This land has the names Beach, Lucach, and Maletur. East of Beach the coast dips below the tropic again before heading gradually southeast across the South Pacific. Directly east of Beach is an island called Java Minor and beyond that is the enormous island of Nova Guinea. from Nova Guinea, the coast runs gradually southeast until it meets Tierra del Fuego. This stretch of coast is called Magellanica Regio (Magellan's Land). A dozen or more other map-makers published maps in the last part of the century showing a southern continent with the same outline and place-names as on Mercator's (e.g. Abraham Ortelius 1570 and Sebastian Munster 1588). From these-maps, it is possible to get a glimpse of the process by which these map makers created the outlines of Terra Australis.

A 1587 map by Rumold Mercator based on his father's 1569 map.

Each of the named places along the coast is based on land visited or sighted by European sailors. Tierra del Fuego on the south side of the Straits of Magellan has the same name today. At the time, no one knew that Tierra del Fuego was an island. That fact would not be learned until 1616 when Willem Schouten sailed around the south side of the island and named Cape Horn. Promontorium Terrae Australis is probably Gough Island, 230 miles southeast of tristan da Cunha. The island was discovered in 1506 by Gonçalo Álvarez, but misplaced, discovered again by Anthony de la Roché in 1675 and misplaced again, and, finally, permanently discovered by Charles Gough in 1731. Los Romeros is most likely Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean, discovered, but not named, by Juan Sebastián Elcano and the survivors of Magellan's expedition on their way back to Spain. Beach, Lucach, and Maletur are the northwest coast of Australia. The names are those of rich southern kingdoms mentioned in Marco Polo's Travels,. The first, officially reported European visit to Australia was made by Willem Janszoon in 1606, a merchant for the Dutch East India Company. However, Portuguese merchants knew about the continent for a century before Janszoon arrived. Abel Tasman, in 1642, was the first European to sail around The southern side of Australia, proving it was not attached to a polar continent. Java Minor is most likely Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentraria, though it could be any of a number of larger islands in Indonesia. The names Java Major and Java Minor, or variations on that theme, moved around the East Indies and Australia for about a century before being combined into one Java, the one we know today. Nova Guinea is, of course, New Guinea drawn too large and placed too far to the east.

Since each of the named places on Terra Australis turned out to be an island, the question arises, why did generations of Renaissance map-makers insist on constructing a southern continent out of reports of isolated islands? The answer is that they "knew" there had to be a very large continent in the south. It was the logical conclusion of an intelligently designed world.

Almost as soon as Classical Greek scholars figured out that the Earth was a sphere, they decided that it must have a land mass in the south large enough to balance out the known lands in the north. In part, this was a scientific opinion based on their lack of knowledge about how gravity and celestial mechanics functioned. At least equally important in coming to that conclusion was the belief that the gods would not allow the world to be asymmetrical. Symmetry and aesthetics demanded that a perfect creator would design the world that way. The idea that an intelligently designed universe must use perfect, that is symmetrical forms was later adopted by the Church, to the detriment of scientific progress. In particular, the insistence that the orbits of the planets must be perfect circles hampered astronomy and navigation for twenty centuries before Kepler finally did away with the idea. Ptolemy wrote about the southern, Antipodean continent, and the Renaissance map-makers accepted his judgment on the matter.

Mark Twain wrote "God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor" (he stole the line from Rousseau). That is the problem of intelligent design. The only way ID can produce usable scientific predictions, is through a clear understanding of how the designer works. The The only way to do that is by saying, "we know how the designer thinks; we know the innermost thoughts of God." Unfortunately, that inevitably means putting ourselves in the place of God and and believing God would do thinks the same way we do, or wish we could. The Classical Greeks, the Medieval Church, and Renaissance map-makers all believed that God's designs must be based on perfect geometric forms and symmetry for the simple reason that they found those design elements the most pleasing. Modern creationists exalt their own minds as equal to the mind of God while at the same time denouncing secularists and atheists, whom they imagine being guilty of exactly that form of hubris.

The symmetrical world as envisioned by Macrobius, a fifth century Neoplatonist philosopher.

This is the level of Allen Quist's intellectual honesty and his understanding of geography, geology, and history. He's willing to push a fringe theory of science, for the sole reason that he imagines it supports his political position on climate change. Everything else is expendable in the pursuit of that agenda. If he was a lone loony barking in the wilderness, his opinions wouldn't matter. But he was being considered for a seat on board tasked with writing a social studies curriculum for Texas. Because textbooks are authorized at the state level in Texas, the state has an out-sized influence on the content of textbooks everywhere in this country. Texas, and our public schools, may have missed that particular bullet, but thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of home schooled kids will not. Quist has dedicated a section of one of his curriculum modules at EdWatch to the ancient maps idea. Home schooling parents who don't know better will read his curriculum and use it to teach their kids. At the very least, those kids will grow up to become ignorant citizens. More individually tragic, those kids will be held back by their warped understanding of science when they try to go to college or compete in the job market.

Hapgood and other believers in pole shift and ancient civilizations with advanced navigational skills are mostly harmless. For the most part, they are grown-ups who are entitled to believe whatever they want, even if it is stigmatized knowledge. The problem with such belief comes when someone like Quist comes along with a political agenda who is willing to throw his weight behind the idea. Quist should be ashamed of himself, but somehow, I don't think he is.

Update: Jon H in the comments pointed out that I said Australia in a few places where I meant Antarctica. I think I've fixed them all. That's what I get for writing late at night. Sorry if that caused any confusion.


Unknown said...

So if map dishonesty is the issue, why not simply look at satellite imagery......or is google earth perpetrating a fraud too? Truth in ANYTHING seems impossible when people are involved. How sad. We who were born to be gods, are nothing more than liars and cheats and manipulators.

Unknown said...

excellent piece of writing.