Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Genocide Denial

Holocaust Denier David Irving Has Resurfaced in the Scottish Highlands

Where is David Irving Now?

Holocaust deniers are the flat earthers of history. They attack one of the most well-documented genocides in all of human history using pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and bigotry. They have a poor grasp of how science works as well as historical methods, they quote scientists and historians out of context, and they hunt for alleged anomalies while ignoring the massive amount of consistent historical and scientific evidence. It is tempting to view Holocaust denial as just another pseudoscience, but because it involves denying a genocide and extreme ideology, it is in many ways much more severe than many other forms of pseudoscientific nonsense.

Behind Holocaust denial is often misguided and irrational ideologies. This can include antisemitism, religious fanaticism, and even staunch political beliefs about the Middle East. There are many things that makes Holocaust denial scary. Denial is the final part of a genocide, it is an intense reject of history and evidence and its threatening grasp can be felt around the world. Despite it being almost 80 years since it happened, most of the people on earth either has never heard of it or deny that it ever happened. This denial comes from across the political and religious spectrum, involving elements of the far-right and far-left, as well as certain extremist interpretations of both Christianity and Islam.

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Key Characteristics of Genocide Denial

Genocide

Genocide is one of the worst crimes against humanity that has ever happened. The UN Genocide Convention that was adopted in 1948 defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Although it seems extremely hard to grasp, there are many groups out there that falsely deny that the existence of certain genocides (and massacres). They do it against all science, reason and evidence and yes, they really believe what they say. This post surveys some key characteristics of genocide denial with a particular focus on the Holocaust, the Bosnian genocide and the genocide in Rwanda. Although not formally designated a genocide, the Nanking Massacre will also be covered because of the deep similarities in the approach taken by e. g. Holocaust deniers and those extreme nationalists in Japan who deny the former. Debunking Denialism has discussed some of these issues before and the references therein are recommended.

The key characteristics of genocide denial covered in this post are: faulty attempts at moral equivalences, abusing initial estimations done by governments, systematically underestimating death tolls, quoting historians out of context, exploiting new discoveries or honest errors, promoting conspiracy theories, insist that they are nearly asking questions, and having clear ulterior ideological motives.

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Srebrenica Genocide Denial

Srebrenica Genocide

The Srebrenica genocide involved the mass murder of 8000 people and forced deportation of around 25 000-30 000 people carried out by the Army of Republika Srpska around the town of Srebrenica (today part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). According to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, this was the “the worst [crime] on European soil since the Second World War.” Several military personnel, police officers and politicians have been indicted and convicted of genocide, abetting genocide or other war crimes. Two of the masterminds behind this genocide, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently being prosecuted by The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Although it has been exactly 20 years on the day since the start of the genocide in Srebrenica, dark forces are gathering on the horizon. Just with the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre, there are people who deny that the genocide at Srebrenica ever took place. These are primarily Serbian nationalists such as Milorad Dodik (president of Republika Srpska) and Tomislav Nikolić (President of Serbia) and leftist pseudo-intellectuals (such as writer Diana Johnstone and the Living Marxism magazine). Unbelievably, Srebrenica genocide denial has even been espoused by Swedish university professors, such as Kjell Magnusson (associated professor in sociology) and Lennart Palm (professor of history). Even more disturbingly and in an ironic twist of tragedy, Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer appears to reject the genocide status for the Srebrenica massacre according to an interview published (29 June, 2015) in the Serbian newspaper Politika.

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Tim Wise Blames the Holocaust on “Scientism”

Tim Wise

Tim Wise is a staunch anti-racist activist and he has written several powerful evisceration that exposes how racists abuse statistics to rationalize their false and toxic belief in the innate criminality of ethnic minorities. Two especially exquisite treatments are: “Nazis Can’t Do Math: Reflections on Racism, Crime and the Illiteracy of Right-Wing Statistical Analysis” (that can be found here) and “Race, Crime and Statistical Malpractice: How the Right Manipulates White Fear With Bogus Data” (that can be found here). These, and the scientific references therein, were used as source material for an article on Debunking Denialism called “White Genocide, Eurabia and Other White Supremacist Nonsense” (that can be found here) that debunked the two ludicrous claims that immigration is actually a covert genocide on white people and that there is a supposed “epidemic” of black on white murders.

Yet, dark clouds loom on the horizon. Like so many otherwise brilliant intellectuals, Wise recently espoused an assertion that was so irrevocably erroneous that it is truly mind-boggling. Debunking Denialism has covered similar situations before, such as biologist Jerry Coyne and his support for anti-psychiatry or Neil deGrasse Tyson when he invited Mayim Bialik (who is anti-vaccine and promote homebirth and homeopathy). It is frustrating how otherwise smart people can get things so wrong in some areas.

In a recent Facebook status update, Tim Wise blamed “scientism” for being the root cause of the Holocaust:

That’s right, he actually blames “scientism” (which he defines as “the intellectual fetishizing of science”) for the Holocaust. The context surrounds the recent murders of French cartoonists and there is some merit to the idea that some critics of religion take things too far by overly generalizing about Muslims. However, this does not justify his malignant outburst about the cause of the Holocaust.

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Mailbag: Is Debunking Denialism “Biased” Against Holocaust Deniers?

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

One of the biggest problem facing denialists is that they cannot defeat scientific evidence or overcome skeptical arguments. Instead, they need to deploy various smokescreens, such as accusing their skeptical opponent of being “biased”. This tactic is easy to see through because no actual evidence is presented and they do not engage any of the arguments. A good example of such an approach can be seen in the following comment submitted by stewart on the tour de force debunking article The Intellectually Barren Wasteland of Holocaust Denial.

This article seems as asymmetrically biased as the holocaust deniers themselves.

This is the classic “you are biased, but I refuse to provide examples or interact with your arguments”. In what way is it “asymmetrically biased”? Note that rejecting one side in a struggle based on overwhelming historical evidence is not the same as being biased. Quite the contrary, refusing to accept the most reasonable position (namely that the Holocaust is a historical fact) and trying to portray both sides as equally reasonable would be a clear case of false balance, which is certainly an enormously biased way of tackling these issues.

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Mailbag: Countering Miscellaneous Pseudoscientific Nonsense

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

This round-up installment of the mailbag series will take on a three separate crank comments that were recently submitted to this website. I declined to publish anyone of them because they did not address any of the arguments or evidence that were presented in the articles, they repeated the same old pseudoscientific canards that been refuted thousands of times before and some of them promoted genocide denial.

First up is an anti-vaccine activist going by the name of Bomac. A little later, we will examine the falsehoods promoted by Holocaust denier Jeffrey Stafford and the belief that transgender people are delusional promoted by Obarryon King.

Vaccines are, in general, very safe and effective

Bomac starts off by claiming that:

Many of the claims of vaccine’s success are not true, but for the sake of discussion, presuming they are all true; that was then and this in now. Vaccines have changed today. Manufacturers include all kinds of toxins that are extremely harmful.

This is a common anti-vaccine tactic know as the toxin gambit. Either anti-vaccine cranks refuse to specify what these alleged toxins are, or they list essential vaccine ingredients that are not toxin at the concentrations used in vaccines. Polysorbate 80 is a nonionic emulsifier and is present in higher amounts in common ice cream. Formaldehyde is used to inactivate viruses to prevent them from causing disease and there is more of it occurring naturally in your body. Aluminum salts are adjuvants that increased the effectiveness of vaccines and have been safely used for 70 years. These are not the same as elemental aluminum and aluminum salts in the concentrations used in vaccines do not cause brain damage. Thimerosal, which is not the same as environmental mercury, has been removed from vaccines over a decade ago and only occurs in some multidose vials of seasonal influenza vaccine to protect against contamination. These are just a few examples of anti-vaccine misinformation about vaccine ingredients. Reliable information about vaccine ingredients can be found at the CDC and the FDA.

Just ask 47,000 paralyzed Indian girls that Bill Gates gifted.

The cases of paralysis occurring in India was caused not caused by the polio vaccine or even polio. According to The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there was no reported cases of polio during the time these individuals became paralyzed. In reality, these cases were caused by non-polio enteroviruses, primarily Coxsackie-B and various echoviruses. This shows that anti-vaccine cranks seem to have little issue with exploiting human tragedy in their efforts to vilify vaccines.

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Two Swedish Professors Promote Bosnian Genocide Denial

Bosnian genocide denial

In a misguided effort to promote an “open-minded atmosphere”, another major Swedish morning newspaper has taken a stand in favor of intellectually dishonest conspiracy theories. The newspaper, called Göteborgs-Posten (GP), recently published a couple of opinion pieces by two Bosnian genocide denialist. Together, they trot out a number of classic genocide denial tactics and tropes: denying the existence of a systematic extermination, intentionally underestimating civilian casualties, exploiting historical revisions by actual historians working on the topic, drawing false moral equivalences and promote conspiracy theories about the United States. They even go so far as to put the terms genocide and death camp in scare quotes. Shockingly, these two people are academics at high-profile Swedish universities: professor Lennart Palm at the University of Gothenburg and associate professor of sociology Kjell Magnusson at the University of Uppsala. This is yet another example of the disturbing fact that being a well-educated academics does not make you immune to succumbing to pseudoscience and pseudohistory.

So far, the following opinion pieces have been published in this exchange:

Allowing genocide denialists to promote their flawed conspiracy theories in major newspapers has nothing to do with being “open-minded”. In reality, it is a postmodern appeal to false balance where flawed genocide denial is given the same standing as historical fact in the name of “fairness”. Nothing could be further from being fair. Read more of this post

The Intellectually Barren Wasteland of Holocaust Denial

Related: My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, Exposing Holocaust Deniers’ Quote Mine of Historian Arno Mayer.

Refuting Holocaust denial

There are two fundamental objections that any conspiracy theory must pass in order to have a shred of plausibility even before we start discussing the specific details of the available evidence. Most conspiracy theories that have been proposed by proponents of pseudoscience (regarding topics such as 9/11, chemtrails, vaccines, evolution HIV/AIDS denialism etc.) fail one or both of these tests. These objections can be called the no-leak problem and the prediction problem. The no-leak problem points out that a vast conspiracy theory involving hundreds or even thousands of people is very likely to experience leaks to the public. If no such leaks have occurred, then it is likely that the conspiracy theory is false. The second problem can be referred to as the prediction problem. Reality is a collection of enormously complex dynamic systems and prediction is often very difficult, especially years and decades into the future. This means that there are huge risks associated with attempting to pull off the secret agendas believed by conspiracy theorists. If those risks are sufficiently high, it would be difficult to see why any shadowy organization would attempt it. If the operations failed, they would have been exposed and there is presumably a huge incentive for shadowy organizations to stay under the radar.

Holocaust denialism fails to counter any of the two objections. If the Holocaust was a conspiracy, then that would have to involve thousands of scientists, historians, soldiers, journalists and even members of the Nazis who did not deny the Holocaust. If that were true, something would have leaked during the past 70+ years, but no such leaks have been observed. Ergo, this is evidence against Holocaust denialism. Conspiracy theories about the Holocaust also fails the prediction objection: it is clearly very difficult to have predicted what would happen after WWII and certainly decades after Hitler started agitating against the Jews.

In My Encounter with a Holocaust Denier, I discussed the tactics and assertions made by a Holocaust denier I met in real life. Fortunately, he was not that sophisticated and his claims could easily be exposed as false. A while back, that post was posted on the Facebook page for Skeptics; Atheists; Realists; Agnostics; Humanists. Predictably, a Holocaust denier and other misguided individuals came creeping out of the shadows and posted a couple of comments (now hidden from view because that person was rightfully banned for spamming). No credible arguments were put forward of course, just the same old recycled garbage. Consider this blog post a take-down of those assertions. Read more of this post

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