The Galileo Gambit - [Le site d'Irna]

The Galileo Gambit

Article published on 7 February 2008

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The supporters of parasciences consider the debate as the struggle of open, revolutionary minds, against the censorship of an omnipotent and sclerosed institution, which tries to suppress the truth in order to ensure the perenniality of its domination. This schematization, that will be called here "appeal to Galileo", is founded upon the drawing of a parallel between the present controversy about parasciences and Galileo’s trial - or rather the myth it generated.

Marianne Doury
« Le débat selon les partisans des parasciences II : L’appel à
Galilée» , Chapitre 7, Le débat immobile, L’Argumentation
dans le débat médiatique sur les parasciences
, Paris, Kimé,
pp. 143-165.

Marianne Doury’s excellent analysis (a pdf version can be downloaded here (fr)) of the way the pseudo-science supporters use "the appeal to Galileo" or "Galileo Gambit (en)" can perfectly apply to the Osmanagic case and to the Bosnian "pyramids". One can indeed notice, in Mr. Osmanagic’s or in his supporters’ discourse, the variations she points out of this "appeal to Galileo":

- the appeal to Galileo "presupposes the validity of the disputed theory. The opponent to this theory is pressed [...] to change his opinion, and to admit the validity of the theory presented as innovative, under threat of appearing himself negative, as, by rejecting the theory, he reproduces the negative model."

- it "suggests to the opponent that he should reserve his judgement, and that the future will decide";

- it is used to "show the opponents of parasciences as guardians of the tradition, bound to the past, rejecting any innovation, unlike the parasciences supporters who are presented as representatives of a rapidly developing theory, looking to the future, of which the validity will be shown in the next years."

- it is also used to assert "the non-scientificity of the debate. A reason frequently invoked by the parasciences supporters for the impossibility to solve the dispute is the lack of scientific objectivity of their opponents, who are said to reject the parascientific theories, not because they are unscientific, but rather because they disturb them, ethically, philosophically, or because they endanger their interests (careers, grants...)."

- last, the "pathetic dimension is very present, by way of the evocation of the risks faced by the modern Galileo".

"They laughed at Galileo"

One can find in the Bosnian "pyramids" supporters all of the above variations. For instance, Mr. Osmanagic himself draws the parallel with Galileo in an interview (en) given by phone to LiveScience in May 2006:

Work is slated to continue at Visoko through at least 2010, by which time Osmanagic believes the research will have vindicated his theories. Meanwhile, he isn’t worried that what he’s found does not mesh with current thinking. "We laugh at the people who said that the world was flat, and they laughed at Galileo," he said. "The history books will just have to be rewritten from scratch, that’s all."

I shall not comment on the modesty of one who compares himself to Galileo; however one can notice that Mr. Osmanagic apparently knows Galileo’s story not much better than he knows Prehistory: on the one hand, the question which got Galileo into trouble was definitely not the question of the flatness of the Earth, that was not really disputed even during the Middle Ages, but rather the question of heliocentrism. On the other hand, as Moti Ben-Ari notes in his book Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science, nobody ever laughed at Galileo; "on the contrary, it was because his argument was so convincing that the Church viewed it as a serious threat to its religious and political interests" [1].

The comparison between Mr. Osmanagic and Galileo is usual with his supporters, all the more when it offers a way to denounce the "new inquisitors", as in this letter (en) by a "Professor Muris Pozderac" published on the Foundation website at the time Minister of Culture Gavrilo Grahovac refused Mr. Osmanagic the authorization to proceed with the excavations in the protected area on Visocica (see here about these events):

Even the Inquisition could not prevent the development and the discoveries throughout our history, and these new inquisitors won’t succeed either. They may try to abuse their high-ranking positions and misuse them for their own political and nationalistic agendas, but the truth and justice always prevails.

The forumers frequently use the same rhetoric, for instance a "BanKulin" [2] on the Forum Zététique (fr): "At the time of Gallileo, Mr Osmanagic and all those who supported him would have been called Heretics by the church and would have finished their life on the stake" [sic]. Again one who should read a little about Galileo and his life, in order not to confuse him with Giordano Bruno! But maybe the stake is actually not so far off for those who dare support Mr. Osmanagic, at least if one believes a pseudo-testimony cited on the forum Archaeologica (en), where an "anonymous archaeologist" explains that he dares not support openly Osmanagic because it would mean taking the chance to "jeopardize his academic career" and "lend himself to ostracism". And, to reinforce the idea, the forumer who cites this testimony mentions an "archelogical inquistion police", and the fate the "establishment" dealt to "Kopernik & Galileo fathers of astronomy", forgetting that Copernicus never met any inquisitor, and that the court which condemned Galileo was a religious court, not a scientific one.

In case the mention of Galileo is not sufficient, the pyramids supporters do not hesitate to invoke every other "cursed scientist" of the past. For instance, a poet evokes, in "Semir’s Dream (bs)", Giordano Bruno’s shadow come to give Semir his and Galileo’s support. The scientists most frequently used as "patron saints" for Mr. Osmanagic are Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein. On the Foundation website (bs), the "graduate engineer Jozo Lovrinovic" draws a parallel between Nikola Tesla, laughed at by his fellow scientists, and Semir Osmanagic, and concludes that "history repeats itself". Einstein is often called to rescue when there is mention of Mr. Osmanagic’s lack of competence in archaeology, here on the forum (en), and there goes the urban legend about the boy Albert having been a very bad pupil:

The man might not have a Ph’D in Archaology nor Geology. But he has studied Pyramids of latin America for 15 years. He’s self-learned.
Einstein, for example, discontinued elementary school. But he eventually become one of the biggest genious’ the world has seen!

A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.

(Stephen Jay Gould in Velikovsky in Collision (en))

If S. J. Gould’s famous sentence was quite justified in the Velikovsky (en) case (though the "persecution" he endured was for the most part not more than a boycott of his books and of his publishers by part of the scientific community), I’m not sure it can actually apply to the case of Mr. Osmanagic. Not that Mr. Osmanagic is right - at least he never showed till now even the beginning of an evidence, but rather because, contrary to what his supporters would have us believe with their comparisons with Galileo and their "new inquisitors", he received till now a treatment not much usual in the world of pseudo-archaeologists, and this treatment is far from any "persecution". Let’s see:

- The Bosnian press, almost without any exception, has showed a strong support to Mr. Osmanagic and his project. The main popular daily newspapers, Dnevni Avaz, San, Oslobodenje..., regularly publish in extenso the press releases from his Foundation, multiply the demagogic polls and the catchy sensation titles, without one ounce of critical work. None published for instance the open letter from the Bosnian scientists to the UNESCO or the one sent to Mr. Schwartz-Schilling, High Representative of the international community; none mentioned the revelations given by the magazine BHDani about the lamentable lack of scientific methodology on the excavations; the unfrequent allusions to people opposing the project are systematically published along with the grandiloquent denials of the Foundation. I do not know whether this situation originates in the personal connections of Mr. Osmanagic Junior and Senior in the medias, in the fact that the Federal News Agency (FENA) is among the sponsors of the Foundation, or whether it comes from a general sluggishness of the Bosnian press, however the fact is that the journalists are remarkably lenient toward Mr. Osmanagic and his team, carefully avoiding any disturbing question (see for instance the video of the press conference given by the "Egyptian experts", where the single question asked by the journalists was pertaining to the duration of these egyptologists’ stay in Bosnia). There is only one exception to this general complicity of the written local press with Mr. Osmanagic, and that is the already mentioned magazine BHDani, whose journalists, particularly Vuk Bacanovic, do a real work of journalistic investigation, with the result of legal threats (bs) to the magazine from the Foundation.

- The audiovisual medias in Bosnia are not doing better than the written press; not mentioning the local Visoko medias (for instance RTV Visoko) that are sponsors to Mr. Osmanagic, the public federal television (RTV FBiH) made numerous broadcasts about the "valley of the pyramids". They even recruited Semir Osmanagic, offering him a travel around the world, as co-author for a series of 12 "documentary" broadcasts with the title "In search of the lost civilizations", in which he had ample opportunity to make the Bosnian public acquainted with his theories about the "Atlantidean" origins of every pyramid and every megalithic civilization on the Earth (see the news of January, February and March 2007 on the Foundation website).

- The foreign medias are more critical of the Osmanagic project (although, at the beginning, most of them began with publishing, without any critical work, an AFP news from November 2005 and an Associated Press news from April 2006 full of mistakes and approximations, see for instance here (en) or there (fr)). But, even when they make fun of Mr. Osmanagic’s theories that they evidently do not take seriously, they often present him in a quite favorable light, as an enthusiastic amateur, and often insist on the "positive" sides of the affair. So, for instance, is the journalist Tihomir Loza, in this article (en) with the title "Pyramid Scheme" and the sub-title "A Texan who sees the cradle of civilization in the Bosnian hills is at least helping the economy", writing about Osmanagic:

Is he then a charismatic madman? He obviously is in possession of a considerable charisma, but his signature elation does not necessarily suggest madness. It rather radiates optimism and hope, two commodities that happen to be in short supply in Bosnia and that are usually in high demand even in the most developed democracies.
One can also half-jokingly argue that the optimism and hope that Osmanagic deals in are not totally misplaced. He’ll find no pyramids, but may really manage to attract some tourists. According to the project’s website, some 400,000 people from 80 countries visited Visoko last year, a pharaonic feast for a little town that doesn’t even boast a Sphinx.

As can be seen, even if Mr. Loza does not believe at all in the pyramids existence, one cannot say he is "persecuting" Mr. Osmanagic in this article, article that, besides, uses without verification the figures, probably much overestimated, given by the Foundation about the visitors: 400.000 visitors, when, according to the figures (en) given by the World Tourism Organization, Bosnia and Herzegovina received not more than 250.000 tourists in 2006; and a member of the Tourist Association of Zenica-Doboj County confirms in this article (bs) that they have not observed any considerable increase in the number of arrivals and nights in the region of Visoko.

- One could have thought that the Bosnian religious authorities would have shown some mistrust toward Mr. Osmanagic’s ideas: as far as I know, the hypothesis of extra-terrestrial visitors permitting the development of Homo sapiens and of civilization, as it is explained in Mr. Osmanagic’s books [3], is quite uncompatible with the Bible as well as with the Kuran. However, contrary to Galileo, Mr. Osmanagic has never been accused of heresy ; what is more, he even received quite a support from these religious authorities. Either a discreet support, from the main Bosnian Catholic leader, the cardinal and archbishop Vinko Puljic, who received Mr. Osmanagic (bs) and his collaborators in January 2007 and sent to the Foundation, in April of the same year, a not too compromising "letter of support (bs)". Or a much more strong and lasting support from the Grand Mufti (Reis-I-Ulema) of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric: this one went for the first time in August 2006 (bs) on the "pyramids" site, where he posed for the photographers, a trowel in his hand, on the Pljesevica "pavement" that is, according to him, "man-made", and where he encouraged the "enthusiastic" Semir who made of Visoko "the center of the world"; this first visit was followed by a second, then a third in July 2007 (bs), during which Mr. Ceric confirmed his everlasting support to Mr. Osmanagic, even stating (bs): "Not only must we support Semir, but we also have much to learn from him", and comparing him again with Giordano Bruno [4].

- Last, one cannot say that Mr. Osmanagic has been persecuted by the Bosnian political "establishment", on the contrary, and that is what makes of this "pyramids" affair an actually unique case in the records of the pseudo-archaeology. Indeed, almost every member of the Bosnian political class, be it at the municipality, the canton or the federation level, has actively supported the project, independantly of the party they belong to. It would be much too long and boring to make the list of the politicians who came, along with photographs (indeed for their personal publicity as well as for the promotion of the project), to the "pyramids", shaking hands or embracing Mr. Osmanagic, multiplying the supporting statements for the press. If these visits of politicians have been less frequent during the second half of 2007, one can have a look at the news archives for 2006 on the Foundation website to get an idea of this "gold rush" of representative of every level of political power. A single important politician has refused to run to Visoko and showed his scepticism - and will probably have to pay it in terms of popularity, and that is the federal Minister of Culture Gavrilo Grahovac. But his will to prevent the endangering of real archaeological wealth, and to prevent the giving of public grants to the Foundation (see here the opinion of Minister Grahovac about Mr. Osmanagic and his projects), was totally ignored by his colleagues in the government and by the cantonal authorities, who paid no attention to his warnings and continued to support and finance the Foundation (more than 80.000 convertible Marks were for instance given in 2007 by the Visoko Municipality and the Zenica-Doboj Canton).

Inquisitors and auto-da-fe

But, if it is not the religious authorities, nor the political ones, nor the medias, who are these "persecutors" [5] of our new Galileo or Giordano Bruno? The "new inquisitors" denounced by the "pyramids" supporters are in fact a handful of scientists, geologists and archaeologists, who have been trying for two years to expose the various dangers of the Foundation projects and to oppose the supporting of Mr. Osmanagic’s pervasive pseudo-science by the authorities. Ms. Kujundzic-Vejzagic [6], Mr. Govedarica [7], Mr. Vrabac [8], and a few others: they are not numerous, generally ignored by the local medias and the politicians, regularly insulted on the pro-pyramids forums, systematically called by Mr. Osmanagic "scientists from the XIXth century", "armchair scientists" and other various courtesies, and have only the support of some foreign fellow scientists like Mr. Anthony Harding from the European Association of Archaeologists. Not really what I would call an "Inquisition"...

Recently some of these scientists, geologists, have written an open protest letter (bs) to the Rector of the University of Sciences in Sarajevo, a letter opposing the fact that a "lecture"/video presentation for the University students and professors by Mr. Osmanagic was scheduled on the 29th of January 2008, inside this oldest and most respected university in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They explain in this letter that what is at stake is the respectability of the University, that should never appear on the list of institutions "supporting" Mr. Osmanagic, and the image of Bosnia and Herzgovina outside the country, which is actually gaining the reputation of a country where pseudo-science is stronger and more supported than science.

This letter, contrary to some previous ones, has had some success: it was published in extenso by FENA agency, and partially by some daily newspapers; and the scheduled lecture has been cancelled by the University Rector. These events were sufficient to give Mr. Osmanagic and his friends another opportunity to use the "Galileo Gambit", with an unprecedented magnitude, in a reaction (en) published on the Foundation website by Mr. Ahmed Bosnic [9]. Mr. Bosnic, in a flight of oratory, claims to be shocked by this unqualifiable attack against the "freedom of speech" in an "European country in the XXIth century", and compares the "censorship" of Mr. Osmanagic’s ideas [10] with the auto da fes of Protagoras’ and Confucius’ books, of the books in the library of Alexandria, of the pre-columbian codex by the Spanish, or of the books by Jewish authors by the Nazis... I’ll leave to the reader to appreciate the scope and the intent of these comparisons!

Notes :

[1See this review (en) of Ben-Ari’s book by David Ludden.

[2from the name of the founder of the medieval Bosnian state.

[3See for instance, in "Svi nasi kontakti (bs)", "All our contacts", this extract pp. 183-184: "Homo sapiens, the modern man, has been created by gods. A superior extra-terrestrial civilization. About 300.000 years ago, the Nephilim took the ape-like man (Homo erectus), genetically modified him, improved him (at their image) and constructed "the man who thinks"."

[4See this article (en) by Stultitia about the implications, in terms of nationalistic stakes, of this open support by the main Islamic authority in Bosnia.

[5Beside, of course, the Anti-pyramid Web Ring (en) bloggers who, given the threats they received, are probably a big thorn in Mr. Osmanagic’s flesh, but who may not have a lot of influence in a country where less than one on four inhabitants can access the web, when the Foundation is backed by the main local medias...

[6Archaeologist in Sarajevo National Museum.

[7Prehistorian and archaeologist in Heidelberg University.

[8Geologist from Tuzla University.

[9Mr. Bosnic is, by the way, anything except a scientist: "writer", author of a series of popular books devoted to the "mysteries" of the past (see here), he sells on his personal website horoscopes, talismans, amulets and various magic powders; he is also since 2007 "executive director" of the Foundation.

[10Let’s recall that this "censorship" is just a case of preventing a respectable university to be associated with the Foundation pseudo-science...

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