Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chinese history/ skepticism: Gavin Menzies new book!

When I started this blog, I expected to spend more time writing about skepticism.

After all, that's the first field where I got any real attention as a writer; Two books, a heap of articles and book reviews, radio and TV appearances, frequent newsletter columns and multiple translations. All in all, I had a good run as a skeptic, before burn out, very serious burn out, set in, and why and how that happened is a topic I'll have to write about some other day.

Meanwhile, one of the few topics in skepticism that I continue to show occasional interest in is Gavin Menzies' claims that the Chinese not only discovered America, both North and South, in the early 15th century. but also discovered Australia, Antarctica and most everywhere else that could have possibly been discovered, while at it. In fact, if Gavin Menzies' Von Danikenesque logic is to be believed, evidence of early Chinese explorers is all around us if one only knows where to look and how to interpret the signs.

For those who are interested, Gavin Menzies has now released a new book that expands on his previous claims, arguing that the Chinese produced the Rennaissance.

And, yes, as some will note, I haven't offered the least bit of evidence here, so far, that his claims are not true. And to those who do believe these claims, I am quite certain that I appear closed minded and dismissive. Should interest warrant, perhaps I will someday expound in these pages on the problems in these books in a more discursive, explanatory manner that is more informative to those who lack a background in either skepticism or Chinese history. In the meantime, it's probably enough to say that Gavin Menzies' arguments are very big and wide in scope and soon outstrip the evidence that he provides for them. Scholars do take new finds seriously if there is evidence for them, but Menzies does not provide any evidence or substantiated facts that are new. (In fact, a large portion of his claims are based on factually incorrect statements and premises.) What Menzies does, instead, is take old evidence and interpret it in a very strange, illogical manner using a very strong preconceived bias. And he offers scholars little compelling reason to follow him in these interpretations.

Furthermore, claims of pre-Colombian contact with the Americas, be they by Africans, Europeans, Asians or others are nothing new (In fact, I've seen Chinese claim of pre-Colombian, Chinese contact with the Americas multiple times, but these claims tend to put the contact at different times and contradict each other.) Aside from the Vikings, there is no strong evidence to support these claims and evidence to argue that they did not. (i.e. the natives of the Americas clearly had not been exposed to smallpox, although smallpox was endemic in China during the early 15th century, the time during which Menzies claims contact was made between the Americas and China.)

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