Friday, September 01, 2006

Responding to Holocaust Deniers

Orac at Respectful Insolence recently commented on how he first got involved in responding to Holocaust deniers. In reading his commentary, I was reminded of my own limited involvement on GEnie and Usenet's alt.revisionism in responding to the Holocaust deniers, at a time when Bradley Smith's organization, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) was placing full-page ads in student newspapers at universities across the United States. I did a Google Groups search and found this posting that I made on alt.revisionism in response to some people who were attacking Holocaust deniers using namecalling and without offering facts or evidence to refute their claims. As it turns out, Orac was also a contributor to this thread, as were the Scientology-supported "random poetry" bots, which forged the names of major contributors to various newsgroups in an attempt to drown them out and make the groups unreadable. (Read Scientology defector Tory Bezazian's account of the spamming of Usenet.)

This posting led to a short debate with science writer Andrew Skolnick, who strongly disagreed with me--his opinion was that Holocaust deniers should get nothing but ridicule, and no one should bother trying to respond to them. I think this is the wrong approach to Holocaust denial, the wrong approach to creationism, the wrong approach to 9/11 conspiracy theories, and the wrong approach to Scientology, for reasons I give below. I do agree that it can be a bad idea to give advocates of crackpottery wider exposure or a respectable forum, but there are plenty of fora on the Internet and elsewhere where these bad ideas should be responded to with good and accurate information.

James J. Lippard
Fri, Sep 24 1999 12:00 am
Email: (James J. Lippard)
sci.skeptic, alt.revisionism

I first encountered claims that the Holocaust never happened sometime during my undergraduate years in college. At that time, I had recently abandoned the religious faith of my family, and I had gone from being a somewhat gullible believer to a somewhat militant atheist. I felt that I had been betrayed by authority figures in my life, and I set out to find the facts for myself. I was prepared to find that "everything I know is wrong."

Fortunately, my first exposure to Holocaust deniers was on the GEnie online service, where there were some extremely well-informed people responding to the Holocaust deniers with facts. For me, the sometimes emotional appeals were the kinds of argumentative techniques I had come to distrust, and those who clearly had facts at their disposal were the ones to be relied upon. While the Holocaust deniers tried to present themselves as being cool, dispassionate observers presenting the hard facts, it quickly became obvious that their collection of facts was similar to the collection of facts of creationists which I had been fooled by earlier in my life.

I've never spent a whole lot of effort on examining the history of the Holocaust, primarily because I was devoting my effort to other things, and because I saw that people like Ken McVay, Jamie McCarthy, and Danny Keren on alt.revisionism seemed to have things well in hand. (My big "bogus" issues which I've done a large amount of research on are creationism and Scientology; the patterns of delusion and deception seem to be pretty much the same.)

What has prompted me to write this is that I fear that there may be others here who are in a situation like I was when I first encountered this stuff. This present discussion seems to be dominated by emotional responses and namecalling, by claims that Holocaust deniers are Nazis, that they should be silenced, driven off, or even thrown in jail. I suspect that I would have taken the Holocaust deniers much more seriously in my younger days if that had been the nature of the responses to them on the GEnie service. Those of you are responding in that manner, please give this some thought. If you don't have the facts at your disposal to respond to the actual claims being made, then maybe you should leave the bulk of the responding to those who do. I'm not saying there is no place for the emotional response, or for pointing out what you see as the ultimate consequences of the views being expressed, or the motivations behind them--but just keep in mind who may be in the audience and how they may react to what you are saying. You may be accomplishing exactly the opposite of what you want.

Jim Lippard
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