March 2008 Archives

Last week someone e-mailed me a post that Peter Staudenmaier wrote to the Waldorf Critics list nearly a year ago about a page I put up on my Defending Steiner site. It took me a little while to get around to investigating it, but upon careful examination of the claims that Peter Staudenmaier has made, I find it appropriate to write the following response.

I made mistakes. Flipping the “e” and the “i" in Treitschke is the type of typing error I am prone to. I went through the site and found eight instances where I had misspelled Treitschke, writing Trietschke instead. Sloppy? Yes. But this hardly constitutes misspelling the name "in several different ways", precisely the type of exaggeration that Staudenmaier is prone to, and cannot resist, when he gets on his polemical rolls.

Now to the central argument: Can Rudolf Steiner be said to be "an admirer" of Heinrich von Treitschke? Well now, I suppose that really depends on how you define "admirer". For Staudenmaier's purposes, any hint of sympathy to any aspect of Treitschke’s work is sufficient to merit the label, so that this "admiration" can be rapidly and broadly extended to every aspect of Treitschke’s work, and especially the nationalistic portion, whether this is actually merited or not. This continues his "guilt by association" line of argumentation that he has been using against Steiner since he first published "Anthroposophy and Ecofascism".

So I will make a concession. I will confess that it is inaccurate to state without qualification that Steiner was not an admirer of Treitschke. For there were some aspects of Treitschke’s work that Steiner did profess to find useful. On the other hand, it is just as inaccurate to state that Steiner was an admirer of Treitschke, for this too is misleading. It is just as misleading because Treitschke left a large body of work ranging across a number of topics, though German and especially 19th century Prussian history was his specialty. Today he is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, and therefore can be easily defined as a one dimensional character. During his lifetime he was a very famous and highly popular historian and politician.

When I wrote about Steiner's relationship to Treitschke in the article that Staudenmaier attacks, I concluded with the following statement:

Steiner did speak favorably of certain aspects of Treitschke's works in a number of places, but his praise was always narrowly directed. And Steiner was careful not to praise Treitschke's person, only aspects of his work. Thus I do not feel that it is accurate to call Steiner an admirer of Treitschke.

As is typical, Peter Staudenmaier did not engage in the subtlety of my argument, but rather made a quick straw man and proceeded to knock that down rather vigorously. Staudenmaier writes that I insist “that Steiner, who met Treitschke personally and referred to him frequently throughout his anthroposophical works, did not admire Treitschke”. You would think from reading this sentence Treitschke was a frequent subject of praise and discussion in Steiner's nearly 6000 lectures. But that is simply not the case. There are under 20 references in these 330 volumes, a statistically highly infrequent occurrence. Staudenmaier has searched through these, and as usual as selectively quoted from a few trying to make the case that Steiner did utter laudatory statements about the person of Treitschke. Why is this important? Again it is to establish the "guilt by association" argument. What Staudenmaier has utterly failed to find, and this is because there are not any, are blanket endorsements of Treitschke nationalism. These simply do not exist, because Steiner was a vigorous and lifelong anti-nationalist. What you do find is what I described in my article over three years ago: narrowly directed praise to certain aspects of Treitschke work.

Still, to make the case against Steiner, Staudenmaier quotes extensively from a lecture Steiner delivered on January 13, 1917, (Zeitgeschichtliche Betrachtungen - Das Karma der Unwahrhaftigkeit - 2. Teil GA 174; Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1983) attempting to show Steiner's great praise of the man. But Staudenmaier could not help selectively quoting, for if he actually reproduced or summarized Steiner's entire description, he would undermine his own case. In the lecture where Steiner supposedly praised Treitschke extensively, Steiner's description starts off with an explanation that Treitschke was the subject of a demonic possession (page 109, the page before Staudenmaier begins his quotations). Now you may think what you wish of Steiner's diagnosis of demonic possession, but that is hardly the way someone starts off praising an author whom they admire. It was, Steiner explained "not an evil demon, but nonetheless a demon” (109). Treitschke was driven, Steiner explains, by a demonic force towards a materialistic explanation of history. Anyone familiar with Steiner's praise of the spiritual perspective and frequently expressed concern with materialism would hardly consider this to be praise of Treitschke’s person. But Staudenmaier, our polemical historian, has omitted this entire section as he tries through selective quotation to make a case to the opposite.

It is further interesting to note what of all of Treitschke’s work Steiner singles out for praise. Steiner praises Treitschke’s essay on freedom, and another essay in which Treitschke discusses the necessary limitations on the power of the state over the individual. Hardly the type of work that nationalists focus on. Nationalism, after all, is the philosophy that the nation and the state representing the nation has primacy over the individual.

So while Staudenmaier has clipped his citations such that they might be plausibly read as possibly indicating some form of praise for Treitschke, if you read the portions that he has left out, they are the contextualizing and critical portions. This is a point I have frequently raised in analyzing Staudenmaier's writing: namely that he selectively quotes, which in itself is necessary, but that he does so in such a way that the original passages are distorted, frequently into the opposite of the authors original statements.

So while Steiner delivered a lecture in which he sought to explain Treitschke work and significance both critically and from the occult perspective, describing Treitschke as possessed by a demonic force and also criticizing aspects of Treitschke work, Staudenmaier has selected only the slightly positive sentences, reproducing them as full paragraphs, to make his point. This is nothing less than intellectually dishonest. Steiner did not "specifically and effusively praised Treitschke’s contributions to the German national project”. The closest that he remotely came was to pointing out that a nationalist historian such as Treitschke is understandably appreciated by the Germans in a different way than by non-Germans. Had Staudenmaier left in the full context, it would be clear that Steiner was speaking in an objective way about international criticism of Treitschke and the German reaction to it; he was not taking sides. And Steiner, I must again emphasize, was emphatically not endorsing Treitschke’s nationalism. This is clear if you read the entire lecture, and not the heavily edited version Staudenmaier has offered and interpreted in trying to make his point.

Peter Staudenmaier likes to complain that anthroposophists do not "get" his arguments, and he practically laments the fact that they frequently do not agree with him. But there is a reason for that which goes beyond stubbornness, ignorance, or stupidity. His argumentation is faulty, his research highly selective, and his treatment of sources is repeatedly, deliberately, and blatantly dishonest. The only way that Peter Staudenmaier is able to continue to plausibly argue his tired and mistaken point of view is that almost none of his readers are able to check his citations against the original, and a few that are generally do not want to spend their lives as his research assistant. Were he to attempt such a hatchet job on an intellectual figure who worked primarily in English, he would be laughed off the Internet.

I will stand by my original summary of Steiner's relationship to Treitschke, even as I concede that some of my phrasing can be as misleading as Staudenmaier's.

Steiner did speak favorably of certain aspects of Treitschke's works in a number of places, but his praise was always narrowly directed. And Steiner was careful not to praise Treitschke's person, only aspects of his work. Thus I do not feel that it is accurate to call Steiner an admirer of Treitschke.

Once upon a time I came across a site that annoyed me. It had a wealth of material on esoteric subjects, details that were available nowhere else on the web, and in some cases nowhere else at all. The only problem was that not one piece of it had any citations, and that made it essentially useless for my purposes. It is standard scholarly practice if you are talking about something that happened 300 years ago to describe the sources upon which you base your conclusions. Other scholars such as myself can then go back to the sources and verify your research, or come to different conclusions. But if you have only the conclusions without the sources, than the opinions are essentially worthless. The author of the site was revealed after some clicking around to be Eric P. Wijnants. I wrote as much in a blog post entitled “How Not to Write Occult History”.

It turns out I stumbled on something a little bit larger than just a personal annoyance. In the comments of my blog a graduate student came forward to tell how Eric P. Wijnants had conned her into sending review material, pretending to be a professor at the University of Vienna. Her entire research, previously unpublished, showed up on his website as his own work. In a follow-up post a few years later I summarized the whole affair: “Eric P. Wijnants and the problem of pseudo-scholarly writing without footnotes”. Eric himself, using psudonyms, jumped to his own defense in the blog comments.

But the story continues. It seems Susan Olsson was not the only researcher and graduate student whose material was “borrowed” by Eric P. Wijnants – solicited for scholarly review and then posted wholesale on his site. Brendan French's Ph.D. thesis was similarly plagiarized, as was that of Dr. Walter Penrose.

Because his own name is now linked to this broadening plagiarism scandal, Eric P. Wijnants has increasingly used pseudonyms to solicit work. He also uses the pseudonyms to reference his own work, support himself and his other pseudonyms, and defend himself in public discussions (a tactic known as sock puppeting). Ah the wonders of the Internet, when you can pretend to be anyone you want!

Among Eric’s many pseudonyms:

Eric P. Wynants
Dr. Brigitte Muehlegger
Robert Anton Wilson
Francois Martinet PhD
C.Wong
Bhakti Ananda Goswami
Dr. Raphael Vishanu
Brian Muehlbach
Amara Das Wilhelm

And there are doubtless dozens more. Some of these pseudonyms Eric P. Wijnants uses may be real people, but they are also names that have been borrowed and used by him on the Internet, either to post in public forums or to solicit articles from scholars and researchers.

Eric P. Wijnants’s own website (http://sociologyesoscience.com/) continues to be a hotbed of activity, to which Eric posts up to 20,000 words of unreferenced, often uncited, and unsigned material per day. Much of it is highly specialize and thoroughly researched (by somebody, though if Eric P. Wijnants  did the research, you’d think he’d bother to mention the sources – but then if he was actually researching the stuff, there’s no way he would be writing 20,000 words of proofed, edited, and publishable <except for the frequent absences of references> material per day). Either he spends all day in front of a keyboard retyping everything he’s ever read in slightly different words and without a single citation or reference, or – more likely – he is copying and pasting wholesale from all over the place, leaving out the citations and references, and sticking it on his site, where it sits unsigned an unreferenced, but nonetheless implicitly as his own work. For more evidence that he is likely cutting and pasting (and/or scanning and OCR-ing) consider the page “Historical Overview” on his site (http://soc.world-journal.net/HistoricalOverview.html). The entire page is a bunch of scanned pages from some book and/or magazines(s) showing the history of the world. No, he did not master Adobe Illustrator and make all the charts himself; he scanned them and posted the images on his site. And he did not say where they came from, either. So aside from the blatant copyright violation, if anyone wanted to use them, it would be extremely difficult to find the original source so as to be able to cite it.

Consider Eric P. Wijnants’s output in the first 10 days of March, 2008: 9700 words on the beginning of the cold war, part one. 15,700 words on the beginning of the cold war, part two (between them, 260 citations to over 200 books and documents – I’ll get to that in a minute). A 1500 word commentary to a BBC article on Hitler and the occult. 5500 words on Chinese Tantra (a separate citations page lists 384 sources consulted, including over 100 primary documents – in the original Chinese!). 14,257 words on the end of the cold war (60 references). 628 words on the state of Eastern Europe today (no citations, but a scan of a map, uncredited). 17,700 words on “Populations at War” with 40 citations to over 80 sources. 1900 words on Kurdish nationalism (no references).

That is a total of 66,825 words in 10 days, or about a 200 page book. The topics span at least three different academic specialties, and the references (for 10 days of work, mind you) total 744 different books and documents (over 100 of them in Chinese). Not a bad output for 10 days! At that rate you should be able to complete about 10 doctoral dissertations per year, easily!

Aside from the improbable quantity (he’s been going at close to this rate for years now; in February he posted 24 different “articles” – there are 8 so far this March), what might cause us to believe that this isn’t all Eric’s original output? Well, there are the obvious OCR errors, for one. To give an example, “From romantic hero to man of steel; such was [he evolution of Stalin's self-image.2” (taken from http://soc.world-journal.net/startColdWar.html). Notice the “[he”. That is an OCR error. No typist would ever make that keystroke error. The [ symbol is the left pinky finger. A “t” is the right index finger. You don’t mix those up. But to an OCR program, t can look a lot like [.  Notice also how the footnotes have lost their superscript. If you typed the document in MS Word, you could transfer it to the web easily while maintaining the footnotes properly. Instead Eric uses Netscape Navigator 4.7 to create his web pages.

The well turned phrase “From romantic hero to man of steel” is enough for Amazon to locate the book (thanks to the “Search Inside the Book” feature). Eric P. Wijnants has lifted the entire chapter from Melvyn P. Leffler’s recently (September 2007) published book “For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War”. Does Leffler’s name appear anywhere on Eric P. Wijnants’ website? No.

So what are we to conclude? Eric P. Wijnants is a blatant, serial, high-volume plagiarist. Almost everything on his site comes from somewhere else, and none of it is credited to the original authors. The strange thing is that he becomes indignant when this is pointed out. And the biggest irony is that he runs around the world pretending to be an academic. Half his pseudonyms have PhD’s!

Wikipedia page views

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A new beta program is going around that counts Wikipedia page views. I tried it on a really obscure page, and none the less found that the page was getting just over 1000 views per week! At first I chalked it up to theh global reach of Wikipedia. But then I started to think about it more. I have to wonder if that number doesn't include hits from all of Wikipedia’s bots. Wikipedia employs a number of automated software programs (referred to as ‘bots - short for robots) that read through all the articles on the site looking for various problems. The most obvious are the ones that look for profanity and remove it automatically. But there are quite a few other automatic programs that read Wikipedia pages for various reasons. There are even several non-Wikipedia bots they read through all the articles, the Google spider (so named because it crawls through the Internet following the web of links) being just one of many. Probably every search engine on the net (and there are several hundred including some private ones) go through Wikipedia monthly, and possibly weekly. And then there are the various research projects that seek to understand how Wikipedia functions by taking frequent snapshots. So a thousand hits per week does not necessarily mean a thousand interested individuals searching for just that information. In fact there is probably some threshold amount, maybe even close to a thousand hits per week, that every single article on all of Wikipedia gets. It would only be hits above this threshold that would indicate genuine human interest. I am not sure what that threshold is. For non-Wikipedia pages, it seems to be about a thousand hits a month. That is, anything with a registered domain name will get a thousand hits a month just by virtue of being on the Internet. So it is only hits beyond that level are actually significant.

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