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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 Her entire research, previously unpublished, showed up on his website as his own work.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!

The historical sources for analyzing the development of Rudolf Steiner's thought have been collected by the Rudolf Steiner Archive in Dornach, Switzerland, and have been published in the 330 volumes of complete works. Additional documents continue to be issued every year, and several important volumes from this time period were first published as recently as 2006. From accounts we have from his listeners, Rudolf Steiner's lectures were complex, riveting, and each one unique. Almost from the beginning a number of his listeners took notes. Many people of this point received training in stenography in the course of their ordinary education, so there are also fragmentary stenographic records of the early lectures from the period of roughly 1902 to 1906. By 1906 a sufficient number of his audience felt that Steiner's lectures were so valuable and unique that each one should be stenographically recorded. Steiner himself was ambivalent about the project, feeling on the one hand that no written record could re-create the experience of those who had an opportunity to listen in person. On the other hand, already in 1906 incomplete and, many feared, incorrect editions of notes of his lectures were being circulated, translated, and even published in foreign languages. So Steiner conceded in the interests of accuracy to having professional stenographers record his every lecture, a practice that was consistent by 1908 up to his last lecture in 1924. It is the published versions of these stenographic recordings which make up the vast bulk of the 330 volumes of Steiner's collected works; his collected writings, including books, articles, fragments, verses, and poetry constitute less than 50 volumes.

Stenography and Steiner

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As source material the stenographic records of Rudolf Steiner's early lectures are both invaluable and problematic. Stenographic notes are a system of shorthand markings that allow the stenographer to write as fast as people speak. These stenographic notes must then be reconstructed into conventional written sentences. For many of Rudolf Steiner's early works we have the reconstruction but not the original stenogram. If and when things appear unclear or researchers suspected the reconstruction is possibly incorrect, there is no original to check it against. In cases where the Rudolf Steiner Archive does possess the original stenogram, and especially when the stenographer was not a professional, the stenographic record is often fragmentary and incomplete. In this case extensive reconstruction is then necessary. Sometimes the reconstruction was done by the original stenographer, and sometimes decades after the fact. This was the case with the volumes 93, 93a, and 94, for example, which were reconstructed in the 1970s from several sets of notes taken between 1904 and 1906 by the editors at the Rudolf Steiner Archive. The notes were woven into a coherent narrative which is then presumed to be conceptually accurate, but cannot claim to be word-for-word accurate. Other reconstructed volumes include volume 300, assembled in 1975, volume 88 assembled in 1999, and volume 89 assembled in 2001. There are several more. Such source material is rightly attributed to Rudolf Steiner, but the conscientious researcher cannot accept isolated phrases from such sources uncritically.
Back in April 2005 I wrote a blog entry titled “How Not to Write Occult History” about a website I came across the was full of information, but free of footnotes. As a historian, I commented that the site was useless, because without citations it was just a bunch of opinions that could not be verified. The whole thing had a suspicious feeling to it, which I summarized as:
The irony is immense. For someone who purports to unearth the hidden truth about the occult, he is behaving exactly like the occultists he exposes. Mountains of secret truth are revealed, and all must be taken on faith, faith that Eric P. Wijnants has properly understood and presented the information that he posts in semi-anonymity (none of the occult pages have his name on them). And faith it must be, because there is no way to verify any of it.
An interesting thing happened after that. First a woman contacted me to describe how Eric P. Wijnants had contacted her posing as a professor of comparative religion at the University of Vienna and it asked for a review copy of her unpublished work. This then somehow ended up on the Internet in its entirety, on Eric P. Wijnants’s web site and without any indication that she, and not he, had written it. She went on to explain how she had been started investigating and discovered that the University of Vienna had never heard of professor Wijnants. Another person contacted me from the Netherlands to say that she’d been married to Eric in the 1970s and the what I wrote about him seemed entirely consistent with his behavior back then. She claims she had raised their child alone. But the story gets more interesting. People started popping up to question my blog post in the comments. They sported impressive academic credentials, and attacked my methodology and conclusions. One of them, a year later, claimed that contrary to my assertions one particular article did indeed have footnotes. And upon checking again it was true, there were indeed footnotes on one article that hadn’t been there before. The curious thing was that I could find no record of the existence of these impressive academics. My best guess is that Eric P. Wijnants found my article and decided to defend himself, using pseudonyms. This is a little bit more than I had been expecting when I wrote the article. I was just calling attention to a problem I’ve found in a general way, pointing out how in principle pseudo-scholarly writing without footnotes is problematic on several levels. But I appear to have identified a particular problem more clearly than I realized. Eric P. Wijnants seems to be a pathological liar and repeat plagiarist, and doesn’t even have the integrity to defend himself using his own name.

Question everything… but then listen to the answers.

Recently I've come across a few vague Holocaust denials. Rather than explicitly state that the Holocaust did not happen, they simply "raise questions" about the "accepted versions" about what happened. When outrage ensues, they do the intellectual equivalent of shrugging innocently and say, "What's wrong with asking questions?"

Questions come in several types. There are leading questions, designed to steer the thinking of the listener in a specific direction, or elicit a specific response. These are typically "Yes or no" questions, as in, "Did you not, on the night of…." And then here are open-ended questions, questions to which the asker does not know the answer. They can be stated as a first step to seeking knowledge, or they can be posed to convey that you don't know something ("Why does anyone do anything?")

The problem with "questioning the Holocaust" is not that someone is seeking knowledge. Seeking knowledge is a good thing. Rather the "questioning" is a form of leading question, designed to guide the thinking of the listener into doubt. Then comes the usual intellectual bait-and-switch: if minor fact x can be shown to be mistaken, then dismiss every other related fact as well.<

If you want to understand the Holocaust, ask questions, but then look for answers. With the Holocaust you are dealing with a fairly recent historical event. There are still eyewitnesses living. There are mountains of written eyewitness testimony (and an eyewitness video library at USC in Los Angeles with close to 6000 video testimonials). And of course there are the Nazi archives, with 10's of millions of records. That Germany is finally opening the largest to the public after 60 years recently made headlines. It contains 60 million documents, with names, addresses, relationships, serial numbers, and dates of execution for millions. In short, there is simply too much evidence for any sort of reasonable doubt.

Therefore, to me anyone who denies the Holocaust is both profoundly uneducated and unwilling to seek the truth: there is simply too much evidence in all forms - eyewitness, forensic, and written - to even begin to question it. Granted, the most important question - WHY? - is basically unanswered to this day. But if you want to doubt the existence of the Holocaust, you might as well argue that Denmark doesn't exist - its purported existence was fabricated by the Dutch so they would have a better marketing campaign for their cheese - it is simply preposterous.

That is, unless you come from a country where antisemitism is endemic, namely Russia. Then perhaps you won't think it so unusual to question the Holocaust, and wonder what the bid deal is when people react strongly. This may seem a bit of an extreme statement. However, the history of antisemitism in Russia is long – it was on of the few things to survive unmodified from Czarist into Soviet times, and it continues to this day. Periodically it will make the news, such as the front-page article in the New York Times last year. Certainly antisemitism in Russia is milder now than in the days of the Pogroms. But to Western sensibilities the degree is still shocking. In such an environment, perhaps "questioning" the Holocaust is not such a big deal; it's done all the time. But in the West, it simply doesn't play well.

Daniel Hindes


Sources on Russian antisemitism:

And the list goes on (just use google). What these reports don't readily capture is the social climate in which disparaging Jews is just simply accepted and normal, kind of the way that racism lives in America.

Below is something I wrote to the Anthroposophy email list over at Yahoo Groups. It is in response to a lengthy german message from Willy Lochmann to Robert Mason, that Robert posted there. The original post was in German, so I won't reproduce it here. I'll try to make my comments comprehensible without reference to the original, since all but a few German speakers won't know what it was about anyway.

So Willy Lochmann, Bondraev's publisher, assumes responsibility for expurgating the Holocaust-denial statements from the German edition of Bondarev's book. He admits why it was necessary: the general unpopularity of the position, combined with possible legal liability. Now I don't know what is more interesting, the fact that he kept them out of print, or that he would privately state that he agrees with them. This whole, "we're not getting the whole story about the Holocaust" combined with "I resent Jews making such a big deal about it" is downright antisemitic. Citing English-speaking Holocaust deniers and "The New World Order" does nothing to mitigate the antisemitism. Such antisemitism is rampant in Russia today, so I can excuse it as cultural heritage in Bondarev's case, but Willy Lochmann has no such excuse.

Citing 20% of Steiner's output (volumes 160-220 of the complete works) as supporting the position is feeble. Steiner did indeed talk of "historical symptomology" and looking beyond the surface of events. And he attempted to do this frequently in said volumes. But please don't claim that anyone who has read 60 Steiner books is suddenly qualified to judge whether or not the Holocaust occurred. A far better method would be to check out some of the several archives (the Nazi's kept detailed records) or any of the relevant books on the subject. You can't just wrap yourself in the cloak of mysticism and spout of nonsense and expect the world to bow down to your superior insight. Stupid statements like "no one who has not read the above Steiner books is qualified to form a judgment of Bondarev's book" and "those who have read the above books and still disagree with us haven't understood them" show a real open-mindedness on the subject.

Lochmann shows quite a persecution complex. He considers the death of Irina Gordienko shortly after the completion of her anti-Prokofieff book as a possible contract killing (ordered by Prokofieff, or merely a supporter?). Welcome to the high-stakes world of anthroposophical debate. The delayed, but generally negative reception of Bondraev's book is interpreted as an orchestrated campaign to silence him, rather than an honest reaction to a misguided text.

As to Bondraev, the one who knows more and better than everyone else, is it any wonder that he is not popular in Dornach. Besides denying the Holocaust, he has called everyone there a sellout, and accused them of failing to maintain Steiner's legacy (presumably because they dont do things the way he would). These types of statements illustrate the most important point in considering Bondarev's work: the tone. Here is an idealist profoundly upset with the modern world. His work is in every sense of the word reactionary. And as such, he shares not just opinions, but also attitudes, with a whole host of other reactionary fundamentalists. The whole world has gone wrong. Traditional values are not being upheld. God will punish us for this. Etc. You can read the section on homosexuals that Robert Mason so kindly put up on the internet (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Sparta/1105/GoodEvil.htm). For a self-professed "Christian Initiate"there is very little of Christ's love or compassion. In fact the whole thing is rather Old Testament.

And that is just one of the many things that don't add up. Another example: I have a hard time understanding how skydiving is part of a satanic initiation (supposedly free-fall separates the physical from the etheric bodies; however, if that is the goal, there are plenty of illegal drugs that will accomplish this much more effectively, and they are far more widely used).

In the end I find Bondarev's work interesting, but I don't agree with a lot of his conclusions. And I find the tone quite off-putting. Apparently I'm not alone; most anthroposophists who have reviewed the book come to similar conclusions. To Willy Lochman, that means I am part of an anthro-conspiracy to keep the wisdom of Bondarev from other anthroposophists (by speaking negatively about it). Indeed, I am part of an anthro-Gestapo which is now hounding the saint, now that the actual KGB has stopped (his words below). What can I say? I'm sorry you see it that way, but I'll make up my own mind, thank you. I don't "follow" Steiner, and I certainly won't "follow" Bondarev just because he thinks he knows more than I do.

Journalist Robert Fisk was interviewed in The Progressive recently (June 2005) about Iraq . One paragraph in particular caught my attention.
"My father was a soldier in the First World War. When he died at the age of 93 in 1992, I inherited his campaign medal, on the back of which was written "The great war for civilization." In the 17 months that followed the Great War, the victorious powers created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and most of the Middle East. I've spent my professional career watching the people on these borders burn – in Belfast, in Sarajevo, Baghdad, Beirut, across the Middle East."
It is claimed by opponents that Rudolf Steiner objected to the course and outcome of the First World War for petty Geman nationalistic reasons. This is completely mistaken. Steiner did have objections, but he was not German (he was Austrian, and later a naturalized Swiss citizen) and was not a nationalist. Rather, he was extremely far-sighted about the probable long-term results of the peace, and did everything he could to prevent the disaster. In the end he accomplished little in this area, but the motive for his efforts has been egregiously misrepresented. He did not want short-term benefits for Germany. He was, as usual, concerned with the long-term well-being of all humanity. Reading Rudolf Steiner's statements from this period makes this very clear. It is only those who are not familiar with Steiner's own work who could be fooled into thinking that Steiner was a German nationalist.
Journalist Robert Fisk was interviewed in The Progressive recently (June 2005) about Iraq . One paragraph in particular caught my attention.
"My father was a soldier in the First World War. When he died at the age of 93 in 1992, I inherited his campaign medal, on the back of which was written "The great war for civilization." In the 17 months that followed the Great War, the victorious powers created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and most of the Middle East. I've spent my professional career watching the people on these borders burn – in Belfast, in Sarajevo, Baghdad, Beirut, across the Middle East."
It is claimed by opponents that Rudolf Steiner objected to the course and outcome of the First World War for petty Geman nationalistic reasons. This is completely mistaken. Steiner did have objections, but he was not German (he was Austrian, and later a naturalized Swiss citizen) and was not a nationalist. Rather, he was extremely far-sighted about the probable long-term results of the peace, and did everything he could to prevent the disaster. In the end he accomplished little in this area, but the motive for his efforts has been egregiously misrepresented. He did not want short-term benefits for Germany. He was, as usual, concerned with the long-term well-being of all humanity. Reading Rudolf Steiner's statements from this period makes this very clear. It is only those who are not familiar with Steiner's own work who could be fooled into thinking that Steiner was a German nationalist.

Opinion and Accuracy II

I posted the entire article along with my commentary to the Anthroposophy Tomorrow Yahoo group. Peter Staudenmaier (a so-called historian and self-professed expert on Anthroposophy) objected:

This is very, very naive. Anyone who opens up a history book looking for analysis-free facts, devoid of explanations and personal thoughts, is being extraordinarily foolish.

I responded:
Peter, you are polarizing the issue to create a false dichotomy. The issue in history, as in journalism, is not simply whether or not there is any interpretation or opinion mixed in the presentation of facts. Both history and journalism have some interpretation and opinion mixed in. Several authors have demonstrated that this is in fact an inevitability in all writing. Rather than viewing the question in a polarizing either-or light, I suggest that philosophy of history (and of journalism) can see the prejudices of the author as falling on a continuum between the poles of the admittedly impossible "objectivity" and what I would term "absolute bias". All authors are more or less objective, and more or less biased, in their work, and all to varying degrees. It is not an either-or proposition. I suggest that fundamentally, efforts towards objectivity tend to land closer to truth than efforts to "prove" a point (like that Steiner was a racist, for example). What did Steiner really think about the relationship of the individual to society?

Peter, I must say, I find you incredibly weak-minded for someone as apparently clever as you are. I have written at great length on philosophy of history [on the Anthroposophy Tomorrow list during the time Peter was subscribed], and all you can get from it is that I "apparently" stand for antiquarianism, a position I have already addressed at length. If you can't grasp my rather simple presentation on philosophy of history, I am not at all surprised that you fall flat on your face when you open a Steiner book.

The naive view is the one that paints a false polarity over a complex phenomenon.

Opinion and accuracy

I read something interesting in the New York times recently. The piece was called The Privileges of Opinion, the Obligations of Fact

I find this an interesting piece on the relationship of fact to opinion in the practice of journalism. It should have some relationship to discussions of how historians operate, and the difference between historians and polemicists. I see the historian much like the journalist, and the polemicist like the opinion columnist. Some of the salient points:

"But who is to say what is factually accurate? Or whether a quotation is misrepresented? Or whether facts are used or misused in such a fashion as to render a columnist's opinion unfair? Or even whether fairness has anything to do with opinion in the first place?"

"The opinion writer chooses which facts to present, and which to withhold. He can paint individuals he likes as paragons, and those he disdains as scoundrels. The more scurrilous practitioners rely on indirection and innuendo, nestling together in a bed of lush sophistry. I sometimes think opinion columns ought to carry a warning: "The following is solely the opinion of the author, supported by data I alone have chosen to include. Live with it." Opinion is inherently unfair."

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