Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Hey, he's back--Bellesiles Misfires

Friday, February 6, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

History has its fair share of persecuted geniuses, men who were ahead of their time and made to pay for it. There's the hemlocked Socrates, the house-arrested Galileo, the exiled Rousseau. And to this list of giants it seems that we are now expected to add the name of Michael Bellesiles.

Mr. Bellesiles is the former Emory professor who shook the scholarly world in 2000 with his book "Arming America." An academic bombshell, the tome went against long-held beliefs by claiming that few colonial Americans actually owned guns. This set off a riotous public debate over whether the Second Amendment was designed to protect individual gun rights. Mr. Bellesiles was showered with prizes and media praise, becoming an instant academic star.

That is, until his peers started looking into that little thing called research. Reputable scholars in the ensuing months tore apart his work on probate and military records, travel narratives, and other documents. Mr. Bellesiles, when asked to explain, provided ever-more outlandish excuses: that his notes had been lost in a flood, that his Web site had been hacked, that he couldn't remember where he'd found certain documents. The officials of the prestigious Bancroft Prize stripped him of his award, he left Emory and Knopf chose to stop publishing his book. Most of us sighed happily and figured that was the end of that academic scandal.

But oh, no. It turns out that Mr. Bellesiles is still riding his dead horse, his nonexistent guns still blazing. Soft Skull Press (which takes pride in putting out books that other publishers avoid like ricin) has not only agreed to reissue "Arming America" but has decided to release Mr. Bellesiles's latest response to his critics. This 59-page pamphlet, "Weighed in an Even Balance," is a spirited attempt by Mr. Bellesiles to turn himself into the world's latest misunderstood genius. As such, it's worth reading for pure entertainment value. [...]

We are treated to lecturing tracts about the benefits of scholarly disagreement, the complex nature of historical research and the need for academic exploration. And finally, in case readers still aren't getting his drift, Mr. Bellesiles sums it all up in his conclusion: "There are those who rest their very identity on the notion of a certain, unchanging past. The vision that society is unalterable is not just incorrect, it is dangerously undemocratic, and as such should be of concern to every modern historian." [...]

Most historians and scientists are wise enough to realize that new discoveries or interpretations hold out opportunity. But before they completely cast aside mountains of research, they usually demand some proof. Mr. Bellesiles's problem isn't that he's misunderstood; it's that he still hasn't given them any.

Or as the old saying goes: "To be a persecuted genius, you not only have to be persecuted; you also have to be right."

The victim card didn't work when his fraud was uncovered, and allowing the whine to age hasn't helped anything.

By now, it should be pretty obvious that Bellesiles is like those poor gits on American Idol who can't sing a note but want to stand there and argue that they are the best singer in the world.


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