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Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries (British History)
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Boreades


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AEL can now proudly say "We wuz first!".

Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise?

An article by Richard Smith starts thus:

Health research is based on trust. Health professionals and journal editors reading the results of a clinical trial assume that the trial happened and that the results were honestly reported. But about 20% of the time, said Ben Mol, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Monash Health, they would be wrong.

Only 20%?

As I’ve been concerned about research fraud for 40 years, I wasn’t that surprised as many would be by this figure, but it led me to think that the time may have come to stop assuming that research actually happened and is honestly reported, and assume that the research is fraudulent until there is some evidence to support it having happened and been honestly reported.

Mick, post him one of your books.

As he described in a webinar last week, Ian Roberts, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, began to have doubts about the honest reporting of trials after a colleague asked if he knew that his systematic review showing the mannitol halved death from head injury was based on trials that had never happened.

The scientific term for that is "Oops!".

Later Roberts, who headed one of the Cochrane groups, did a systematic review of colloids versus crystalloids only to discover again that many of the trials that were included in the review could not be trusted. He is now sceptical about all systematic reviews, particularly those that are mostly reviews of multiple small trials.

The scientific term for that is "Oh, bollocks!".

We have long known that peer review is ineffective at detecting fraud, especially if the reviewers start, as most have until now, by assuming that the research is honestly reported. I remember being part of a panel in the 1990s investigating one of Britain’s most outrageous cases of fraud, when the statistical reviewer of the study told us that he had found multiple problems with the study and only hoped that it was better done than it was reported. We asked if had ever considered that the study might be fraudulent, and he told us that he hadn’t.

How bad is it?

Research fraud is often viewed as a problem of “bad apples,” but Barbara K Redman, who spoke at the webinar insists that it is not a problem of bad apples but bad barrels if not, she said, of rotten forests or orchards. In her book Research Misconduct Policy in Biomedicine: Beyond the Bad-Apple Approach she argues that research misconduct is a systems problem—the system provides incentives to publish fraudulent research and does not have adequate regulatory processes.

And journals just encourage it.

The business model of journals and publishers depends on publishing, preferably lots of studies as cheaply as possible. They have little incentive to check for fraud and a positive disincentive to experience reputational damage—and possibly legal risk—from retracting studies.

The honest person in Peer Review is a very rare beast.

Stephen Lock, my predecessor as editor of The BMJ, became worried about research fraud in the 1980s, but people thought his concerns eccentric. Research authorities insisted that fraud was rare, didn’t matter because science was self-correcting, and that no patients had suffered because of scientific fraud. All those reasons for not taking research fraud seriously have proved to be false, and, 40 years on from Lock’s concerns, we are realising that the problem is huge, the system encourages fraud, and we have no adequate way to respond. It may be time to move from assuming that research has been honestly conducted and reported to assuming it to be untrustworthy until there is some evidence to the contrary.

https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/07/05/time-to-assume-that-health-research-is-fraudulent-until-proved-otherwise/

It seems like the peer review application form has two options under the heading "Do you promise this is honest?"
[X] Oh, yes, of course, hand-on-heart, I promise, would I lie to you?
[...] Oh, it's a fair cop you've caught me bang to rights, I'll come quiet
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Mick Harper
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Since it looks as though Missing Persons will be 'unavailable' for the indefinite future, I had better start publishing it here in bite-sized gobbets. This is what it has to say about how peer review works when it comes to faked artefacts [recast from the original for present purposes]

Step One: Object X is forged by some ne'er-do-wells.
Step Two: They show it to expert A. 'It’s a fake,' he says. They show it to expert B. 'It’s a fake,' he says. This continues until expert N accepts it as genuine.
Step Three: Expert N writes it up in a peer-reviewed journal.
Step Four: Object X is bought by a museum on the strength of this and they show it proudly on their Twitter page.
Step Five: Experts A, B, C et al all say to themselves, ‘Hang on, I remember that, it’s Object X, an obvious fake.”

What happens now?
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Mick Harper
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Mostly nothing. A, B, C et al don't know about one another. All each of them knows is that they thought Object X was a fake but, it seems, not only does a tenured colleague think it is genuine but the editor of a peer-reviewed journal thinks it is genuine and a nationally-respected museum thinks it is genuine. Since these things are pretty subjective at the best of times, is any of them going to make a fuss? Let's say one of them does (hell has frozen over).

Step Six: Expert A writes a paper arguing that Object X is a fake and sends it to a peer-reviewed journal (not the one that published the original paper).
Step Seven: The editor looks at the paper. Is he going to publish an attack on a tenured expert, a respected museum and a fellow editor of a peer-reviewed journal over something that everyone agrees is subjective anyway?

Hell has not frozen over that much. But now comes the good bit (i.e. the bad bit). How did peer-review allow things to get this far anyway? How did Expert N's paper survive peer review when it was extolling the virtues of something that every other expert thought was a fake? Think about it for a moment, it might surprise you, but it's really very obvious.
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Mick Harper
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It was because Object X was never peer-reviewed.

The paper about Object X was sent out by the editor for peer review. None of the experts sent the paper had ever clapped eyes on Object X. They were being asked to judge the bona fides of Expert N's paper not the bona fides of Object X. And Expert N has been writing papers for peer-reviewed journals all his working life so he certainly knows how to do that.
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Hatty
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Sometime in the 1830s a Hungarian nobleman known as Count Gustavus Batthyány settled in England where he bred racehorses. Gusztáv, 5th Prince Batthyány-Strattmann, came to my attention because of a mysterious codex

In 1838 Batthyány donated his entire library, including the mysterious Rohonc Codex, to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

According to Wiki the origin of the codex is unknown and it was presumed by contemporaries to be a forgery though later historians were less sure. It sounds like the codex was intended to be passed off as an ancient book, presumably a testament to Hungary's long and independent 'history'. Without carbon dating evidence, the Rohonc Codex can be taken as made in 1838, the earliest confirmed date of its existence.

In 1866, Hungarian historian Károly Szabó (1824–1890) proposed that the codex was a hoax by Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1796–1842), a Transylvanian-Hungarian antiquarian, and co-founder of the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. Nemes is known to have created many historical forgeries (mostly made in the 1830s) which deceived even some of the most renowned Hungarian scholars of the time.[5] Since then, this opinion of forgery has been maintained by mainstream Hungarian scholarship

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rohonc_Codex

Nemes was a Hungarian antiquarian and co-founder of the National Széchényi Library in Pest.

Count Gusztáv was a supporter of the Hungarian Magyan nationalist movement and a member of the constitutional Hungarian Ministry of 1848 which would explain his decision to live abroad and perhaps his connections with horsey circles. The family claimed to have 9th century roots though there's a five hundred year gap in the documentary record

The Batthyány family can trace its roots to the founding of Hungary in 896 CE by Árpád. The family derives from a chieftain called Örs. ... The family were first mentioned in documents in 1398 and have had their ancestral seat in Güssing in the Austrian region of Burgenland since 1522.

Batthyány's background is reminiscent of Alexis Soltykoff's son, Prince Dmitri Soltykoff (1827-1903), who also settled in England and became a famous racehorse owner. The same question applies: where did he get the money from to finance a racehorse stud?
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Hatty
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It seems odd that as clumsy a forgery as the Rohonc Codex would be accepted by a national library but it's not uncommon. There are obvious parallels between the National Széchényi Library and other institutions.

The library was founded in 1802 by the highly patriotic Hungarian aristocrat Count Ferenc Széchényi. Széchényi traveled the world buying Hungarian books, which he assembled and donated to the nation. In the following year the public library was opened in Pest. Széchényi's example resulted in a nationwide movement of book donations to the library

Patriotic antiquarians amassing unprovenanced book/manuscript collections that become the cornerstone of national collections is normal, as is the belated discovery of prolific forgers. Cf. the British Library and the National Library of Wales. Just like Iolo Morganwg inventing Welsh Druidry as well as forging manuscripts of 'ancient' poetry still kept in the NLW's archives, Nemes produced a Hungarian history that also never existed

Sámuel Literáti Nemes (1796–1842), Transylvanian-Hungarian antiquarian, co-founder of the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, infamous for many forgeries which even deceived some of the most renowned Hungarian scholars of the time

He was a merchant who travelled around buying up stuff in Transylvania, Styria, Croatia and Dalmatia. His wealthy customers included a reputable historian from a noble family, Miklós Jankovich, who was eventually obliged to offer his collection to the Hungarian government due to bankruptcy (hastened by his collecting mania)

the great collector and bibliophile Miklós Jankovich (1773–1846), whose interest he captured with a letter of an Ottoman pasha, a text written by János Kemény, prince of Transylvania, and a printed book once having belonged to Zsuzsanna Lórántffy, wife of Prince György Rákóczy I. In the following fourteen years until his death, he sold Jankovich a large number of early modern Hungarian printed and manuscript documents.

Works of antique literature owned by aristocratic Hungarian families reportedly survived the 1848-9 anti-Habsbury war of independence thanks to Nemes.
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Mick Harper
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The question that interests me is the degree of cupidity on the part of the professionals. I would have some degree of respect for people who knew they were dealing with fakes and decided for national reasons to create a national literary history. Though if they are doing it deliberately I would expect rather more professionalism when going about it.

But academics are so dumb generally that I assume these people are just dumb also and believe implicitly in the genuineness of all. And it does have to be all because once one 'expert opinion' is successfully challenged, they would all go. This will happen when someone invents a laser thingy that visitors could point at exhibits and say, "Ooh look, mummy, it was made last year." Even though the important ones will be promptly removed 'for restoration' the dumb public will smell rats. Except they so want a history they'll subscribe to the Restoration Fund.
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Creating a gens Anglorum: Social and Ethnic Identity in Anglo-Saxon England through the Lens of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Wendy McKinney

This thesis examines of the role of Bede in the creation of an English national identity by considering the use, re-use and transmission of the Historia Ecclesiastica across the Anglo-Saxon period. Bede’s exemplary and providential history had created an image of an idealised past to inspire change in the present, and these models resonated with writers throughout this period.

Students are asked to write brief notes on

i the exemplary nature of Bede's work
ii the providential nature of Bede's work
iii why the creation of national identity was important
iv what idealised past is being referred to
v why change in the present needed inspiring
vi who were the writers being resonated with in this period

paying special attention to John Milton and the Civil War period of Historia Ecclesiastica Anglorum.
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Mick Harper
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Round round get around, they get around (Beachboys' song)

Searching for a Sassanian Influence: Divine Compass Constructions in the Lindisfarne Gospels Jack Fallon
I contend that there is an underlying idea of conceptual beauty in the designs of the cross-carpet pages of some medieval, insular manuscripts and that this may have originated outside of the Celtic tradition. Improbable though it may seem, I suggest that a Sassanian influence may account for a Celtic understanding of circles, and irrationally proportioned elements derived from circles, as representative of divinity. Comparing the geometry of compass constructions and looking at possible ways for ideas to travel, I explore the possibility that the distinctly Celtic tradition of manuscript making may actually have its origins in the Middle East.
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You’ll have to excuse the self-indulgence but Meetings With Remarkable Forgeries hasn’t had many reviews so I’m going to analyse this one at some length.

A Searing Review of a Searing Exposé

Michael J. Harper’s Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries, described on the cover as “a searing exposé of the multi-award winning Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts” by Christopher de Hamel, is one of those books like How to Get Rich in 30 Days or Do it Yourself Dentistry the publishing of which would have seemed like a “badish” idea from the start.

That’s pretty good polemic. Mis-spelling ‘badish’ is a bit strange and ‘Michael J Harper’ is stranger but from an AE standpoint it is the assumption that writing exposés of award-winning books is a bad idea in itself that is strangest of all.

I haven’t been able to find what university connection Harper may have, but since he says his goal is getting universities abolished it would seem inconsistent for him to be employed by one

Particularly interesting. ‘You’ve got to be one to knock one’, I suppose is the principle.

but a lot of the cutesy condescendingly colloquial un-academic language he uses (“goodish,” “thisaway,” “higgeldy-piggeldy,” “hoik,” “dude,” “bloke,” “gone walkabout,” etc.), can’t help but make what he’s doing seem less serious than he wants the reader to think it is.

This is going to require some serious thought...
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This is a constant dilemma. It has to be weighed against people not wishing to read about early medieval manuscripts at all. But I will endeavour to cut down with the present work. Or make it funnier.

He says he’s not a scholar, and presumably to make this obvious he includes no table of contents and no footnotes

I am including a table of contents this time, a fair criticism, but as for citations (which I assume he means) more later.

or bibliography
Do I want to advertise my lack of sources?

and he quotes, or seems to quote, sources he doesn’t identify except for his references to de Hamel.

I don't like the inference of 'seems' but I make a song and dance about this in the new book, which again I’ll append later.

Quite a few of the apparent quotes

Again with the 'apparent'. I wish he'd come out and say what he thinks. It is grotesquely unfair to say such things unless he has an actual reason beyond lack of citation. Blimey, that applies to every non-fiction, but non-academic, book in existence.

seem to have been lifted directly from Wikipedia which isn’t necessarily a bad source

No, it’s the best source (again, I’ll append a bit from the new book about this).
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but it does seem that texts taken directly from it should be acknowledged!
Love that exclamation mark.

For example, with regard to the Venerable Bede’s biography:
At the age of seven, Bede was sent. . .. to the monastery of Monkwearmouth by his family to be educated by Benedict Biscop and later by Ceolfrith. Monkwearmouth's sister monastery at Jarrow was founded by Ceolfrith in 682, and Bede probably transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith that year.
Or in his discussion of the Gospel of St. Cuthbert:
The book takes its name from Saint Cuthbert of,Lindisfarne . . . in whose tomb it was placed, probably a few years after his death in 687. Although it was long regarded as Cuthbert's personal copy of the Gospel, to which there are early references, and so a relic of the saint, the book is now thought to date from shortly after Cuthbert's death . . . .
And with regard to St Cuthbert’s coffin:
It was possibly at this point that a shelf or inner cover was inserted some way under the lid of Cuthbert's coffin, supported on three wooden bars across the width, and probably with two iron rings fixed to it for lifting it off.

And, of course the Wikipedia entries are credited, so Harper is guilty of the second order sin of not crediting the sources Wikipedia credits either.

This strikes me as weird. Who’s going to check that I copied out Wiki correctly? But if they want to... However, he does have a point. I have to admit to ennui and lack of system when I'm using absolutely standard sources. As I explain in the intro.
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I bet he’d like to “get his mitts on the blokes” (“bloke” is one of his favorite words) down at the Pig and Pickle, or wherever, who refused to write good things for him to put on the cover of the book; the only quotes on the cover of this book are about a different book, “unusual,” “mind-blowing,” and “fascinating.”

Doesn’t he know you can’t put puffs about the current book because it hasn’t gone out yet? As for the bloke (I must watch that) in the pub, he doesn't mention that I actually say who made the comments and where they said it. It's in the public record. This is beyond unfair, it is actionable.

The last is from Norman Cantor, but the famous Norman Cantor was already dead when the Searing expose´ . . . was published! Is “Mick the Trick” as he was known in the schoolyard trying to fool us?

He can’t have it both ways. Cantor said this about a previous book when presumably he was alive. Though I admit his handwriting was a bit shaky. Still, to be accused of forgery (which I think I am being) when writing a book about forgery is more ironic than insulting.

I would actually agree about applying all three of these adjectives to the book but not for reasons the author would like. It’s “unusual” to have a book which deals a lot with the history of pictures in books to have no pictures itself, except for the one on the cover which in keeping with Harper’s obscurantist attitude, isn’t identified; more about it later.

Sort of fair. But there were technical problems.
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It’s “mind-blowing” to describe the decoration of the Book of Kells as “doodling,”

This is important. Everyone goes on about the artistic mastery of gospel book illustrations but they are actually not great. Only old. Allegedly old.

and it’s “fascinating” to be told that language can’t be written down.

Again important. I said natural languages can’t be written down in alphabets because there are too many sounds that need to be represented. It is interesting the dude doesn’t understand this. None of them do. They think everyone was prancing around talking in Latin and Greek.

“You’d be amazed at how much tripe there is out there,” says Mick, and Urp-up Press – I forget the exact name of the publisher – has contributed more than its share with this book. And when your own publisher compares what you’re writing to frying fish it doesn’t sound good!

The blurb says
The answer to all these questions is ‘No’ but you should still read this book. The author has bigger fish to fry.

Let's be charitable and assume he's not familiar with the idiom.

But then remember Mick isn’t a scholar like his schoolyard enemy that bloke Chris de Hamel who got a much bigger picture-filled book published and praised by reviewers who are actually alive.

A cat may not look at a queen.

It seems Mick might have found someone in the schoolyard to at least say “this book is really easy to carry; the one Chris wrote is so heavy,” or, from an “A” student, “this book has a really complete index – it even includes de Hamel, but I couldn’t find duh Harper.”

I wish I knew what this was all about. Can anyone enlighten me?
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I mentioned earlier that Mick says that “language can’t be written down,” and considering that he has written a lot about language elsewhere it’s hard to believe he so obviously misuses it. Anyone who knows what the word “language” means knows language can be written down. If he seriously thinks his book does not contain written language, he’s spent way too much time at that Pig and Pickle again.

When people disagree with you, but don't have anything specific, they willfully misrepresent you.

Harper’s use of the word forgery is also suspect and I’m pretty sure he’s using it just for the sake of making some of his claims seem more astounding.

I’m pretty sure I was using it to mean ‘forgery’. I wrote a whole book on the subject.

For example, he says, “Most of history before 1300 is forgery”

Yup.
and “The more remarkable the object the more likely it is to be a forgery.”

Yup.
So according to this, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Beethoven’s Ninth, and Macbeth are likely forgeries.

If they are alleged to have been written before 1300, yup.

This claim is made right at the beginning of his expose´ - do you really want to read past page 2?

Couldn’t see it on page 2

O.K, if you do, he also says “if you believe a manuscript written in 604 will still be around in 1175 . . . you’ll believe anything.”

Yup.

So this means we shouldn’t believe Codex Vaticanus is legit? Or the Ambrosian Iliad? Or the Dead Sea Scrolls? Even the Codex Amiatinus written about 700 one would think suspect based on what he says, but a picture from it is on the cover of his own book, but not, as I mentioned earlier, identified!

Yup.

Given the amount of effort required to make something like the Gospels of St. Augustine, let alone the Book of Kells, what can have been the motive to create these alleged forgeries? The essence of Harper’s position is that real estate information of the later Middle Ages, c. 1200, was incorporated into the forgeries of impressive earlier texts to fortify the claims being made – to establish their antiquity.

Since real estate was the be-all and end-all of medieval wealth, I would have thought it well worth forging a coupla books.
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