As people are probably aware, I’ve recently written a few articles and subsequently participated in various Internet discussions. But for most of the last decade, stretching back well into the 2000s, my time was largely absorbed by a major software project, namely the creation of the UNZ.org content-archiving system.
This system, although somewhat crude and utilitarian in its outward design, was intended to digitize and conveniently present many dozens of mostly vanished publications, and the millions of pages of high-quality content-material they encompassed. As I have pointed out elsewhere, much of our understanding of the world of even forty or fifty years ago contains the serious lacunae produced by survivorship bias, and this difficulty is compounded when we consider the world of 1900 or earlier.
Many of the influential thinkers, prestigious publications, and important articles of that bygone era are almost totally unknown today, even to many specialists, and the vacuum produced by that loss of historical knowledge has often been filled with the implied histories of modern Hollywood movies and television shows, some of which are occasionally not totally accurate or realistic. Indeed, a casual perusal of the major writings of the past often seems somewhat akin to entering a science fictional alternate-reality, in which America took a different turn in the 1920s than we know it actually did. Except that in this case, the alternate-reality we are exploring is the true one, and it is our assumed understanding of the past which turns out to be mostly fictitious.
Here’s an ironic example which I just recently stumbled across, unconnected with my own archiving software project. As most scientifically-minded Americans are well aware, one of the most shocking and astonishing scientific developments of the last decade was the discovery of the strong evidence for “Neanderthal Introgression,” namely that elements of our own species interbred with the Neanderthals, probably in the vicinity of the Middle East some 50,000 years ago, and that as a result noticeable portions of the Neaderthal genome is found in most of us. Similarly, genetic evidence has also appeared of interbreeding as well with a small-brained hominid species styled the “Denisovans,” which apparently occurred in the general vicinity of Australia or Melanasia. Massive front-page New York Times articles resulted from these discoveries, the ideas entered the popular media and culture, and our understanding of the roots of modern humanity were completely turned upside down in revolutionary fashion. This discovery surely ranks as one of the most important and most unexpected in 21st century anthropology.
Now as it happens, just last week I was reading through an old book on intelligence issues published by prominent intellectuals Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Possony in 1963, and the second chapter provided some discussion of introductory anthropology. Here, the authors very matter-of-factly explained that in the 1920s and 1930s a great deal of fossil evidence had been found indicating that mankind had interbred with Neanderthals, probably somewhere in the vicinity of the Middle East, and that although the latter species had eventually died out, prominent anthropologists mostly believed that some of their more useful traits probably became permanently embedded in modern man. In similar fashion, it was generally believed that, there was similar interbreeding with a small-brained hominid species in the vicinity of Australia or Melanasia, with similar consequences.
Why bother reading the front page of The New York Times or following up-to-the-moment science discoveries on Twitter, when you can instead just rummage around dusty old library bookshelves and discover the same revolutionary facts years or even decades ahead of everyone else, thereby short-circuiting the decisions of the Nobel Prize governing committee.
But since driving to major libraries is costly in gasoline and the dust found there may make you sneeze, an even better option might be to browse around the oceans of old content available on the Internet, notably including my own website system.
Therefore, with the intent of promoting and publicizing my content-archiving system, a few months back I’d announced the Unz Historical Research Competition, with a First Prize of $10,000 and additional cash awards for the best and most interesting “research finding” obtained by exploring the millions of pages of content material on my website. The competition closes at the end of this month, so with less than two weeks to go, I thought I’d remind people that there’s still an excellent opportunity for an energetic college or graduate student or independent researcher to invest a couple of days, find something interesting buried in those archives, and win a very nice cash award.
If you let your mouse and keyboard roam free during the remaining days of this month, who knows what amazing facts you might undiscover.