Rubbish-Friendly Librarians

OR POSTING : Many Thanks to Aled Betts

January 27, 2017

The www.aias.us site is now archived for preservation on www.webarchive.org.uk, with Wayback Machine software, and it is up to date, archived by Aled Betts at the National Library of Wales. Click on www.webarchive.co.uk, Science and Technology, Alpha Institute for Advanced Studies, then “check on URL at time of capture”. The site as it is today comes up, complete with the entire blog. It is”

One of us once had a heated argument with a university librarian. It was the January following the execution of the depraved Nikolae Ceausescu and his pseudoscientist wife, Elena. The librarian objected to the reasonable suggestion that her full-page colour photograph should now be removed from every copy of the Revue Roumaine de Chimie (and it was in every copy). He thought that it was his job to preserve rubbish. In an air-conditioned strong-room at Swansea County Hall, there is a letter which is treated with all of the reverence of a holy relic. It is a letter from Einstein, answering a question about the twin paradox (this is a great favourite in the lunatic fringe, because the loonies fondly imagine that it disproves special relativity). The letter was sent to a telephone engineer (not the sort who designs city-scale communications infrastructure but the sort who wears a donkey-jacket and climbs telephone poles) who liked astronomy. That engineer went on to become a (ugh!) philosopher and then spent all of his time attacking both Einstein and Newton. That crank was to become, of course, the self-styled ‘Professor’ ‘Viv’ Pope*; the other anti-Einstein wannabe physicist who will forever bring shame on Swansea. So, that’s another librarian who is set on preserving rubbish  … in an air-conditioned vault. Isn’t it funny how everything comes in threes?     

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2 Responses to “Rubbish-Friendly Librarians”

  1. Interested Observer Says:

    I normally agree with you 100%, Crackpotwatch, but not on this occasion.

    It would be an appalling dereliction of duty if librarians were to start defacing items in their collections. Removing a picture of a dictator’s wife from a journal would open the doors to representations demanding that Victorian imperialists or slave traders were similarly expunged from the historical record.

    Not only that: Elena Ceausescu’s image in those journals are important historical context. Future historians must be in no doubt that Romanian science publishing in this period was not merely patronised but actively controlled by a dictator’s wife. Erasing her influence would do a serious disservice to the thousands of Romanian scientists forced to work in the malign shadow of this woman.

    Libraries are there to preserve the historical record. Librarians should keep that record intact for future generations, not sanitise it.

    • crackpotwatch Says:

      Those are all very cogent points and, in an ideal world, there could be no further argument about it. The fact is however that there is plenty of evidence that preservation which is aimed at dignifying one set of ideas often has a malign – and opposite – effect in practice. Take an extreme case: does the preservation of Nazi death-camp sites remind one of genocide … or of Hitler? It certainly does not make David Irving think of genocide: he says that it never happened … and he is a ‘famous historian’. We are certainly in favour of preserving everything in some way which gives no particular weight to any given item. Unfortunately, human nature always prefers villains, and that can only mislead innocent ‘consumers’. That is why we object strongly in the cases which we cited. Are real Welsh scientists memorialized so keenly by the librarian at Swansea County Hall*? Are photographs of the real Romanian chemists given equal prominence in the Revue Roumaine de Chimie? No. So preserve everything, by all means, but do not accord preferred places to the villains.
      *Sad to say but, according to the Einstein Centre in Israel, Pope was the only person in Wales to whom Einstein ever wrote!

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