THE WISDOM OF CROWDS for Dummies
Science Magazine this week features three articles about an obscure comparative cultural historian and hobbyist named Steven Farmer who claims to have proven, with the aid of a computer, that the mysterious 3rd millennium Indus script is "sheer nonsense. Just a bunch of random magical symbols, sort of archaic doodles."
The ancient Indus civilization, centered at the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in what is now Pakistan boasted thriving cities of perhaps 50,000 or more and splendid sewer systems.
Oddly enough, American scholars, who dominate the esoteric field of Indus studies, have found that, while excavations show that the Indus culture boasted standardized weights, wheeled carts and really excellent sewer systems, including extensive wells and underground pipes, it apparently lacked three-dimensional sculpture and other hallmarks of true civilization such as extensive fortifications, social stratification and extramarital sex.
With Farmer's stunning discovery that, despite an inventory of over 400 signs, Harappan civilization lacked a true writing system, the icing has been put on the proverbial cake.
"Yup," said Harold Ramsbottom, instructor in aeronautics at the State University of New York, Bootle, "that about puts the icing on the cake. Also, the whole damn population seems to have just up and disappeared in about 1700 BC. Apparently just got in their spaceships and went back to Venus."
Popular science publications like Science Magazine have this year emerged as leading debunkers of linguistic fact and fancy. Earlier this year it featured an article by Peter Gordon, associate professor of dry-cleaning at Teacher's College, Columbia, proving definitively that the Piraha, an obscure Amazonian tribe, have no counting system and a finite, non-recursive language.
In August, Scientific American caused a stir by featuring the work of Gordon Rugg, a lecturer in software and Alzheimer's at Keele University, north of Birmingham but south of Manchester, proving that the Voynich Manuscript was a hoax.
John Morrison, Professor Emeritus of Pictish Languages and Cultures at St. Andrews University, Edinburgh, blames the computer.
"These bairns get their wee hands on a computer and go stramashin' aboot destroyin' years o' linguistic research in the blinkin' o' an eye. Hae they nae real work tae go tae and too mooch time on their hands?? Grand airs and patched breeks! Nae d-----d French jam for me, laddie, I'm off to play the grahnd piahno. Con-fee-toor! Huh! Sticky rubbish!"