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Why did journalist and pseudo archaeologist Graham Hancock ever agree to appear on the Joe Rogan Experience to have his controversial hypothesis about a technically advanced civilisation which flourished then vanished around the end of the most recent Ice Age tested by an expert archaeologist? After all, in the UK media, of which journalist Graham Hancock has long been a part, there is a legendary lesson about the risk of such an appearance hidden in media plain sight.

On 22 October 2009, the if not Fascist closely Fascist adjacent, Nick Griffin, the then Leader of the Far Right British Nationalist Party and a man with a very particular take on history,
appeared on the BBC’s flagship political discussion show “Question Time”. Deeply controversial at the time because it seemed to legitimise extreme views, Mr Griffin’s appearance has come to be seen as a classic case of the hubris of an individual setting fire to their own career then watching it crash and burn in public, almost in real time. So why would anyone in the public eye, who espouses controversial, and what are to many, easily refuted views, run the risk of being having their trousers pulled down in public in such a high profile media event as the Joe Rogan Experience, which regularly attracts millions of viewers worldwide on YouTube??

This was the first question I asked archaeologist Dr Flint Dibble in our flagship interview for the #WatchingBrief vodcast on YouTube.

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There was good reason for the question because in February 2023 I had gone on the record as saying that I felt the debate which has now unfolded over four and a half hours of the
Joe Rogan Experience would not take place and I had said that with the memory of Nick Griffin’s public debagging very much in mind.

Of course, as Dr Dibble admitted, neither he, nor for that matter I, can be inside the head of the formerly respected East Africa correspondent for the prestigious magazine the Economist.

However, he suggested, there is a record of Mr Hancock seeking the affirmation of outsiders, including archaeologists.

As Dr Dibble pointed out, the author of Fingerprints of the Gods and other books dismissed as pseudo archaeology by his critics, had made great play of being shown around the iconic
site of Gobekli Tepe by excavator Klaus Schmidt and has debated with an arch critic, Egyptologist Dr Zahi Hawass, at least twice, an infamous flouncing out of a scheduled debate at the Mena House Hotel in Giza, Egypt in April 2015 notwithstanding.

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Indeed, in 1998, following a conference on the MS Statendam cruising from Vancouver to Alaska Mr Hancock was co-signatory of a statement defending Dr Hawass after the
Egyptologist had allegedly been slandered in an internet post by another fringe commentator.

Perhaps it was that desire for affirmation which drove Mr Hancock to participate in the debate?

It was perhaps also that perceived desire for affirmation that led also to Mr Hancock associating himself with the ill fated article in publisher Wiley’s peer reviewed journal,
Archaeological Prospection about the alleged date of human activity at Gunung Padang in Indonesia.

Or it might have been with an eye on a win-win for Mr Hancock?

Publication in a peer reviewed journal could be read as an endorsement by mainstream archaeology of the legitimacy of Mr Hancock’s theory.

Of course, as we also discussed, the subsequent retraction of the article after leading archaeologists [not including Dr Dibble he emphasised], identified major flaw in the dating evidence quoted and asked the publisher to investigate, could also be seen by Mr Hancock and his supporters as proof of the influence of, the “Big Archaeology” establishment in closing down alternative views of the past.

But that would be “cancelling” and Dr Dibble made clear that one of the reasons he agreed to appear on the Joe Rogan Experience is that Mr Rogan is an outspoken supporter of the neo liberal definition of free speech and his Joe Rogan Experience shows are only lightly edited. In the show as published on YouTube there was no cancelling of Mr Hancock, nor of Dr Dibble.

In fact in this episode Dr Dibble agreed that Joe Rogan had acted as an interested and more or less even handed interlocutor and moderator who was interested in the Science.

Mr Rogan also appeared somewhat annoyed when Graham Hancock appeared to try to punch down, introducing some third party social media comments which Dr Dibble had understood had been agreed would not be discussed.

Among all this what there was also was evidence of archaeological responses in public spaces like YouTube learning lessons from the world of political campaigning.

In acting as point for the wider archaeological profession, and having taken advice from and drawn on the expertise of, a number of colleagues in preparing for the Joe Rogan appearance Dr Dibble described how he had also employed the latest ideas in how to deal with conspiracy theory, principally Prebuttal.

Hitherto, Dr Dibble suggested, archaeologists had relied on rebuttal, that is countering an argument once it has been made.

This is a tried and tested technique in political messaging dating back decades. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s campaign director Peter Mandelson and director of
communications Alistair Campbell had included an Instant Rebuttal Unit in their successful 1997 General Election campaign, but in truth the idea was lifted from the 1992 Presidential
campaign which put Bill Clinton into the White House.

But it was another Clinton, President Clinton’s wife Hilary, now Presidential candidate in her own right, who took the concept further.

In August 2016 the Cambridge Dictionary blog recorded a new word which had emerged in the context of candidate Clinton’s contest with her Democrat Party rival Bernie Saunders.

On 5 January 2016, the blog stated, WNYC News (which publishes US and local New York news) reported Hilary Clinton’s team had issued a “prebuttal” asking for Sanders to endorse some of her proposals, although in actuality the concept of “inoculation” has been a part of communications theory since American psychologist William McGuire described it in 1964.

A cruder way of putting this is prebuttal is getting your retaliation in first.

In fact recent research has confirmed again that prebuttal can be more effective in combating conspiracy theory and disinformation than simply responding to the same arguments once they are placed in the public domain. With both approaches being more effective than simply ignoring fringe figures and their ideas and hoping they will go away.

History shows they don’t.

It was this approach which Dr Dibble would take into Joe Rogan’s studio.

However, emotive as the discussion of conspiracy theory is, and relevant as it is to other areas of life such as politics in the context of the General Elections to be held in both the
UK and USA in 2024, perhaps the most emotionally engaged disagreement across the four and a half hours of the Joe Rogan recording was Mr Hancock’s reaction to the claimed allegation that Dr Dibble had alleged he was racist.

In our interview Dr Dibble accused Mr Hancock of misusing quotes from third parties to suggest Dr Dibble himself had called him a racist or a grifter. An accusation which Dr Dibble denied.

As far as the accusation of racism was concerned Dr Dibble said that what he was actually referring to was the history of the description of white skinned deities in colonialist sources and racist narratives in the past and among some fringe commentators in the present.

“Mainstream archaeology itself has a very troubled past”, Dr Dibble pointed out, so both sides should be aware of those contested histories and should able to discuss them rationally .

“The point is there is this history to it and there is this modern misuse of it.” he said.

Therefore, perhaps it is appropriate to point to another media moment which has gone down in popular folklore as a classic “gotcha” joke…

On 21 November 2010 the satirical cartoon series the Simpsons broadcast the now legendary joke at the expense of Fox News, with a Fox News helicopter
shown emblazoned with the slogan,

“Not racist, but #1 with racists.”

Mr Hancock might do well to acknowledge that, because while understandably he finds the idea that he might be racist offensive, others who support his theories
about his hypothetical, peripatetic, Ice Age Priests gleefully attach themselves to such ideas and have done for approaching two hundred years since the days of Ignatius Donnelly.

If he does not accept the potential consequences of the lost civilisation [“Atlantis”] narrative he espouses, then there can be no debate on equal terms with
archaeologists and historians who increasingly recognise the potential consequences of their work, such as the misuse of ancient DNA research by racist actors, outside of the silos of traditional academic discussion.

That was the sharpest lesson of the Dibble experience on the Joe Rogan Experience.

In terms of other lessons, while the archaeological and pseudo archaeological media have been alive with responses to the Joe Rogan debate, with views covering the gamut from the author’s favoured point of view won hands down, to reports of minds being changed, albeit it is hard to spot anyone reporting their mind was changed by Mr Hancock, it is probably too soon to conclude if the appearance of Dr Dibble is genuinely a gamechanger.

But there is perhaps one final thought prompted by the YouTube encounter between what can be painted an old fringe theory and modern archaeological reality.  That is, in a world where there is no sense that the appetite is diminishing for pseudo archaeology content among a certain demographic of the public, and TV commissioning editors, how many other archaeologists are prepared to commit the time effort and personal risk that Dr Dibble committed, to take on what the Society of American Archaeology insisted should be billed as Science Fiction?

By agreeing to appear together on the Joe Rogan Experience Dr Flint Dibble and Graham Hancock energised a powerful cultural moment and defined a new battlefield between science based and emotion based storytelling in the most public of spaces, the Social Media.  However, given the narratives that Dr Dibble was attempting to prebunk are, in some cases, centuries old who in the diversity of approach that is archaeology world will step up to provide support in the long term, attritional fight?

After all, in the end Dibble v Hancock on the Joe Rogan Experience was a raid behind the lines into enemy territory, albeit for many archaeologists watching a successful raid.  However, as military and political strategists know, a raid, however spectacular and apparently successful, cannot on its own win a war.




Reporting by Andy Brockman

Lead Image courtesy of Archaeosoup

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