Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jonathan Swift's damn interesting debunking

Damn Interesting, a non-commercial website dedicated to short essays on interesting topics founded in 2005 by Allan Bellows, is a genuinely remarkable site overflowing with well-written, properly researched and fascinating articles. One of their recent pieces, "The Extraordinary Astrologer Isaac Bickerstaff," is particularly noteworthy and worth reading. The article details one of the wonderful exploits of that master of satire, Jonathan Swift. Writing under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, Swift managed to ruin one John Partridge, an astrologer and quack, by hoaxing Partridge's death.

It's a wonderful story, and a nice anecdote to know about. Alas for the modern skeptic, according to Wikipedia at least, Swift (who was a clergyman) attacked Partridge because of a sarcastic comment the latter made about the Church of England. So it's not quite the undiluted victory of reason and science over superstition.

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