Archive for the 'The Column' Category

Season of fake dentists and charlatans

24 October 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 23 October 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
I want to be a brain surgeon but my father told me it takes years of study to qualify as one. That’s for losers. I’ve watched some YouTube videos so I know what I’m doing. Does anybody want some brain stuff done? I’m confident and good looking, so, you know, whatever.
Dr Who

I want to be Bruce Springsteen and the world needs more Bruce Springsteens. One is not enough and the Boss doesn’t operate in the Melaka area. I just watched a Bruce Springsteen video and so, therefore, I am now Bruce Springsteen. I guess that makes sense if you really think about it.

That must be the kind of crazy logic that was followed by a young woman in Melaka who started performing dentistry on people after watching some YouTube videos. She was eventually stopped but what is perhaps even more surprising than her original crime is the fact that many people are supporting her because, well, I don’t know why, but the fact that she is supremely confident and quite attractive seems to be important. Actually, getting dental work done is really very expensive and many simply cannot afford it. So, in a strange way, this young woman was performing a valuable service by providing teeth braces to people who really needed them but would never have been able to afford them. But what am I saying? She’s not a real dentist.

I suspect that there will be more of this sort of thing in the years to come. It’s like everything is becoming an episode of Malaysia’s Got Talent, where all the audience needs to see is confidence and they will cheer a hopeful nobody to instant stardom. You can do anything and be anybody you want if you want it enough, and watch some YouTube videos.

This recent episode with the fake dentist has made me re-think things. I need to go to the dentist, so I’m going to hold some auditions. Whoever can sing Born in the USA with real feeling and emotion will be my new dentist.

Dear Kam,
I just saw a video in which a guy called Graham Hancock talks about how the pyramids were built by an even earlier civilisation. It really made me think. I can’t remember what he said but it really made me think. Why was I never told this before?
Egyptologist

There’s a video going around of an Englishman called Graham Hancock talking about the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and it really annoys me. Like the fake dentist, he is also not a qualified expert but he speaks with great confidence and quotes many dazzlingly big numbers. He propounds a theory that the pyramids were built by or guided by an even earlier and mightier civilisation that the so-called experts cannot find or are not telling us about because, well, Big Archaeology is a powerful political lobby group that nobody dares cross. What he says annoys me but I also despair at some of the comments like, “Why was I never told this before?” and “Wow, it really makes you think.” It really makes me think he’s a pyramidiot.

In particular, he talks about the number 43,200. Apparently, if you multiply the base of the biggest pyramid by 43,200, you get the exact circumference of planet Earth. Wow, it really makes you think. Unfortunately, although the number 43,200 sounds amazing (I didn’t even know numbers went that high), it’s actually meaningless except in Hancock’s fevered imagination because he uses the Anglo-Saxon measurement units of feet and inches that were not invented until 4,000 years after the pyramids were built. Ancient Egyptians used cubits, which were measured from the elbow to the fingertips and are around 20 inches in length. So the math does not add up. And also, you can take any object and multiply it by a number and you will get the exact circumference of the Earth, and you can then give that number fantastical qualities. A Swiss scientist did just that to highlight this kind of nonsense. He measured a bicycle.

Hancock talks about how the pyramids were built facing true north with amazing accuracy. Aligning the pyramids towards true north (which they do) is remarkable engineering but it’s got to face in some direction, so why not north? Ancient Chinese would have understood the choice and would have called it feng shui. Although feng shui is imbued with many mystical qualities, it is based on common-sense principles.

Hancock rightly points out that when constructing the pyramids, there was no room for mistakes once they got started, so the initial engineering had to be perfect. But he fails to mention that the first attempt at a pyramid was eventually abandoned because the initial slope was too steep. That pyramid still stands. Therefore, if the building of pyramids was guided by some earlier civilisation, then they were shoddy contractors or, and this might sound crazy, the ambitious attempt was perfected through previous experiment. Like, you know, how regular people do things.

Hancock rightly praises the remarkable engineering achievements but he casually steals Ancient Egyptian agency and intellectual autonomy and gives it to some self-imagined earlier civilisation that sounds suspiciously like a later civilisation called, I don’t know, the British? His so-called theory and all this Ancient Alien nonsense is basically racism. Obviously, the Ancient Egyptians couldn’t have done it because he can’t understand how it was done and he is the perfected culmination point of history. It must have been built by an earlier civilisation that used the correct units of feet and inches and not centimetres and metres like the nancy-boy French. Cubits? Never heard of them.

Hancock’s history is the Brexit version of world history. What the Ancient Egyptians did was remarkable. We should study and be in awe of their achievements for these were their achievements alone. But what these mega projects did to their economy is another matter. I’m sure someone managed to buy a nice penthouse overlooking the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as a consequence.

There have always been charlatans and fake dentists and they may or may not actually believe the nonsense that they spew. But Hancock has made a nice amount of money peddling his snake oil theory of history, more than he would have made if he had remained as the East African correspondent for The Economist. He is clearly a smart guy whose success relies on the ignorance of his audience who say, “Why was I never told this before?” Well, because we never asked.

Reprinted with the kind permission of