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December 25, 2019 8:43 am

Interview With a Holocaust Denier: A Physics Conundrum

avatar by Simon Butler

Opinion

A computer-generated image of mathematical equations. Photo: Torley via Flickr.

There’s generally a broad line between antisemitic conspiracy theorists and legitimate scientists, but this week, the gap got a little smaller in one particular instance.

On Monday, Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder, a respected physicist and periodic contributor to The New York Timesappeared in a YouTube video with US-born, Japan-based Holocaust denier and self-titled “geopolitical analyst” Ryan Dawson, who interviewed her on problems unrelated to her field during a livestream via his “Antineocon Report” program.

Dawson — who has been banned from platforms such as PayPal, Vimeo, and Google Adsense for his antisemitic, racist, and homophobic hate speech — is known for his highly offensive and extremely disturbing social media activities, including content denigrating noted academic Deborah Lipstadt and denying facts about the Holocaust in a video that lifts and modifies, without authorization, a TED Talk in which she spoke.

Additionally, Dawson has disseminated content on Bitchute — a video-focused website that attracts white supremacists because of its laissez-faire approach to moderation — that supports the ideologies of the terrorist known as the Unabomber, who murdered people by sending them explosive devices, by calling him “legit” and urging people to “read the Unabomber’s manifesto.”

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Most disturbingly, Dawson uploaded a video to his YouTube channel that features him saying, “And now, for your moment of zen, an Israeli tank driver getting shot in the face,” followed by violent footage purporting to show exactly that.

The question remains then, why Hossenfelder — a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) in Germany whose articles not only have appeared in the Times, but also in Scientific American , PBS’s NOVA blog, and other publications — would deign to appear with Dawson in any capacity, let alone a discussion of physics. Hossenfelder primarily generates opinions and other texts on her blog that don’t, in general, relate to any of Dawson’s ideologies, so it’s possible that she didn’t realize the nature of Dawson’s proclivities.

Yet if that’s the case, surely it would have behooved her to research her interviewer before agreeing to come on his show. It’s not a good look to associate with Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorists … particularly ones whose views of science encompass castigation of prominent teenage climate-change activist Greta Thunberg, as Dawson has done on his vk.com page.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. During his career, he has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek. Currently, he is a columnist for The Jewish Advocate. His views and opinions are his own.

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