From John Ray's shorter notes

February 26, 2005

Anthropology: fraud-prone

I spent my entire academic career teaching in university departments that offered anthropology courses so I think I have gained some impression of what it is all about. And the No. 1 impression I gained is that it is intensely ideological -- with many (but by no means all) anthropologists being on the far Left. It is anything but a dispassionate tabulation of kin networks and the like.

And the political nature of anthropology is very clearly shown by the saga of Margaret Mead -- still probably the best-known and most revered anthropologist. The fact that she was a dedicated liar seems to faze almost no-one in anthropology. What she said SHOULD have been right, apparently. Her work is seen as "fake but accurate", to use a recently famous phrase.

Her most famous book was Coming of Age in Samoa, in which she described the Polynesian Samoans as sexually libertine -- which was just about the opposite of the truth. But the book was written at a time when Western sexual morality was still fairly strict and the misrepresentations of the book helped the Left to ridicule that sort of morality. The man who exposed Mead's frauds, Derek Freeman, was not at all thanked for his work -- as he would have been if anthropology had been a true science. He was treated as a pariah, in fact.

And Franz Boas, Margaret Mead's teacher and the man often seen as the "father" of modern anthropology, was a fraud in the Leftist cause too. See here and here and here

So with that background the following recent news item should be no surprise:

"A flamboyant anthropology professor, whose work had been cited as evidence Neanderthal man once lived in Northern Europe, has resigned after a German university panel ruled he fabricated data and plagiarized the works of his colleagues. Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a Frankfurt university panel ruled, lied about the age of human skulls, dating them tens of thousands of years old, even though they were much younger, reports Deutsche Welle. "The commission finds that Prof. Protsch has forged and manipulated scientific facts over the past 30 years," the university said of the widely recognized expert in carbon data in a prepared statement...... The fallout from Protsch's false dating of northern European bone finds is only beginning. Chris Stringer, a Stone Age specialist and head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said: "What was considered a major piece of evidence showing that the Neanderthals once lived in northern Europe has fallen by the wayside. We are having to rewrite prehistory." ..... Frankfurt University's president, Rudolf Steinberg, apologized for the university's failure to curb Protsch's misconduct for decades. "A lot of people looked the other way," he said."

I think anthropology is a very important discipline that has much to teach us about the nature of man but, regrettably, you have to beware of anthropologists in studying it. You have to try to get at the facts behind the ideology -- not easy. But occasionally the truth gets out -- as here and here and here

2019 UPDATE: The work by the heroic Napoleon Chagnon (linked last above) would now seem to have been fully vindicated despite a prolonged fierce attack on it by other anthropologists. Chagnon chronicled the extremely aggresive and warlike lives of the "Fierce" Yanamamo tribe in Amazonia. He appears in fact to have had the last laugh, with the anthropological establishment retreating into jargon-laden incoherence

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