socio-biologists behaving badly?

i sure hope this isn’t true (links added by me):

“The Weird Irony at the Heart of the Napoleon Chagnon Affair”
“By John Horgan

“…I was still working on my review of [patrick tierney‘s] Darkness [in El Dorado] when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer.

“I responded that I could not discuss a review with them prior to publication. (Only Dennett persisted in questioning my intentions, and I finally had to tell him, rudely, to leave me alone. I am reconstructing these exchanges from memory; I did not print them out.) I was so disturbed by the pressure from Dawkins et al — who seemed to be defending not Chagnon per se but the sociobiology paradigm — that I ended up making my review of Darkness more positive….”

=/

see also: napoleon chagnon @wikipedia.

(note: comments do not require an email. yanomamo guys.)

Advertisements

15 Comments

  1. It is interesting, but Horgan is not a neutral observer here (whenever the topic of violence in prehistoric societies comes up, he makes it clear that he is vehemently opposed to any suggestion that a human propensity to violence may be innate). His own attitude can be seen by the public exchange that occurred after the article was posted, which Horgan kindly provided at the end of his post:

    To the Editor:

    In Darkness in El Dorado, Patrick Tierney accuses scientists of inciting lethal violence among the Yanomami and deliberately or negligently spreading a devastating epidemic among them. These are extraordinary charges, and call for a serious evaluation. Your reviewer, John Horgan, writes only that Tierney ”should have worked harder” to prove them. He failed to mention that the charges have been examined in detail and shown to be false. The National Academy of Sciences, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have consulted the historians, physicians, epidemiologists, filmmakers and anthropologists with firsthand knowledge of the events in Tierney’s book, and they have systematically refuted its accusations….” Richard Dawkins, Oxford, England. Daniel C. Dennett, Medford, Mass. Marc Hauser, Cambridge, Mass. Steven Pinker,
Cambridge, Mass. 
E. O. Wilson,
Cambridge, Mass.

    John Horgan replies:

    Richard Dawkins et al. are understandably concerned about the impact of Darkness in El Dorado on the reputation of Darwinian social science. But as representatives of that enterprise, they risk further damaging its reputation–and exposing themselves as defenders not of truth but of sociobiological dogma–by declaring that Tierney’s book has been ”systematically refuted.” The evidence they cite comes not from impartial evaluations of Darkness but from partisan attacks… Tierney’s book raises painful, embarrassing questions about how scientists and journalists have treated isolated, indigenous people. I believe that in the long run, science and journalism — and the human objects of their observations — will benefit if these questions are faced rather than suppressed. “

    While I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in this dispute, and while there is obviously coördination on the part of Dawkins et al., as Horgan calls him, what they say does not sound unreasonable given Tierney’s accusations, particularly if they had been demonstrated to be false as conclusively as implied.

    Reply

  2. @r.a. – “…but Horgan is not a neutral observer here….”

    no, indeed. thus the question mark in the title of the post.

    the whole affair was/is an ugly one, and i’m not interested in devoting the time and effort to try to sort out what happened. too complicated/soap opery for me.

    but if (if) dawkins and/or any of the others did try to intimidate horgan (or anyone else) — and i don’t necessarily believe that, but i do leave it open as possibility — then that is just uncool.

    Reply

  3. I know Horgan quite well, or feel as if I do, having listened to quite a few of his diavlogs with George Johnson on Bloggingheads.tv Though he is a likable guy, at least I thought so, he is really not much of a science journalist, let alone scientist, if by science journalist you mean someone who can sort out the wheat from the chaff in scientific controversies. He uncritically accepts the “consensus” on catastrophic global warming, for example, which is sort of like accepting Marx and Freud as scientists in the 1930’s. I.e., everybody who was anybody did it.

    Reply

  4. @luke – “…he is really not much of a science journalist, let alone scientist, if by science journalist you mean someone who can sort out the wheat from the chaff in scientific controversies.”

    interesting. thanks! i don’t know the first thing about horgan. (i need to get out more.)

    Reply

  5. As I read it, the efforts of Dawkins, et al were directed towards the false nature of the personal attacks on Chagnon NOT the introduction of social politics into what tries to be a science (although that is certainly a worthy subject).

    Horgan’s inability to understand that distinction speaks volumes.

    Reply

  6. Seconding Fred-m: I would give a great deal of benefit of the doubt to anyone defending Changnon’s honour against the marxist attacks upon it.

    This is a man who didn’t bring up the disgusting activities of Jacques Lizot (who was a critic of Chagnon, as well as being a pervert) in his recent book. Why? He’s all about the science.

    Reply

  7. Horgan is a left over blank slater and apologist for Patrick Tierney, whose vile slander of Napolean Chagnon, “Darkness in El Dorado,” has been deconstructed by Alice Dreger in “Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association.” Her article can be found online for free via Google, and is really a must-read for anyone interested in this controversy. I would take any moral accusations by the likes of Horgan with a grain of salt until I heard both sides of the story. He is better understood as a secular religious zealot than a scientist.

    Reply

  8. @helian – “Her article can be found online for free via Google, and is really a must-read for anyone interested in this controversy.”

    thanks. i did download it a while back, but i only skimmed it. i will have to sit down and give it a good, hard read.

    @helian – “He is better understood as a secular religious zealot than a scientist.”

    gotcha.

    Reply

  9. @gcochran9 – “Horgan is … [d]ishonest, too.”

    well, i didn’t know anything about horgan before now, but what made me raise an eyebrow was the fact (so he says) that he never kept any of these supposed intimidating emails. -?- who gets intimidating emails and doesn’t save them somehow? that part of his story didn’t make sense at all.

    Reply

  10. John Horgan once wrote an impassioned plea in defense of Stephen Jay Gould, once the media finally caught wind that it was he who had been fudging the numbers all along regaring cranial capacity, not Samuel Morton.

    You see, everything Gould did was absolutely righteous, just, and morally defensible, because the public belief in biological determinism is evil, and the dismissal of any evidence that may be diverted toward that purpose must be applauded. Even if you have to fib like a used car salesman in Guangzhou.

    Also, if you believe that genes influence human behavior in any way, you are a biological determinist. But people who believe in the inverse are not blank slaters, and only a Nazi would resort to that vicious and unjustified dodge. Funny how that works out.

    I’d post the link here, but I’m too lazy to google it atm.

    Reply

  11. Never mind, found it.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2011/06/24/defending-stephen-jay-goulds-crusade-against-biological-determinism/

    My favorite quote:

    Some caveats are in order here. First of all, Holloway and his colleagues analyzed fewer than half of the skulls in Morton’s collection. Second, their analysis, far from being “straightforward,” was highly technical and based on many judgment calls, as were those of Gould and Morton. The divergent results depend in part on whether to include or exclude certain skulls that could unduly skew estimates of brain sizes.

    Sampling theory, how does it work. Golly gee, would you look at all those principles of experiment design I am probably too stupid to understand biased, arbitrary judgment calls? Statistics hurts my brain!

    Also, LOL @ Greg Cochran’s comment below:

    I think this post by John Horgan exhibits the true
    spirit of Scientific American. But I doubt if he can help it: he was probably born that way.

    Reply

  12. @misdreavus – “John Horgan once wrote an impassioned plea in defense of Stephen Jay Gould, once the media finally caught wind that it was he who had been fudging the numbers all along regaring cranial capacity, not Samuel Morton.”

    ah. now i understand where horgan is coming from. that link clarifies everything. thanks! (^_^)

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s