January 9, 2016


The left's own war on science : The witch hunt against Napoleon Chagnon shows us what happens if scientists challenge the core beliefs of 'progressives' (Toby Young, 1/08/16, The Spectator)

In 2000, in a book called Darkness in El Dorado, the journalist Patrick Tierney accused Chagnon and his collaborator James Neel of fomenting wars among rival tribes, aiding and abetting illegal gold miners, deliberately infecting the Yanomamö with measles and paying subjects to kill each other. Shockingly, these charges were taken at face value and widely reported in liberal publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times. (A headline in the Guardian read: -'Scientist "killed Amazon Indians to test race theory".') Many of Chagnon's colleagues turned on him, including the American Anthropological Association, which set up an task force to investigate. Chagnon was not allowed to defend himself and this task force published a report 'confirming' several allegations. As a result, Chagnon was forced into early retirement. In her book, Dreger summarises the thought crime that turned him into such a plump target: 'Chagnon saw and represented in the Yanomamö a somewhat shocking image of evolved "human nature" -- one featuring males fighting violently over fertile females, domestic brutality, ritualised drug use and ecological indifference. Not your standard liberal image of the unjustly oppressed, naturally peaceful, environmentally gentle rainforest Indian family.'

In a 50,000-word article published in 2011 in a peer-reviewed journal, she painstakingly rebutted all the charges against Chagnon, detailing the various ways in which Tierney had fabricated and misrepresented the evidence. Chagnon has now been exonerated and resumed his career.

Dreger has not abandoned her own liberal convictions. She believes the search for scientific truth and social justice go hand in hand and ends her book with an plea to academic colleagues to defend freedom of thought. But her title, Galileo's Middle Finger, suggests the progressive left may not survive these clashes with heretical scientists. In comparing Chagnon to the Italian astronomer, she implies that the church of progressive opinion will face the same fate as the theologians who insisted the Earth was the centre of the universe. Eventually, the truth may prove too much. I recently interviewed Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, and he's confident that the liberal left can survive without the myth of the noble savage. I'm not so sure.

It can't.  The entire Left project--starting with the French Revolution--is premised on a denial of The Fall.
Posted by at January 9, 2016 11:05 AM