"Heretic" and "The Heretic"

In Richard's Bean play The

anthropogenic global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a worldwide
conspiracy of climate scientists.

In David Williamson's play Heretic the role of nurture in
anthropology is a hoax perpetrated by two young Samoan women on March 13, 1926.

When you boil down the premise of each play down to its essence, it
sound ridiculous and it is. It does make for a good story -- the lone
heretic standing up to the scientific orthodoxy and proving them
wrong. And from most accounts each play was enjoyable to those who
swallowed the premise, but it each a case a good story is bad science.

You can get an idea of how bad the science in The Heretic is when
you see that the title character is based on Nils-Axel Mörner, famous
for this graph proving that sea level is not rising.


More on the dodgy science of The Heretic at The Carbon Brief.

As for Heretic a story in the Sydney Morning Herald (5 April 1996)
illustrates what was wrong with the science as well as showing us that
Derek Freeman, the heretic is the play was, well, bonkers.

It was not John McCallum's day. The theatre critic for The Australian was astounded when Professor Derek Freeman called to see him at the University of NSW.

"I told him," said Freeman, "he was riff raff and a disgrace to journalism. I said if he went to Samoa he would be obliged to perform a public apology. He would be sent outside with no covering on his head and with stones and firewood.

"That indicates he's only fit to be baked like a hog. I said 'you're
FFF, that means 'fit for flaying'. I was in good form." Freeman,
portrayed as one of two leading characters in David Williamson's new
play Heretic, then went to see the deputy vicechancellor of the
university, Professor Tony Wicken, "and I told him 'that man is unfit
to be a drama critic'". ...

Freeman objected to comments in the review that "the play ignores the fact that Mead went to the outlying island of Ta'u in 1925, whereas Freeman's main data were collected on mainland Samoa from official records ... it glides over the fact that Mead was a young parvenu when she did her original work, whereas Freeman was accepted as an elder of the colonial Samoan society. It perversely tries to represent this as a sign of Freeman's greater objectivity.

"In assuming that Mead got it all wrong, Williamson places great
climactic dramatic emphasis on the highly problematic 'confession' of
one old woman, a self-confessed liar who, as a respectable member of
the church very late in life, suddenly denied ... that she had ever
played around sexually in her youth. To paraphrase Christine Keeler,
well, she would say that, wouldn't she."

(I know, that was Mandy
, not
Keeler. They didn't have wikipedia in those days.)

Well worth a look is Paul Shankman's account of the Mead-Freeman controversy.

More like this

It has often been proposed that large reptiles, such as monitor lizards and crocodiles, might have provided the origin for the dragon myths of the world. There might be some truth to this, but the possibility that rather more spectacular reptiles might have played a contributing role is rather…
Morgan Freeman is one of those actors who is always good, even if the movie is bad. Most recently I saw him in in Now You See Me, which I enjoyed, despite its preposterous story. He is also a big science booster. He hosts the show Through the Wormhole on the Science Channel. So, all in all, I'm…
A forthcoming PBS documentary called The Lobotomist examines the career of psychiatrist Walter J. Freeman, who performed nearly 3,000 "ice pick" lobotomies during the late 1930s and 1940s. The hour-long program, which is partly based on Jack El-Hai's book of the same name, contains old footage of…
I've been sent two lists of "10 Books That Screwed Up the World", and I'm not very impressed with either of them. The first is from a new book by Benjamin Wanker Wiker of the same title, published by Regnery Press, the imprint of right-wing wackaloons everywhere. Here's Wiker's list: The Prince,…

Having studied this controversy at some length in my anthropology degree (and having met Derek), I'd say you've picked the wrong side this time, Tim. Freeman's case that Margaret Mead was wrong about nature/nurture in Samoa is well supported by extensive field, statistical and archival research and was laid out in his earlier book "Margaret Mead and Samoa". For example, adolescent suicide has a higher incidence in Samoa than in the US and this has been the case for as far back as Freeman could trace records. Convictions for rape and sexual assault by male adolescent samoans were also higher than comparable US communities.

It stands independently of whether or not Faâapuaâa hoaxed Mead or has accurate memories of the 1920s - that is a side issue to do with the precise reasons Mead came to the erroneous conclusions that she did (It's worth noting that Mead's parallel conclusions about gender among the Chambri/Tchambuli have also not stood the test of time).

Having met him, I have no hesitation in saying that Derek Freeman was a very weird and highly combative man (which the play acknowledged, incidentally, by having his character go through Freudian analysis on stage) but his analytical skills were top notch.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 23 Feb 2011 #permalink

James, it may well be that Mead made significant errors in her work on Samoa. But Freeman's claim that she was hoaxed by Faâapuaâa is false without a doubt. After Freeman's death Shankman gained access to the tapes of the interviews with Faâapuaâa and the bits that Freeman left out of his book are damning to his case. Shankman's book is well worth a read if you are interested in the affair.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 23 Feb 2011 #permalink

Heard this on the radio with an interview. The actor plays a "nice but dim" character from Vicar of Dibley and he was going on about this being a good character change since he was now a scientist and smart.

He then said of the play that it was more a love story with two people who were ashamed of living since they were killing the planet by breathing.

I'm afraid he's not playing a smart character this time, either. Any scientist who thinks human breath is anthropogenic CO2 causing CO2 levels to rise IS NOT a smart character.

But crappy stuff can have a successful career as "cult" -just see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"! Question -are the plays bad enough to get unintentionally funny?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Freeman was indeed weird, but so was Mead, who had a huge influence on Ehrlich (who predicted we will all be dead by now) and Holdren, Mubarak Obama's "science adviser", who said way back in 1992 or so there was nothing in the US Constitution to stop forcible sterilisation of people with too-large families, read Afro-Americans.

Here are some more Ehrlich-Holdrenisms both begat by Margaret Mead:

"The most serious of Maddox's (then editor of Nature) many demographic errors is his invocation of a 'demographic transition' as the cure for population growth in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He expects that birth rates there will drop as they did in developed countries following the industrial revolution. Since most underdeveloped countries are unlikely to have an industrial revolution, this seems somewhat optimistic at best. --Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, The Times, 26 June 1972.

I myself published a peer reviewed paper back in 1968 predicting the same as Maddox, and that has of course proved to be the case, economic development leads to declining population growth. But here Gillard's carbon tax will end economic growth and reduce all Australia to the 3rd world country already typified in the NT.

Here's another gem proving that social democrats here with their love of Holdren are at bottom eugenicists:

Overpopulation was an early concern and interest, and in 1969, writing with Paul R. Ehrlich, Holdren claimed that, "if the population control measures are not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come."[10] In 1973 Holdren encouraged a decline in fertility to well below replacement in the United States, because "210 million now is too many and 280 million in 2040 is likely to be much too many"[11]. Currently, the U.S. population is 306,955,000[12]. In 1977 he co-authored (with Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich) Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,[13] which discussed the possible role of a wide range of solutions to overpopulation, from voluntary family planning at one extreme, to enforced population controls at the other extreme [especially of non-whites of course]".

By Fred Knell (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Fred Knell said: "But here Gillard's carbon tax will end economic growth and reduce all Australia to the 3rd world country already typified in the NT".

We have two choices Fred. Either the economic costs of dealing with carbon emissions (which currently get a free pass) are factored into our economy or we can gamble on coping with a destabilised global climate which will achieve an equilibrium very different to that which human civilisation has grown up in, on the say-so of a bunch of fools whose preferred paradigm is to pretend that nothing is happening.

Economists are probably the least qualified people to pontificate on factors to which no monetary value has been assigned, but which actual survival of the world as we currently know it depend on.

"Ehrlich (who predicted we will all be dead by now)"

Utter drivel. Not even worthy of a response.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

But here Gillard's carbon tax will end economic growth and reduce all Australia to the 3rd world country already typified in the NT.

Don't know about you Fred, but I didn't notice the economy collapsing when the price of oil doubled. I think it's resilient enough to absorb a price on carbon.

> But here Gillard's carbon tax will end economic growth and reduce all Australia to the 3rd world country already typified in the NT.

Fred seems to be a bit of an alarmist.

Should we introduce the term 'CECCP alarmist' (Catastrophic Economic Collapse due to Carbon Pricing)? You know, as counterpoint to the boring CAGW moniker??

....nah, probably not.

Nah, CAGW covers it.

Fred is CERTAIN that doing anything about AGW will be Catastrophic.

It is, of course, yet another example of projection that they complain of "alarmist IPCC CAGW".

I've seen the videotape of Faâapuaâa's so called first interview. It is readily apparent that she is being coerced. She is sitting in a chair surrounded by standing male Samoan church leaders, and it is obvious in her body language that she resents being forced to betray someone she considered a friend.

Freeman did not go to Samoa as an ethnographer. He was a missionary. He received his degree much later, He was enlisted by these same western educated (BYU) Samoan male church leaders specifically to renounce Mead, because they thought her study an affront to their Christian(Mormon) faith. It was all political.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Actually chek, it is precisely the profound contributions of generations of economists that gives us confidence in our ability to adapt effectively to a low carbon future. Moreover, as to putting a price on the priceless, economists are the ones who have clarified so much about what constitutes value, and have got us thinking about tradeoffs in a way that can increase our insight into these problems.

I get the whole tongue in cheek thing- I too am unfailingly frustrated by the chutzpa/audacity/hubris of your average economist (or at the very least, so very many of them), to say nothing of the pseudo-economic silliness of ignorami like Frank Knell. But there's a baby in that bathwater worth hanging on to. Just for one example, the smart people looking to develop a better understanding of *why* and *how* adaptation to clean energy will work. Unsuprisingly their conclusions are not anywhere near the apocalyptic scare mongering of the Koch pawns amongst us, (unwitting and otherwise).

Notwithstanding its considerable and repeated failures, economics remains on the side of reality in all things for those that can separate wheat and chaff.

By Majorajam (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

>*Don't know about you Fred, but I didn't notice the economy collapsing when the price of oil doubled. I think it's resilient enough to absorb a price on carbon.*

Fred's "argument" is worse than than that, as the carbon tax will cost less than the GST, reduced pollution that causes respirator disease, which will in turn improve life expectancy and quality. IT will also provide revenue for pro-economic activity such as developing alternative energy systems that will be further than otherwise advanced when as price of oil rises due to depletion.

The USA suffered much more due to the rising price of oil (with GM collapsing etc) because they had lower fuel taxes. When cars in the USA use [37% more fuel per mile](http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBgQFjAA&u…) you are more exposed to fuel shocks. Structurally it also meant many in th US had less transport alternatives to high fuel taxing countries in Europe.

Wasn't Juliet Stevenson a supporter of Andrew Wakefield's MMR rubbish?

Tim @ 2, I've read about 6 books on this controversy and I don't know if I could bear to read one more! Having read that Shankman article you link to, all he demonstrates is that Faâapuaâa, at 93, was an unreliable witness. That doesn't mean that she was lying to Freeman either; it means that there's legitimate doubt about whether her memory of telling stories to Mead is accurate, and Freeman was unwise to suppress this doubt and make her testimony a cornerstone of an argument that, as I said, stood perfectly well without it. It seems to me that as Shankman acknowledges, Freeman was trying to protect Mead's reputation from any accusation of fraud as opposed to naivete. That's consistent with his rather quixotic personality. That he was largely right about adolescence in Samoa, and Mead was largely wrong, is the point.

I'm prepared to say that this is one case where "teach the controversy" is the appropriate response - as is often the case in the social, rather than natural, sciences, where so much depends on human interpretation of human actions.

Luminous beauty @ 13, Freeman was a militant Popperian and an atheist in the Dawkins mould. I don't know where you get the idea that he was a missionary. I'd also be very wary of naive cross-cultural interpretations of body language.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

*[Off topic. Take it to the Open Thread. And replies to Knell should go there too, Tim]*

By Fred Knell (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Why are my further comments on Freeman in moderation while Binghi and Fred sail on through?

By James Haughton (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Fred, I noticed [my comments](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/02/heretic_and_the_heretic.php#com…) were too hot for you to address!

Just thought I should draw attention to that.

BTW it was ponzi scheme financing followig deregulation of finanical markets that played a larger part in the collapse of economies on global scale. The oil price spike was the spike that burst a systemic bubble.

But I'd be interested in your evidence that it was more about oil, as I reckon that would strengthen my argument.

James my posts go auto into moderation when I use the word 'fr@ud' or post more than 3 links. Could this be in play?

Birger Johansson, whatever else you were saying, I hope it wasn't that Rocky Horror Picture Show was crappy! The first half of that movie is absolutely brilliant (and the second half was crappy, but I'd rather not talk about that....).

By John Brookes (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

Notice most comments there are proudly stupid people saying "We'll win, because there are more stupid people like us!"

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

James, no one's going to agree with you because you know Freeman personally. Quite the contrary. And the people evaluating this also know Samoa. That's why it's a controversy. Your real quarrel is with Paul Shankman.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

The commentators over at The Carbon Brief want it both ways:

"its only a play that shouldn't be judged on the 'science' it contains"


"this website is biased for criticising our side's science"

I gleaned from Montford's blog that Richard Bean has read Montford's book. Wading through Montford's tome does demonstrate some commitment to the denialist cause.

By lord_sidcup (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

from the skeptic cite:

These allegations about Mead have been repeated so often that they have become conventional wisdom. Martin Gardner, the noted science watcher, found Freemanâs hoaxing argument âirrefutable.â Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, biologist Richard Dawkins, evolutionary psychologist David Buss, science writer Matt Ridley, classicist Mary Lefkowitz, and many other intelligent people have endorsed the idea that Mead was hoaxed and have deplored her naïvité.

As War and the noble savage shows, the presence of Pinker in this is no accident - there's a larger war going on, with self-proclaimed "skeptics" attempting to establish a conservative doctrine as science's opinion:

Our differences are genetic, because that means we need not help anyone who suffers in society. ("No blank slate" - Pinker)

But contrary to the above, which enshrines the social divisions created by Nature, it's also a complete myth that "natural" things are better than "artificial" things. This ignores the fact that the bias for natural things ia a heuristic, not a scientific law, and that it's rooted in evolutionary biology. But "debunking" it is very convenient for industry. The hypocrisy of this working with capitalism, which bows to the "naturalness" of laissez-faire, is obvious, but never mentionable. (The myth that natural is better - Pinker)

Finally, the non-capitalist, non-industrialist people are completely contemptible, and "Hobbes was right." (Pinker again) Not only do primitives need to lose their land and resources and be colonized, but people en masse need to be told what to do - they'll be safer from violence, even counting periodic holocausts.

Typically all of this is mono-sourced (for violence, he has basically only Keeley, though he eventually read a few others), and fought in the public arena (and by Pinker, entirely viciously) and not in the realm of evidence or even coherence.

All of this springs from a tradition of pleasing the ruling classes and it leverages the standard tactic of denigrating anything that challenges them as "PC" and dismissing it by manufacturing strawmen.

That's one reason what was ostensibly a fight over levels of selection turned into McCarthyism in the past. Not only were, e.g., Lewontin and Gould accused of doing Marxism instead of science, but Dawkins, Pinker and Wilson attempted to smear them with the actions of the tiny but radical (ultra-Maoist) Progressive Labor Organization when they interrupted a speech by E. O. Wilson. Hence, Pinker's absolute lying bullshit about the nurturists not being smeared with an association with "Mao or Stalin" is refuted by Pinker's own actions. (he was crying about how hereditarians were tainted by association with racists and Nazis).

It's instructive - very - that James Houghton, for instance, like Freeman (and like Pinker) - can't say that Mead had any points at all, even though numerous anthropologists familiar with Samoa say she did. No, she must be utterly wrong, and Freeman utterly right, and I guess that's for reasons not involving the record.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

I think my long post in moderation would lead us astray from the fact that the reviewer of Heretic made good points.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 24 Feb 2011 #permalink

I agree with Majorajam (@14).

There are people who are (or claim to be) pessimistic about economies' ability to survive the transition to zero GHG emissions but economists are not conspicuous among them.

And they have done much to illuminate the issues, eg see the Garnaut Report's discussion of what can be given a market value and what can't etc.

Generally speaking, when a denialist makes some ridiculously alarmist claim about the alleged economic impact of emissions-reduction policies, they simply demonstrate that they are as clueless about economics as they are about climate science.

Marion, I just think that comparing Derek Freeman to global warming denialists is a misrepresentation of Derek. He was hot-tempered, I'm not disputing that he flew off the handle at some theatre reviewer, but calling him "bonkers" as Tim does is unfair - I don't think any of his mistakes are comparable to Morner's graph tilting, and, as I said, his case against Mead is independent of Faâapuaâa's testimony.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 25 Feb 2011 #permalink

> I just think that comparing Derek Freeman to global warming denialists is a misrepresentation of Derek. He was hot-tempered, I'm not disputing that he flew off the handle at some theatre reviewer...

However, AGW deniers also are often hot-tempered (see the various ravings of Monkfish when he's impugned) and frequently fly off the handle.

And if you turn around and say "his mistakes are not comparable to Morner's", then you're STILL comparing him to an AGW denier. Just in such a way as to make him different.

Comparison is comparison, whether you're matching or excluding a match.

"lumping him in with deniers is unfair" would be more correct (if indeed it is unfair, which is largely opinion), but that isn't being done.

James, look at [the letter Freeman calls "the smoking gun"](http://sociology.uwo.ca/mead/March14,1926.htm) (both in the play and in reality). Supposedly it proves that Faâapuaâa and Fofoa were her source for all her claims about sex. But it doesn't provide any evidence of the sort unless you quote mine like Freeman did.

None of this shows that Mead was right, but it does show that Freeman was wrong about the hoaxing. And we should not just conclude that Faâapuaâa was unreliable but that Freeman was as well.

As for being bonkers, this is from the Canberra Times:

>THE LATE Professor Derek Freeman is obituarised elsewhere in the paper, and, while the obituary faithfully deals with his distinguished academic career and some of its controversies and triumphs it rather tends to overlook the fact he was in many respects barking mad. This was a matter we always had difficulty in coping with at The Canberra Times; he was, with Professor Roger Keesing, the occupant of one of the most distinguished chairs in anthropology in the world and demanded a certain respect. Yet, to quote him on anything outside his discipline and even a few things inside it was to invite the most fundamental questions about his sanity, particularly when the moon was in a particular place and Derek was wearing his deerstalker hat. The response of one former editor, with personal experience of his theories, was to ban most coverage of him because it was not good form to make fun of the insane, however enthusiastically they volunteered for the role. This reporter had a number of encounters with Derek over his opposition to the ANU's acquisition of a replica of the Aztec calendar stone, which Derek thought monstrous and horrible with malignant connotations, and, in any event, just a piece of cheap junk. While it was being handed over by the Mexican ambassador, the ANU posted a number of security guards, believing this distinguished scholar might attack it with red paint, to symbolise the blood spilt on it.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 25 Feb 2011 #permalink


>Luminous beauty @ 13, Freeman was a militant Popperian and an atheist in the Dawkins mould. I don't know where you get the idea that he was a missionary. I'd also be very wary of naive cross-cultural interpretations of body language.

When you knew him he may well have been a militant atheist. However as a young man, he went to Western Samoa as a teacher in a missionary school, thus he was a de facto missionary, whether he had yet to shed his Presbyterian upbringing at that time or not. It is because he had this history in Samoa that he was enlisted by Mormon Samoans for their political interest in refuting Mead. It would be an interesting study to do on social stress on native converts to Mormonism at a time when Mormon doctrine was explicitly racist and misogynist.

Furthermore, it is unlikely he had much intimate and empathic social contact with adolescent females in Western Samoa, much less U.S. Samoa. Nor that the missionary records from Western Samoa that he used to refute Mead were necessarily consistent with life in U.S. Samoa due to the quite distinct differences in repression of native culture in the period following the end of WWI.

As for body language, I'd suggest not making any naive assumptions about what I know about emic and etic observations of culture, Polynesian or otherwise, and without seeing the videotaped evidence for yourself.

Additionally, I would contend much of Freeman's rebuttal of "Coming of Age" rests on a misconception of what Franz Boas actually sent Mead to Samoa to study. An artificial controversy on top of another artificial controversy.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 25 Feb 2011 #permalink

Speaking of Nils-Axel Mörner, I have been trying to locate a pdf of:

Nerem, R. S., A. Cazenave, D. P. Chambers, L. Fu, E. W. Leuliette, G. T. Mitchum. Comment on âEstimating future sea level change from past recordsâ by Nils-Axel Mörner, Global and Planetary Change, Vol. 55, No. 4. (2007), pp. 358-360. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2006.08.002 Key: citeulike:8836999.

but my institution doesn't have it, and the [doi link](http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.gloplacha.2005.04.001) is down.

Does anyone know where I might find it sooner rather than later?

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 26 Feb 2011 #permalink

at the time the only schools were missionary schools; that doesn't prove anything about the religious beliefs of those who were hired to teach in them. Derek quite clearly took the job to get field experience, just like many young people today who volunteer for overseas aid without necessarily believing in the christianity of the organisation which sends them. If anything, at that stage of his life he was a [Krishnamurti Buddhist](http://www.jstor.org/pss/25169695).

And you assume that I haven't seen the video, and that I should assume you are a visual anthropologist with pacific experience, because...? What do you think Boas sent Mead to study (and how does it alter the debate)?

Tim, I'm honestly not seeing in that letter what you are seeing in it.

Marion, I disagree with Pinker on a large number of things, including the conservative spin he places on various anthropological disputes. "Can't say Mead had any points at all"? Let's just say that a lot of her fields have been restudied and a lot of people have arrived at conclusions very different from those she arrived at; and some bits are obvious errors or fabrications (e.g. the claim that samoan girls fake hymen rupture with "a chicken bladder full of blood" when chickens don't have bladders...)

I can play "duelling anthropologists" and cite various people with Samoan expertise who agree with Freeman and disagree with Mead, if you're going to be petty about it.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 26 Feb 2011 #permalink

Thanks J Bowers.

I wasn't sure that Dale's quote included the entire piece, but you've convinced me now.

I'm pleased to have that bow in my quiver.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 26 Feb 2011 #permalink

James, I'm saying that the letter isn't any sort of "smoking gun" and that's clear if you read it yourself. Figuring out who is right or wrong about much of this stuff requires expertise in anthropology that we don't have, but there is evidence, like Mead's letters that we can evaluate ourselves. And that suggests that Freeman was delusional.

Freeman was wrong to claim that Mead was hoaxed. And this was central to his case and the play.

On the other hand,

>the claim that samoan girls fake hymen rupture with "a chicken bladder full of blood" when chickens don't have bladders

was not central to her argument.

Especially since it was not a claim she made.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 26 Feb 2011 #permalink


Central to the play, yes. Central to Derek's case, no. His case rests on quite extensive fieldwork and archival research. Being, in fact, a practicing anthropologist (though not in Samoa) I believe I do have the relevant expertise. And Shankman has not proved that Mead was not hoaxed. All he has done is proved that Faâapuaâa 's memory was not very reliable. This doesn't settle anything one way or the other.

Anthropology has a lot of eccentric characters in it (as does the Canberra Times editorial board, for that matter), and that story about the calendar stone is often retold - but to put some context around it (and defend Freeman from Marion's rightwing insinuations) Derek's actions should be viewed in much the same light as animal rights activists who throw paint on fur coats. Derek's point was that Aztec culture was one of genocidal imperialism and so should not be celebrated. Though Derek had these sorts of eccentricities, he was no "crank magnet". To quote Paul Shankman "Nor are Freeman's academic credentials in dispute. In terms of fieldwork, archival research, and language ability, Freeman's credentials are outstanding. However, they do not make his history of Samoan sexual conduct immune from review and critique" [source](http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCMQFjAC&url=htt…). I object to you treating a legitimate academic dispute within anthropology as equivalent to the pro/anti science division over AGW.

My mistake on attribution of the "chicken bladder" - it was a claim made by Lowell Holmes in support of Mead. Mead only claimed that chicken blood was substituted - a claim against which Shankman writes "Freeman's logic seems impeccable and his critique is devastating" - and it was quite central to her argument, since it's obviously absurd to suggest, as Mead does, a culture which both celebrates "free love" in the youth and has public defloration ceremonies to ensure that girls are virgins before marriage.

Shankman's and others' case against Freeman is largely that Freeman mistakes the ideal of virginity, as proclaimed by the chiefs and elders to whom he had the most access, with the reality of adolescent conduct (Shankman: "his rejoinder does not challenge my broad account of the differences between Samoan public morality and private behavior"). But central to Mead's claim about Samoa was that the free enjoyment of adolescent sexuality was not in conflict with the mores of Samoan society as a whole. If it was instead in conflict with those mores, in the same kind of double standard about adolescent sex that we observe in the west, then Mead's case for the absence of Samoan adolescent rebellion against social mores collapses.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 27 Feb 2011 #permalink

Tim Lambert said:

As for Heretic a story in the Sydney Morning Herald (5 April 1996) illustrates what was wrong with the science as well as showing us that Derek Freeman, the heretic is the play was, well, bonkers.

I don't know why Tim Lambert wants to revive the tattered reputation of Margaret Mead by dredging up some gossip on Derek Freeman, as if her work is on a par with James Hansen. Whats wrong with this picture?

The Left's abuse of science in anthropology is as bad, in its own way, as the Right's abuse of science in ecology. Its way past time that (post-)modern anthropology was consigned to the dustbin of history.

Boas, Mead's mentor, founded it, not surprisingly, on a dodgy critique of craniometry.

Mead was a primary example, although by no means the worst, of the Left's war on the human sciences. She was at best a fool, although apparently not the kind who gets shy the second time around. Her work does not pass the laugh test, irrespective of whether Freeman was a bit cranky about a snarky review. The idea that Pacific island men did not mind their women sleeping around is not one I would care to test, either then or now.

Not so long ago there was the disgraceful treatment of Chagnon, whose realistic analysis of tribal violence was smeared by Anthropological Association. Subsequently vindicated, but the damage was done.

And now it seems that anthropology has more or less formally cut itself loose from science altogether. Its not exactly news to biological realists but its nice to have it straight from the horses mouth.

The Blank Slate, let alone the Noble Savage, and the rest of the dreary cavalcade of bogus anthropological characters are dead horses. Tim Lambert would be well advised to give his flogging arm a rest and stick to an area where he has some well-earned expertise: scientific ecology.

Shorter Jack Strocchi:

Margaret Mead was wrong about Fa'apua'a because the question was boring and I don't care whether she was right or wrong. Also there are some other unrelated issues where The Left™ was wrong, therefore by Strocchian logic, Margaret Mead was wrong about Fa'apua'a. I'll now attempt to sound balanced by adding some criticism of The Right™.

James, he called his book "The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead" and made the hoaxing claim central to his argument. And the hoax claim is just as ridiculous as Morner's tilted graph. As Martin Orans (who certainly isn't an apologist for Mead, decscribing her work on Samoa as "Not Even Wrong") pointed out, even if Faâapuaâa really did tell Mead that she had lots of sex, it's clear that Mead didn't believe her. Faâapuaâa was a ceremonial virgin and Mead wrote that the chastity of ceremonial virgins was carefully guarded, not that they had lots of premarital sex.

On the other hand, Mead's claim that virginity could be faked in a defloration ceremony was not central to "Coming of Age". In fact, it's not even in that book but a later one. And while Shankman wrote that "Freeman's logic seems impeccable" that's followed by a "But" as he demonstrates Freeman's misleading uses of sources. For example, Freeman cites Kramer as an authority on the ceremony without ever mentioning that Kramer also says that virginity could be faked.

But that's not the worst of it. After Freeman died, Shankman gained access to Freeman's unpublished postgraduate diploma thesis on Freeman's fieldwork in Samoa in the 40s. Here Freeman stated that "the taupou system has now become virtually defunct in Western Samoa". Shankman concludes:

>Freeman not only misrepresented the historical work of others but neglected his own personal experiences in the islands during World War II his unpublished work on the taupou system. to what extent these omissions were conscious and deliberate or unconscious and inadvertent is unclear. What is clear is that Freeman himself, not his sources, misrepresented and distorted the historical record so as to favor his interpretation of the taupou system and his critique of Mead. Mead's interpretation of the the decline of the taupou system, however brief, is more in accord with the historical record presented here.


>Luminous, at the time the only schools were missionary schools; that doesn't prove anything about the religious beliefs of those who were hired to teach in them.

It isn't a matter of Freeman's personal belief. It is a matter of the cultural mileau within which he operated. On one hand the missionary project out of Christchurch, in which he was employed, was not just religious, but political in nature (White Man's Burden, so to speak), and on the other, the Samoans saw him as a religious exemplified by making him tulafale soon after his arrival. A position that constrained his perception of the society he was observing. A constraint that didn't apply to Mead, as she was considered a status free adolescent female and allowed to roam freely among her peers up until the very end of her stay. I'd also suggest this sort of politically guided missionary project was not very pronounced in U.S. Samoa until after WWII.

Interesting that he was interested in the ideas of Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was no Buddhist, though.

>What do you think Boas sent Mead to study (and how does it alter the debate)?

It's Freeman's misconception that Boas sent Mead to Samoa to confirm Boas' bias (according to Freeman) against both biological and cultural evolution. Boas held no brief against biological evolution, nor the general concept of cultural evolution. What he objected to was widely held presumptive and exceptionalist views of biologically deterministic and teleologically driven cultural evolution and its ideological bastard child, social Darwinism, which Boas held to be unscientifically speculative, subjectively ethnocentric and fundamentally immoral. On the contrary, Boas entire career was dedicated to reconciling the physical and cultural branches of Anthropology.

Freeman's own views were actually just as nuanced, but hat doesn't excuse him for setting up Boas as a straw man. Freeman also seems to ignore Mead's nuanced view of Samoan society as a whole, but rather attacking Mead for what is, assuredly, a naive popular view of "Coming of Age" presenting some kind of idealized idyllic utopia.


Sparks and Jantz has been pretty thoroughly [rebutted](http://www.anthro.fsu.edu/people/faculty/CG_pubs/gravlee03b.pdf)

By "biological realists", I presume you mean racialists.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 28 Feb 2011 #permalink

[John Horgan's review](http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=margaret-meads-bashe…) of Shankman's book begins:

>Thirty-two years after her death, the anthropologist Margaret Mead remains a favorite whipping girl for ideologues of all stripes. Did you know that she cooked up the global-warming "hoax"? Some over-the-top global warming deniers say it all started in 1975 when Mead organized a conference to address overpopulation.

By Tim Lambert (not verified) on 28 Feb 2011 #permalink

Luminous beauty @ #48 said:

Jack, Sparks and Jantz has been pretty thoroughly rebutted

The "thorough rebuttal" you refer to neither states or implies a refutation. The editors take an even-handed approach to the debate. The authors at most claim to "reconcile" opposing interpretations of Boas dodgy study.

You've go to remember that these are mostly cultural anthropologists we are talking about. Its all about the "interpretation" which is as squishy as the underlying theory.

Luminous beauty said:

By "biological realists", I presume you mean racialists.

You presume wrong. I might, with equal justification, presume that you are a Stalinist Lysenkoite. You see how easy it is to play this game of point-and-splutter?

Race is a useful concept because it is predictive of genetic identity and "memetic" acuity for specified geo-historical breeding populations. Otherwise one should treat people of bio-diverse identity (races, genders etc) as individuals - on their merits or demerits.

I simply affirm the fact, which every schoolboy knew until post-modern anthropologists managed to unknow it, that biological evolution does not stop at the human at the human skull. Human behaviour can be constituted by natural factors which are biologically conserved AND conditioned by cultural factors that are sociologically constructed. Why is this fact so hard for liberals to accept?

Recognition of the first clause will not result in the reconstruction of Nazi Konlags. No more than recognition of the second clause would result in the the reconstruction of the Bolshevik Gulags.

Jack Strocchi:

> I simply affirm the fact, which every schoolboy knew until post-modern anthropologists managed to unknow it, that biological evolution does not stop at the human at the human skull.

So you're proposing that there are genes that control for Islam, genes that control for listening to the iPod, genes that control for wealth or poverty, etc. and these genes are somehow just as much a "biological" part of humans as things like hair colour.


>The "thorough rebuttal" you refer to neither states or implies a refutation. The editors take an even-handed approach to the debate. The authors at most claim to "reconcile" opposing interpretations of Boas dodgy study.

Why is it so hard for you to understand plain English?

>In particular, Sparks and Jantzâs critique of Boas rests on what we believe is an incorrect portrayal of our current understanding regarding human biological plasticity and of Boasâs contribution to that understanding. When we clarify Boasâs argument and place it in historical context, Sparks and Jantzâs reanalysis actually supports our conclusion that, on the whole, __Boas got it right__.

>Why is this fact so hard for liberals to accept?

Is it a genetic trait that makes so-called conservatives construct straw man liberals?

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 01 Mar 2011 #permalink

1) Freeman made his case in "Margaret Mead and Samoa" that Mead was wrong. "The Fateful hoaxing" is about why Mead was wrong - it is a second order question which doesn't alter the likelihood that Mead was wrong. Faâapuaâa 's memory is pretty clearly unreliable and Freeman shouldn't have concluded that she was an unambigouous "smoking gun" - but that doesn't prove that she DIDN'T hoax Mead, either. She said she did. Accepting her (sworn) word, when it is supported by other evidence (that Mead was wrong) really can't be compared to tilting graphs. The distinction is more between "balance of probabilities" and "beyond reasonable doubt".

2) Shankman does not agree with your reading of him on the virginity/chicken blood question (and trying to give Mead an out by saying that she made that argument in a different publication is just silly - it is all part of her ethnographic description of Samoa). [Shankman states](http://www.jstor.org/stable/681823) "I do not support Mead on this issue. Freeman has mistaken my criticism of his use of historical sources with support for Mead's position on the counterfeiting of virginity... After noting exactly how Freeman rebut's Mead's account of counterfeiting, I stated that 'Freeman's logic seems inpeccable and his critique is devastating' (1995:562). Is there something about this sentence that Freeman does not understand?"

So in fact Shankman agrees that Freeman was right, and Mead was wrong, about virginity in Samoa. He objects to Freeman's methodology but backs away from criticising the results - something which, I have to say, reminds me of MacIntyre et al's criticism of Mann's initial PCA analysis of past climate records. "Ooo, there's a mistake in the methodology which doesn't much alter the results, therefore the entire thing is discredited and fr@udulent!".

3) From a "history of anthropology" perspective, the way ethnography was written in the 20s-50s was atemporal. Ethnographies attempted to reconstruct what the society used to be like as an unchanging system before the impact of colonialism, trade, etc. This is now generally agreed to have given a misleading perspective on things, but it was part of the scientific project of anthropology then to "descriptively reconstruct" other societies as in- rather than inter-dependent from global forces. Which is a long-winded way of saying that if Freeman's PGradDip from that era did not present the evidence of cultural change, it was consistent with accepted ethnographic practice of the period.

4) John Horgan (and by extension Shankman) misrepresents Mead and Freeman's relative standing as researchers. People still use Freeman's data and analysis of the Iban as a reliable source. Nobody uses Mead's analysis of the [Chambri](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chambri) in the same light. Saying that "Mead was basically a decent fieldworker and a careful scholar while Freeman was, frankly, a nutcake" misrepresents them both. Mead was a more balanced person than Freeman. She was a more inspiring figure as well and did great things for society. As an academic researcher, she wasn't as good as he was. To be fair, at the time Malinowski and Boas were basically inventing what we now call anthropology from scratch and there wasn't much to go on as far as "how to do it" went.

Luminous; one of the ironies of the whole debate is that Mead and Freeman's data on adolescent sexuality doesn't actually differ much; in both, IIRC about 20% of 14-17 year olds report sexual activity (which implies that 80% or so are virgins). But the evidence is much stronger for Freeman's claim that adolescence is (and was) a stressful period in Samoa than for Mead's that it is stress-free and that there is no conflict over sex. (and just to make my own position clear - I don't support Jack Strocchi's views and I'm largely in favour of Freeman's "nuanced" view, as you put it.)

By James Haughton (not verified) on 02 Mar 2011 #permalink


>From a "history of anthropology" perspective, the way ethnography was written in the 20s-50s was atemporal. Ethnographies attempted to reconstruct what the society used to be like as an unchanging system before the impact of colonialism, trade, etc. This is now generally agreed to have given a misleading perspective on things...

This may have been true in the British tradition where anthropology is still, as I understand it, considered a narrow sub-discipline of Human Sciences, but not so much in the U.S., thanks chiefly to Boas.

I would suggest, criticisms of Mead, both in Samoa and Papua, rest on absolutist notions that the lives of all Samoans, not just girls, were totally stress free rather than non-elite Samoan adolescent girls before reaching marrying age relative to girls raised, for instance, in contemporary middle-class Philadelphia suburbs; or that the relative pacifism of the Chambri meant they were somehow unwilling or incapable of defending themselves against their more aggressive neighbors. IOW, straw man arguments.

BTW, Mead reported 40% of Samoan girls for which she had gathered statistics had heterosexual experience, but only 11% of those living in 'Pastor's House' (an elite non-missionary boarding school mainly for the sons and daughters of chiefs). In U.S. Samoa. Contemporary Western Samoa had a significantly different structure of, mostly externally imposed, educational, cultural, social and political stresses.

The focus on Tapou, a system of elite ceremonial virgins, is a gross red herring, as Mead was concerned with the lives of ordinary girls. However, the fact that Fa'apua'a was Tapou herself makes it unlikely that Mead considered her a useful informant on the sex lives of ordinary Samoan girls, nor that Fa'apua'a likely ever told her any tales of her own promiscuity.

Do you not understand how Mead's and Freeman's relative perspectives on Samoan society might lead them to different conclusions, which though contradictory on their face, are both substantially correct?

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 03 Mar 2011 #permalink


I agree that Mead and Freeman's relative perspectives (young enthusiastic woman vs middle age authoritative man) would lead them to different conclusions. I also agree that Freeman's account to some extent confuses the "ideal" or virginal, and "actual" forms of adolescent sexuality in Samoa, where in fact they appear to have had a double standard rather similar to that applying in the west (adolescent boys were expected to have sex but adolescent girls were shamed if they were known to have sex, etc).

However, the very existence of a double standard and a disjuncture between "ideal" and "actual" behaviour, in and of itself, proves the existence of generational conflict and adolescent rebellion against "the rules" of society; which is exactly the opposite of Mead's claim. Freeman, by contrast, supports his claim that adolescence is as stressful in Samoa as it is in many other places with quite extensive work on crime statistics, suicide rates, sexual assaults and "forced marriages" etc (none of which, btw, is particularly flattering to Samoans, so I reject the idea that Freeman was brought in to sanitise or Christianise the record), all of which show the same sorts of peaks in adolescence, particularly adolescent males, as elsewhere.

Gewertz & Errington, as well as others who worked with the Chambri, have similarly shown that Mead's portrait of the Chambri was in error. This was partly due to historical accident - when Mead visited the Chambri had suffered a major defeat in tribal warfare which had, inter alia, led to destruction of many of their ritual objects. Hence the men were preoccupied with remaking and consecrating various sacred works and performing appropriate rites; hence Mead's perception that the men spent all their time "making art, dancing, primping", etc. Her command of the language was insufficient, or her visit too short, to realise that this was an atypical period of Chambri history (another case of the "ethnographic present" abstraction from history leading the ethnographer astray).

By James Haughton (not verified) on 03 Mar 2011 #permalink


>However, the very existence of a double standard and a disjuncture between "ideal" and "actual" behaviour, in and of itself, proves the existence of generational conflict and adolescent rebellion against "the rules" of society; which is exactly the opposite of Mead's claim.

Not a generation conflict, but more a class distinction. Much like hereditary protocols being strictly adhered to among the English Peerage, but not that big a deal to working class Brits.

>Freeman, by contrast, supports his claim that adolescence is as stressful in Samoa as it is in many other places with quite extensive work on crime statistics, suicide rates, sexual assaults and "forced marriages" etc (none of which, btw, is particularly flattering to Samoans, so I reject the idea that Freeman was brought in to sanitise or Christianise the record)

All of which come from missionary records from __Western__ Samoa, where the bloody effort to anglicize Samoan society and suppress native independence created huge stresses with intense repercussions most keenly felt in the lives of young men, not so much of young women except as a secondary consequence. I'm not saying Freeman 'was brought in to sanitise or Christianise the record', He was enlisted by reactionary religious and political actors who, post WWII, became influential in elite __U.S.__ Samoan society, for the particular purpose of discrediting Margaret Mead.

You misrepresent Gewertz and Errington. Their disagreement with Mead was only one of degree concerning the relative power relations between men and women in Chambri society, not at all in disagreement with her central thesis about significant cultural differences existing between Chambri and Traditional Western gender roles. Indeed, they argue the differences are even greater and more broadly diverse. They are, contrarily, in violent disagreement with Freeman's critique, or, at least, with the way Freeman's critique has been constructed in the popular literature.

As far as their warlike nature, I've always been under the impression that it is Leo Fortune who has been the source of that criticism. What had been a long-standing peaceful relationship with the Iatmul people was shattered by the introduction of European trade goods. Unable to defend themselves from those who had erstwhile been their defenders against other militant tribes, they fled. Mead and Fortune arrived about a decade after the Australian government had pacified the Iatmul and the Chambri returned. Aggressive warfare is a highly ritualized cultural practice for most Borneo tribes. It doesn't seem that probative to me that the Chambri should be considered essentially warlike in the absence of that kind of traditional ritual society, but merely because some old men had stories of taking coup in what were historically non=ordinary conflicts.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 03 Mar 2011 #permalink


I think drawing a specific link between colonialism and a stressful adolescence is drawing a very long bow. Have you got any references for the claims that there was such a huge difference between Western and US Samoa, or that in the absence of colonialism, adolescence would be trouble free? Or that Freeman was "specifically enlisted" by these un-named elites, as opposed to going there because his supervisor (Beaglehole) supported Pacific ethnographic research?

My own field research concerned economic conditions of the peasantry in Northeast Thailand, as a result of which, I've written a few pieces expressing some support for the Red Shirts in the political conflicts there - does this mean that all along, I was "enlisted" by pro-Thaksin elite actors and my all my field research is suspect? Or has there just been some happenstance and convergence?

Reducing Margaret Mead's presentation of the Chambri to "significant cultural differences exist between Chambri and Traditional Western gender roles" is like boiling down the study of history to "in the past, things were different from today". Margaret Mead didn't just claim gender roles were "different", a claim that could be made about gender roles in every society, class, sect, clan, etc in the world, but made very specific claims about the "masculinity" of Chambri women and the "femininity" of Chambri men (from that traditional western perspective) - claims which failed the tests of time and reevaluation.

I haven't read in any depth on the Iatmul so will not comment on the warfare dispute you refer to - except to note that the Chambri are not in Borneo, so you seem to be mixing up some different issues here.

By James Haughton (not verified) on 03 Mar 2011 #permalink

Sorry, I confused Borneo and New Guinea.

'Masculinity' versus 'traditional male roles'? Femininity' versus 'traditional female roles'? I disdain arguing semantics. Do you really believe such subtle differences of meaning imply absolute cognitive failure on Mead's part? I am not sure I understand exactly what it is you think are defending/attacking.

Western Samoa versus U.S. Samoa reference; "Pacific Prelude: A Journey to Samoa and Australasia, 1929" - Margery Perham, A. H. M. Kirk-Greene

Probably the main reason I abandoned academic anthropology was I became fed up with the artificial distance too many anthropologists maintain between their own work and the ongoing internal and external political realities within cultures in the name of objectivity. Internal factions and allied external forces looking to capitalize for their own narrow interests are not indifferent to the squabbles of academics and are keen to game them for their own purposes. This is exactly the circumstance to which Freeman fell prey. Freeman did not discover Faâapuaâa's testimony through independent research, she was handed to him on a platter.

Notwithstanding, Your relationship to the Thai peasantry, from what you say, seems to me honest and straightforward.

Anthropologists do themselves and society a disservice by pretending indifference to and separation from the effects they have on the peoples they study. If there is one thing that Franz Boas taught, and Margaret Mead exemplified, which should have enduring meaning, it is that the work of social scientists should not only be as objective as humanly possible, but humanely ethical as well.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 04 Mar 2011 #permalink