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Darwin-L Message Log 3:6 (November 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<3:6>From hantuo@utu.fi  Mon Nov  1 20:07:28 1993

To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: hantuo@utu.fi (Hanna Tuomisto)
Subject: re: scientific and popular explanations / human evolution
Date: 	Tue, 2 Nov 1993 04:10:51 +0200

John Langdon wrote:
>Books such as those of Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson emerged
>From the scientific literature where the ideas had been presented formally and
>critiqued before they were placed before the public. Popular explanations,
>including Morgan's, were placed before the public without a formal critique or
>discussion in the scientific literature.

Scientific journals have published lots of theories that have later been
proved wrong. Although I readily agree that on average such journals
contain less rubbish than books that have not been subjected to peer
review, I do not consider the place of publication as a valid argument to
evaluate a theory. It's a long time since I read a book by Leakey, but
those of Johanson are not really concentrating on explaining scientific
theories, although they do a bit of that too. They rather describe how
paleoanthropologists work and how their theories come about, and therefore
they are more like novels. Morgan's AAT books (i.e. The Aquatic Ape and The
Scars of Evolution) are different in that their main purpose is to weight
different explanations on the basis of available evidence. Therefore their
contents are purely scientific, even though the form may be popular.

>The appearance is that the author attempted to bypass peer review and appeal
>over the heads of scientists to the uninformed public.

I don't know exactly why Morgan has not published in scientific journals. I
have got a guess, though: She is a writer by profession, not a scientist,
and therefore it was probably more natural to her to write a book than to
write a scientific article. Besides, the two books contain so much
information that it would have been necessary to write something like 20
articles to accommodate it all. If your future career is not dependant on
getting as many titles as possible in your curriculum vitae, you probably
would not like to split your argument like that. After all, one of the main
virtues of AAT is that it is so coherent.

> That practice is sneered at by scientists. Perhaps
>justifiably, since the author does not seek peer review, the establishment is
>not likely to give such works serious consideration. Add that as your number 8
>reason.

I've noticed. I keep number 8 and add number 9: Scientists reject AAT
because they were not given a chance to comment on it before it was
published.

Now AAT has been published, however, even though it happened without peer
review. The books of Morgan are well written (both in literary and in
scientific sense), and she has already said almost everythng that can be
said on the basis of the available data. Unless new evidence pops up, there
is little point in writing a scientific article just to introduce the idea,
because scientific articles are supposed to contain something new. In my
opinion the field of human evolution should acknowledge that a rival
hypothesis has been proposed, that it has raised quite some discussion, and
that it should be either proven wrong or accepted.

By the way, The Selfish Gene (by Richard Dawkins) was also published as a
popular book, but it seems to have gotten away with it.

Hanna Tuomisto      e-mail  hantuo@utu.fi
Department of Biology     Fax   +358-21-6335564
University of Turku     Phone +358-21-6335634
FIN-20500 Turku, FINLAND

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