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Sunday, December 06, 2009



As presented, this appears to be a case of a book in the popular press being used to attack conclusions of work that went through peer-review. This seems to relate more to the attacks and motives of climate denialists rather than scientists in the field. Given that scholarly committees exonerated Changnon’s work, I presume you will extend the same courtesy to those affected by the swifthacking.

And what about the Chagnon data? Who was with him in the field confirming the raw data he recorded? Clearly this means that no anthropological data can be trusted since the raw observations can’t be checked by a blogger. Must mean the conclusions have to be the opposite of what Chagnon reported.

Interestingly, Newsweek published without permission one of Chagnon’s private e-mails in which he described his belief that the publishers of Tierney’s book were “sticking their p**kers into a very powerful pickle slicer.” Clearly he considers himself better than any skeptics out there.

In interviews, Chagnon called Tierney a “disgusting, slippery, conniving guy”. Clearly, this must indicate inherent bias against skeptics.

I would humbly submit that the standards of scientific evidence and acceptance are higher in the field of climate science than they were in the field of social anthropology. Regardless, the ultimate test is the accumulation of evidence over time that points to a single conclusion. To overcome this consensus, it is necessary to gather and publish in peer-reviewed journals, evidence of equivalent or better quality to overturn previous accepted conclusions. Active work on global warming and man’s role has been ongoing for over 30 years. Agreement among scientists in the field seems unprecedented. In this sense, I don’t think the analogy to Chagnon is relevant.

As for consensus on Yanomamo, I think it is accepted that they are both fierce and loving, which doesn’t really separate them from the rest of humanity. The Chagnon affair seems to be a case of failing to follow scientific norms. Tierney removed context and pulled out quotes that best supported the case he was making, like those making issues out of the hacked e-mails. In the case of global warming, every independent scientific assessment conducted fails to find any violation of scientific norms.

In his reporting, Michael Shermer in Skeptic (who coincidentally accepts the science of global warming) describes Tierney as getting pummeled at AAA in 2000. Another science writer is quoted as saying that “if I had taken such a beating as Tierney I would have crawled out of the room and cut my throat.”

Although Chagnon has critics, I haven’t heard much about the field siding with a popular press depiction over the work done by the field. I could be wrong, but it seems much of the criticism directed at AAA is because of the decision to investigate when there was nothing there. But due to popular press accounts they felt pressured to investigate because "silence on the part of the AAA would have been interpreted as either assent or cowardice." Now we have pressure to investigate climate science due to hacked e-mails. This is despite statement by journals and professional organizations that nothing in the e-mails overturns the accepted scientific consensus. But you feel Chagnon shouldn't have been investigated, but those subjects in the e-mail should be investigated.


denature: I don't know for sure what happened at the 2000 meeting. I hope it went as your sources say. But in 2002 the AAA issued a report that supported some of Tierney's accusations. That report was rescinded in 2005. I spend some time hobnobbing with anthropologists, and what they tell me is that Tierney had pretty strong support. As the Chronicle article shows, Tierney still has his defenders.

Your attempted analogy between the CRU emails and Chagnon seems rather to damage your defense.

1) Yes, the fact that Chagnon's data cannot be confirmed by other data sets is a weakness of this kind of scholarship, but one that cannot always be remedied. So far as I know, no study has overturned Chagnon's conclusions. But to make the situation really analogous, what is Chagnon had stated his conclusions and then refused to release his data? What if he gave conflicting reasons why he could not release it? That would indeed have undermined Chagnon's scholarship beyond repair.

2) If Chagnon called Tierney a “disgusting, slippery, conniving guy”, that is largely because the latter was a disgusting, slippery, and conniving guy. It doesn't show that Chagnon has a "bias against critics," except in so far as anyone has a bias against those who reach different conclusions. To make Chagnon's conduct really analogous to the infamous emails, one would have to show that he engaged in a conspiracy with supporters to suppress the publication of scholarship that undermined his views. Did Chagnon ever propose "redefining peer review" to exclude his critics from journals, or boycotting journals that published his critics? If he had done any of these things, it would have seriously undermined my confidence in his work.

3) To be sure, anthropology is a less rigorous discipline than climate science, though how much less so is open to debate. But climate scientists are no less human than anthropologists. The emails did in fact deal a serious blow to the AGW thesis.


Nonexpert makes claims about a scientist using innuendo and statements taken out of context. Written up by the popular press. Those with an agenda jump on it.


Anthropologist could just make up data. But this is valid scholarship. Not done with global warming, but this scholarship is invalid? If you wish to show how the small amount of data that is inaccessible falsifies global warming, you should do that, rather than relying on innuendo. If we ignore all of this data does it falsify global warming?

Not to mention independent data sources confirming CRU conclusions. The release of these has falsified global warming because? And the independent assessments of all the published works?

No study has overturned scientists conclusions.


Your claim of refusal to release data is spin. You are pretending that data is a singular when you spin out the multiple claimed reasons why release is not possible. Tierney accused Chagnon of distortions. A colleague of Chagnon did think that he may have “slanted, or even cooked, some of his data.” Seems relevant to me. I will go where the science takes me. For example, as represented by the National Academy of Science, which exonerated Chagnon and accepts the global warming consensus. Given the massive consensus on global warming among scientists, I will need to see more than spinning e-mails, overstated claims, and a nebulous conspiracy. Give me equivalent scholarship.

It is certainly possible that politics intruded in the first AAA committee that failed to overturn every accusation. But this is the kind of thing that Inhofe wants to happen. He and other denialists have no interest in what the science actually says, or in the conclusions of independent scientific bodies. It is my understanding the AAA report was overturned due to the actions of members as a whole and not a second established committee.

The schism in anthropology is also much greater than in climate science (determinism v. socialization). Climate scientists could certainly argue over methodology, but it won't lead to separate departments being established on the same campus. They are interested in the science.

“If Chagnon called Tierney a “disgusting, slippery, conniving guy”, that is largely because the latter was a disgusting, slippery, and conniving guy. It doesn't show that Chagnon has a ‘bias against critics,’”

And when a scientist expressed his annoyance in an e-mail that a journal allows a conniving single editor to bypass peer-review in order to get a substandard review article in, that doesn’t show the scientist is part of a conspiracy or trying to silence skeptical views.

“To make Chagnon's conduct really analogous to the infamous emails, one would have to show that he engaged in a conspiracy with supporters to suppress the publication of scholarship that undermined his views.”

And you would also have to show a conspiracy to suppress publication. You are talking about an e-mail from a single individual. The Washington Post had to print a correction when they implied the person on the receiving end of this e-mail expressed the same views. And this scientist does not control peer review. The papers were discussed. Someone says a paper should not be in the IPCC report. It gets in the IPCC report. And this is somehow evidence of a conspiracy? Profoundly weak. Chagnon was famous for attacking critics (“so much skunk in the elephant soup”). You don’t think that he ever expressed an opinion that a colleague was an idiot or a paper shouldn’t have been published? Would any of these comments imply that he could control which papers are published and which aren’t?

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