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December 16, 2009

In this week’s eSkeptic, we return to a controversy that raged throughout the 1990s in the anthropology world over whether or not Margaret Mead was hoaxed by her Samoan hosts during her research there while earning her Ph.D. under Franz Boaz. When we last left the controversy in the late 90s, it appeared that the jury was in that Mead was duped, but since that time anthropologists have weighed in after careful consideration and concluded that her accuser may not have had the proof he claimed.

The following is an excerpt from The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy by Paul Shankman. Used by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.

Paul Shankman is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder who has done fieldwork in Samoa and authored a number of publications on the Mead-Freeman controversy.

The Trashing of Margaret Mead
How Derek Freeman Fooled Us All
on an Alleged Hoax

excerpt from Paul Shankman’s book

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman orchestrated a tireless campaign against Margaret Mead, claiming that the American anthropologist had been hoaxed by her Samoan subjects when she conducted her research there as a young graduate student. And for many years Freeman seemed to convince the majority of professional anthropologists and a good deal of general readers that Mead had indeed been duped, her susceptibility due to the powerful influence of her doctoral mentor, Franz Boas, and the potent sway of cultural relativists who believed that behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes. Thus, it came to be believed by Mead, Boas, and their school of cultural anthropology that the relaxed sexual conduct of the native Samoans was the result of a radically different environment from the sexually stultifying environment of the Industrial West.

Freeman’s claims ranged from his very general observation that Mead may have been misled by Samoans,1 to his unequivocal assertion that Mead was “grossly hoaxed” by two very specific women on the night of March 13, 1926.2 This was not a minor point for Freeman but one of great intellectual significance:

We are here dealing with one of the most spectacular events of the intellectual history of the twentieth century. Margaret Mead, as we know, was grossly hoaxed by her Samoan informants, and Mead in her turn, by convincing others of the “genuineness” of her account of Samoa, completely misinformed and misled virtually the entire anthropological establishment, as well as the intelligentsia at large…. That a Polynesian prank should have produced such a result in centers of higher learning throughout the Western world is deeply comic. But behind the comedy there is a chastening reality. It is now apparent that for decade after decade in countless textbooks, and in university and college lecture rooms throughout the Western world, students were misinformed about an issue of fundamental human importance, by professors who by placing credence in Mead’s conclusion of 1928 had themselves become cognitively deluded. Never can giggly fibs have had such far-reaching consequences in the groves of Academe.3

These allegations about Mead have been repeated so often that they have become conventional wisdom. Martin Gardner, the noted science watcher, found Freeman’s hoaxing argument “irrefutable.” 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. Freeman stated the hoaxing argument so boldly and convincingly — after all, it was vouched for by the sworn testimony of one of the women who allegedly hoaxed Mead — that almost no one looked at the testimony itself. People thought the hoaxing argument was completely plausible and the evidence unassailable based on Freeman’s word.

In fact, the hoaxing argument is easily challenged using Freeman’s own unpublished interviews with the Samoan woman on whose testimony Freeman so heavily relied.

The Testimony of Fa’apua’a
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Skeptic magazine vol. 5 no. 3:
ORDER the back issue

In 1989, Freeman identified two Samoan women who he believed had joked with Mead about their private lives. In March of 1926, six months into her fieldwork, Mead was a member of a traveling party that included Fa’apua’a Fa’amu and Fofoa, both of whom were unmarried and somewhat older than Mead herself. It was during her time with these two women that Freeman believed the hoaxing took place.

Over 60 years later, Freeman learned that Fa’apua’a was still alive and well. In 1987 she was interviewed for the documentary film Margaret Mead and Samoa. In that interview, she testified that Mead had asked her and Fofoa embarrassing questions about what they did at night. In response, the two women innocently joked that they spent their nights “out with boys”. According to Freeman, Mead believed these innocent lies as the truth and published them in her classic 1928 book Coming of Age in Samoa, never realizing her error.

Fa’apua’a’s testimony took the controversy over Mead’s Samoan fieldwork in a new direction and became the centerpiece of Freeman’s critique of Mead. In his 1983 book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: the Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, Freeman attempted to show that Mead was wrong about Samoa and that there were reasons to suspect that she was vulnerable to Samoan joking. After the interview with Fa’apua’a in 1987, Freeman focused his attention primarily on how Mead got Samoa wrong because now he had eyewitness evidence from a Samoan, a woman, and the person who was supposedly Mead’s closest Samoan informant. For Freeman, the interview with Fa’apua’a was beyond anything he had dreamed of in his investigation of Mead. Immediately after the interview, he stated privately that this was the most significant moment of his life.4 The interview became the basis for Freeman’s second book in 1999, The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead, as well as for a number of articles.

Unpublished Interviews with Fa’apua’a

To his credit, Freeman recognized that the brief and largely unpublished 1987 interview with Fa’apua’a could benefit from additional corroboration and that she might be able to provide more detailed information about Mead’s fieldwork in Samoa. So, in 1988 and again in 1993, he commissioned lengthy interviews with her at her home in American Samoa conducted by Samoan anthropologist Unasa L. F. Va’a.5 Although Freeman himself was not present during these interviews, each lasting several hours and conducted in Samoan, he composed the dozens of very detailed questions and provided them to Unasa who, following the interviews, returned the questions and answers to Freeman at his home in Australia.

In his second book on Mead, Freeman cited these two interviews as indisputable support for the hoaxing hypothesis, stating that Fa’apua’a’s “sworn testimony is of the sort that could be presented in a court of law.”6 Since Fa’apua’a was 87 in the 1988 interview and 92 in the 1993 interview, Freeman posed questions that checked the accuracy of her memory, and he determined that there was “quite definite evidence that Fa’apua’a, in 1993, as in 1988, had substantially accurate memories of Manu’a in 1926.”7 However, these interviews with Fa’apua’a were not published and did not become available until after Freeman’s death in 2001. What they demonstrate is that Fa’apu’a’s testimony is sometimes contradictory or unclear, and that it does not support Freeman’s hoaxing argument on key issues.

Freeman maintained that the interviews laid to rest concerns about Fa’apua’a’s memory. He wrote that even at age 92, Unasa had found Fa’apua’a still “lucid” and “still able to remember well.”8 On a number of matters, this was certainly true, but on other matters, Fa’apua’a seemed to be losing her memory. So, according to Unasa, in 1993 Fa’apua’a had forgotten that Mead had died, expressing her sorrow when Unasa reminded her of it; she had learned of Mead’s death six years earlier and had grieved then.9 In another instance, when asked if elopement occurred in Samoa in the 1920s, Fa’apua’a replied that she had not heard of any cases, although this was the most common form of marriage at that time.10 Nor could she remember any cases of boys surreptitiously visiting their girlfriends, illegitimate children, adultery, or rape. These responses seemed so improbable to Freeman that, in notes to himself on the interview transcripts, he placed question marks next to Fa’apua’a’s answers concerning elopement, surreptitious visits, and illegitimate children.11 They did not conform to what Freeman knew about Samoa in the 1920s. Nevertheless, he affirmed the “historical reliability” of her testimony.12

At times during the unpublished interviews, Fa’apua’a offered differing answers to key questions. Although identified by Freeman as Mead’s main informant, Fa’apua’a herself was unclear about this role. In the 1988 interview, she was asked if she was Mead’s “closest Samoan friend and informant,” to which she replied, “Yes.”13 But later in the same interview, she was asked if she actually worked with Mead as an informant at the house where Mead resided, to which she replied, “Only once.”14 When asked what kinds of questions Mead posed at that time, Fa’apua’a said that she did not remember. In his notes on the interview transcript, Unasa commented parenthetically, “[Fa’apua’a] Fa’amu gives the impression that she was not a good informant for Mead. If she did not know anything, she told Makerita [Mead] so, and encouraged her to ask others.”15

Fa’apua’a also offered different accounts of Mead’s language proficiency in Samoan. In one published interview, she stated that Mead spoke “very little” Samoan and that a translator was “always” used in their conversations.16 But in the unpublished interviews, Fa’apua’a stated that Mead understood Samoan well, that no one else was present at the time of the alleged hoaxing, that she asked Fa’apua’a and Fofoa questions in Samoan, and that Fa’apua’a “always” spoke to Mead in Samoan since she did not speak English well.17

In another instance of differing answers, Fa’apua’a was asked to recall the chronological sequence of the hoaxing in more detail. Freeman stated that it occurred on the specific night of March 13, 1926, and that he was able to use Fa’apua’a’s testimony to corroborate this date. But in the unpublished 1993 interview, Fa’apua’a actually stated that she and Fofoa had joked about sex with Mead over an “extended period” of time.18 Unasa commented parenthetically that, “What Fa’apua’a is saying is that there was no one specific time when she and Fofoa misled Mead about Samoan sexual mores.”19 Moreover, even the geographic location of the hoaxing is unclear from the interviews.

There were clearly problems with Fa’apua’a’s testimony in the unpublished interviews. Fa’apua’a was not a key informant for Mead on adolescent sexuality, a point that anthropologist Martin Orans and sociologist James Cote have independently established.20 And without agreement on when and where the hoaxing took place and in what language it took place, the most basic facts about it were, at best, ambiguous. Given these problems, Freeman’s continuing reliance on Fa’apua’a’s testimony and the hoaxing hypothesis is puzzling. He could have addressed them. Instead, he filed the interviews away and continued to promote the hoaxing hypothesis as if Fa’apua’a was Mead’s main informant and as if there were no inconsistencies, no ambiguities, no contradictions in the interviews, and no lapses in Fa’apua’a’s memory.

To Good To Be True
item of interest…
magazine cover

Skeptic magazine vol. 9 no. 1:
Anthropology Wars
ORDER the back issue

Freeman went to great lengths to convince a broad audience that Mead had been hoaxed. But the “hoaxing” argument was implausible because the interviews that Freeman used did not support his hypothesis. It is also unnecessary, for Mead’s interpretation of Samoa as a sexually permissive society was not due to her alleged “hoaxing” by Fa’apua’a and Fofoa, but rather the data that she collected from Samoan adolescent girls and from other Samoan men and women, her comparison of Samoa and America in the mid-1920s, and the social agenda that she advocated given her own personal background and interests.

Mead was a competent fieldworker who spoke Samoan with a degree of fluency and who understood Samoan joking. Nevertheless, Freeman argued that the unpublished interviews with Fa’apua’a’ were of “exceptional historical significance” and of “quite fundamental importance” because they demonstrated Mead’s gullibility and naivite.21 Moreover, he believed that the interviews absolved Mead from engaging in the deliberate misrepresentation of Samoan culture, finding instead that she was fatefully “misled” by Fa’apua’a and Fofoa.22 That is, Mead was the unwitting victim of her own inexperience and prior beliefs rather than the conscious perpetrator of ethnographic fraud. In his words, Mead was in “a chronic state of cognitive delusion.”23 For Freeman, Mead was not intentional cheat — just a foolish young woman. In this way, Freeman believed that he salvaged Mead’s reputation and brought the controversy to an end. It was an ingenious argument. It was also an intellectual house of cards.

Freeman stated his argument so boldly and presented it with such certainty that it seemed believable. In fact, it seemed foolish not to believe him. Almost no one thought that it might be a good idea to look at the actual interviews with Fa’apua’a and to ask if Freeman’s certitudes about the value of her testimony were warranted. These unpublished interviews with her demonstrate that there is no compelling evidence that Mead was hoaxed. It was a good story — a story that many people wanted to believe. Alas, it was a story that was too good to be true.

  1. Freeman, Derek. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 289–90.
  2. Freeman, Derek. 1997. “Paradigms in Collision: Margaret Mead’s Mistake and What It Has Done to Anthropology. Skeptic. Vol. 5, No. 3, 68.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Oxley, Peter. 2006. “Tales From the Jungle: Margaret Mead.” BBC documentary.
  5. Unasa L.F Va’a. 1988 and 1993. “Research Materials.” Derek Freeman Papers. Mandeville Special Collections. Geisel Library. University of California at San Diego.
  6. Freeman, Derek 1999. The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 13.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Unasa, 1993. Research Materials, 6.
  10. Ibid, 1988, 33b.
  11. Ibid, 1988, B.
  12. Freeman, 1999, 13.
  13. Unasa, 1988, 25.
  14. Ibid., 67.
  15. Ibid., 68.
  16. Gartentsein, Larry. 1991. “Sex, Lies, Margaret Mead, and Samoa.” GEO. Vol. 13, No. 6, 23.
  17. Unasa 1993, 44.
  18. Ibid., 43.
  19. Ibid., 42.
  20. Orans, Martin. 1996. Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and The Samoans. Novato, CA: Chandler & Sharp, 90–100. Cote, James. 1998. “Much Ado About Nothing: The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead.” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 22, No. 6, 29–34.
  21. Freeman, Derek. 1999. The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 4.
  22. Ibid, 12.
  23. Freeman, Derek. 1991. “There’s Tricks I’ th’ World: An Historical Analysis of the Samoan Researches of Margaret Mead.” Visual Anthropology Review. Vol. 7, No.1, 115–116.

Evolutionary Medicine (Part Two)

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Dr. William Meller

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This week on Skepticality, Swoopy welcomes back Dr. Willam Meller for a second round of discussion based on his book Evolution RX. How do the adaptations of early humans affect our emotions, behaviors and modern daily lives? Evolutionary medicine looks at those very questions.

Scientific American columns

Read the October and November issues of Michael Shermer’s Scientific American columns for free on October: Captain Hook Meets Adam Smith. November: Will E.T. Look Like Us?
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A Wacky Night on Coast-to-Coast Radio

Shermer shares some of the wackier letters he received after his appearance with George Noory on Coast-to-Coast AM Radio, whichs covers conspiracy theories and government coverups, UFOs and extraterrestrials, psychics and ESP, and all manner of supernatural and paranormal ephemera.
READ the post



  1. jimvj says:

    Maybe next you can write a piece titled
    “How the Cato Institute Fooled Michael Shermer”

  2. Steve says:

    Contrary to Professor Shankman, the memory lapses of the old Samoan woman do not prove that Derek Freeman “fooled us all” about an alleged hoax. I think Freeman is still correct and Mead was fooled by her willingness to believe the Samoan woman, whose later statements–when she had her memory–that she and her friend misled Mead still stand. I agree that Mead did not construct a deliberate hoax but was fooled by her preconceptions. She was a victim of self-deception, not an uncommon occurrence for humans.

    In any case, Mead’s thesis is what is important here, not whether she was fooled or not. Is her thesis correct, that human “behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes,” and that the “relaxed sexual conduct of the native Samoans was the result of a radically different environment from the sexually stultifying environment of the Industrial West?” Of course not. Today we would unhesitatingly state that these conclusions are nonsense. Mead certainly had other female Samoan informants, who perhaps gave her more accurate information than the two young women who misled her, but her conclusions about the cultural relativism of sex are still wrong.

  3. Charles says:

    Um, excuse me Steve how in the hell could you defend such a ridiculous argument? Just here in the United States I have seen radically different cultural norms regarding sexuality. I grew up in the very conservative environment of Louisiana and now live in the very liberal Portland, Oregon. The variation between what is acceptable in the two environments is huge, and I have to imagine that if this chasm is large, what could be possible outside of the confines of the United States? I read some of a book called The Scientist as Subject: the Psychological Imperative and in the back there is a table regarding distortion of data in different fields and unsurprisingly you had a lot more in the realm of soft sciences like sociology and psychology had far more distortion of data. In respect to something like anthropology the danger of reading the value of one’s own society into another’s is so high that such blanket statements like the one you have made seem absurd to me. Why on earth should I believe that you are not the gullible one instead of Mead with you giving no evidence whatsoever for your unsupported statement that cultural relativism is wrong? I have seen on the travel channel documentaries on tribes where a woman can have more than one husband, and while I was studying anthropology in college I read of Jesuit missionaries saying the problem with native Hawaiians was that they did not hate themselves enough in regard to their promiscuous love-making. Leave out all these “we” business in your not-even-wrong “we would unhesitatingly state that these conclusion are nonsense.” As a matter of fact I would unhesitatingly call your statements uninformed and ignorant.

  4. Dave says:

    I have lived on Kauai for many years, just 17 miles from the Island of Niihau. Niihau (the forbidden island in South Pacific) has just 225 native Hawaiians living on it. I have known several dozen of these people who have lived their entire lives on Niihau. Some are descended from the first Polynesians to come here and populate Hawaii. I can state without equivocation that Charles is correct. Human behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes. When I first moved here, the Niihauans who had moved to Kauai were the first to befriend me and my wife. It seems to me that, as Charles says, Steve is uninformed and ignorant.

  5. Patricia A. McKnight says:

    I, too, lived in Hawaii, for 22 years. I knew and worked with many Samoans. I had Samoan students when I taught at the University of Hawaii/Manoa. It is important to recognize that there are effectively two Samoas — British Samoa and American Samoa. In the interim since these two were established as separate governments, they have become very different. British Samoa is much more “traditional” with many more people who still live in communal collectivist setting. American Samoa has become more urban.
    The Mormon Church has become a powerful presence in American Samoa — in the S. Pacific Island nations, for that matter. This shapes the responses of Samoans when interviewed by Caucasian male anthropologists — who do not speak Samoan. (Mead DID speak Samoan.)Derek Freeman built himself a career in anthropology by trying to tear down a much better anthropologist — how cheap and dishonest. Mead was too good a researcher to rely solely on one interview with two girls during one evening, and she didn’t. She interviewed many Samoans in her village, and observed them as well. It is amazing that Freeman was able to get away with relying on interviews with one very elderly woman. (And he wasn’t even present during the interviews? And he didn’t speak adequate Samoan? And he did not publish the interviews?) WHY did anyone believe him? Jealousy of Margaret Mead’s status? Sounds like it. oh — and AFTER she is dead and cannot refute him? Spare me!

  6. Patricia A. McKnight says:

    Should have added that I also know practicing anthropologists who work in both Samoas. They do not credit Freeman’s alleged research. They say he didn’t know what he was writing about

  7. Steve says:

    I am having difficulty replying using this comment column due to spam filter censorship by eSkeptic. It would not accept ANYTHING I wrote to reply to commenters. And I am both a skeptic and scientist. Strange.

  8. Steve says:

    Shankman and Mead’s conclusion: human “behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes”

    This is nonsense because human behavior is known to be the product of both the environment and genes; in some human behaviors the environment is “mostly” responsible, in others genes are mostly responsible; all behaviors are a mixture of the two. I disagree with the “blank slate” hypothesis and research in the last twenty years has shown this hypothesis to be incorrect.

  9. Steve says:

    Okay, those two comments got through, so perhaps the spam filter measures length of comment. Here’s more:

    Shankman and Mead’s statement: “relaxed sexual conduct of the native Samoans was the result of a radically different environment from the sexually stultifying environment of the Industrial West”

  10. Steve says:

    This is nonsense because he is comparing the Industrial West–an enormous collection of cultures–to a single culture and making a blanket statement about the West. Of course human sexual conduct is a product of both culture and genes, with differences due to culture, but to say that the “Industrial West” is a “sexually stultifying environment” is a gross overstatement. Some cultures in the West are sexually relaxed like Samoa and some are sexually stultifying.

  11. Steve says:

    Since humanity as a whole has an enormous, complex, and bewildering number of different behaviors, it is obvious that most individual and social behaviors are due to culture. But the deepest and most ultimate behaviors are primarily due to genes. I find unacceptable statements like this: “Human behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes.” The correct statement is this: “All human behaviors are the product of both the environment and genetics, with the environment being of primary importance for most proximate and superficial individual and social behaviors and the genes being of primary importance for the ultimate or deeper human individual and social behaviors.” Examples of the latter behaviors would be libido, aggression, fear, territoriality, sociality, cooperation, pair-bonding, etc.

  12. Steve says:

    Tell me, Charles, do you think people not have sex in Louisiana, or do they just have less sex than people in Oregon? If you left Louisiana at a young age, you may be surprised about the true state of affairs.

    Getting back to Mead v. Freeman–Mead was an extremely self-deceptive person. She believed in the reality of UFOs as alien spacecraft and similar things. She was not a skeptical person. She was also an observant, committed Christian, so she believed in life after death, virgin birth, creation of the universe by a deity, etc. That sounds self-deceptive to me.

  13. Charles says:

    No they never have sex in Louisiana they just reproduce by budding. Of course they have sex, silly- it’s not whether or not it happens, but the kinds of taboos and restrictions that are placed on the act- about who it is acceptable to do it with and what ways. On a recent visit to my hometown of Baton Rouge I read a writer complaining of the social custom of people looking down on you if you don’t marry by a certian age. Go down there ask people what they think of things like homosexuality, BDSM, use of sex toys, open relationships and the like. You might find some people in New Orleans into that kind of stuff definetely, but most small and medium-sized towns the kind of spectrum you might find ranges from polite disapproval to downright hostility, with a few exceptions.

  14. Jeannette says:

    I was at ANU in the 70s-early 80s when Freeman was a professor there, in a related department. It was well known that he had some problems, I was present and observed some episodes. There was a great deal of generosity to him regarding these, but some of them (eg the Aztec Calendar Stone saga) became public and you can find accounts of that by searching The Canberra Times. His views on Mead were well known even to non-anthropologists like myself. I always felt (and suspect I was influenced by discussions with other women, though I can’t be specific) that his rather overthetop attacks on Mead were due to his hang-ups about sex rather than about Mead herself, or perhaps disgust at Mead, as a woman, researching such things, or even a counter-reaction to the 1960s-70s cultural openness about sex plus feminism. I also felt that what Mead’s female informants like Fa-apua-a would have said as a teenager to another young woman (Mead) would likely be quite different to what she would say as an older woman to a man. Isn’t that the sort of analysis just good anthropology – did any anthropologists of the time pick this up? I look forward to a balanced biography of Freeman and advise any potential authors to interview people who were at at ANU at the time; however I don’t think this is the place to go into details, revealing through they are of Freeman’s mindset.

  15. JakeR says:

    I don’t entirely buy this point of view. IIRC in Coming of Age in Samoa (I haven’t a copy to hand) Mead claimed that because of easy sexuality there was no rape in Samoa, which reading the local papers while she was there should have told her was demonstrably untrue (IIRC Freeman mentioned this in his book). While Freeman’s interviews supported Mead, he did show that Mead’s data gathering lacked reference to the public record. My memory of this issue is old and perhaps unreliable, as may be the case with Fa’apua’a: I encourage correction or amplification.

  16. Jon Richfield says:

    This exchange is confusing. The essence of the article was that we had all been fooled because … and therefore Mead was right all the time after all…

    Simplistic overstatement? Sure, but compared to what?

    Steve began well with “Contrary to Professor Shankman, the memory lapses of the old Samoan woman do not prove that Derek Freeman “fooled us all” about an alleged hoax. I think Freeman is still correct and Mead was fooled by her willingness to believe the Samoan woman, whose later statements–when she had her memory–that she and her friend misled Mead still stand. I agree that Mead did not construct a deliberate hoax but was fooled by her preconceptions. She was a victim of self-deception, not an uncommon occurrence for humans.”
    He then got into his own opinion on the rights of the theories at issue. This was unfortunate, because the fundamental error is in:
    “In any case, Mead’s thesis is what is important here, not whether she was fooled or not. Is her thesis correct, that human “behavior is mostly the product of environment, not genes…”
    As a sceptical but receptive reader I see Mead’s thesis as a rank red herring. I don’t care whether she was proposing or defending the cosmoogical soundness of Neanderthal dark matter string theories. What I do care about is the basis, development, and presentation of her theories. Oh, and perhaps, just a leeetle bit, the honesty of her work.
    How did this exchange lapse into argument about innate components and flexibility of reproductive ethology, human or otherwise?
    And how, how, how, did we get into how much nicer or nastier Freeman was than Mead, or otherwise?
    Is this how we are supposed to approach the assessment of scientific evidence or argument?
    Please pardon the four-letter words, but does anyone here have any ideas concerning the terms such as “Soft Sciences”?


  17. Jon Richfield says:

    Oh yes, and some time ago I left this in the Forums and got no response. Perhaps someone here could contribute?
    The Trashing of Margaret Mead, by Derek Freeman.
    I read this article in eSkeptic with a lot of interest, because I had been one of those “taken in” by the attacks on Margaret Mead. I was not particularly upset, partly because I am no anthropologist, so my interest is not as personal as it otherwise might have been. However, I do like to get things straight. So I did read the article and I was rather taken aback.

    Of course I now regard Freeman’s assertions with far more reserve than before, but I am badly puzzled. I have no intention of pursuing this subject seriously myself, not because I regard anthropology as unworthy of interest, but simply for lack of time in the face of rival interests. However the argument as presented amounted, as far as I can see,to an attack on the attack, arguing that Freeman had taken selective data from an old woman and had based his biased ideas on her failing memory and possibly doubtful veracity.

    This cuts both ways. Mead, as far as I can see, had done hardly better. Surely this is not the way that anthropology is conducted in general? In the disciplines in which I have been concerned, work of that apparent standard would not have been accepted in a first year student project. Unless it has been badly presented, it seems to have amounted to remastication of regurgitation. Pretty close to nauseatingly worthless.

    Does anyone reading this have any idea why, if there is doubt about the reliability of material on either side, let alone both, no one seems to have made any effectual effort to gather in new and supplementary information?

    I simply cannot believe that nothing of the kind has been done yet. But then if anything had indeed been done to settle the matter of sexual mores on Samoa, let alone the far more trivial question of a spat between anthropologists, then why is this matter is still being raked over in this partisan and tedious manner?

    Arguably of course, I am taking the spat itself too lightly. Data and conclusions that might affect scientific received truths for the foreseeable future, are no trifles.




  18. bill gates says:


    social sciences: fake sciences. hoax sciences.

    can anyone prove anything in “culture”

    all these books are just for bull-session

  19. Val Dusek says:

    I am glad that there is a book length criticism of Freeman’s claims. I had no way of evaluating the hoax testimony itself, but the Sociobiology Study Group held a symposium at Harvard (under sponsorship of the Karl Popper Club there) after the appearance of Freeman’s first book. Some issues raised included evidence of extreme bias (admiitedly leading questions used) in Freeman’s earlier report on Iban agriculture, the differences between the two halfs of Samoa where Mead and Freeman respectively studied. The historical changes in Samoan culture between the 1920s and the 1980s, and Freeman’s admission that several other South Pacific cultures did have the extreme sexual permissiveness that Mead reported and advocated.

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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