Monday, September 18, 2006

Nicholas Wade in Current Biology   posted by Coffee Mug @ 9/18/2006 10:59:00 PM

Hit it up if you have access. For the less fortunate:

Were you surprised at the reaction to the book? Yes. The human past is a touchy subject because many people use it - quite misguidedly in my view - to reason from what was to what ought to be. You mustn't say people practised cannibalism in the past because that would justify cannibalism today. Despite its absurdity, this argument makes almost every attempt to reconstruct the past controversial.

In my book I tried to let the facts speak for themselves, a somewhat more original idea than it may sound because some writers about the deep past, like the otherwise very readable Jared Diamond, start with explicitly political premises and adduce facts to support them. I cannot see that this is a justifiable scientific procedure, the popularity of Guns, Germs and Steel notwithstanding. Having compiled my apolitical account, I figured the conclusions that had emerged would be about equally vexatious to the right and the left. But so far, which I hadn't expected, the book has had more attacks from the left, particularly for the lese-majeste (accents removed by CM, cos i dunno the codes for'em) of saying our recent ancestors, far from being noble savages, were a lot more savage than we are.

What has been the reaction of the scientific community? Many people have been kind enough to tell me they liked the book, though I wasn't sure how to interpret the comment of one biologist who said he read it on nights when he couldn't get to sleep. I've been a little disappointed it hasn't received more reviews from scientific journals because it has enough references for scientists to follow the technical background. Both Nature and Science assigned the book for review, but to dreary ideologues who assailed my failure to discover that political correctness has been evolution's guiding principle all along, though fortunately they managed to find no other errors. I think these journals would have served their readers better with apolitical reviews.