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Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Anthropology News, Volume 43, Number 1, Januaray 2002
Source URL: http://www.aaanet.org/press/an/index.htm


Dialogue Correspondence: Turner and Sponsel’s Letters

I found Terence Turner’s and Leslie Sponsel’s letters in the Oct issue of Anthropology News (pp 3-4) outrageous. In their memo to AAA officers last Aug, Turner and Sponsel repeated a number of allegations from Tierney’s book against Neel, Chagnon and Asch. The information on the U of Michigan website (www. umich.edu/~newsinfo/Releases/2000/ Oct00/r103100a.html) and on the U of California Santa Barbara website (www. anth.ucsb.edu/ucsbpreliminaryreport.pdf) makes it clear that all of the allegations repeated in Turner and Sponsel’s memo are either very dubious or false beyond a reasonable doubt.

In his letter, Sponsel describes the information on these websites as the work of "partisans who tried to dismiss the entire book on the basis of problems with some fact and interpretations." Language of this sort obscures the gravity and the extent of the errors in Tierney’s book. Turner, in his letter, admits that Tierney’s allegations about the 1968 measles epidemic were quickly discredited. However, he makes no apology in his letter for having urged the AAA to take these allegations seriously in a formal and public response to Tierney’s book. He goes on to say that most of the other allegations in Tierney’s book "still stand unrefuted." An examination of the websites above will show that in fact most are refuted. Turner claims that he and a few others have done fresh research to produce a more accurate body of data than that provided by Tierney "and the tendentious polemics on the net." Given his past irresponsible advocacy of Tierney’s false accusations, I will be very skeptical of any claims put forward by Turner without hard evidence that can be checked independently.

William Irons
Northwestern U