Truth by Vote: Freeman vs. AAA

[from Gary Cziko 951223.0600 GMT]

Bill Powers (951221.1315 MST) said:

When scientific
facts are determined by majority vote, all kinds of pressures come to
bear -- the desire for approval, self-doubt, the desire for power, fame,
and fortune, religious or philosophical beliefs, political maneuvering,
prejudices, rhetoric, and so on down the line. There are many ways to
win agreement, most of them being irrelevant to the determination of

Just after reading this, I received a paper from the Australian
anthropologist Derek Freeman. In it, he provides an extract of a letter to
him from Karl Popper:

"Many sociologists and almost all sociologists of science, believe in a
relativist theory of truth. That is, trut is what the experts believe, or
what the majority of the participants in a culture believe. Holding a view
like this your opponents could not admit that you were right. How could
you be, when all their colleagues thought like they did? In fact, they
could _prove_ that you were wrong simply by taking a vote at a meeting of
experts. That clearly settled it. And your facts? They meant nothing if
sufficiently many expertes ignored them, or distorted them, or
misinterpreted them."

In 1983 Derek Freeman published _Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and
Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth_ in which he refuted Mead's cultural
determinist "findings" of Somoan adolescents' sexual attitudes and

At the business meeting of the American Anthropology Association (AAA) in
November 1983 in Chicago, a motion denouncing Freeman's refutation as
"unscientific" was made, voted on, and passed.

A few years later one of Mead's original interviewees stated that she had
played a hoax on Mead when asked about sex, telling her much the opposite
of what was really the case. This was published by Freeman in a journal of
the AAA.

So the truth can eventually win out, in spite of the votes of the experts.