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|The Politics Of Science. Posted on 09/27/2001.
This month's Scientific American features a story on Maeve Leakey, who married into the renowned Leakey family and became a leading paleoanthropologist in her own right.
My B.A. is in anthropology, and since school I've tried to keep up on developments in physical anthropology. Very subtly alluded to in the story, one of the more interesting meta-issues in the field are the politics and disputes between two main research groups, the Leakey family and Tim White's group. Oftentimes it seems that science is discarded in favor of convincing people that you've discovered Homo sapiens's oldest direct ancestor. Ever since Louis Leakey's discovery of Homo habilis, the Leakey family has disputed every other group's claim to having found a precursor to humans. In this instance, Maeve claims that her new find, Kenyanthropus platyops is just as likely our direct ascendant as is Australopithecus afarensis, discovered by White and Donald Johansen in 1974, and commonly known as "Lucy."
Professor White taught what might have been the single most significant course in my education at Berkeley, and everything I've read about him and his findings makes sense, so I tend to side with his contentions. Particularly because the Leakey family has a history of ignoring the evidence in favor of supporting the primacy of the elder Leakey's work. Of course, only time and further research will tell whence we came.
About.com offers a good overview of some of the latest findings and disputes within the field of human evolution.
And perhaps a little listen to "The Politics of Dancing"?
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