“Gay caveman” claim exposed as typical example of the fraudulent science reporting we’ve grown to expect

Kathlene M. writes:

Several scientists, responding to the “gay caveman” story [see VFR’s discussion] , have pointed out that the caveman isn’t even a caveman. The skeleton belongs to the pre-Bronze Age farmers. [LA replies: Yes, and I’m sorry I didn’t make that obvious point yesterday. “Cave-men” would of course refer to a much earlier period of pre-history, not to people living in Europe 5,000 years ago.]

In an article at LiveScience, “‘Gay Caveman’ Story Overblown, Archaeologists Say,” several scientists point out how the media oversimplified and sensationalized the story. Once again this reinforces the perception that today’s mainstream journalism is quite shoddy and deserves the moniker “lamestream media.” Here is some of the article:

“The reality of this is going to be far more complicated than, ‘This individual was gay,’ ” Archaeologist Monty Dobson of Drury University in Missouri told LiveScience.

Not only is “gay” an oversimplification, “caveman” is flat-out inaccurate, said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“Corded-Ware burials are not ‘caveman’ in age,” Hawks told LiveScience. “We’re talking about pre-Bronze Age farmers.”

Hawks said the third-gender claims are difficult to evaluate without a formal archaeological description.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that really convinces me that the skeleton is male,” he said. “It could be, but the photo is not convincing on that point, and I have not seen any claim of DNA testing.”

It’s tough to assign a sex to a skeleton with certainty, Dobson said. Archaeologists and anthropologists usually rely on bone measurements, particularly the size and shape of the pelvis. But these estimates aren’t exact, Dobson said.

“There have been cases in the past where a gender was assigned and we have gone back to look and assigned the opposite gender,” he said. [LA replies: Now even scientists are using the word “gender” in place of “sex.”]

After confirming the gender, the second step would be to determine how many examples of gendered Corded Ware burials there are.

“Is this burial unique out of 20 burials or unique out of 20,000 burials?” Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist in at the University of North Carolina told LiveScience. “That makes a big difference in interpretation.”

Both Killgrove and Dobson said that the grave’s inhabitant could indeed be a third-gender individual. But there are other possibilities as well, they said. Many cultures buried shamans, or people thought to communicate with the spirit world, in unusual or gender-bending ways, Dobson said. But that burial pattern was related to the shaman’s social status, not his or her sexuality.

Even if the skeleton is male, the case for a third gender requires more than a reversal of position and burial goods, Hawk said, pointing to work done by Rosemary Joyce, a University of California, Berkeley anthropologist who specializes in sex and gender in archaeology. In a blog post about the find, Joyce wrote that third-gender burials should follow their own pattern, not just a reversal of typical male-female patterns.

The find is intriguing, Dobson said, but there are many possible interpretations still on the table.

“This might be much ado about nothing, or it might be something that tells us something very interesting,” Dobson said. “There simply isn’t enough data right now to make that statement definitively.”

[end of article excerpt]

Also, here is an article in the Daily Mail with a photo of the skeleton.

Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist in at the University of North Carolina, wrote at her blog, “It seems the original report/interview with the archaeologist (which you can see here) was completely taken out of context.”

- end of initial entry -

Dawn B. writes:

This type of reporting, more and more frequent, exposes the lie that science is the most reliable way to truth. Of course, there is no such thing as “science” (i.e. a monlithic body of integrated knowledge). What we have are “sciences”—each with their own principles, methodologies, points of view, histories and objectives.

However the grand illusion that “science” is the best tool with which to discover the truth about the universe (a pretty big place) is becoming ludicrous given its practitioners’ hollow findings and hoaxes of interpretation.

LA replies:

Well, first of all I think we need to distinguish between science itself and the way various scientists and science journalists distort science for personal gain or the advancement of an ideology. But once we do that, does science emerge unscathed? Or is there something inherently flawed about science itself? For example, is there something about the hyperspecialization of modern science which leads scientists to make larger claims for a particular discovery than are warranted? What I mean is, the given subject matter of any scientific research covers such a narrow and obscure ground, due to extreme specialization, that in order to make their discoveries seem more meaningful scientists tend to hype them?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 08, 2011 02:10 PM | Send

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