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The Mead-Freeman Controversy 4.0

Review of Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War Over Anthropology by Peter Hempenstall.

University of Wisconsin Press, 336 pp. $34.95

ISBN-13: 978-0299314507

ON JANUARY 31, 1983, AN INTRIGUING story about a new book on Margaret Mead appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Derek Freeman, an anthropologist based in Australia, was about to publish a scathing critique of Mead’s 1928 best-seller, Coming of Age in Samoa.1 Freeman argued that Mead got Samoa wrong, asserting, for example, that Samoans were sexually restrictive, not sexually permissive. He contested Mead’s finding that Samoan adolescence was relatively free of “storm and stress.” And he affirmed the important role of biology in human life, in contrast to Mead’s emphasis on culture. This was the opening salvo in the ongoing Mead-Freeman controversy—a controversy not only about Samoa and anthropology but also the broader issue of human nature.2

In a second book published in 1999, Freeman argued that a naive young Mead got Samoa wrong because she sincerely believed the innocent lies that two Samoan women told her about their private lives, publishing them as the truth in Coming of Age in Samoa. In Freeman’s words, Mead had been “hoaxed.” What could be worse for an anthropologist’s credibility than to be fooled by one’s own informants? As a result of Freeman’s critique, Mead’s reputation went from respected scholar and public figure to cultural roadkill.

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BEHE’S LAST STAND COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Is Low-Dose Radiation Good for You? The Questionable Claims for Hormesis, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Define Your Terms (or, Here we Go Again), by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Making Gasoline from Water: John Andrews and the Invention of a Legend • Online Gaming: A Virtual Experiment in the Dark Side of Human Nature • Duped by Data Mining • How Science Will Explain and Fix Fake News • The Cult of Falun Gong: A Dance Troupe and Victimhood Raises Big Money • The Opioid Epidemic Misunderstood • Why the Human-Centered View Has Not Served us Well • Behe’s Last Stand: The Lion of Intelligent Design Roars Again • Straw Man on a Slippery Slope: The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism • A Disproof of God’s Existence REVIEWS Reviews of: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure; The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake; Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits; Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post- Facts, and Fake News; Hoax: A History of Deception: 5000 Years of Fakes, Forgeries, and Fallacies; Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War Over Anthropology JUNIOR SKEPTIC Quest for the Truth about Dungeons and Dragons