Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 16:20:41 -0800

First, allow me to put a little history out for your consideration:

A few months ago, Bryant began posting to sci.anthropology, cleverly
trying to pass himself off as a professor of anthropology in defense
of Gerold Firl. He immediately began potshooting at certain people,
particularly myself, Eric Brunner, and Mary Beth Williams, on the
grounds that they "did not understand evolution". What it really
means is that we set questions about his theories that he finds
difficult to answer.

What I have found with him is a relentless eagerness to accuse others
of some of the same tricks he pulls. (Remember how just a few days
ago his "champion of calm dialogue" posted an article with the
inflammatory title "Joel Gazis-Sax makes an ass of himself". Such
actions betray the true nature of this beast.) At one time, he sicked his
girlfriend on some of us, accusing certain critics of just being mean
to her beau.

Yes, I admit I have some negative feelings about Bryant, particularly
since this undergraduate feels himself my superior in every way possible.

His response to Susan, I should note, still carries some of the same
problems which he has been criticized for before.

Bryant wrote:
> In article <4unnk9$>, Susan <> wrote:
> > (Bryant) wrote:
> >>In article <4ud459$>, Susan <> wrote:
> >[...]
> >scientific worldview), the point which was made earlier is that the
> >questions themselves are still posed in a cultural framework.
> I certainly have no problem with that notion. My only rant was that the
> cultural framework does not inevitably bias the content of the theory.

This is the same old problem. When I see Bryant saying this, I read a little
further between the lines. "does not inevitably bias the content of the
theory." The question I have is how to test this? More often than not, I have
seen this used by Bryant to avoid considering the possibility of his
own biases. As such, the statement stands as a bulwark against criticism than
as a statement of fact. By the scientific method, when a question such as
this is raised, it must be tested for. Bryant simply insists that it is
not important.

> I think that one difficulty in discussions like this is that scientists
> tend to view "science" as a method for learning about various measurable
> things, and many social scientists and humanities folks and others view
> "science" as a body of theories. Neither view is downright wrong, but they
> lead to different conclusions about the role of science in society.
> (Incidentally, few scientists indeed talk in terms of "proven" or not
> proven. There are varying degrees of confidence in a hypothesis or
> theory, depending in large part on how many different directions it's
> been attacked from and 'survived.' You surrender the surity of religious
> Truth at the lab door.
> Many scientists are questioning the ability to measure things in any universally
predictable manner. Physics and chemistry are currently undergoing a revolution
thanks to the insights of chaos theory. The gist of this is that there are many
factors which can affect a phenomenon. Consistently, I have seen Bryant rule
out the possibility that other factors other than his pure vision of science
affect his conclusions.

> >that's the tricky thing about worldviews-- they always seem
> >perfectly reasonable and unassailable to those who accept them. But to
> >those who do not participate in them, it is not so obvious.
> But most scientists recognize their assumptions (many disciplines, in
> fact, require them to explicitely delineate novel assumptions in their
> papers). That's why I offered a few of my assumptions and my
> standards of evidence to Gale earlier, and felt so frustraited that he
> refused to reciprocate. (Without a standard of evidence, my
> science-trained brain tells me, how can we evaluate which perspective is
> more useful?)

Bryant's standards of evidence are self-created and maintained. I myself
see standards of evidence as a dialogue among many people, including outsiders
who may, at first glance, appear not to know a thing about the subject matter.

> Scientific training (at least in the life sciences) involves learning to
> recognize and be warey of your biases, cultural and personal.
> And to know which questions cannot be addressed scientifically (e.g.,
> moral questions).

But from where does this awareness come from? The self is not sufficient.

> >To say that science is obviously right because its conclusions are right
> >makes as little sense as saying that myth is right because it answers
> >important questions about why the work is the way it is.
> Myth can offer insight into emotional experience and cultural outlook, of
> course. But are myths as powerfully predictive as theories?

Earlier, we saw Bryant give lip service to the accusation that "surity" [sic]
is something that is only endemic to religion. Here, where he praises
the predictive value of Science, does he just not /see/ that he loves his
Science for the sense of certainty it gives him about his place in the

> All I claimed was that *if* you accept that predictive value is
> an indicator of how well a system of ideas approximates reality,
> scienctific ideas better approximate reality than, for example, a literal
> interpretation of Genesis.

Actually, he is claiming some contradictory things. He announces
that Science is more amenable to uncertainty than Religion is and then
he turns around and says that the superiority of Science comes from
its ability to more certainly portray the Universe.

Also note earlier his use of "power". Power means, among other
things, control. What is Bryant trying to stay in control of?

> >got a headache yet?)
> :) Nope. 'Appreciate the patient clarifications, actually.
> [Bryant said that anybody with an intro biology text knows about R.
> Franklin's being excluded from the Nobel prize awarded to Francis & Crick.]
> >Well, I can only reiterate that I have seen some (and one day I'll walk
> >over to the bookstore and get the titles of the ones I was looking at)
> >which do not raise it at all.
> It may be that the profs in my dept. saw to it that texts used for
> intro biology cover issues of sexism in academia. I dunno. We do, in my
> opinion, have a better than average department. :)

Has anyone else seen the University of New Mexico listed among the top
academic institutions in the country? And how scientific is Bryant's
claim that his is a better than average department? On what surveys
does he rest his claim? Has he gone to school elsewhere?
> >Franklin. Scientifically speaking, until someone does that (anyone want
> >an interesting master's topic? your's for free!), we are both basing our
> >opinions on anecdotal evidence-- the bane of experimental sciences!
> :) Speculation can give rise to testable hypotheses, as you show. 'Also
> clears cobwebs when done out loud, sometimes. Besides, life sciences are
> less clearly "experimental" than chemistry or physics. The dominant
> scientific paradigm around these parts (biology depts) is the
> hypothetico-deductive method.
> >Susan
> Bryant

Again, the point I must make is that standards are a community effort. And
you can't demand predictability and be comfortable with uncertainty, too. Not
unless you accept as basic the chaotic nature of the universe. You can rule
some phenomenon out (e.g. the existence of dragons), but many other phenomenon
are much more difficult to describe. I think Joseph Campbell nicely summed
up the present conflict between "Science" and "Religion" by pointing out
that the real conflict was between the Science of the 20th century and the
Science of 2000 B.C. In other words, revolutions in our thinking can and
do occur. (Needless to say I am perfectly happy with many of the conveniences
of 20th century Science such as this computer I am typing on.) But I see
a danger in claiming certainty. This is an issue which Religion, with its
emphasis on Faith, handles better than our present Science. I do see
hopeful directions being taken by chaos theoreticians and others who
are calling for the rethinking of classical explanations and intellectulizations
of nature (e.g. Stephen Jay Gould's criticism of the "shoehorn".)

We're in for a wild ride and as with many scientific revolutions, a fair share
of rebels are trying to keep to the old ways. In this case, it is a Science
which is most obsessed with prediction and certainty. It is a Science which
builds walls to inquiry from outsiders. The contract between Scientist and
"layman" is in serious need of being reworked and rethought. This is the
bold new challenge. If Science truly wants to defeat the most worthless
and dangerous superstitions, it is going to have to open itself to good
criticism. It cannot take as a given its own unbiased nature. It must
listen to the questions and work towards providing acceptable answers.

Joel GAzis-SAx

___ ___
/\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
/ /\_|_/\ \
/ / /\|/\ \ \
\ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
\ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
\/__|__\/ William Barrett