Re: The Real Place of Fuzziness in Anthropology

Angeline Kantola (
14 Aug 1996 00:25:04 GMT

In article <>,
Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> wrote:
>Angeline Kantola wrote:
>> First off: my intent was not to attack you personally, Joel. Nor was I
>> making any reference at all to anthropology--what inspired me to write was
>> your sentence, attributed below, that "[p]hysics and chemistry are
>> currently undergoing a revolution thanks to the insights of chaos theory".
>> I'm a practicing physical biochemist, and I can tell you that the
>> scientific rank and file are hardly dragging out old data to be
>> reinterpreted in the light of chaos theory.
>Maybe that's a problem. Over here in anthropology we are dragging
>out some of that old data. But then, our data subjects don't just sit in
>a test tube and gurgle. They have minds and can think for themselves.
>They can also comment on our studies.

And more power to you, and to them. Natural and social sciences differ in
many ways. Perhaps you're better off publicly addressing the field you
know best and keeping your less well founded opinions to yourself.

>> What really presses my peeve button, though, is that lots of folks dwell
>> in this funny gray area of belief about science: that they can discount
>> whatever science they choose not to believe, or buttress whatever flaky
>> philosophy they hold dear, by invoking the mysterious science of chaos
>> theory. Chaos theory seems to be perceived as some 'wild card' that means
>> anything, but anything, can happen. Ain't so, folks.
>All I note is that Ms. Science here keeps bringing this up when I have
>made some clear statements that I believe to the contrary.

And again, my intent was never to critique you, personally, for it!
Though *you* may be seeing this on sci.anthropology, which I hope is as
intellectually rigorous as a sci.* group ought to be, *I'm* catching it on
alt.pagan. There are lots of folks in this group who take exactly the
approach described above, who take the Chaos Theory Fudge Factor to heart,
and it was for them that I wrote my initial post.

>> Note that my paragraph above did not refer specifically to you.
>Yet you made it in response to something I said. This is nothing more
>than bullshit, being used to cover up the fact that you have but recently
>been a boor. Unlike you, I /admit/ that I mean much of this personally
>-- I am not about to couch what I am saying behind some alabaster facade
>of academic respectability.

Clearly you mean much of this personally; your response to my post was
rude specifically to me, and you've taken to calling me names. Very

>> >Pardon me, but the fact that scientists are no longer just rejecting
>> >data which is inconsistent with the conclusions they want to find and
>> >for the first time trying to explain all the data strikes me as a revolution.

>> Boy, you really don't know anything about how science works, do you?
>Not at all personal eh?

Well, the above comment shows a lack of familiarity with the field. What
more can I say?

>What would you have done in high school, I ask you, should you have
>heated your little test tube mercuric oxide for the hour of the class
>and found it still a cinnamon powder? In the meantime, your classmates
>were playing with their shiney little balls of mercury? What do you
>think would have gone on your report?

I'd probably have reported it to OSHA or the like; mercury is dangerous
shit, and I sure don't want to be breathing its vapors. 'Specially not in
a typically pathetically equipped high school science lab. But we digress.
I came in to sound some alarm bells about popular uses of chaos theory,
not get into an argument ao

> I've known plenty of people
>who have rewritten the little lab report pretending that it did
>"what it was supposed to do". Otherwise, they were left to explain
>why it didn't do what it was supposed to do.

These your anthropologist friends? Just wondering. (Sorry, sci.anthro
folks, he's just too good a straight man.)

>Again you are missing the point: what if the twins are raised in different
>environments? Do you think that starving one twin while young and letting
>the other live like a prince is going to have any effect?
>As you agree, these are the same genotype. But is the phenotype going to
>turn out the same? Do you believe in some "psychic connection" between
>the twins? Do you believe that even under drastically different conditions
>the twins are going to turn out looking exactly alike?
>I hope not!

No, not at all; but neither do we need to invoke chaos theory. I'll bet
you and I can guess what some of those differences would be between a
poverty-stricken, halfstarved twin and his cornfed brother, and I'll bet
medical science could give us some great explanations.

I've said my piece, and have no interest in getting into it further with
you, Joel.