Monday, March 21, 2011

The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead

A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research
by Derek Freeman


Peter S. Cook Sydney, 1999

Outline

In 1928, in her best-selling, "classic scientific study" Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead reported that adolescents there experienced complete sexual freedom, without the phenomena associated with adolescence elsewhere. She declared that this exception, which she had hoped to find, established that human nature and behaviour is shaped entirely by culture, not biological inheritance. She and her colleagues then worked to establish this "cultural determinism" as the prevailing ideology in the social sciences.

In 1983, Derek Freeman showed that her account was seriously in error in many respects. He now documents how this happened. Having neglected her assigned study, Mead belatedly interrogated her two female companions about their sexual customs, and she was "comprehensively hoaxed". Freeman says she then "unwittingly misinformed the entire anthropological establishment, as well as the intelligentsia at large", so that for decades professors throughout the Western world, quoting Mead to support cultural determinism, misinformed their social science students about "an issue of fundamental human importance" - the nature of human nature.

When Freeman presented his case, rather than being lauded by the anthropological community, he was pilloried for criticising an icon. Now he presents decisive evidence including, finally, an account published in 1931 by Mead herself.

As one of the most eminent and influential social scientists, Mead's flawed evidence was relevant to intellectual culture and the social sciences for much of this century. Areas adversely influenced by Mead's misinformation included anthropology, psychology, Marxist ideology, post-modernist relativism, the sexual revolution, gender studies, feminism, childrearing, and childcare policies. Freeman's book is a starting point for unravelling and rethinking the ramifications of Mead's far-reaching but misinformed influence ...Read it all
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