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"You got a red light at Van Ness!" I called.

She hit the brakes, and we slid home--safe!--our front wheels just touching the crosswalk. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief.

Some jogger banged the hood as he jogged through the intersection. "Back up, asshole!" he shouted over his shoulder.

Annette gasped for air.

"They can be vicious," I agreed.

The following article appeared in the LA Times regarding Margaret Mead:

Thursday, January 20, 2000 |

Mead Work Named Worst of Century

By JEAN CHRISTENSEN, Associated Press Writer

HONOLULU--In 1925, a 23 -year-old New York City college student set sail for American Samoa to observe the transition from childhood to adulthood among members of a primitive culture.

Margaret Mead hoped to test theories taking hold among Western social scientists about the inherent turbulence of adolescence.

What she concluded after visiting the Manu'an Islands 2,300 miles south of Hawaii was that teen-age girls and boys there were free of the hang-ups of their Western counterparts and that sexual promiscuity was common.

"Samoans laugh at stories of romantic love, scoff at fidelity to a long absent wife or mistress, believe explicitly that one love will quickly cure another," Mead wrote in the best-selling "Coming of Age in Samoa."

Those conclusions long have been scoffed at by American Samoans. And now a conservative academic think tank promises to keep the debate going by naming Mead's 1928 treatise the worst nonfiction book of the past 100 years.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Del., criticized Mead's methods as scandalously sloppy and her findings as patently false.

"So amusing did the natives find the white women's prurient questions that they told her the wildest tales -and she believed them!" the 46 -year-old nonprofit institute wrote recently.

Mead's book joined Beatrice and Sidney Webb's "Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?" (1935) and Alfred Kinsey's "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) atop the institute's list of the 20th century's 50 worst nonfiction books originally published in English.

"The books on the worst list are still very popular on college campuses nationwide in spite of subsequent scholarship that has demonstrated the flaws in their conclusions," said Winfield J.C. Myers, one of three editors who made the selections.

Scholarly criticism of Mead, who died in 1978, isn't new.

In 1983, Derek Freeman, an anthropologist at the Australian National University at Canberra, attacked Mead's Samoa work. "Her account of the sexual behavior of Samoans is a mind-boggling contradiction," he wrote in "Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth."

Freeman said Mead was inexperienced in fieldwork and stayed only six months in the territory -hardly long enough to draw such sweeping conclusions about Samoan society.

He also said Mead was duped by her teen-age subjects and ignored evidence that did not support her hypothesis in order to please her mentor, Columbia University professor Franz Boas, a pioneer of the cultural school of anthropology.

In 1996, Martin Orans, an anthropologist at the University of California at Riverside, argued in his book "Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and Samoa" that Mead's field records do not support her claims, which are so grandiose that they could not be empirically tested.

But others in academia defend Mead.

Lowell Holmes, former chairman of anthropology at Wichita State University, retraced Mead's steps in the 1950s and disagreed with Freeman's criticism in his own 1987 book, "Quest for the Real Samoa."

Although critical of Mead's findings, Holmes said Freeman's critique stemmed from ideological differences. He also said he found no evidence that she was trying desperately to satisfy Boas by concluding that the storm and stress of adolescence were products of nurture rather than nature.

American Samoa-born Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard, an assistant professor of Pacific literature at the University of Hawaii, said Mead has been victimized by "the dissemination of idle rumor faintly disguised as scholarship by certain organs of popular media."

She said "Coming of Age in Samoa" was an important challenge to the growing chorus of social scientists in the early 20th century who believed that biology -not culture -was the main determining factor for human behavior and intelligence.

The biology argument provided intellectual support for eugenics, the pseudoscience of human breeding that aimed to produce a superior race, Sinavaiana-Gabbard said.

Myers countered: "Obviously, eugenics is a great evil," but "you don't answer sloppy scholarship with sloppy scholarship."

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

Frederick Zackel has published two novels. He currently teaches at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He has written for Exquisite Corpse: The Journal of Letters and Life, Unquiet Mind, Winedark Sea, WINGS, The Dictionary of Literary Biography, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction (among others,) and is a contributing editor to the on-line literary magazine January

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