"You got a red light at Van Ness!" I called.
She hit the brakes, and we slid home--safe!--our front wheels just touching
crosswalk. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief.
Some jogger banged the hood as he jogged through the intersection. "Back
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
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
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,
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
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
Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction (among others,) and is a contributing editor
to the on-line
literary magazine January
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