I decided to stay on the topic of Nebraska Man, a.k.a. Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, with this installment but focus upon a different kind of fraud, namely propaganda. This is a continuation of the last installment in this series, and I am presenting this article on the assumption that the reader has read it.
The word “propaganda” in its most neutral meaning is simply to propagate a message. Propaganda can be entirely neutral, benign or inconsequential. That is not, however, the most common usage of the term in English. The word “propaganda” in English usually has a negative connotation attached to it. When we speak of “propaganda” we are usually referring to communication which is in some way or another dishonest in its usage, and that is the usage of the term I intend here.
Propaganda can be entirely truthful in the facts it communicates and yet at the same time be deceitful in that omissions of relevant information can be made which mislead the reader or hearer. Propaganda can also be deceitful by including the presentation of facts which are irrelevant to the point at hand but which are made to appear relevant. Propaganda can also be indulged in with complete sincerity on the part of the propagandist who has simply received a dishonest or deceitful communication, believed it, and then passed the deceit on to others. Propaganda often comes in the form of spurious interpretations or invalid conclusions which are not logically warranted and which are superimposed upon facts. This is usually referred to as “spin,” and this is one of the most popular methods used by propagandists who are wilfully dishonest. Propaganda comes in numerous forms or, often, a combination of forms in the same communication. Propaganda is sometimes promulgated in the form of an outright lie.
I thought it would be instructive to make a brief analysis of one occurrence of evolutionary propaganda directly pertaining to our current topic, the Nebraska Man hoax, specifically the Wolf & Mellett article I referenced in the last installment of this series, The Role of “Nebraska Man” in the Creation-Evolution Debate . I encourage the reader to follow the link and read their article first so my comments below may be better understood.
John Wolf, at the time of the publication of their article (1985) was public information officer at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center in Madison. James Mellett was associate professor of geology at New York University.
Let us begin by noting their acknowledgement after the article: “Research for this article was supported in part by NIH grant RROO167 to the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center.”
Note well, dear taxpayers, that, in part ,YOUR tax money supported Wolf’s and Mellett’s article. As we analyze the Wolf and Mellett article, keep in mind that we are looking at your tax money at work.
The Wolf and Mellett article actually is, in certain aspects, commendable. It would appear that they did their due diligence in their research. They are certainly thorough researchers. And they did a very good job of presenting the timeline of events. Wolf and Mellett are also commendably candid about the fact that the ongoing public debates between Osborn and Bryan were relevant to, and having an impact upon the Scopes trial which was in process even while Osborn was publishing in the New York Times. They even did a fairly respectable job of assessing the role and motives of Henry Fairfield Osborn in the fraud. (The other side of this same coin, however, is that this is the scapegoat method of propaganda, of offering up a significant—usually long dead—evolutionist, to absolve the rest of the community of its sins; it is as if to say, “He, may have done something like that but the rest of us would never do something like that.” )
So while there are some positive elements in Wolf’s and Mellett’s article, there are also some very strong elements of propaganda, as we shall see more specifically below.
Wolf and Mellett begin their article thusly:
“In 1922, solely on the basis of a worn fossil tooth from Nebraska, paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn described Hesperopithecus haroldcookii as the first anthropoid ape from North America. Five years later, Osborn’s colleague William King Gregory concluded that the tooth most likely came from an extinct peccary…Hesperopithecus provoked intemperate speculations about its relation to humans, including a ‘reconstruction’ of ‘Nebraska Man’ by an artist in a popular British tabloid news magazine…Osborn apparently began to have doubts about his identification of the tooth shortly before the Scopes ‘monkey trial’ in July 1925, and he stopped mentioning it in his publications.”
Wolf and Mellett certainly understood that Osborn KNEW the true identity of the tooth at least by Spring of 1925. For Wolf and Mellett to say that Osborn “began to have his doubts” in 1925 is disingenuous and appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to defend evolutionist Osborn. This constitutes, therefore, the indulgence in propaganda by Wolf and Mellett in the very first paragraph of their article.
Moreover, William King Gregory did not conclude that the tooth “most likely” came from a peccary; King dug up the entire skeleton of the peccary minus the imfamous tooth already in their possession and had conclusive proof.
It seems abundantly clear to me, for the reasons I outlined in the preceding installment of this series, that Osborn NEVER had any doubts about the true identification of the tooth. I believe Osborn knew from the beginning that he was misrepresenting the evidence and he stopped mentioning it in his publications precisely because he did not want serious scrutiny of the tooth shortly before or during the Scopes trial, a point that Wolf and Mellett do concede later in their article, and because there was empirical proof in hand that the tooth came from a pig. What Henry Fairfield Osborn did NOT expect, and what constituted a serious potential “monkey wrench” thrown into his machinations, was that the entire peccary skeleton was still unexpectedly preserved in the ground in Nebraska. Quoting Osborn:
“We are this season renewing the search with great vigour and expect to run every shovelful of loose river sand which composes this deposit through a sieve of mesh fine enough to arrest such small objects as these teeth. Even by this laborious and painstaking method the probability of finding more material is not very great…”
If it were not for the fortuitous fact that the skeleton was still there, who knows how long Osborn’s charade would have lasted?
Wolf and Mellett continue:
“Although Nebraska Man did not survive long enough to become widely accepted by the scientific community [it was never INTENDED to be accepted by the scientific community, but for mass public consumption–T.S] and was quickly forgotten [swept under the rug for future generations would be a more accurate characterization–T.S] when its true identity was recognized, Hesperopithecus is again being trotted out in the current recrudescence of creationist attacks on evolution. The creationists who belittle mistakes by scientists cannot admit that science advances, in part, by correcting error.”
Wolf and Mellett are here trying to trivialize the entire affair. There was no “error” in the Nebraska Man caper, only FRAUD and deception. The intent was to sway public opinion and influence public policy regarding teaching about human origins.
Like boxers in the ring, intent on defeating the foe, we see Wolf and Mellett “coming out swinging” against creationists with the one-two punch of slander and libel. There is zero attempt here to realistically assess the concerns creationists have about the significance of the Nebraska Man hoax to the wider creation-evolution debate. This is not creationists “belittling mistakes by scientists,” but creationists assessing the true significance of the affair. Wolf and Mellett indulge in caricaturizing and stereotyping creationists as antagonistic to the normal process of scientific investigation. This is propaganda and rightly called rubbish and hogwash. It is entirely partisan in nature, without regard for truth, and not an attempt to objectively examine the issues at hand. It becomes obvious right at the beginning of their article that, sophisticated as it may be, Wolf’s and Mellett’s approach to the Nebraska Man hoax is not going to be an honest approach. And, this of course, raises a question. Why would Wolf and Mellett think that it is necessary to champion the cause of evolution in this dishonest manner? Does not this kind of approach betray an awareness on their part that the facts are insufficient for their purposes?
“He [Osborn] had casts made of the tooth and sent them to 26 institutions in Europe and the United States (Anon., 1924a). After seeing one of the casts, British paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, who had given the world Piltdown Man, was highly skeptical, feeling that ‘The occurrence of a man-like ape among fossils in North America seems so unlikely that good evidence is needed to make it credible.’ (Woodward, 1922.)”
Osborn’s casts are fairly characterized as part of his personal campaign. Wolf and Mellett seem to be implying that scientific knowledge and expertise was the cause of Arthur Smith Woodward’s skepticism. British nationalistic hubris was certainly at play here, as well as personal validation for Woodward. The British had been having their nationalistic noses rubbed in the dirt by continental European (especially French) patriots for decades, being labelled pejoratively as “pebble collectors,” over Continental European paleontological discoveries (Neanderthal Man, mostly) and British lack of the same. Woodward was not about to forfeit the bragging rights and personal leverage conferred by “his” recently “discovered” Piltdown Man to competitive Americans without persuasive proof. Virtually every book or article of any length on the paleoanthropology of the era notes the very real and palpable nationalistic rivalry manifest in the whole field of paleoanthropology. Moreover, Woodward was deeply and personally vested in Piltdown Man: he had an application for the coveted directorship of the British Museum of Natural History at stake, the justification of which was based in large measure upon his role in the “discovery” of the presumed oldest hominid in the evolutionary line leading to modern humans.
“In 1917, rancher and geologist Harold Cook found a human-looking tooth in Pliocene (recently redesignated Miocene) sediments in northwestern Nebraska. In March 1922, Cook submitted the specimen to Henry Fairfield Osborn, President of the American Museum of Natural History and an eminent vertebrate paleontologist, to determine the tooth’s affinities.”
Wolf and Mellett must certainly have known that Cook already had certain and specific knowledge of the tooth’s true identity as a pig’s tooth, as is manifest from the 1909 Bulletin of the AMNH. Wolf and Mellett document their knowledge of the 1909 AMNH Bulletin further along in their article. Could Wolf and Mellett not grasp, therefore, that Cook’s and Osborn’s claim of believing they had an anthropoid molar in their possession is, at best, extremely suspicious? The significance of the 1909 Bulletin was evident to me the moment I read it. I find it hard to believe that thorough researchers such as Wolf and Mellett were blind to the significance of this information.
“(E)ven during the ‘reign’ of Hesperopithecus as a putative human ancestor, many scientists, including its discoverer (Osborn) and its chief defender (Gregory), did not go as far as Elliot Smith in making overzealous extrapolations based on the Nebraska tooth.”
No? At this juncture, Wolf and Mellett indulge in an outright lie. The record is clear and unambiguous on this point. Osborn certainly went even further than that in his representations to the general public. Osborn wrote: “it constitutes infinitesimal but irrefutable evidence that man-apes wandered over from Asia into North America.”
There it is explicitly in Osborn’s own words: “man-apes.” Does this not constitute an “overzealous extrapolation”? Wolf and Mellett, who certainly knew of these statements of Osborn, simply tell a lie here at this pivotal juncture.
“The anthropoid Primate characters of the tooth are confirmed by another water-worn third upper molar previously found by William D. Matthew in the same beds but not described because it was not sufficiently distinctive. These two teeth establish the existence in the Pliocene period of a new and independent type of anthropoid, intermediate in the structure of its grinding teeth between the anthropoid ape and the human type.” –Henry Fairfield Osborn, see http://bevets.com/nebraska.htm
These statements by Osborn are clear and explicit. Osborn was making MUCH of the tooth, certainly to the general public, to the effect that human evolutionary hypotheses were being firmly proven by the “anthropoid molar” they had in their possession.
“As evidence accumulated in subsequent field seasons, Gregory became aware that, despite the tooth’s uncanny superficial resemblance to an anthropoid molar, Hesperopithecus was probably an extinct peccary. Gregory announced his retraction in Science at the end of 1927 (Gregory, 1927). The self-correcting feature of science thereby aborted America’s only entry in humankind’s prehistoric lineage before Nebraska Man significantly affected the opinions of most scientists regarding human evolution.”
“Self-correcting feature of science”? Is that what Nebraska Man teaches us? Is THAT the lesson to be learned? This is the SPIN method of propaganda. This is absolute misdirection of their readers on the part of Wolf and Mellett. Perhaps Wolf and Mellett were suffering from knee-jerk psychological denial at this point. Or, perhaps they were desperately trying to obscure the embarrassing truth: is not the MUCH, MUCH larger lesson to be learned from the Nebraska Man affair that the majority of paleoanthropology is utterly mired down in subjective interpretation of data? In other words, wishful thinking? This seems patently obvious to me and it seemed patently obvious to such high-level evolutionists as Lord Solly Zuckerman, Roger Lewin, and David Pilbeam. Regarding their claim that Nebraska Man did not affect the opinions of most scientists, this would seem to be a little skewed as well. As the New York Times noted, citing Grafton Elliot Smith:
“Dr. Elliot Smith, the English scientist, recently wrote to Professor Gregory that British scientists were practically a unit in accepting the interpretation placed by the authorities of the American Museum of Natural History on the tooth.”
Is this not a case of “significantly [affecting] the opinions of most scientists regarding human evolution” if the British establishment was nearly unanimous in their agreement with Osborn?
“Gergory’s change of heart on Hesperopithecus made front-page news in the New York Times (Anon. 1928a) and was picked up by The Times of London (Anon., 1928c). Editorial writers for both papers jumped at the chance to extract a lesson from the affair. The New York Times opined that ‘Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn and his colleagues can snatch consolation from the extinct jaws of the toothsome wild peccary. For science, as this incident shows, demands proof from even its most exalted’.”
Okay, so THAT is the lesson from the Nebraska Man affair? Perhaps it SHOULD be one of the lessons from the affair, but is that what we actually see operating in the whole field of evolution? The entire hypothesis of evolution has been utterly empirically debunked from numerous different angles, and yet, in spite of the DISproofs, the evolutionists are HARDLY demanding proof “from even its most exalted.” Evolution is accepted, a priori, by its devotees with overflowing FAITH. They are fervent believers in the RELIGION of Naturalism, all the while remaining in absolute denial of the religious nature of their affirmations.
Wolf and Mellett then ask the pivotal question:
“How could a worker as careful and methodical as Osborn have made such an egregious error?”
Now THAT is the $64,000 question! Answer: he did not. I am glad that Wolf and Mellett at least ask the question. Osborn perpetrated a hoax upon an unsuspecting public, a proposition I covered in the preceding article of this series, and he dragged many other leading scientists and institutions along for the ride.
Wolf and Mellett quote the Scientific American:
“The fundamentalists should have gotten some good ammunition from the Hesperopithecus episode. Even the editor of Scientific American had to admit that ‘It looks as if [creationist] Straton had morally won this round and it might possibly work out a lot nicer if we of the scientific camp were to concede it gracefully and get ready for the next one.” (Anon., 1928e.) In the same note, Gregory was praised for the retraction, ‘knowing as he must have known, when he did it, that the story of the ape’s tooth that was reduced in station to that of a Pliocene pig, would surely be triumphantly intoned in the songs of hate of every anti-evolution gathering for a century to come’.”
Songs of hate? So there you have it on authority of Wolf and Mellett and Scientific American: creationists are essentially hatemongers. Again more slander, libel and caricaturizing. Such an accusation is easily turned right around and attributed to its makers by noting that hurling baseless slander is certainly much more indicative of hatred than disbelief in a thoroughly debunked “scientific” hypothesis. Contrasting “hateful” creationists with “we of the scientific camp” is simply laughable. The zeal of the Naturalists for evolution is entirely religious in nature, indeed idolatrous, based upon faith, and is certainly anti-scientific in the face of all the empirical scientific evidence against evolution. In echoing and endorsing this slander from Scientific American, Wolf and Mellett show themselves quite willing to engage in another very common practice of evolutionists, which is the demonization and vilification of evolution doubters. Extreme nastiness and viciousness toward creationists and Darwin doubters is pervasively evident. I cited another example elsewhere of this vilification engaged in by Richard Dawkins against agnostic science journalist Richard Milton for doubting Darwinism, and we saw this vilification engaged in by the upper management of the Smithsonian Institution against Richard Sternberg, one of their own, for “getting out of line” by granting a rare opportunity to an ID proponent to voice the possibility of Intelligent Design of life.
“Today, with the evolutionary prehistory of humans firmly documented by African fossil discoveries beginning with Australopithecus in 1924, Hesperopithecus is little more than a peashooter in the creationists’ arsenal. George Gaylord Simpson even wondered whether the whole matter needs re-airing—‘So even famous scientists make mistakes, as all humans do. Jove does nod. No one was hurt. No one was even misled for long. So what of it’?’ (Personal communication, 1983.)
“But this mistake involved humankind’s origins, a topic that is inherently provocative, especially in the context of a creation-evolution conflict. Even after being corrected by scientists themselves, mistakes in descriptions of human ancestors are likely to be immortalized in the diatribes of creationists. Whereas a few of the creationists’ criticisms of the fossil evidence for human evolution are technically correct—as in the case of Hesperopithecus—they are often trivial. The reality of human evolution cannot be challenged by reference to one misidentified peccary tooth!”
Indeed, not, and that is hardly the point I or other creationists are making. As I have said more than once before, I have zero interest in anecdotes, and evolutionists can call what I am saying here a “diatribe” if they like. All of the hype surrounding Nebraska Man, Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, is profoundly characteristic and representative of evolutionary propaganda as a whole. So is the propaganda around the australopithecines, another fraud of evolution thoroughly debunked long ago, but fiercely clung to by some evolutionists to this day. (From the evolutionists’ perspective, a bad candidate for evolution is better than no candidate at all.) Deceit is PERVASIVE throughout the entire enterprise of evolutionary assertions, and Wolf’s and Mellett’s reference to the australopithecines is a typical example. The australopithecines were firmly discredited as “evolutionary prehistory of humans” by Solly Zuckerman in 1954, and by others afterwards, decades before Wolf and Mellett wrote their article in 1985, yet evolutionists, among them Wolf and Mellett, desperately cling to Australopithecus, which is an extinct ape, apparently a variety of chimpanzee or orangutan. The “evolutionary prehistory of humans,” a la the australopithecines, has been firmly debunked, not firmly documented. But that may yet be the subject for a future article.
“… science can be practiced only when inappropriate external influences, such as politics, are left out. [How about a priori religious commitments such as Naturalism and the political goal of banning all but the evolutioary origin of species as the only version of origins allowed to be heard?–T.S.] It is clear now that Osborn’s wish to embarrass Bryan may have clouded his scientific judgment and led him to misidentify a specimen whose affinities required a more restrained assessment.”
Clouded judgment? Misidentification? That’s a very implausible scenario. Osborn’s words and actions in the Nebraska Man affair give every evidence of being a strategy, calculated, and well-thought out.
“Finally, the issue relates to the fundamentally different values that creationism and science place on error. Creationists are quick to point out error by scientists, and ridicule it. They go on to argue that error and disagreement among specialists are indications that the fabric of science is coming apart, and that it will eventually collapse, with creationism reigning triumphant after Armageddon.”
This is about as inane a statement as one can imagine and reveals that Wolf and Mellett think (or at least propagandize) in terms of caricatures. They live in (or at least promote) a fantasy world. They are apparently in a state of psychological denial about the empirically-based, fact-and-data-centered sophistication of scientific creationism. They have powerful motivation to escape into their fantasy world of caricatures: the implications terrify them–and rightly so.
“But what creationists ridicule as guesswork, and trial and error, and flip-flopping from theory to theory, are the very essence of science, the stuff of science. Error correction is part of the creative element in the advance of science, and when disagreement occurs, it means not that science is in trouble but that errors are being corrected and scientific advances are being made. Creationism comes on the scene arguing that the Bible is inerrant as a source of scientific truth and that ‘creation science’ cannot admit of error because it simply does not exist.”
Again, this is another inane caricature and distortion. It is, in fact, evolution which comes on the scene arguing that Naturalism is inerrant as a source of scientific truth and “evolution science” cannot admit of error in its basic premise because error in this assertion simply cannot exist. Modern science as we know it was born in the cradle of Christian theism, and–to cite another discipline, astronomy,–there are at least five different creationist cosmologies that deal with the time and starlight phenomenon, for example. At least four of them have to be wrong, and maybe all five. With relevant empirical data forthcoming, I am sure the creationist scientists who have put forth their theories will be willing to adjust or abandon them. Lest evolutionists gloat over this particular conundrum, let it be noted that the Big Bangers have their own time and starlight problems in the form of empirical data which are inconsistent with the theory. The Big Bang theory has long since exploded but since there is nothing else convincing enough to replace it, the evolutionists implement the next best strategy which is, “A bad theory is better than no theory at all.” The empirical evidence simply does not square with the Big Bang hypothesis.
“We cannot conceive of two more diametrically opposed methods of explaining the world around us. One uses the correction of error as an inherent part of the process of searching for the truth, or ultimate reality in nature; the other rejects error or cannot admit its existence. Although it may be human to make mistakes, it is scientific to correct them. That is the nub of the issue between creationism and science.”
All of this is once again inane sermonizing, straw man bashing with no connection to reality, arising either out of ignorance or deception. Wolf and Mellett are in denial about the faith-based claim of evolutionists of the Absolute Truth and inerrancy of Naturalism. Their “science” is a tautology, a circular argument. They ASSUME the absolute, infallible truth of Naturalism and then try to fit the data into the ASSUMED truth. Anomalies and inconsistencies are simply ignored. If evolutionists want to postulate Naturalism as a MODEL to be tested, fine. But that is most emphatically not what they do. Naturalism is treated as the unquestionable premise of all thought. The suggestion of putting Naturalism to the test is regarded as a kind of blasphemy, and questioning it as a kind of heresy. It is, therefore, idolatry. They would not likely admit it, but theirs is a thoroughly and profoundly RELIGIOUS impulse.
We could go on and on with many different tangents here, but I think this should be sufficient to establish that there are strong elements of propaganda in Wolf’s and Mellett’s article.
In our next installment of the Frauds of Evolution, I will conclude with a final commentary on Nebraska Man and some observations on the film, “Inherit the Wind,” which is an evolutionist’s twist on the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.
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