Kunstkamera: Pseudoanthropology at Anthrogenica.com

I spent the last few days posting at a forum called Anthrogenica.com debating “archaic admixture” in mtDNA and Y-DNA, answering questions regarding viable alternatives to out-of-Africa and observing the online behaviors of “science bloggers.” As always, my counterarguments against the out-of-Africa theory and an out-of-America alternative caused a controversy. As a participant observer, I identified three different kinds of out-of-Africa advocates and out-of-America detractors, which tend to recur across forums but are represented by three concrete individuals at Anthrogenica.com.

1. AJL. This anonymous “co-administrator” of the forum is only capable of rude ad hominem comments (E.g., “If you understood cladistics/phylogenetics, you would not have to ask that question,” “So you think Amerindian creationism…can trump fossil records, geology, and DNA…,” “Do you even know what DNA and fossil data there is and what it suggests? Or will you simply restate what to my eyes seems only to be overweening pride in the extreme minority position you hold for an Out-of-Americas origin”). In the course of 200+ post exchange, he didn’t contribute a single intelligent argument. A Canadian by residence, AJL is likely a poorly educated type who uses genetic genealogy as a way to “look smart” in front of neighbors and online community members. His decision to “ban” me is an instance of cyberbullying.

2. JeanM. This is a screen name of Jean Manco, a building historian. She is an educated type but instead of focusing on her area of expertise, she has turned her idle attention to modern human origins. Poorly familiar with scholarly literature, she relies on Wikipedia, misreads sources and lacks any understanding of the the scientific methodology that’s necessary to unravel the complex nexus of linguistics and genetics. She went as far as to doubt the veracity of my recounting of Ted Schurr’s innocuous and sober puzzlement over the lack of “basal” African L lineages outside of Africa. (This is just a simple fact that requires an explanation.) In Jean Manco’s reactionary mind, scholars cannot be puzzled by an observed pattern or, if they do, they have to express it in writing, sign an affidavit and explain themselves in front of the consumers of their writings. Otherwise, the consumers will accuse them of “astonishing ignorance.” Incapable of hiding her professional insecurities and glaring incompetence, Jean Manco hates the fact that Ted Schurr who she refers to as “blameless professor” seems to share some of the observations that have led me to question out-of-Africa. Jean Manco reminds me of a soccer mom who freaks out at even a remote possibility that her children’s toys will be recalled by the manufacturer.

3. GailT. This blogger knows mtDNA phylogeny and apparently spent “several years analyzing thousands of samples of mtDNA data.” However, this admirable resume is blunted by her utter inability to post anything but parroted statements of conventional wisdom around the “mtDNA evidence for out-of-Africa.” She tends to repeat the words such as “robust phylogeny,” “25 years of scientific research,” “extremely compelling evidence” in hopes to overwhelm her opponents but systematically ignores all the evidence against out-of-Africa. Faced with a concrete critique of out-of-Africa she left all the specific comments unanswered submitting instead loud protests and ab auctoritate arguments. She hasn’t adopted a scientific worldview and refuses to test mtDNA genealogies with ancient DNA, since she hold an almost-biblical belief that “the theory has strong support even without that data.” She also enjoys circular reasoning. For instance, she believes that modern humans are older than 130,000 years hence African L0 and L1 lineages must be the earliest modern human lineages and not introgressed lineages. But the collection of African Middle Stone Age human remains that suggest the dates in the range of 200,000 YA (the so-called “anatomically modern humans”) have never yielded any DNA, so it’s impossible to say if they harbor those exact African lineages. So GailT uses the dates on the potential paleobiological material for ancient DNA as proof that modern African lineages having no attestation in that very same material must be at least that old in modern humans. But, according to G. Philip Rightmire, “neither the Herto hominins, nor others from Late Pleistocene sites such as Klasies River in southern Africa and Skhūl/Qafzeh in Israel, can be matched in living populations. Skulls are quite robust, and it is only after ≈35,000 years ago that people with more gracile, fully modern morphology make their appearance.”

All three types are most properly called pseudonanthropologists: they are attracted to one of anthropology’s key subject matters, human origins, but they don’t have the education, the methodology, the logic or the ethics to actually lead new research, ask the right questions, build theories and conduct debates in a scholarly manner. Just like anthropology, in Eric Wolf’s famous formulation, is the most scientific of all humanities and most humanistic of all scientists, pseudoanthropologists are individuals who ignore scientific methodologies, while using scientific language to justify their speculations about human prehistory. Symptomatically enough, in the very title of the forum the actual Greek word anthropos ‘man, human being” is shortened to anthro, probably attesting to the anthropological and linguistic ignorance of the administrators and senior members at the said forum.

Update. 11.26.2013. I was pleased to find out that the owners of Anthrogenica.com have lifted my ban and apologized for AJL’s misguided attack.