Friday, February 23, 2007

Consensus Science
As this news story indicates, the reigning scientific consensus on the origins of the first Americans, the Clovis Man theory, is collapsing. An emerging body of (once heretical) study is forcing a new understanding of how the American continents first became populated.

The image of Clovis Man is well known to anybody who went through grade school in the last 40 years. It's the image of the archetype hunter-gatherer, clothed in animal skins and hunting mastodons. Clovis Man came to America from Asia by way of migration across the Bering Sea ice bridge approx 10,000 years ago and immediately took to populating the entire American continent (thousands of miles from Alaska down to Tiera del Fuego) all in less than 1000 years. And as part of the theory, in the course of this mass (and rapid) migration, Clovis Man hunted to extinction the prevailing megafauna of the continent (mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers, giants sloths, etc). All of this served to establish firmly in the public consciousness that man came to the Americas at the time of the retreat of the last ice age, and that this event did not occur any earlier. Indeed, with the Clovis Man theory in place, the "science was settled" - to use a phrase currently invoked, for example, by another body of Consensus Science guardians (the scientists, politicians, and special-interest advocates who push human-induced Climate Change theory).

But of course the science was not settled. A handful of heretical scientists, anthropologists, and archaeologists began discovering, through a variety of means (including carbon-dating), evidence that challenged the fundamental tenets of Clovis Man theory. One of these renegade scientists, James Adovasio identified an archaeological site of early man habitation - the Meadowcroft Rockshelter - and produced findings that directly challenged the reigning scientific consensus. Indeed, leading publications who reported on Meadowcroft revealed the startling nature of the find:

"It was a staggering finding, suggesting a whole new way of looking at the ancient history of the Americas after date showed that the site was inhabited before archaeological orthodoxy said it could have been." --The Washington Post, April 1, 2002

"...the Meadowcroft Rockshelter near Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania , show[s] that people may have lived in North America nearly 20,000 years ago." --National Geographic, Dec. 2000

Other early human habitation sites, in North and South America have also been discovered, and their findings further challenged the dominant understanding (as Adovasio details in his book The First Americans). Each of these discoveries produced information that directly challenged the entrenched Consensus Science. Adovasio describes how lonely it was, as a scientist, to be on the outside of the consensus. Many told him he was committing professional suicide in his pursuit of the evidence he was unearthing at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter site. Indeed, by going against the consensus science of Clovis Man theory, he was viewed as a heretic, a rebel, a renegade with unacceptable science. The Consensus Science defenders would not accept his denial of the reigning theory.

However, the new emerging science could not be stopped. More sites, more evidence, more understanding became unearthed by more and more scientists, eroding the foundations of Clovis Man theory. Through the indefatigable work of independent minded scientists (Adovasio included), the bedrock assumptions of Clovis Man theory were called into question. Indeed, the emerging evidence is so damning it has demanded a rethink of our entire understanding of how the Americas became originally settled. Clovis Man no longer dominates and no longer enjoys the position of being THE explanation for the peopling of the Americas. And as to be expected, these are exciting times in American archeology and anthropology. A new updated understanding of early Americans is being formulated (a fantastic book that details this new understanding is Charles Mann's 1491). The field is now wide open, accepting and unafraid of new evidence and theories. A positive environment for open scientific inquiry.

One of science's duties is to always question and test theories to ensure scientific and factual integrity. Being a human endeavor, science is not immune to the unfortunate effects of ego, hubris, groupthink, stasis, and politicization. With regard to any scientific field or area of study, no matter how much interested people declare "the science is settled", science can only remain settled if it withstands challenge. Therefore it is the duty of science to always and continuously challenge itself - to ensure its own integrity. Only through repeated prevail through challenge can a scientific consensus be rightfully earned. All attempts by interest groups, politicians, or politically / career motivated scientists to declare "the science is settled", to thwart debate and inquiry, must never be accepted by the public. Society deserves the best science it can get in all fields of scientific inquiry - in archeology, anthropology, climate change theory, wherever. The best science will emerge only if we as a people greatly resist the urge to declare "the science is settled" and fall in line, like blind sheep, behind an unearned consensus.


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