“This is Not Science As We Know It”

Therefore it must be wrong. This was the reaction of several prominent anthropologists when Chuck Millikan, a California policeman, wrote to them to ask what they thought of the aquatic ape hypothesis, according to Elaine Morgan. Millikan was “a compulsive letter-writer,” said Morgan. He had been impressed by her ideas and wrote her to ask when her next book was coming out. There won’t be a next one, Morgan had replied, I’ve said all I have to say. Millikan’s response to this was to write prominent anthropologists asking them what they thought of her theory. When he sent Morgan their replies, she saw they had no good reasons for ignoring her. Emboldening and irritated, she wrote another book.

Let me invent a verb: to elaine morgan something is to have a big effect on something you shouldn’t have been able to influence. Elaine Morgan elaine morganed the study of evolution. She was far outside anthropology; she shouldn’t have been able to successfully promote a radical new view of evolution, but she did. Chuck Millikan elaine morganed Elaine Morgan; he shouldn’t have been able to persuade her to start writing again, but he did.

A excellent BBC documentary about the aquatic ape theory (part 1 of 6).

3 Replies to ““This is Not Science As We Know It””

  1. I read on of Morgan’s books years ago, and she struck me as a truly original thinker, another Jane Jacobs. I expect that the aquatic-ape hypothesis will eventually accepted in some form. Looking around the web, it seems that Morgan is a pariah in academic circles, and has suffered for this emotionally. Some academics seem to feel almost a revulsion for her. I’m not sure why. The cheerful, commonsense tone her books radiate may drive some batty; perhaps they prefer things mysterious and deep. Sometimes she gives the impression of throwing every conceivable scrap of evidence into her argument, which is a hallmark of crank arguments. She sometimes has gotten emotional in her online responses – that’s hardly unusual for academics, but is especially damaging for people who already carry the stigma of crankdom.

    But in the end I think it comes down to her lack of academic credentials and the fact that she is challenging a hegemonic theory. Other examples occur to you no doubt.

  2. The reason academics didn’t take to Elaine Morgan’s ideas, and to her to some extent, is that they don’t tend to like ideas, and people, which depend on distorting what people say, claiming they said the opposite of what they did, people who alter quotes to suit their purposes, people who use bogus claims as data. All this describes her methods in her books and articles, and much of it describes all the work done by AAT proponents.

    My site, Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim?, has many examples of these and other problems with the AAT in its various forms.

    Chris, it’s ironic that you compare Morgan to Jane Jacobs because Morgan also wrote a book following Jacobs’ thesis, and it really shows the difference between the two. Jacobs was a brilliant thinker who had original and thought-provoking ideas, Morgan’s book was merely a weak imitation of Jacobs’ work. Sad, really, because Morgan is a talented TV writer, but falls down badly when she stretches outside it.

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