To the Editors of The Crimson:
Somehow, J. Wyatt Emmerich managed to do it all ("Darwin Vulgarized," 13 April):
1. He got the minor details wrong. Our species, Homo sapiens, is never spelled with a lower-case h. Irven DeVore's name is not spelled "DeVore." The overflow crowd in Science Center C was watching on a live video system, not "watching on video tape." And the ovation DeVore received was not a "standing" one, to the best of my recollection and that of a friend, both of us seated in the very last row of Science Center B.
2. He got the major details wrong. First, DeVore has indeed "observed" baboons, but he, like Emmerich, has only heard about insects and elephant seals secondhand. Second, Emmerich criticized DeVore for having theorized about humans without being among "those scientists who actually studied human beings and societies." In fact, DeVore is an anthropologist, and his two career-long research interests have been observing baboons and observing the culture of the Kung bushmen. DeVore did refer to these cross-cultural observations of his in his talk.
3. He got the major themes wrong. Emmerich perpetrated an enormous falsehood about one of the central points of the lecture, in quoting DeVore's summary of early findings about primate social structure involving male-dominated dominance hierarchies, male leadership, and male genetic continuity. He failed to report that a few minutes later, DeVore emphasized that every one of these seemingly sexist findings has been found to be completely untrue or true only when extremely qualified. DeVore noted in the balance of his talk--repeatedly--that societies that he and others have studied have a continuity based on female descent and kinship, that males are usually unable to "lead" females anywhere, and that dominance hierarchies do not fit any simplistic males-are-dominant-over-passive-females model. Almost as if he had omitted the word "not" from a quotation, Emmerich represented DeVore as saying something 180 degrees the opposite of one of the lecture's main points. Afterwards, several listeners complimented DeVore on his delivery of one of the most anti-sexist lectures they'd ever heard, sociobiological or non-sociobiological.
4. And he hasn't learned from his mistakes. I would have expected Emmerich, along with others who spout phrases coined by Science for the People (e.g., "vulgar Darwinism"), to be disturbed by DeVore's lecture, for it incidentally contradicted many of the things he claimed in his review of Dawkins's book on sociobiology last year (11 April 1977). That review led to a cascade of criticism, most of which asserted that he didn't know what he was talking about (26 April). Emmerich seems determined to prove his critics correct, and to force sociobiology into the "deeply conservative politics" mold whether it fits or not.
How many people will cite Emmerich's account--one published in Harvard's newspaper of record--as an example of sociobiological sexism? The very least Emmerich owes DeVore is a retraction and a deep, believable apology. Much more appropriate would be a reprinting of DeVore's full speech, or at least as much as can fit onto page 3.
And finally, without trying to interfere in The Crimson's internal affairs, I would suggest that its reputation has been damaged by Emmerich's article, and that The Crimson Staff is owed some restitution. --James D. Weinrich Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows
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