Reich is to archaeologists as Luis Alvarez was to

Paleontologists.  A lot of parallels. I read a number of books on the asteroid-extinction theory and the controversy around it, including several by paleontologists.  I was not impressed by them.  Although, to be fair, I don’t remember the paleontologists accusing Luis Alvarez of racism.

Other examples of this pattern?


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80 Responses to Reich is to archaeologists as Luis Alvarez was to

  1. gyddyn says:

    Alfred Wegener plate tectonics theory, for example.

  2. RCB says:

    Would Charles Murray : Social Scientists work here? I suppose almost anyone who looks at data could be substituted here?

  3. nankoweap says:

    Deccan Trap believers

  4. James Fulford says:

    Barry Marshall and everyone else who tried to cure ulcers by making us quit our high-stress jobs, or meditate, or whatever.

    • Scott Locklin says:

      +1 on this (and J. Robbin Warren); that is one of the best recent and fully vindicated examples.

      There’s certainly a bunch of public health baloney published as fact, along the lines of “stress causes ulcers.” Medicine is primitive as a science, and an awful lot of the pharmacopoeia looks like flat out snake oil vetted by p-value mining. There’s probably a dozen more chronic diseases blamed on eating bacon or whatever that have pathogens associated with them that nobody has found yet because they’re not looking.

      I am also a big Neal Patterson fan. Codebreaker/hedge fund guy teaching geneticists how to do statistics; accidentally discovers Neanderthal admixture. That was pretty good.

  5. megabar says:

    I don’t claim to understand the specific nuance you find relevant in these scenarios, but generic “establishment-was-wrong” cases include vitamin C / scurvy, and the guy (Semmelweis) that figured out that doctors washing their hands before delivering children would save lives.

    The general pattern of an organization becoming resistant to challenges to the status quo is a tough nut to crack. How could we organize entities so that they do not become calcified and self-serving over time, without throwing away the positives of expertise and experience that these organizations build up?

    • gyddyn says:

      “How could we organize entities so that they do not become calcified and self-serving over time, without throwing away the positives of expertise and experience that these organizations build up?”

      In no way. 😦

      Scurvy&Semmelweis are a good example, IMHO, by the way

    • bomag says:

      How could we organize entities…

      Adherence to the scientific method was a huge leap forward.

      But science is currently getting hacked by politics; reminds me of the Arab/Persian scholars who spoke out against the crushing of science, such as it was, by the Imams back in the day; to no avail.

      • megabar says:

        Indeed. So how do you create an organization which resists this political / religious hacking?

        • Esso says:

          Testosterone replacement therapy.

        • Esso says:

          Extensive, humiliating rites of initiation and cohesion, tithes, benefits for members.

        • Esso says:

          Leather vests, insignia, continuous warfare.

          • megabar says:

            There are several problems with organizations, including the following (with a concrete example of each):

            It becomes increasingly difficult to tie the performance of groups within it to the success of the overall group. This allows members to benefit more from the relative position of the subgroup, than from the performance of the entire org. Think about a manager who argues for more funding and headcount, even though his group isn’t really that useful to the org. No manager ever argues for less headcount; they aren’t incentivized to do so.
            External evaluation becomes increasingly difficult due to momentum, size, and lack of visibility and understanding of the external parties. For example, how do voters evaluate the function of their government? How efficient is the US military with their money? We know it’s bad, but is it bad relative to other militaries? To a realistic ideal? Who knows.
            Internal members have too little (or ineffective) contact with external viewpoints, and so become echo chambers. Academics are the obvious choice here. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of external evaluation.

            The common thread here is lack of effective evaluation, which I admit is very difficult in some cases. Attempts to fix this often make the problem worse, by chasing false metrics.

            • Esso says:

              And the problem with just identifying and pointing out problems is that it also means attacking the status and prestige of the people involved. It seems that the easiest fix for this is becoming an eusocial species. Perhaps there are other solutions, but as a member of a citizens’ panel on sustainability I have to spend this evening answering some pre-formed questions from my government.

      • ChrisA says:

        Humans will engage in status games given any chance and if the subject is scientifically debatable then rhetoric will always win over common sense. The main way we control this is via competition. That is why democratic capitalism is such a great concept. Democratic means that some-one is allowed to argue against every position, Capitalism means that if there is profit is going against prevailing orthodoxy people are incentivized to do so. Of course minor dumb decisions do get made under this system all the time, but that is the price of not having major dumb decisions persist for generations.

        • megabar says:

          Are you arguing that democratic capitalistic systems never have persistent dumb decisions? I disagree. Capitalism works tremendously well for a significant subset of social problems, but not all (health care comes to mind).

          And due to faulty data, it is currently destroying itself due to immigration — which is an issue that can not be corrected.

          Put another way, DC works when the population has correct-enough data to go on, and when the population is made up of people with sound-enough decision making.

  6. Rosenmops says:

    …John Snow , to public health officials in London

  7. gregor says:

    A related question would be: What fields have become apologetic exercises to protect a dubious worldview? I would say: history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

    • Scott Locklin says:

      Pre 1945 versions of all 4 probably represent state of the art. There may be some new bits of history informed by paleontologists or genetic anthropologists, but I suspect just reading old books you’ll avoid more problems.

  8. Smithie says:

    When I was a young boy, I never liked the impact theory. It seemed too simplistic, too neat. Of course, I was reading it in the library of an elementary school, so it may have not been presented in the most refined way.

    It wasn’t even that I doubted that there had been an impact which had been disastrous. I just thought there were additive things, perhaps something microbiological, and that some dinosaurs had evolved into other things.

    Maybe, that is autism.

  9. thesoftpath says:

    So the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction is no longer accepted? Was unaware. Where do I go to get the true story?

    • catte says:

      No, why do you think that?

    • bomag says:

      asteroid theory… no longer accepted

      It was initially rejected by many in the field, but the preponderance of evidence built up until it was accepted.

      The discussion here is about explanatory suggestions that were initially rejected by the mainstream, but prevailed over time.

    • Unladen Swallow says:

      There is a book, now twenty years old, called Night Comes to the Cretaceous by James Lawrence Powell which covers it up until the late 90’s. Highly recommended.

    • Anonymous says:

      You may be confused by having glanced at a clickbait headline for an article covering a recent short-lived feminist meme that compared Alvarez to James Watson as woman scientist destroyer. Supposedly this woman discovered that it was volcanos, not a meteor. When examined more closely, it turns out that not even the woman scientist denied the meteor as the cause. Her point was that volcanos exacerbated things by maybe 5 percent. Her supporters felt she should have gotten more credit, but how much attention can you really expect for a minor knock-on influence.

  10. Cpluskx says:

    It has become all about emotions now and even the Anti-PC views are manipulating. People on the forums cheered when Reich said Aryan invasion of India was real and they started to question his integrity and accused him of being politically correct when he said the PIE originated in Near East.
    I think PC culture took hold because world has become more prosperous than ever and at the same time communication tech showed people how much inequality there is, so now people are able to allocate energy to care about feelings and they try to win in little things to feel better.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is probably only complicated by the fact that Assyriologists are camping on evidence they don’t want to be widely circulated for fear of misunderstanding/similarly being accused of being either politically correct or politically incorrect. There is quite a lot of circumstantial evidence that Indo European speakers were IN the near east during/immediately preceding the proto-cuneiform period (this is WAY before Mitanni, and way before Indo-Iranian is hypothesised to have become a distinct family).

      The problem is that this evidence directly contradicts the idea that they originated there. How they got there, what they were doing there, how long they were there and how many of them is open to a LOT of interpretation. But nobody wants to be accused of introducing the Indo-European Mesopotamian Invasion Theory and attracting (more) nazis to an already poorly-understood area of enquiry.

      • Anon says:

        Pre-3200BCE? IE well widespread in the Near East then is all the better for “Whatever they were, they weren’t Yamnaya, or anyone with Eastern Hunter Gatherer ancestry”. The more widespread IE languages are in the Near East, without any trace of EHG ancestry, the better for Anything But The Steppe theories.

        • Anonymous says:

          Armenian hypothesis in one form or another makes the most sense. The evidence for Mesopotamia proper is a single/limited contact and assimilation into the local power structures (which is quite typical for anyone from outside invading). They clearly had a much more enduring effect on the Hurrians and Urartians.

          The Hurrian IE loanwords are satemised but not in a regular fashion, which suggests they MIGHT be from a very, very early stage of Armenian. Armenian ‘behaves’ like a satem language, but is believed to have arrived there by way of an intermediary stage which preserved all three dorsal rows (just as Anatolian preserved all three dorsal rows, but yielded Hittite, which ‘behaves’ like a centrum language.)

  11. a says:

    Maybe Per Bak to neuroscientists with his Critical Brain hypothesis.

  12. Michael says:

    Joseph Goldberger

  13. Reich is to archaeologists what AlphaGo is to human pro.

  14. Daud Deden says:

    OT. Help? I humbly request you to skim a post I wrote/pasted at sci.anthropology.paleo about a blood iron disorder. Would you please write a blog post with your thoughts on the condition? Consider Hemochromatosis vs anemia in light of evolutionary benefit, soil iron vs iodine, seasonally nomadic H&G (+seafood) vs settled grain agriculturalists with stored/processed grain/dairy/meat high-calorie diet, effects on society, aging etc. (This time it’s personal as well as theoretical). DD!topic/sci.anthropology.paleo/8jV1ajZ1bfw

  15. OriginalJ says:

    Tangentially on topic. Templeton’s 2013 paper, which demonstrates that human evolution involved frequent, mostly low-level gene exchange among the folk races and their subunits, does not demonstrate the improbability of local adaptations relevant to the creation and maintenance of civilization. However, if Templeton’s 2013 conclusion and reassertion of Lewontin’s fallacy are granted, then universities must necessarily merge all the African Studies, Asian Studies, Aboriginal Studies departments into a Clinal Studies Department. Logical consistency is a bitch in the PC world.

  16. magusjanus says:

    Joseph Greenberg repeatedly making big bold predictions of connections between languages in Africa, Americas, Australasia, northeast Eurasia etc. that were obviously ridiculous and didn’t follow the ‘approved way’ of careful linguistic blah blah blah.

    Annoyingly, more and more evidence suggests he was right about almost everything, but that doesn’t count to linguists cuz ‘he didnt do it the way youre SUPPOSED to’, what with his fancy mass comparison mumbo jumbo.

    • Jim says:

      It’s difficult to demonstrate sound shifts where there isn’t extensive historical data but as Greenberg pointed out the Indo-European Family was recognized before sound shifts were recognized. It was recognized simply because of vocabulary and morphological resemblances the same means by which he compared languages. Because of the historical evidence of languages such as Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, etc. it is possible in the case of Indo-European to reconstruct the proto-language in surprising detail. Even words in different languages that seem quite different can often be exactly traced back to the same PIE word through the appropriate series of documented sound shifts. So somehow the idea developed that one had to do that to be confident that two languages were derived from a common ancestor. Actually one doesn’t need a lot of resemblances to have a high likelihood that two languages are related. In Hittite the word for “water” was more or less “water” or “water”. The Hittite preposition corresponding to “up” in English was oddly enough “up”. The Hittite words for “this” and “that” were “kwis” and “kwit” (cf. Latin “quis” and “quid”). These could all be coincidences but of course they are not.

      • Change Space says:

        Its easier to have confidence in this when we’re not talking about 15 or so words (taking Dolgopolsky List as an example), which are all monosyllables over 15000 years (assuming we’re doing things a good way and not just taking a grab bag of the lexicon for purposes of mass comparison without any regard to evidenced lexical stability).

        The space of producing phantom relatedness by change is different for 100 or more polysyllables, over 5000 years, in ways that make it more plausible to demonstrate relatedness.

  17. prm says:

    Maybe not quite along the lines you’re thinking of, but Napoleon Chagnon and the Noble Savages stuff/book/aftermath/witchhunt etc?

  18. Newscaper says:

    Take a look at Mars topographical maps. Just eyeballing it, Hellas Basin monster crater approx opposite side of planet from region of Olympus Mons and those other big volcanoes (other side of planet and similarly above/below equator.

  19. benespen says:

    J Harlen Bretz, he pointed out that the Channeled Scablands looked like they were formed by a catastrophic flood, and he was right. Like Wegner, his primary tool was a map, and noticing things.

    • The G_Man says:

      Ha! I was just on my way to post that.

      In all seriousness, though, if the ‘Torygraph’ (lol) is describing it correctly, the study doesn’t just say there are no race gaps, it says there are no genetic differences in intelligence full stop. The ONLY difference between Von Neumann and a guy with a measured IQ of 70 is maternal and pre-toddler nutrition. This is so obviously crazy that I don’t even know what to do with it.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        As George Orwell once said, “Some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them. No ordinary man could be such a fool.”

  20. The Z Blog says:


    Interesting if true. A bacterial cause for Alzheimer disease would be a huge breakthrough in the narrow sense, but it would certainly open minds to other possibilities. I’m thinking specifically of mental health issues.

  21. Curtis says:

    Lynn Margulis’s original endosymbiosis paper was rejected by 15 journals before finally being accepted. Her ideas were not really accepted for a decade or two.

  22. Eponymous says:


    Did you see this paper on EA GWAS hits in Jewish vs. non-Jewish sample?

  23. The Troodonts blew themselves up. Lots of Iridium in nuclear power plants.

    But on to the main subject today… On the level of genes-proteins, non-Africans are closer to Neanderthal than to Africans. Over 200 Neanderthal genes-proteins in non-Africans and less than 87 not in Neanderthals.

    We are Neanderthals.

  24. I DEFY anyone to point out the #Neanderthal #Denisovan percentages for Australians not on the N. Coast.

    Now, how come no one can produce that data? They’ve tested it such as Reich’s recent paper on “Australian” (Denisovan from the last interglacial) genes in Brazilian natives. And in that paper, (too bad I can’t post the graphics) they show that the interior Australians are completely different than those on the N. Coast, with a far far far stronger signal.

    Solomon Islanders, it’s 15%, granted the Neanderthal and Denisovan percentages are never given at the same time.And that’s Molecular Clock, not genes-proteins.

  25. JoachimStrobel says:

    The root of Geology once was Paleontology. One needed to chart fossils to correlate strata across the globe. Paleontologists documented ammonoidea for a long time, they are cataloged in “the treatise”. Since over 50 years people realized that the cold water loving ammonites moved south while the warm water loving ones disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous. That means global cooling. Could be sunspots, volcanoes or, why not, an asteroid. No need to worry as such extinctions happened a lot. The extinctions of the Trilobites was a much larger affair. And no, terrestrial fossil (“Dinos”) are not important, too little statistics.
    Enter the new Geology based on physics and processes. They find the same sort of thing, or read it up, and there comes your asteroid. Sure, a layer of Iridium helps, but you really need to search for it. Sure, it will happen again, just look at the moon.

  26. It works in reverse, too. The Blank Slate was initially rejected, but prevailed over time, for ideological, not scientific reasons. It lasted for half a century, give or take, in spite of it’s absurdity. However, once it had become “mainstream,” outsiders did take it down. The Blank Slaters are bitter about being shamed and humiliated to this day. They can’t restore the Blank Slate, but they still have a lot of clout in academia. As a result one finds denunciations of the old betes noire of the Blank Slaters in books that then proceed to repeat their hypotheses almost word for word.

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