930124 Gould, Stephen Jay. Jan 1989. An Essay on a Pig Roast. Natural History, Jan., pp. 1
Gould, Stephen Jay. Jan 1989. An Essay on a Pig Roast. Natural
History, Jan., pp. 14-25.
A description is presented of the 1922 trial between William
Jennings Bryan and Henry Fairfield Osborn on evolution vs.
creationism. The trial began events which culminated in the
more famous Scopes trial.
"The story of Hesperopithecus was certainly embarrassing to Osborn and
Gregory in a personal sense, but the sequence of discovery,
announcement, testing, and refutation -- all done with admirable
dispatch, clarity, and honesty -- shows science working at its very
best. Science is a method for testing claims about the natural world,
not an immutable compendiu of absolute truths. The fundamentalists,
by "knowing" the answers before they start, and then forcing nature
into the straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside
the domain of science -- or any honest intellectual inquiry. The
actual story of Hesperopithecus could teach creationists a great deal
about science as properly practiced if they chose to listen, rather
than to scan the surface for cheap shots in the service of debate for
immediate advantage, rather than interest in truth."
Among other items in the article, I found out that while Osborn
organized and participated in the follow-up expedition to Nebraska,
his name was not on the article retracting the claims of primate
affinity for Hesperopithecus. That honor he left for his colleague
So, while Osborn did not actually go into print retracting his earlier
claims, he certainly was foremost in coming up with the evidence and
interpretation that showed the earlier claims to be false.
Osborn did engage in self-correction, but not quite to the extent that
I had previously indicated in a message on the Science Echo.
February 25, 1922: Harold Cook informs Henry Fairfield Osborn of his
find of a fossil tooth "that closely approaches the human type."
April 25, 1922: Osborn presents papers describing Hesperopithecus
haroldcookii based upon Harold Cook's specimen and a previously
unidentified tooth in the American Museum of Natural History's
1923: William Gregory publishes two articles on Hesperopithecus,
noting the bad condition of the specimens and stating uncertainties of
1922-1925: Osborn sends molds of the Hesperopithecus tooth to
Summer, 1925 and 1926: Osborn mounts paleontological expeditions to
the formations in Nebraska to find more specimens.
December 16, 1927: William Gregory publishes retraction of
Hesperopithecus, classifying the original teeth and subsequently
discovered material as belonging to the genus Prosthennops.
(Prosthennops had been described by W.D. Matthews and Harold Cook in
1909.) Prosthennops is an extinct genus related to modern peccaries,
or wild pigs.
Gould challenged SciCre-ists to retract their Paluxy man-tracks claims
in his article. While some have already done so, much of the
literature of the SciCre-ists has not been revised to reflect this.
In the case of "Nebraska man" which the SciCre-ists are so fond of
citing, the claim-test-retract cycle took just over five and one-half
years. One wonders how long it will take the SciCre-ists to remove
even the claims concerning Paluxy from their rhetoric. They have had
almost twice the entire cycle time of Hesperopithecus already.
-- Wesley R. Elsberry
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank