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No. 52: Jul-Aug 1987

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The calico debate, plus a little editorializing

Passions run higher in archeology than in most fields of scientific endeavor. Favored hypotheses mesmerize some, despite contradictory data and cogent arguments. In this respect, much science verges on religion.

The foregoing "kernel of real truth" was occasioned by letters written to Science News in response to B. Bower's article on the probability of human artifacts -- as old as 100,000 years -- having been found at the Calico site in California. (See SF#51.)

First, J.G. Duvall, III, attacked Bower's article, asserting that the human origin of the Calico "artifacts" had long ago been shown to be untenable. For a reference, he cited an article by himself and W.T. Venner in the Journal of Field Archaeology. Duvall's major point was that the Calico "tools" did not resemble proven Paleoindian tools.

Responding to Duvall, G.F. Carter first pointed out that the Duvall-Venner paper was "almost instantly shown to be erroneous" by L.W. Patterson in the pages of the very same journal. As for the differences in artifacts, Carter asked why one should expect 12,000-year-old Paleoindian artifacts to look like 200,000-year-old artifacts from an entirely different culture. (Duvall, James G., III; "Calico Revisited," Science News, 131:227, 1987. Carter, George F.; "Calico Defended," Science News, 131:339, 1987.)

Comment. We don't really know whether or not the Calico "artifacts" were really made by humans 200,000 years ago. No one really does! One may opine or theorize, and that's it. The really annoying aspect of the Calico business is the tendency of scientists to make absolute statements in the face of contradictory evidence. This desire for certainty extends to all of science. Reviewers of our books often remark that such-and-such an anomaly was explained long ago, despite the many references to contradictory facts and well-founded minority opinions. So anxious are some scientists to stifle dissent that one geologist recently asserted that continental drift was now so well-proven that no more contradictory data should be published!

From Science Frontiers #52, JUL-AUG 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss