When I like a book, I will provide it a full review and promotion on my main website. However, “Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind” by Kermit Pattison, I will not provide a full review. Not because I don’t think the author does a great job in telling the story, but because I find the contents too distasteful to promote in any way! Call me shallow, but in order for me to really enjoy, promote and review a book, I have to like the individuals described in it. The book really should have been named “Scientist Behaving Badly” because it tells the tale of the ruthless and cutthroat world of paleo-anthropology. The book tells of the ongoing personal battles between rival paleo-anthropologists to hunt for skeletons in the Ethiopian hinterlands The story focuses on Tim White of the University of California who discovered the Ardipithecus skeleton in Ethiopia. According to the book, White truly is a distasteful individual with a huge inflated ego!. This appears to be the case of most of the scientists described in this book. The only redeeming feature that they portray is that they understand the importance of training local Ethiopians in paleo-anthropology and assist in setting up their national museum (which of course they insist on using for their own purposes). They also employ local Ethiopians on many of their campsites.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe competition and debate between individuals is good for a profession. It’s what inspires passion and innovation. However, if this book is an accurate portrayal of the individuals involved, then I fear for the future of paleo-anthropology. In a time of economic restraint, it’s easy for a small profession like paleo-anthropology to not be “cancelled” but something more like I would describe “passively aggressed” upon! Burn enough bridges and anger enough people and you can see such things as:
· Academic positions in paleo-anthropology being left “vacant”.
· University libraries quietly down-scaling their paleo-anthropology collections in favor of other disciplines.
· Research grants not renewed.
· Streaming services not picking up documentaries on paleo-anthropology.
· Potential graduate students moving to a different discipline because of the distasteful individuals involved.
While the scientists involved may be thinking they are advancing themselves and in turn their profession, they are doing the reverse. Who I felt sorry for the most in reading this book was the graduate students who had to work with these individuals. I couldn’t imagine attempting to build a career around such inflated egos!
Take heed paleo-anthropology! Keep it up and your profession could end up like the specimens you study…….!
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