Biases in science, a lesson from the Taung child

in science •  9 months ago

The incidents surrounding the first Australopithecus ever found illustrate some of the strengths and weakness of science.

While Dart, who had handled and subsequently described the specimens, had full access to the materials others did not. What also clouded the picture is that the then existent majority consensus was that "Piltdown man" was ancestral to modern humans.

This scientific consensus position entertained that the ancestors of modern humans must have had large brains and then evolved tool use and upright posture.

The Taung child challenged this consensus. Here was a small brained upright walker.

Scientists were initially reluctant to accept that the Taung Child and the new genus Australopithecus were ancestral to modern humans. In the issue of Nature immediately following the one in which Dart's paper was published, several authorities in British paleoanthropology criticized Dart's conclusion. Three of the four scholars were members of the Piltdown Man committee: Sir Arthur Keith, Grafton Elliot Smith, and Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

By John Cooke -, Public Domain, Link

The discoveries from Piltdown were barely a decade old by the time the Taung child made its appearance. It would still be a few decades more before modern methods of dating could conclusively prove that the Piltdown material was recent and almost a full century to prove the methods of forgery and the full extent of the elaborate hoax.

But a hoax it was, and a convincing one at that, stir into the mix imperial bias towards the colonies and science did not come of looking so good.

Between Dart's rampant speculation with too little material and the British scientist eagerness to dismiss the matter because it didn't confirm to the currently fashionable wisdom of the time, hasty lines were drawn in the sand.

Wikipedia sums up the situation quite nicely:

There were several reasons that it took decades for the field to accept Dart's claim that Australopithecus africanus was in the human line of descent. First, the British scientific establishment had been fooled by the hoax of the Piltdown Man, which had a large brain and ape-like teeth. Expecting human ancestors to have evolved a large brain very early, they found that the Taung Child's small brain and human-like teeth made it an unlikely ancestor to modern humans.

Second, until the 1940s, most anthropologists believed that humans had evolved in Asia, not in Africa.

Third, despite accepting that modern humans had emerged by evolution, many anthropologists believed that the genus Homo had split from the great apes as long as 30 million years ago and so felt uneasy about accepting that humans had a small-brained, ape-like ancestor, like Australopithecus africanus, only two million years ago.

Last, many people disputed the role of this fossil because of their religious affiliation. When Taung was first announced in February 1925, many anti-evolutionists began to rise up in protest of this fossil. Dart began receiving many threats from members of various religious communities that threatened his imminent damnation. Some were able to reconcile the science with the religious theology through the lens of "creation science", but there was still significant opposition.

In spite of this, the scientific method ensures that early faults may be corrected in time if new material and evidence becomes available for scrutiny.

Such was the case with the Australopithecenes and Dart's initial vilification was reversed and he is now lauded for his discoveries and pioneering efforts.

The valuable lesson we learn from all of this is that scientific understanding and knowledge is a moving target. It is refined with time and that discoveries on the fringe should not be rejected or embraced too emphatically when the substantiating evidence is sparse and in its early stages.

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Now I know something more :D thank you for sharing :D

Raymond Dart was born in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, the fifth of nine children and son of a farmer and tradesman. His birth occurred during the 1893 flood which filled his parents' home and shop in Toowong. The family moved alternately between their country property near Laidley and their shop in Toowong
The young Dart attended Toowong State School, Blenheim State School and earnt a scholarship to Ipswich Grammar School from 1906-1909. Dart considered becoming a medical missionary to China and wished to study medicine at the University of Sydney, but his father argued that he should accept the scholarship he won to the newly established University of Queensland and study science
He was a member of the first intake of students to the University in 1911 and studied geology under H.C. Richards and zoology, taking his B.Sc. in 1913. Dart became the first student to graduate with honours from the University of Queensland in 1914 and took his M.Sc. with honours from UQ in 1916.
He studied medicine at the University of Sydney taking his MB and M.Surgery in 1917, and conducting his residency at St Andrews College, University of Sydney.
He would be awarded his M.D. from the University of Sydney in 1927

isn't it like this about the story of scientific development in general when it goes against the group that holds power?

Think about how Copernician ideas were welcome in the 16-17nth century (Heliocentrism, i.e. Earth revolving around the sun). Galilee, quite in line with these ideas maneouvered really well, by managing to continue spreading his views without being burned (although he was banished at the end of his life). Bruno for example wasn't so lucky...

I think there will always be pressure from a leading group (in my example, religion hand on the population), when scientific or philosophic discoveries are not concordant with the views of the establishment.

Today, such cultural bias is not that preominant in fundamental sciences though, now the scientific method is not denied. Yet, I believe it is in another area that the establishment is trying to crush opposing views, while trying to keep the upper stand in perspective of the masses: ecosystems and sociology (I mean by this, how to live in a sustainable way).

We definitely need a new enlighten age to get out of the mess we are in now before it is too late (maybe it already is...)

Wistle blowers are not burned nowadays, but they do get silenced long enough so that it take decades for a population to realise there is a problem...

This is probably one of the biggest risks of being a science-advocate. Sure, one always tries to stay reasonable, use logic and all the available facts, but sometimes you get blinded by your own self-assurance. It's of vital importance, that one remains a healthy distance to every subject of discussion, only then it's possible to look through counter-evidence with a rational mind and be open to new, convincing findings. As soon as science bears the marks of ideology, something is wrong.
Therefore: nice article :)

Proof of concept?

What a load of c....

Try with the shape of the earth.


you know my interesting subject is science... so your post and photography is interesting for me... i impressed about it... best of luck...

science are increase our knowledge



I read each and every word but could only understand the last paragraph!! Because of my not so good vocabulary !!

Also that you were talking about our ancestoral human skull !!

But I am a big fan of science FICTION because it crosses all the limits science builds. There is always much more in the picture and scientists can not see it because they don’t have already developed such tools that can clearthe deeper reality to us.

Atoms were discovered 3 times by 3 different scientists, each time upgrading the previous theory.

I think science and spirituality are pretty much the same. The only difference is that science is some footsteps behind spirituality but on the same path, in the same direction which will sooner or later tell us the same things as spirituality does.



No way science and spirituality are the same(I think you meant the religious one)..I am afraid ,you said science is yet to reach the level of spirituality! To me science is reasonable rationale in explaining almost everything..Spirituality is some thing stale and can never regain the charm it once had!


No i didn’t meant the religious one. Religion is no way similar to spirituality.

As i said, science is behind but sooner or later it will prove what spirituality proves when they will build such instruments that can detect and prove the same.
Science is reasonable for u because it always speaks on proof. When they will have proof for soul, vibrational frequencies of brain that creates our reality and other such stuff, only then would spirituality sound reasonable to u.


Yeah, I'm afraid I have to agree with @sathyasankar on this one. Spirituality is an umbrella term used to describe a large number of mostly subjective things. The subjectivity of spirituality becomes quite prominent once you realize how culture-dependent its various manifestations are. Spirituality doesn't prove anything, because it's not a doctrine of learning; it's more like an expression of our desire to find meaning in our own lives.

Science, on the other hand, isn't culture-specific. People from very diverse backgrounds have contributed to it and continue to do so. Also, the very concept of "meaning" has no place in science, because it's poorly defined and specific to human nature. It's also nowhere to be found when looking at physical systems that aren't heavily influenced by people.

Scientific laws stand the test of time, and its theories and models continually improve. Spirituality, on the other hand, is largely affected by human timescales. I don't see science and spirituality reaching common ground anytime soon, unless spirituality starts catching up to scientific knowledge.

But since you're probably a spiritual person, I don't expect you to agree with these statements. At the end of the day, what you see is just different people voicing different opinions, and you probably think no opinion can be dismissed a priori. I'm saying some of them can be dismissed, and point to the numerous successes of science to support my case.

If you prefer living in a world of thoughts where the universe is magical and made for us and spirituality and science are the same thing, good for you. It's all fine, as long as we don't cause each other harm and police each other's speech.

Really inspiring... Thanks

The valuable lesson we learn from all of this is that scientific understanding and knowledge is a moving target. thank you so much nice post.

This reminds me of gravitational waves.It took 100 years for scientists to prove that Einstein was right!

I'm an Atheist just because I learned a lot from science..I'm sure we are right in our belief that human race evolved as a result of the changes occured in millions of years!

Yes @gavvet in the science discipline, no one has the monopoly of knowledge. Findings of a reputable scholar can be criticized and even be refute.

Thanks for sharing and pointing out the valuable lesson.

Science is know hypothesis that needed to be accepted or rejected.

Until a theory is proved beyond reasonable doubt all fact remain valid.

Each day brings a new discovery but scientist must prove that this new discovery is generally accepted by all and mostly efficient in all situation before it can be propagated and effective for the populace. That was also the case of the above.

Great minds are bound to disagree until they are able to proof the assumption of no error

Good post :) I really like your posts, keep the spirit and be the best

this news is very important. thanks for share.

actually I am very difficult to understand science, but your post is very feasible enjoyed by readers.

Understanding and scientific knowledge is a masterpiece produced by intelligent people and devoted himself to the science and development of the world. Regardless of the controversy, they are people who want to advance the world through their great work.

Thank for ur sharing @gavvet. Greetings me from Aceh, Indonesia.

LIttle is certain in science but high is much propable and the proper quantification of probabilities is essential for inteferring facts and end up drawing conlusion and formulating sound judgemets, thanks @gavvet

... the scientific method ensures that early faults may be corrected in time if new material and evidence becomes available for scrutiny.

In the Sciences, as they are currently seen, almost as a religion, this method exists very little in spite of having the name for it ... sadly Science is more linked to economic and political interests than to Knowledge itself. Of course, not everything but a lot.

.... scientific understanding and knowledge is a moving target.

This phrase should be written on the door of all the classrooms of the universities of the world ...

Thanks for sharing this post..I appreciate his post.thanks

Informative enough for me, thanks for the content

over time, scientific discoveries will become more open and resolved.

That was an interesting read. I knew what the current state of affair was but was unaware of the history behind it. This proves that no matter how rigorous the scientific method is, in the end it is always carried out by a human that is innately prone to biases. Scientific discoveries should therefore always be approached with caution. I'm not talking about rejecting them, just taking them with a pinch of salt and taking the broader context into consideration. I believe example of such biases could be found in the majority of scientific fields. And it's got even worse since science has become so intimately intertwined with and dependent on the capital.


^hear, hear for this! It amazes me that mass media, particularly what used to be called "the gutter press", use scientific studies (which are often complex things and require additional testing which rarely occurs) to aid their own biases. Remember the hullabaloo about how wine was good for pregnancy? The study didn't actually say that. It just said there was insufficient evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption within a set level increased the risk of pre-eclampsia. Having a basic understanding of science is important but has to be tempered with an expectation of human, media and governmental biases.

it was great to read the post.

That is the beauty of the science, its always envolving, so we can understand the world and history better:)

Nice information and educative @gavvet

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Piltdown man is a scam that might be done by Charles Dawson and / or others against the palaeontologists from November 1912 until it was uncovered in 1953. If any please fix it @gavvet dear

Hmm nice

good I want brings my point of view! For me, each one independently enters if it is a human animal, etc, it deserves respect because for them it is that we are here in the present and we are still alive, it is the cycle of life and by the way excellent post friend!

Wow nice article picture I like it

we learned something new on your part... thank you friend...a beautiful post..
I'm starting to follow you now...I look forward to the continued good messages @gavvet :)

@gavvet great article and it highlights similar to history that it is written by those that win or have the biggest consensus at the time irrespective of its accuracy.

Very often within the medical field we see this and depending on how much an institution is paid to conduct it or who is actually writing it up or which Official institution is supporting it depends on how acceptable it is in the mainstream, despite it sometimes being flawed science, but the sheer weight behind it forces it to be accepted as true and accurate.

it is a neutral reason, such methods must be solved with a new scientific complete with evidence to limit misconceptions, so as not to be wild to other young people. thanks @gavvet, i like you.

great your science post

The title alone is Ironic.
There are biases in science, but yet from my point of view,
bias as a belief itself is unscientific.

For example one scientist comes with a new theory.
But another scientist refuses to believe it because this new theory
seems unlikely. It might not be true because it is unlikely.
But because it is unlikely and therefore he chooses to believe it to be untrue, he has no reason to further investigate and research this theory.
And for that reason it will never be proven or unproven
and that brings true science and pioneering in science to a halt.

I'm pretty sure such biases have happened before with theories that turned out to be true in the end. But because of biased "scientists" that want to protect their reputation or don't want to be proven wrong, it took a very long time before one was brave enough to challenge this bias. And truly be objective about it.

An evidence which needs to be accepted is now being rejected. Thanks for the information.

Useful and informative post thank you dear friend @gavvet


Good post..... friend. @gavvet

Too bad the smithsonian keeps throwing evidence into the ocean.
Things like giant's fossils. We have pictures and newspaper articles that they were dug up, and they went to the smithsonian. But the smithsonian says, we never got anything like that.

So, when dealing with any archeological "findings" one must be skeptical at best, because everything that doesn't fit their story is thrown out.

Post about skull, I love it very much. Lots of knowledge that I get in this post. I feel so happy when this discovery unfolds and becomes a science for all of us

the more we learn the more questions always arise, evolution will forever be one of mankinds greatest studies

Science is always intrestine with a unique formula
@fenmark up vote me pls

Science knowledge is always dynamic. Sometimes long-lasting theories are refuted by new discoveries. Nevertheless, I am very fond of science. Thank you for sharing this very brilliant information.

That's really fascinating - I know of a few local scams and falsehoods that occurred but this is the first time I've heard of this one. Really nicely put together information too!

Thanks to you sir.. for letting us to know...

I never even thought of this kind of content. Shoutout for the education. Feeling a bit better about being African..

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nice post really interesting

Thanks for sharing this post, it has really helped me mentally now i know better.

So interesting. i will follow you closely from now on. Your content was inspiring and a real insight to something I have not thought about before.

I'm excited about the renewal of interest in the scientific study of psychedelics, like MDMA for PTSD, and psilocybin for depression, smoking cessation and cluster headaches. For too long those substances were almost impossible to research, and shunned by science

Thank you for posting this wonderful Sunday morning read! You´ve got a new follower! Enjoy your time! Rolf from the Czech republic

Hello @gavvet
Nice to meet you on steemit. Thanks for giving a great post on here about science and scientists. Here I want to start work about science, this is my post link about water

good post, and can improve science knowledge, very useful

When people are stuck in some sort of strong conceptual ideas and beliefs that are hard to change, it is hard to see change.... Yet, discoveries and scientific claims should not be made if margin for error or uncertainty exists. We have to find the balance between those two to be able to progress effectively and united. A very thought provoking article, thanks @gavvet

Thanks for sharing this great post ,am learning more

I a gree with you :).

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Very nice

Nice post. My opinion is that current politics decide which science is valuable to be mass. Thanx for the historic post will upvote and follow.

I really enjoy reading about science, and I always read your articles from start to finish. I also only create original material and I think it's our duty to empower the next generation of scientists here on steemit. I have a lot of ideas, some of them I wrote in my articles, but it concludes to inspiring the students of tomorrow on following the science path in their development.
Let's keep posting about science!

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Ross from "Friends" Liked it

something good about science exists !

this is really an addition to my knowledge,thank you for the post

Really i have found this educative and mind blowing...
Thanks alot sir for sharing

Really i have found this educative and mind blowing...
Thanks alot sir for sharing

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