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Provocative and illuminating
am 12. Dezember 1999
If "science" is defined as a technique for gaining an understanding of the world around us, many "scientific" disciplines are in fact profoundly unscientific. In "Red Earth, White Lies," Vine Deloria, Jr. clearly demonstrates how conjecture can attain the status of fact, even in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence. Perhaps even more condemning is Deloria's depiction of how alternative ideas, most notably indigenous traditions, are frequently (typically) cast aside without any investigation whatsoever, simply because they conflict with currently accepted norms.
"Red Earth, White Lies" is a wonderfully provocative indictment of how historical sciences, such as anthropology, geology, and ecology (my own field) frequently fail in practice. Nevertheless, perhaps without realizing it, Deloria relies on the very hallmarks of modern science; alternative hypotheses, critical analysis, and crucial evidence, to make his case.
Here, unfortunately, is where "Red Earth, White Lies" loses much of its power. While Deloria succeeds in casting doubt on many beliefs cherished by entrenched academics, he typically does not subject his own hypotheses to the same treatment. Even more unfortunate, Deloria himself employs some of the techniques he most violently condemns in academics, including the selective use of information (the most obvious example is on page 58) and summary dismissal of entire world-views on the basis of a superficial understanding (his entire discussion of evolutionary biology, for example).
Even though "Red Earth, White Lies" occasionally stumbles, Deloria has done all of us a great service, by proving that scientists are only human and that many scientific "facts" are in reality little more than conjectures. If you identify yourself as a "scientist," you will be (and should be) challenged! If you are not a scientist, then perhaps you will see those who are in a whole new light. "Red Earth, White Lies" is a fascinating read, no matter who you are.