The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax bites creationism!



So I was watching (Little?) Jack Horner's excellent TED talk about
building a dinosaur from a chicken, a truly riveting talk. In his talk
he mentions suppressor genes: dinosaurs had tails; chickens don't. But
chicken ancestors had tails and chickens have genes for expressing
tails but they added, somewhere along the road, suppressor genes which
have the effect of nullifying that expression. That got me to thinking
about Shrimpster's incessant calls for "observable" signs of evolution.
I was curious to see the creationist take on suppressor genes so I did
some googling (actually some duckduckgoing) using the "suppressor
genes" and "creationist" for my search. This is how a chanced upon The
Institute for Creation Research (www.icr.org).

ICR has a slick website with nice colour photos of magnifying glasses
and microscopes and pandas. A list of recent articles appears along the
side and one of them caught my eye. Benjamin Lee Whorf: An Early
Supporter of Creationism. The article was written by Jerry Bergman,
Ph.D. and please note the Ph.D. following his name. Here's the link to
his article: http://www.icr.org/article/6391/

I first heard about Whorf in the early 60's. He made some claims about
there being a connection between linguistic structure and how we
perceive things. He was mentioned on this Creationist website because,
as I learned, he was "an early supporter of creationism". So Dr. Jerry
tells us that "Whorf taught that 'the language one speaks shapes the
world one sees.' In other words, 'specific aspects of a language
provide a grid, or structure, that influences how humans categorize
space, time, and other aspects of reality into a worldview.'” A
moment's reflection would tell us that this idea whether truly Whorf's
or simply Dr. Jerry's interpretation of it, is complete and utter
bollocks. It was first advanced roughly 20 years before I had heard of
it and since that time not a single particle of supporting evidence for
it has ever been found.

But the best is yet to come. A paragraph or two later we read that
"Whorf is also famous for his finding that every speech community fits
the needs of its culture. The famous example is the Eskimos’ boast that
they use many names for snow." KERPOW! HOLY MOLY BATMAN! Dr. Jerry and
the creationists have fallen victim to........(wait for it)........The
Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax! This is the Piltdown Man of linguistics.
In fairness to the Inuits, Dr. Jerry's doctorate notwithstanding, they
never boasted of any such thing. You can read Geoff Pullum's wonderful
essay on the topic here: http://users.utu.fi/freder/Pullum-Eskimo-
VocabHoax.pdf (oh, and Geoff's got a Ph.D. too). I have to confess
that Geoff is a lot kinder to Whorf than I would be.

I wondered how someone with a Ph.D. make such a glaring boner. I looked
around a bit and here's just some of what I found. Creationwiki
(http://creationwiki.org/Jerry_Bergman) has an entry for Dr. Jerry.
Here's what it has to say about his doctorate:
"In 1992 he received a Ph.D. in human biology, from Columbia Pacific
University, San Rafael, California. The degree is legal, but the
university faced various accusations and had its accreditation removed
in 1997. Some feel that the school's support of Intelligent Design in
required readings may have been involved. Others believe that their
support of various alternative medical treatments was a factor. The
real reason is unknown. Bergman has written a detailed well documented
paper on the school's fall from grace. "

No, I didn't make this up. And why would Creationwiki have bad things
to say about Dr. Jerry? Now if you're wondering about Columbia Pacific
University, here's some info: CPU was a "distance-learning"
(correspondence) school that offered courses in such things as
homoeopathy. It ran into a certain number of problemes, among them:

(1)"One master's-degree student was given credit for "a learning
contract describing how he would continue taking dance lessons and
watch dance demonstrations in order to improve his skills as a Country
Western dancer.""

(2)"A Ph.D. dissertation written in Spanish was approved by four
faculty who cannot speak the language."

(3)"One dissertation "had no hypothesis, no data collection, and no
statistical analysis. A member of the visiting committee characterized
the work as more like a project paper at the college freshman level."
The dissertation, The Complete Guide to Glass Collecting, was 61 pages
long."

(3)"At least nine students who received the Ph.D. degree in 1994 had
been enrolled less than 20 months, four of them less than 12."
You can read more about this here:
http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Columbia-Pacific-University
With such "defenders" of creationism (Whorf, Dr. Jerry), do they
really need any more opponents?

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