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Ten Peking Man skeletons were suppressed (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Ten Peking Man skeletons were suppressed (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CC004:

Initial newspaper reports of the Peking Man discovery reported that ten skeletons were found, but only a partial skull was ever exhibited. These skeletons have been suppressed, probably destroyed by scientists because they were too human and thus did not provide evidence for evolution. No scientists ever questioned what happened to the ten skeletons.

Source:

Bowden, Malcom, 1981. Ape-men: Fact or Fallacy? 2nd ed., Bromley, Kent: Sovereign, pp. 95-96.


CreationWiki response:

This seems to be a single error by a single author who's book is now out of date. (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. A contemporary report of the claim in Nature referred only to "remains of ten individuals." A letter from Teilhard de Chardin says, "Black estimates that there are traces of at least 10 individuals." Probably the newspapers, which are frequently inaccurate on scientific matters, assumed the most sensational interpretation of the "traces" and turned them into entire skeletons.

CreationWiki agrees that the skeletons never existed, but would add that Bowden also refers to a report in the Daily Telegraph which says that the ten individuals were found huddled together, indicating a community life.

2. Other reports of the find by the scientists involved mention only finding a skull, including a letter written before the supposed decision to do away with the skeletons. If the skeletons existed, surely they would have been mentioned as well.

If they had been discovered by then. Why did the letter not even mention the "traces of at least 10 individuals"? It could be because they were not significant, or it could (hypothetically) have been because the skeletons had not yet been discovered.

3. Fraud is highly improbable because the secret would have to be kept by many people, including English, French, and Chinese scientists and dozens of workers. Probably none of the scientists would have been willing to destroy the skeletons, because a discovery of such size and completeness would have made their career, no matter what the skeletons showed.

Bowden was not suggesting outright fraud so much as simply ignoring the ten skeletons. Furthermore, he makes no suggestion of destroying the skeletons, by scientists or otherwise. Foley claims that Bowden's suggestion would require the destruction of the skeletons, but it is not clear why this is so, and it is certainly not Bowden's claim.

4. Excavating the skullcap alone required a significant amount of effort. It is highly unlikely that excavating ten entire skeletons to the point where they could be analyzed could be done in three weeks. 5. Bowden's claim that no scientist questions the reports of the ten skeletons is simply wrong. At least two scientists referred to the newspaper exaggerations. [Boule 1929]

The two scientists were Boule and Black. But Black was the scientist who reported the discovery and Boule was simply quoting Black. Clearly Bowden was alluding to the lack of questioning by other scientists who read the initial reports but were unaware of the true situation. He mentions, for instance, the editor of Nature who published the initial report and didn't question why there was no further mention.


Conclusion

There never were ten other skeletons, but there was some basis for thinking that there were. In the process of debunking Bowden, Talk.Origins has made a mountain out of a molehill. First, it has turned his conclusion as to what likely happened into a claim. Second Foley has concluded that Bowden's suggestion of scientists ignoring the evidence must mean that they destroyed the evidence, and Mark Isaak has turned this into Bowden claiming that the scientists destroyed the evidence.

Bowden, although cautious (he didn't publish this in the first edition of his book because he didn't have the evidence to back it up) was not cautious enough of the original claims of ten skeletons. By the same token, Talk.Origins has been too willing to find as much fault as it could with Bowden's suggestion.

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