Friday, April 15, 2005

McCain vs. Science

John Miller reports in NRO that John McCain buried a few words within a massive bill dealing with Native American affairs that would effectively ban any scientific study of ancient bones discovered within the borders of the United States. Link.
Their boldest attempts to cover up the past have involved Kennewick Man, a set of bones discovered in 1996 near Kennewick, Wash. The remains are more than 9,000 years old, and physical anthropologists find them intriguing because their morphology is said to differ significantly from that of North American Indians. Kennewick Man may be more closely related to the Ainu, an ethnic group indigenous to Japan, than to any modern Indian tribe. If true, it would mean that the story of human migration is much more complicated (and fascinating) than we have realized.

The only way to learn more, of course, is to let scientists take a close look at old bones. Several local tribes, however, invoked NAGPRA and demanded that Kennewick Man be turned over to them on the grounds that they were “affiliated,” as if any living person can claim a genuine “affiliation” with someone who died nine millennia ago. Their stated intention was not to examine Kennewick Man, but to rebury him. The federal government began to comply with their demands. Then a group of scientists sued. Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the scientists.

Blocked by the courts, the tribes are now seeking a far-reaching political fix. They’ve enlisted the help of McCain, who has just shepherded a bill through his Senate Indian Affairs Committee. It’s actually a big piece of Indian legislation — one of those monster bills that almost nobody bothers to read from front to end. Tucked away in a hidden corner, the NAGPRA revision involves just a pair of words. Yet they would change everything.

There is good reason to protect burial sights of known tribes from construction projects or archaeologists. However, when bones thousands of years old are discovered, no tribe can reasonably claim them, and they can add significantly to our knowledge of the development of ancient America, if they can be studied. McCain's bill smacks of Stalin's attempt to force the crackpot theories of T.D. Lysenko on Soviet scientists because they fit his ideological inclinations. That passage in the bill should be removed, with or without McCain's consent.


Post a Comment

<< Home