The Piltdown Man Hoax

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Evidence is the most important component of a scientific study. Any hypothesis may be made, however without evidence it does not qualify as science. The quality of the evidence is also a determinate factor in a studies classification as scientific or pseudoscientific. In the case of the Piltdown Man hoax there are several examples of pseudoscientific conduct independent of the fabrication of evidence. In 1913 Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward published a paper detailing a discovery of fossils at Piltdown, England thought to be a missing link between ape and man (Woodward and Dawson 1913). The study was accepted by mainstream science until it was proven a hoax 40 years after its publication. This relatively long period of acceptance may have been the consequence of multiple instances of misuse of scientific evidence by several individuals. The most obvious misuse of evidence was its fabrication (Oakley, Weiner 1954). Indeed, its implications were novel and were in conflict with other evidence. Perhaps rating its level of ethicality is inappropriate; however the significance of the evidence to science was immense- it forced the rewriting of the story of human evolution (Feder 1990). Although the identity of the forger has not been substantiated, there is evidence of foul play, as opposed to inadvertency, as shall be discussed further on. If we were to overlook the fact that Dawson is a suspect and believe that he indeed was unaware of foul play, he nevertheless applied a flawed scientific method tantamount to misuse of evidence. Together with Woodward he reconstructed the fossils to produce an unlikely result (Dawson and Woodward 1913). If it were to be more critically scrutinised, they may have reached the more accurate conclusion that many contemporaries reached – that the skull and mandible belonged to two different species (Feder 1990). It may be argued that it was Dawson’s inexperience that was at fault, however, the same cannot be said about Woodward...
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