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François Péron in Australia (1800-1803): Old and Modern Views in Anthropology and Ecology

Albert Ducros and Jaqueline Ducros

Equipe Dynamique de l'évolution humaine, Université Denis Diderot - Case 7041, 2, Place Jussieu - 75251 Paris cedex 05, France


Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2000 -6:08
Université Denis Diderot
To: publisher@naturalscience.com
From: J.A. Ducros jducros@moka.ccr.jussieu.fr
Subject: Response to naturalSCIENCE Journal Review

In the naturalSCIENCE review of the special issue of Perspectives in Human Biology entitled: "Is Human Evolution a Closed Chapter?", C. Loring Brace characterizes our article "François Péron in Australia (1800-1803): Old and Modern views in anthropology and ecology" as "a truly unfortunate piece." We believe, however, that it is Loring Brace's critique that is unfortunate, for it ignores the context and objectives of our paper; although these were clear enough, apparently, to the anonymous reviewers who recommended our article for publication. As one reviewer commented, "This paper is a stroke of genius! It combines scientific reporting, antiquarian interest, History of Science, and early Australian history. Very nice, and the authors are to be congratulated both for thinking such a topic and for the way in which they approached and carried it out."

In particular, our piece recognizes Péron as the first to undertake a quantitative comparative study of the physical strength of human populations under field conditions. In addition, we took Péron's original data and analyzed them in accordance with current statistical norms, in order to present the work as Péron would have presented it had he been alive today. The conclusions remain Péron's, not ours. We also cited parallel studies and similar experiments conducted in our own era that Péron's work anticipated by two hundred years.

We want to underline that Péron implicated environmental factors to explain the weakness of indigenous people as compared to Europeans, not "innate" inferiority. Indeed, when Péron started his voyage he had a vision, based on the ideas of contemporary philosophers, of the "good savage." Later, he changed his mind and offered an interpretation of his observations based on the assumption of racial differences. As we pointed out in our article, such ideas would later be used to justify the abuse to which aboriginal people, such as the Tasmanians, were exposed by European colonizers only a few decades after Péron encountered and described them.

Reference

1. C. Loring Brace. 2000. Is human evolution a closed chapter? naturalSCIENCE Journal Review of Perspectives in Human Biology, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1999. http://naturalscience.com/ns/books/book12.html

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