Ian Taylor and Nebraska Man

(Below: Ian Taylor responds)

The following excerpt comes from the July 8, 1995 broadcast of Science, Scripture, and Salvation, the radio program of the Institute for Creation Research. Creationist author Ian Taylor was being interviewed by Jim Long:

Jim Long: "So I'm guessing that even though it [Nebraska Man] was proven to be a fraud, the public didn't hear too much about that."

Ian Taylor: "No of course that didn't make the headlines. This was in 1927 when that was announced but it was announced in sort of the back pages. Actually in Nature, which is one of the scientific journals, I think it took 4 lines in one of the back pages to say that there had been a 'misinterpretation'. Very nice, but it didn't get headlines."

Even for creationists, this exchange contains an impressive number of errors in only a few sentences.

Nebraska Man was not a fraud, but an honest mistake. In an apparent attempt at smear by repetition, Long and Taylor refer to it as a fraud no fewer than four times in this interview.

The correct identification of Nebraska Man as a peccary was not hushed up, in either the popular press or the scientific literature. It made headlines and editorials in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the London Times. (Wolf and Mellett, 1985)

The paragraph in Nature was published Jan 28, 1928. It was 16 lines long, not 4, and does not refer to a "misinterpretation".

Taylor's implication that the paragraph in Nature was the only announcement in the scientific literature is also wrong. Science had a one and a half page article on the correct identification of Hesperopithecus (Gregory, 1927). Furthermore, Taylor should have been aware of this article, because the paragraph in Nature contains a reference to it. Either Taylor's research is so sloppy that he has not actually read the paragraph in Nature to which he referred, or he deliberately chose to deceive listeners by not mentioning the Science article.

Ian Taylor's Response

On August 3, 1999, Ian Taylor posted the following response on the talk.origins newsgroup:

Ian Taylor and Nebraska Man

This piece of criticism about my statements on Nebraska Man have evidently been on the Web since 1997 and derived from an off-the-cuff ICR radio interview done in 1995; it has just been brought to my attention. No, it was not the result of sloppy research but rather sloppy memory. It had been ten years since I had read all the papers related to the Nebraska Man case, and in the interview forgot about Gregory's paper in Science, and in my mind the Nature announcement had dropped from 16 lines to 4. I do hope that this confession will make everyone's day!

But consider this: Was Henry Fairfield Osborn man enough to confess that he was wrong after the fiasco was exposed in 1927? He should have done and could have done so because he lived on until 1935. It was Osborn's enthusiasm that promoted the "fraud" in the first place. I quote from Blinderman (Science, June 6, 1985, 48) [Osborn]: "Evidence of this anthropoid ape-man was also proof that some primitive humans lived in America ..." What else were the newsmedia to interpret from this kind of statement? Note he said, "... also proof.." I still believe that "fraud" is the correct term because ordinary people innocently trusting the expertise of the scientist were deceived by over-enthusiastic speculation. The same thing still occurs today. The NASA fossil bacteria from Mars is a good recent example.

Ian Taylor

Straight after receiving this, I checked the Blinderman paper and discovered that the attributed quote did not in fact exist. Before I could make this known, Taylor made the same discovery himself, and published a retraction of that quote:
Regarding my comments on Nebraska Man (posted August 3), I want to apologize to readers for using a quote incorrectly ascribed to Henry Fairfield Osborn. I had quoted Blinderman quoting Osborn saying, "Evidence of this anthropoid ape-man was also proof that some primitive humans lived in America ..."

Neither Blinderman nor Osborn said these words. I had used a summary paper of the Nebraska Man affair, and had taken the quote from this, believing that the quote was trustworthy. However, the following day I felt uneasy about this, especially as I know full well that one should always go to original sources.

I spent the entire next day in the library searching out the original words of Osborn, and the words used in Blinderman's quote, and found to my horror that it was precisely those words I had used that had been added to Blinderman's quote by the author of the summary paper! There is no necessity to cast the blame on others, and I take full responsibility for not using the original reference.

Ian Taylor

Yes, misremembering the number of lines in an article is no great sin. But Taylor seemed to have no trouble "remembering" that the retraction of Nebraska Man was hushed up, even though his research should have showed him otherwise. If this is a result of sloppy memory rather than sloppy research, why does the 1991 edition of Taylor's book In the Minds of Men, presumably written with the benefit of recent research, make the same error?

(I note, incidentally, that Taylor does not identify the source from which he got the incorrect Osborn/Blinderman quote. I would lay long odds that it was a creationist source, and that Taylor omitted his name in order to avoid revealing the incompetence and/or dishonesty of one of his fellow creationists.
P.S. June 2001: More recently, I have discovered that creationist Jerry Bergman (1993) presents the exact same misquote from Blinderman/Osborn, in a review paper on Nebraska Man which was published in a creationist journal. Bergman is therefore the probable source for Taylor's misquotation, although there is a small possibility that they independently quoted another source or sources.)

Taylor tries to make it sound as though he only slipped up on a couple of minor details, but in reality every single statement in his quote at the top of this page is in error, as is his conclusion that the correct identification wasn't considered newsworthy. Apart from the year 1927, Taylor didn't get anything right. Taylor's response just ignored most of the errors I pointed out in his original statements.

As for Osborn's failure to publicly admit error, it's probably fair to say that no one ever accused Osborn of an overgenerous spirit. Although he had been Nebraska Man's main promoter, he left the distasteful task of publishing a retraction to his colleague, William King Gregory. On the other hand, Taylor did not admit any error in his main conclusion that the retraction was hushed up, so perhaps he is not the one to be casting this particular stone (although, to be fair, his apology for the Blinderman misquote was much better).

Re the "fraud" charge, fraud to me implies a conscious effort to deceive, and all the evidence shows that Osborn did not do that. Yes, he made a mistake. But his lack of caution was made up for by other scientists, almost all of whom were were skeptical that Nebraska Man was an "ape-man", or even an ape. Nebraska Man was never generally claimed to be a human ancestor. Even Osborn, in his published articles, claimed only that Hesperopithecus was an ape, and not an ape-human intermediate:

"I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry, because I consider it quite possible that we may discover anthropoid apes (Simiidae) with teeth closely imitating those of man (Hominidae), ..." (Osborn 1922b)

Note also that the only justification for Taylor's "fraud" accusation was the fabricated Blinderman quote. With that gone, Taylor's charge seems very weak indeed.

As for Taylor's claim that the public were deceived by speculation, there is no deceit involved when speculation is clearly labelled as such. The famous Illustrated London News article, which is always cited by creationists in this regard, made it abundantly clear that their illustration of Nebraska Man was entirely hypothetical and was never intended to be a scientific reconstruction.

In his book In the Minds of Men Taylor claimed that Henry Osborn had "strong Marxist leanings and an atheistic outlook" (similar statements appear in his article Nebraska Man revisited). This is yet another error. According to Ronald Rainger, a historian of science who has written about Osborn,

"No Osborn was not an atheist or a Marxist. Quite the contrary, he was a devout Christian -- born into a Presbyterian family he attended Princeton College in the 1870s, which was still strongly Presbyterian. In later years he began to attend services at St. John the Divine, a major Episcopal Church in New York City, primarily because of social connections. Politically he was quite reactionary, and highly opposed to materialism in any form. You might take a look at my book: An Agenda for Antiquity (University of Alabama Press, 1991)"
The creationist Jerry Bergman also recognizes Osborn as a theist:
Osborn, a dedicated theist who viewed evolution as the finest expression of God's intent, wrote extensively about his views. (Bergman 1993)


Bergman J. (1993): The history of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii Hominoidea. Creation Research Society Quarterly, 30:27-34.

Blinderman C. (1985): The curious case of Nebraska man. Science 85, (June)47-9.

Gregory W.K. (1927): Hesperopithecus apparently not an ape nor a man. Science, 66:579-81. (identifies the Nebraska Man tooth as belonging to a peccary)

Osborn H.F. (1922a): Hesperopithecus, the first anthropoid primate found in America. Science, 55:463-5.

Osborn H.F. (1922b): Hesperopithecus, the anthropoid primate of western Nebraska. Nature, 110:281-3.

Taylor I. (1995): Nebraska man goes to court. Science, Scripture and Salvation (ICR radio show), Jul 8:

Taylor I. (1991): Nebraska man revisited. Creation Ex Nihilo, 13(4):13

Wolf J. and Mellett J.S. (1985): The role of "Nebraska man" in the creation-evolution debate. Creation/Evolution, Issue 16:31-43.

Creationist arguments about Nebraska Man

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