Asking Too Much, Receiving Too Little: Indigenous Identity and the Aims of Science

Adam Muller


In this paper I examine the refusal by many indigenous people to participate in the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project, and take a close look at a variety of scientific and indigenous responses to that refusal. I locate in many scientific reactions an often implicit reliance upon what I term the “Platonic Conceit”: that at the centre of what it means to be human there lies an ineluctable desire for the truth and an aversion to simulations. This Conceit blinds scientists to the extent to which some simulations not only matter deeply to people but enable their world to make sense. It also prevents scientists from easily distinguishing between knowledge and superstition in so-called traditional knowledge schemes, and therefore from adequately understanding the motivation and substance of indigenous complaints about “bioprospecting.”

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