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Ethnographic Atlas Data
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Maps from the
Over many years of public presentations and discussions on my Saharasia research and discovery, questions have occasionally been raised about the Ethnographic Atlas data base of the late Dr. G.P. Murdock, which was used for construction of my various maps on human behavior. Other questions have related to my use of those data in developing the cross-cultural correlations and regional behavior-codes in my research on Saharasia. While many of these questions are already answered in considerable detail within Saharasia book, which certainly is required reading to understand the methodology and results, here I wish to provide additional detail to that discussion.
Starting in 1925, and for 35 years Dr. Murdock was firstly a Professor and later Chairman of the Anthropology Department at Yale University. After 1960 he moved to occupy the Andrew Mellon Chair of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburg for another 15 years until retirement. He founded the journal Ethnology, the Human Relations Area Files and the Society for Cross-Cultural Research, all of which continue to this day.
Murdock established himself as an empiricist emphasizing the methodology of global cross-cultural comparisons, extracting data from numerous cultures around the world which could then be contrasted against each other for the testing of hypotheses. His early and formative work in this direction developed during the period of World War II, when National Character Studies -- an effort to try and understand the cultural conditions which led to German and Japanese militarism -- were understandably at their height of interest.
The Murdock data were originally and sequentially published in the first 22 issues of Ethnology, from 1962 through 1967, allowing peer-review of the data. A full compilation was subsequently published in a single book, the Ethnographic Atlas, which was composed of raw data tables identifying around 50 different cultural traits for a collection of 1170 different cultures. Over decades Murdock had personally studied the published literature of hundreds of other anthropologists. From his readings and also based upon his own extensive field work, and with help from his associates, specific cultural characteristics were identified and coded alpha-numerically for a great number of cultures world-wide, allowing easy cross-cultural comparisons and correlation studies using mathematical approaches. Ethnology continued to publish data on several dozen additional cultures after 1967, but only the 1170 cultures collected in the 1967 Ethnographic Atlas were used in my work.
The tradition of cross-cultural ethnographical studies continues today as a significant branch of anthropology. However, the field has deeply factionalized. As a trained environmental scientist and geographer who has independently studied anthropology, and not an anthropologist per se, observing that discipline from the outside, I observe troubling trends. The field appears dominated today by groups of anthropologists who have already staked out one or another favorite theory on human behavior, being unwilling or disinterested in making any strong cross-cultural evaluations by which those theories could be tested and confirmed, or refuted. So there are anthropologists of psychoanalytical, Marxist, ecological, genetic and feminist persuasions, sometimes with very clear political agendas and hot arguments on-going in separate scholarly societies, academic journals and e-groups. The consequences of this factionalism are significant, as the whole scientific concept of the cooperative "search for truth" gets replaced with political arguments and back-stabbing. In this context where cross-cultural methods are applied, it too often relies upon what I call the "cherry-picking" model, where the researcher overviews the many world cultures studied in the anthropological literature, then selects a small number of cultures which meet their favor and expectations, ignoring all other cultures which do not. This can be a valuable approach if one is making case-study examinations of only those cultures, but conclusions which might be drawn from study of limited numbers of cultures necessarily remain only as hypotheses with limited validity. I address this somewhat in the Saharasia book. Murdock was working towards a far more scientific approach by which important questions about human behavior could be answered.
The original emphasis and approach of Murdock seems mostly carried forward today by smaller groups of scholars, such as those affiliated with or publishing in the World Cultures journal, where one finds a more direct application of Murdock's original and comprehensive citation materials and data sets. In 2004, they published my Saharasia findings. (See: James DeMeo, "A 'Saharasian' Climate-Linked Geographical Pattern in the Global Cross-Cultural Data on Human Behavior" and "The Saharasian Desert Belt", World Cultures, Vol.14, No.2, Spring 2004, p.111-143.)
Any simple internet search of the terms "ethnographic atlas" + "George P. Murdock" will identify hundreds of research papers which have used his data sets, and the central place of Murdock's work in modern anthropology and cross-cultural research specifically. He is considered to be one of the "founding fathers of American ethnography and anthropology", and his Ethnographic Atlas data, or refined subsets of them, are widely used for social theory testing in many disciplines.
I obtained my copy of the Murdock data as a large stack of IBM cards (an old method of data storage) around 1980 from the Human Relations Area Files, the same Yale University organization which Dr. Murdock founded, and whose cross-cultural materials are today distributed to university libraries world-wide. The version I received included all corrections made by Dr. Murdock and his associates up to that time. Only 15 of the original ~50 Murdock data variables were used in the development of my correlations and maps, as the bulk of them had little or nothing to do with behavior or social institutions. For clarity, I used the following:
Further discussion on how these variables were used is given in my book Saharasia, or in the various summary articles now posted on-line. Here I merely relist them to emphasize how they are indicators of how the maternal-infant bond, or heterosexual love is treated -- either well or poorly -- in a given society. They are revealing of the treatment of infants and children, the status and freedoms of women, the levels of social hierarchy and treatment of outsiders, and violence potentials. One cannot, for example, engage in practices such as slavery, genital mutilations and bride price, without the use of intensive violence or even putting people into chains, or occasionally killing dissenters.
Each of the 15 variables was set up into dichotomous categories, usually identifying the presence or absence of a given trait (ie, slavery present, slavery absent), and ordered according to a Table I prepared as to which of the two dichotomous categories matched the identified "armored-patrist" category, or the "unarmored matrist" category. (See the book or summary articles.) These categories were directly formulated from the sex-economic theory of Wilhelm Reich, which emphasized the importance of the maternal-infant bond, and the male-female sexual bonding, for a healthy adult psyche. My overall approach was partly a test of Reich's theory by standard cross-cultural approaches, but additionally was a geographical evaluation of my theoretical expectation, stimulated also by Reich's writings on the emotional desert, that regions of harsh desert would contain the majority of the world's most extreme patrist cultures, with large numbers of overlapping "armored patrist" social characteristics. Each of the 15 Murdock data variables were also individually plotted on separate world maps, as given in Chapter 5 of Saharasia, in addition to being used in the composite evaluation for the map sequences on page 74-75, and the World Behavior Map on page 9 and 107. Obviously, my Saharasia book is essential, required reading to understand the methodology and results.
I also used a smaller 400-culture subset of the Murdock data as gathered by Dr. Robert Textor in his 1967 work A Cross Cultural Summary, which is basically a large computer print-out of all the statistically-significant cross-cultural correlations which existed within that 400-culture sample, for over 500 different cultural variables or "finished characteristics". I found 63 variables within the Textor data useful for evaluating the sex-economic theory of Reich, and so used those. Significantly, the Textor data of 1967 on 63 variables from 400 cultures showed nearly identical regional behavior histograms, and cross-cultural correlations as the larger 1980 Ethnographic Atlas sample of 15 variables and 1170 cultures. Since Textor had expanded his list of variables considerably over those of Murdock, it employed data not contained in the Murdock data set for those 400 cultures. The two data sets nevertheless produced quite agreeable results. Pages 68-75 and 417-422 of Saharasia present these histograms and other foundational details.
Since their publication in Ethnology the Murdock data were subject to a double-blind and peer-review system within the discipline of anthropology, years prior to my using them. And a triple-blind or quadruple-blind methodology with added peer-review existed in my use of the Murdock data to compose the Saharasian cross-cultural evaluations and maps, as I describe below. While other scholars, such as those associated with World Cultures, have added a few refinements and corrections to the overall Murdock data set since the time of my using them in the early 1980s, these were irrelevant as regarding the 63 cultural variables I used from the 1967 Textor data for my raw cross-cultural correlation computations, and do not appear to affect the 15 cultural variables I used from the refined and corrected 1980 Murdock data. The 15 variables I selected spoke to the most basic and non-controversial of anthropological determinations, which could rarely be mistaken and mis-coded, such as the presence or absence of male circumcision, patrilineal or matrilineal descent, polygamy versus monogamy, and so forth. I also made numerous outside and independent verifications of the Murdock data using completely different data sources, and additionally located world maps produced by other scholars which also revealed the general Saharasian pattern. This included many maps of environmental conditions, showing the Saharasian Desert Belt (the title of a separate chapter in my book), but also world maps had been made by others showing a clear Saharasian pattern for various historical and social factors.
B) G.P. Murdock was one of the first anthropologists to approach the issue of cross-cultural evaluations, noting the absence of systematic methods within his field. An anthropologist or psychologist might pick a dozen or so different cultures to support or refute a given idea, but there would be hundreds more cultures not brought into discussion. So the question existed, of how to develop a data set reflecting a significant percentage of human cultures, worldwide, such that cross-cultural evaluations would reflect the total sum of human behavior and activity, and not merely those cultures which a researcher might be accused of "cherry-picking" merely because they were favorable to their theory. Towards this end, Murdock and his associates reviewed an incredible number of the published reports on human cultures, worldwide, identifying what was considered by his profession to be the most essential data-attributes from each culture, to compose his coded data-tables. It was a nearly life-long undertaking for him, as it required his personal oversight and review of the primary published sources on over a thousand different cultures. His work was systematically undertaken, with exceptional care, to provide a means for statistically-valid global cross-cultural study of human behavior and culture. He then published the data-tables in Ethnography, which allowed other scholars to critically review his codes and tabulations in an open manner. When Murdock finally compiled these data from 1170 different cultures all over the world, including whatever corrections were necessary by the peer-review process, he had no idea what cross-cultural correlations, or geographical patterns might exist within those data at the time when they were originally published. This overall procedure, of reading and extracting the data from published sources, translating it into coded tables and subjecting that to peer-review, constituted a second level of blinded use of the data where the compilation was undertaken by Murdock and his associates without knowledge of what cross-cultural correlations or geographical patterns might subsequently develop from use of those data.
C) Before undertaking my cross-cultural and later computer-mapping analysis with the Textor and Murdock data, I firstly hand-composed several maps of specific cultural variables using data gathered from my own extensive readings and literature-search, on variables such as Female Genital Mutilations, Contraceptive Plant Usage, and Infant Cranial Deformation and Swaddling. Some of these maps were the first ones to suggest a geographical pattern in behavior related to harsh deserts might exist. Over time, maps were also found by other scholars, on variables such as Regions Conquered by Arab/Islamic Armies since 640 CE, Regions Conquered by Turkish-Mongol Armies since 540 CE, and others on the Status of Women, Modern Contraceptive Use, Political-Social Freedoms and Press Freedoms. None of these variables appears within the large Textor or Murdock data bases, but all of them showed a very similar Saharasian geographical pattern. These added maps, from entirely different data sources, constituted an independent and outside verification of the Saharasian patterns discovered in the Murdock data.
D) When I learned about the Textor publication of 1967, I firstly went through it and searched for every possible and available variable which lent itself towards providing some information as regarding Wilhelm Reich's sex-economic theory. There were 63 such variables found in the Textor book. All other of the over 500 variables had little or nothing to do directly with human behavior, and so were excluded. From there, and without knowing in advance what those 63 variables might reveal, I searched for all possible statistically-significant correlations of either a positive or negative characteristic. This procedure produced a Correlation Table of Sex-Economic Factors, where each of the 63 variables was contrasted against all the other 63 variables. This procedure could have confirmed Reich's sex-economic hypothesis, or refuted it entirely with a raft of predominantly negative correlations. By Textor's mathematical computations, explicitly printed in his book, there were 520 such correlations found between my selection of 63 different variables. Importantly, only 20 of them turned out to be negative. The overwhelming majority, of 500 correlations, or 95% of them, were positive and supporting of Reich's sex-economic theory. That is a higher rate of positive support for any theory on human behavior I have ever read about in the published literature of cross-cultural psychology or anthropology, especially as using such a large number of variables and cultures. Subsequently I was able to explain why the 5% negative correlations appeared, due to how Murdock's variable "Segregation of Adolescent Boys" had no corresponding variable for the Islamic custom of Purdah, or the segregation of girls. When both segregation of boys and girls was considered together, it erased those negative correlations. Separate maps were made of this on page 135 of Saharasia. This standard cross-cultural correlation test was performed before I composed the computer-generated maps, as I did not wish to waste a lot of time making such maps if the standard cross-cultural correlations could not confirm the original hypothesis. If a high percentage of negative cross-cultural correlations had been found at that early stage in my research, it would have put a brake on the whole project. But the positive correlations won the day, and I proceeded. Furthermore: Using a single additional regional identification variable included in both the Textor and Murdock data, I had a rough continental-scale geographical location for each of the 400 tribal cultures. Each culture was then independently evaluated for those 63 variables, developing a percent-patrist determination for that culture which could then be identified as to its regional location. The first regional histograms of percent-patrist culture were thereby produced from the Textor data. A similar set of regional histograms was later produced using the larger 1170-culture Murdock data with 15 variables, also plotting those cultures on histograms based upon regional locations. The two sets of histograms, one from Textor, one from Murdock, matched up nearly identically. Both sets indicated the native tribal cultures of Africa, Asia, Europe and the circum-mediterranean had a generally higher percent-patrist determination than the cultures of Oceania and the Americas. The regions of Africa, Asia and the Circum-Mediterranean were occupied by cultural groups with averages of from 55% to 70% on the matrist-patrist scale (where 100% is extreme-patrist and 0% is extreme-matrist), while Oceania and the Americas were occupied by cultures averaging from 28% to 42%. The regional histograms can be seen on pages 72-73 of my Saharasia book. It was a first-step indication of an important geographical pattern in human behavior, and undertaken totally systematically, without any bias on my part save for the theoretical organization of the data according to Wilhelm Reich's sex-economic theory. It suggested, native peoples of Oceania and the New World were, generally speaking, far more matristically organized than those of the Old World. This also constituted another independent verification, that the data variables I had chosen, and the manner in which they were ordered and used, had logical consistency.
E) In this organizational procedure, I made an explicit division of Matrist versus Patrist attributes. The attribute categories were made a-priori to any subsequent cross-cultural evaluations, which added to the significance of the subsequent correlations observed. Too often, a researcher may firstly look for correlations here and there within the large cultural data bases, and then a-posteriori construct a theory from those observed correlations, trying to "explain them" after-the-fact. Typically, this latter method results in highly artificial social postulates which rest upon weak foundations. My own method was entirely different, to firstly openly state the postulated correlations which I anticipated would exist within the data, and then to actually test my theory, and see if it could be confirmed, or not. As noted, the results of my cross-cultural test could have refuted Reich's sex-economic theory just as easily as to confirm it. But it confirmed Reich. So while I anticipated Reich's theory might be confirmed, especially given James Prescott's prior cross-cultural study "Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence", which used a smaller number of variables from the Textor data, my cross-cultural evaluations using both the Textor 400-sample and larger Murdock 1170-sample of cultures, constituted a third level of blinded use of the data. This approach provided such a high degree of statistical significance -- with 95%+ of all statistically-significant correlations between the 63 Patrist indicator variables being of a positive character -- that I can today state without hesitation, that Wilhelm Reich's sex-economic theory is the best-proven theory on human behavior, bar none. No other theory on human behavior has so far been subjected to such rigorous cross-cultural testing, to my knowledge, much less to come out with such a high level of positive support.
F) A fourth level of blinding of the data was in my plotting of each individual tribe or culture onto the world map according to more exacting latitude and longitude coordinates. Those coordinates were found for the 1170 cultures, and the mapping procedure undertaken by the computer, using a program which took around a year to write and de-bug. Regional percent-patrist behavior averages were computed within blocks of 5-degrees by 5-degrees of latitude and longitude. These were then printed out onto base-maps according to ten-percentiles. For simplicity, I also later developed a 3-tier categorization of extreme-matrist, intermediate, and extreme-patrist categories. The actual pattern which emerged was as given on my World Behavior Map, showing the regions with the most extreme-patrist cultures were predominantly within the most extremely harsh of world deserts, which is the Saharasian Desert Belt.
G) Additional independent verification of the Saharasia behavior patterns was demonstrated as follows: The highly structured geographical patterns which emerged from this use of the Murdock data firstly matched all the maps hand-composed from other data-sources and scholars, as mentioned above. They secondly also agreed with an extended Archaeological and Historical Review, constructed from standard sources for the different world regions. High Patrism regions on the map, determined from anthropology, generally matched with regions historically afflicted with high levels of social violence, great sexual repression, low women's status, and much child abuse and neglect, as determined from collections with skeletal injuries, massacre sites, destruction layers in habitations, and the presence of fortifications and war-weaponry. The Saharasian Desert Belt determined by climatic factors, was predominantly (but not exclusively) occupied by cultures with typical "Saharasian" armored character and social structures, and this could be shown to stretch back over thousands of years until the approximate starting-time of the large climate-change which converted Saharasia from its original lush grassland-forest conditions into harsh desert conditions. It was after, and only after this climate transition, that one begins to see abundant evidence for social violence and war. Before that climatic transition, such evidence is generally absent, or very isolated in character. This matching of the high-patrist regions based upon ethnography to regions of of high violence as determined from historical and archaeological materials, was particularly supported for the Americas, where in my subsequent 2002 Update on Saharasia article I produced a separate new map (Figure 7) on New World Ethnographical Data on Armored Patrism and Archeological Evidence for Violence: A Close Geographical Match. This kind of unanticipated new support, determined years after the original findings were published, is exactly what one anticipates from an accurate and predictively-useful theory, and this is only one such example provided in my "Update" article.
H) What can be said about outside peer-review of the Murdock data and my methodology, my other maps and the archaeological evidence I cited, my geographical methods? The original Saharasia study was my doctoral dissertation. My final dissertation procedures and manuscript were given peer-review oversight and approvals by my University of Kansas committee, which included both geographers and anthropologists. The findings were later peer-reviewed for academic journals where my summary papers were published: World Futures, World Cultures, Kyoto Review, and the Reichian journals Emotion (Germany), Pulse of the Planet and Journal of Orgonomy. Book chapters of the findings, with maps, now also appear in new compendium books such as Constructing Sexualities: Readings in Sexuality, Gender and Culture (Prentice-Hall 2003), The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact of Patriarchy (Ideas and Trends Publisher 2006), Unlearning the Language of Conquest, Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America (Univ. of Texas Press 2006), and Societies in Balance: First World Congress on Matriarchal Studies (German) (Editions Hagia-Winzer 2006). Each of these publications required added peer-review by trained anthropologists, geographers, clinicians and academics of various disciplines. The same materials were presented to many scholarly societies, such as the Association of American Geographers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Congress on Matriarchal Studies with generally open receptions. Yes, there have been a few intensive discussions, even attacks along the way, but the majority of critical points have helped strengthen the work, not reduce it, and no serious weak points have been discovered. At my lectures, scholars often come up and inform me of entirely new connections which they can make based upon their own personal field of study. The Saharasian work is therefore somewhat unique among the research topics associated with Wilhelm Reich's name, in that it enjoys some positive acceptance within the scientific mainstream. But in fact, my Saharasia work has received and survived a more intensive critical peer-review and scrutiny than just about any other large theory on history, human behavior, migration and settlement that might be referenced, and the Saharasia book is occasionally used as a university text.
I) I wish also to address some irrational criticisms of the Murdock data. I have heard they cannot be trusted because they are "old data". This is relevant only if one wants information about the conditions today. For my study, I wanted the oldest-possible set of data, for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to find out what behavior was like around the world prior to the era of intensive European colonialism and Western influences. A study on the Trobriand Islands of the early 1900s by Malinowski, for example, shows a quite different social condition than what modern reports suggest. Of course it is impossible to get anything that perfectly answers such a question about pre-European conditions, as it was the Europeans themselves who gathered the data in the period after colonial influences began. Nevertheless, basic cultural characteristics are often enduring, and the care of the anthropologists was sufficient to determine such basic factors as I extracted from the Murdock data, and from other sources. I have also heard the claim that the older generation of anthropologists who gathered these data were "biased", without saying exactly how except to imply racist or sexist motivations, in criticisms which I must point out often themselves sound very racist and sexist. Yes, one can go into the literature and find a few statements here or there by some of those older anthropologists which could never be justified by today's standards of publishing. But does this translate into bias in their field reports on such obvious factors as the presence or absence of slavery, or of genital mutilations, descent or inheritance rules, and other things which are hardly hidden or mysterious? One can go back into that older literature and review it for the basic reporting, and make a determination about those factors. That is what Murdock did, at a time when many of the original field anthropologists were still alive to be queried about things. The Murdock data were then published for peer-review, with corrections being made along the way as needed. I should also express a standard principle of geographical science, that one cannot find such a highly-structured pattern on world maps as given in my Saharasia, without there being some definite causal reason standing behind those spatial patterns. And the very large geographical correlation between the large Saharasia cultural region of extreme-patrism to the large Saharasian Desert Belt can be proven as a causal relationship, with logical arguments and facts, as done in my book. This negates any need to go seeking out "alternative explanations" resting upon unproven accusations about "bias". If the Murdock data contained systematic bias or random errors, then no cross-cultural correlations would have appeared, and only chaotic or nonsensical patterns would emerge when they were mapped. But the correlations existed, and the geographical pattern is highly structured, as described in my writings. This cannot be accidental. So if there is some kind of systematic bias or random error in those data, it now falls upon the shoulders of the critics to prove just what that bias or error might be, specifically and explicitly, with a significant number of examples extracted from the literature showing exactly how a given anthropologist made the wrong observations, and to show how that error and bias created the cross-cultural correlations and Saharasian patterns. Generalized dismissals are insufficient, and unproven claims that the "old data" are "racist" or "sexist" are simply too vague and unscientifically constructed to be taken seriously.
And finally, no scientific critique of my Saharasia discovery can be considered legitimate from merely hearing my lectures or attending a seminar, nor by only a review of my various summary articles -- the essentials, with full citations and a more complete discussion of the issues raised here, are found only in the Saharasia book, details about which can be found at this website:
Also see the following article:
by James DeMeo, PhD
Additional Articles and Materials:
* TO PURCHASE: Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts of the Old World, by James DeMeo, Ph.D. 464+ pages, over 100 maps and illustrations, with comprehensive bibliography and index. NOW SHIPPING THE 2006 REVISED SECOND EDITION.
You can also purchase Saharasia from Amazon.com -- they obtain the book from us, so there is no advantage in time, and they will also charge a slightly higher price ($39 as compared to our $34). However, for destinations outside the USA, they often can offer a much better shipping rate. Be aware, if you purchase a used copy from them, it will probably be the first edition, and lack the additions and revisions of the second edition. (Most of those 2nd Edition changes are identified and can be obtained as PDF downloads from this webpage.
* The Anthropology/Archaeology Book section of the OBRL on-line bookstore. Scroll down on this page for the selection, which includes several titles on the issue of peaceful societies.
* The Orgone Biophysical Research Lab: James DeMeo's Research Website.
* The Saharasia web page.
* The Saharasia Today section of the OBRL on-line bookstore.
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