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Scientists Assail Book on Rape
By Joseph B. Verrengia AP Science Writer

Two scientists are criticizing the research behind "A Natural History of Rape," a book that portrays rape as a natural product of evolution and suggests all men could be rapists.

In Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, the scientists describe the book as scientifically flawed. The journal's editors took the unusual step of releasing the book review in advance.

"The authors' evidence either fails to support their case, is presented in a misleading or biased way, or equally supports alternative explanations,'' said the reviewers, Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago and Andrew Berry of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The review angered the book's authors, Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico and Craig Palmer of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. They questioned the credibility and objectivity of both the reviewers and the influential journal.

"These anti-evolution critics don't like evolution applied to any feature of life, but especially not to human traits," said Thornhill, a biologist.

For years, the prevailing view was that rape is a crime of violence and power. But in their book, published by MIT Press, Thornhill and Palmer suggest that sexual coercion has evolved as a means to increase the reproductive success of those men who would otherwise be rejected as mates. They also recommend that women dress conservatively and young men be taught to control their impulses.

In the Nature review, Coyne and Berry criticize the book's underlying science on several fronts.

For example, Thornhill and Palmer report that rape victims tend to be in their prime reproductive years; the reviewers counter with a 1992 study showing that 29 percent of rape victims were under age eleven.

The book's authors say women of childbearing age suffer more violence during rape because they fight harder to prevent an unwanted conception. The reviewers suggest that children and older women who are raped often are physically unable to fight back. Other rape experts have said the book is rich in problems.

"I've read a five-page summary of the book, and I came up with 52 points of disagreement," said University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss. She co-chaired a task force on violence against women for the American Psychological Association.

"The authors claim their book is being rejected on political grounds," Koss said. "But these are criticisms of content and quality."

Thornhill and Palmer previously disagreed over the book with Coyne and other scientific critics, as well as the National Organization for Women and rape counselors.

Thornhill said the book does not condone rape; it merely explores its biological roots. The authors contend that forced procreation is documented in species ranging from insects to apes, and humans are no different.

On the Net: New York Academy of Sciences, which published excerpts of book:


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