Down with Human Evolution Just-So Stories
Stories of human ancestors around campfires evolving larger brains by eating meat or caring for animals often sound themselves life campfire stories. For example, Jeremy Hsu in Live Science speculated that “Caring for Animals May Have Shaped Human Evolution.” A cute girl with a puppy adorns the article. “Our love of all things furry has deep roots in human evolution and may have even shaped how our ancestors developed language and other tools of civilization.” For another example, see the 06/10/2010 entry on why humans became hairless.
Paleoanthropologist John Hawks has had enough of this tale-telling. “‘Just-so stories [are] driving me crazy,” he exclaimed in a rare outburst against reporters and those in his own field on his John Hawks Weblog. Responding to one such story, the idea that eating meat gave humans bigger brains (12/20/2009), he showed how to ask skeptical questions: “How did meat make us smarter? Is it a magical meat property? If I fed enough meat to the local deer, would they get smarter?” He did not reject the evolutionary tales outright: “These are serious hypotheses with literature and evidence supporting them,” he claimed, but then he blushed on his colleagues’ behalf: “I just wish that they could be reported in a way that made it sound like paleoanthropologists are skeptical scientists!”
Thank you, John. Join our campaign to clean up science by ridding it of storytelling. Just watch the ground under your feet.