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Human Variability May Swamp Ancestral Hominid Claims

Here are some things to think about when paleoanthropologists draw inferences from fossils alleged to be human ancestors.  A seven-foot-nine-inch man in Mongolia just married a lady more than two feet shorter (see picture at National Geographic).  And a man with just a narrow rim of brain material inside his skull had no symptoms except […]

News Reporters Knuckling Under to Darwinian Storytelling

The science news media are virtually going ape over a claim about how chimpanzees might have evolved into upright-walking humans: what is going on?  It began with a paper in PNAS.1  Sockol, Raichlen and Pontzer measured the gaits of chimpanzees and humans and concluded that it is more efficient to walk upright than to propel […]

But Is It Evolution?

Every week the news media cheerfully present the latest finding that is claimed to be evidence for evolution.  The following recent examples, though, might leave a perceptive reader wondering, “What’s Darwin got to do with it?” Slow? No!:  If you thought evolution was a gradual process too slow to watch, get a load of this: […]

The Chimp-Human 1% Difference: A Useful Lie

Jon Cohen made a remarkable admission in Science this week.1  The popular notion that humans and chimpanzees are genetically 99% similar is a myth, and should be discarded.  Since 1975, textbooks, the media and museums have emphasized this close similarity; but now, Cohen quoted a number of scientists who say the number cannot possibly be […]

Chimp Altruism: Is it All True?

Humans are the only inhabitants of earth that are masters of true altruism: helping others with no thought of reward.  Previous experiments had shown that chimpanzees lack this trait.  Given an opportunity to help another chimp get a banana, they showed no pattern of charity.  New experiments by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for […]

The Evolution of Pride: Psychology Trumps the Bible?

“The Bible got it wrong,” announced a subtitle on Science Daily: pride doesn’t come before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).  A proud look and haughty eyes may be the first two of the Bible’s seven deadly sins (Proverbs 6:16-19), but psychologist Jessica Tracy (U of British Columbia) begs to differ.  She says pride can be a […]

Did Walking Evolve in the Trees?

The news media are all echoing a report from Science1 that orangutan behavior in trees tells us something about the evolution of human bipedalism (see National Geographic, Fox News, and MSNBC News).  If this new view gains acceptance, it means the old iconic image of man emerging upright from a stooped-over ape posture (05/03/2007) is […]

When Is a Primate a Human Ancestor?

Behold Aegyptopithecus zeuxis, an extinct fossil monkey.  It had a brain smaller than a lemon, smaller than that of modern lemurs.  Why, then, are the news media touting this as a human ancestor?     The new specimen of Aegyptopithecus is more intact and complete than previous specimens.  Two surprises were noted; the amount of […]

Passings: Howell Dies, of Time-Life Book Fame

Nature contained an obituary for F. Clark Howell, paleoanthropologist (1925-2007).  He knew and worked with most of the 20th century fossil-man hunters from Raymond Dart to the Leakeys.  Students will probably remember the Time-Life series he authored, Early Man, with its fold-out panorama by illustrator Jay Matternes of the march from furry monkey to naked […]

Cave Chimps Suggest Cave Men

Some chimpanzees have been found in Senegal using caves for shelter from the heat.  Jill Pruetz (Iowa State) took note of this and is publishing a paper about it in Primates.  National Geographic speculated that this sheds light on human origins: The adaptations of savanna chimpanzees are particularly interesting to researchers because early humans are […]

Lucy the Gorilla?

Three scientists from Tel Aviv found a “gorilla-like” jaw structure on a recently discovered specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, of which “Lucy” is the best-known example.  This is a problem, because Lucy was supposed to be transitional between chimpanzees and humans, not gorillas.     Publishing in PNAS,1 they said, “The presence of the morphology in […]

Chinese Claim Early Man Fame

The “out of Africa” hypothesis must be wrong, some Chinese anthropologists claim, because they have a modern skeleton 40,000 years old.  The story is reported by the BBC News, EurekAlert, National Geographic News and Science Daily.     The BBC News report starts, “The find could shed light on how our ancestors colonised the East, […]

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  The Evolution of Shopper’s Arm

This week’s prize goes to the Society for Experimental Biology, which, according to EurekAlert, said this in a press release: The next time you are struggling to carry your bags home from the supermarket just remember that this could, in fact, be the reason you are able to walk upright on two legs at all!  […]

Leakey Manipulated His Apelike “Skull 1470” to Look Human

The skull of an alleged human ancestor Richard Leakey made famous in 1972 was poorly reconstructed, claims a paleoanthropologist who specializes in craniofacial biology.  According to Dr. Timothy Bromage of New York University, Leakey employed nonstandard principles while assembling the bones of his “Skull 1470”, giving the face a flatter, more human-like profile.  Many at […]

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week:  Monkeys Bang Rocks, Invent Culture

The venerable University of Cambridge earns this week’s prize for the following statements in a press release today: New evidence of “human” culture among primates 23 March 2007 Research suggests that stone-banging by South American monkeys could be a socially-learned skill Fresh evidence that suggests monkeys can learn skills from each other, in the same […]
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