Day By Day

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Latest on the Flores "Hobbit"

After all the hype, including a spectacular pictorial piece in National Geographic [here], and interminable turf wars and academic feuds, the excitement over supposed remains of a diminutive human species in Indonesia are being reconsidered.

John Hawks, who initially had endorsed the idea that the Flores specimen represented a new species of human, now has retracted that endorsement.

He writes:
...I disavow any suggestion that LB1 or any of the Flores fossils are australopithecines.

Along with four of the best anatomists that I know, I had the opportunity to see detailed pictures of the LB1 postcrania.

The specimen is beyond any doubt or question pathological.

This is very clearly shown by many details that are either not depicted or are not clear in the photos in the original Nature paper. It is not my place to provide more information about these details; my understanding is that a thorough presentation of them is forthcoming. I will say that this specimen has morphological characters that would indicate severe developmental abnormalities even if the skull had never been found. This is in no way a close call.

I guess you can't get any more emphatic than that.

Read the whole statement here.

Once again we see the tired old sensationalist sequence. A find is made, extravagent statements appear in the press, excitement builds, turf wars erupt and scholars begin squabbling amongst themselves, carrying their complaints to the press; then a cold second look at the materials shows that they are not as significant as was initially claimed. Meanwhile the public has been left with the impression that the fundamental bases of scientific understanding have been shaken or overturned. When we are regularly subjected to these kinds of antics is it any wonder that many people have lost their respect for scientific institutions and scientists. The sensationalism and politicization of science has its costs.


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