Day By Day

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Straining for Significance

There has been a lot of discussion in the MSM about the "astonishing", "unexpected", and "surprising" characteristics of two hominid skulls, one representing "homo erectus", the other "homo habilis", both approximately one and a half million years old and both from the same region of Africa. [here]

Results of analysis carried out on the skulls, according to the media accounts, rewrites the early history of human evolution, showing that different human species coexisted. John Hawks, who is a real paleoanthropologist, isn't buying that story line, arguing that, once again, the journalists have got the story wrong. Specialists, and competent journalists, have long known that human species coexisted. That "scientific consensus" had recently been called into question by a redating of levels in which the African fossils had been found, but finding a very late homo habilis seems to re-establish that consensus. There is, however some question as to whether it really is homo habilis.

Clearly the journalists don't understand the field they are covering, but it is also clear that they are relying upon quotes from scientists who are stretching for significance. The team that conducted the analysis made several questionable statements regarding the nature of homo erectus and the "Asian" characteristics of one of the African skulls. Hawks comments on these too.

Read Hawks commentary here.

What to make of all this?


Don't believe what you read in the MSM. Go to the blogosphere if you want the straight stuff -- expert analysis from specialists in the field.