An anthropologist’s sensational and irresponsible statement about apes and hominids

Via Todd White, via Jonah Goldberg, I’ve come across another article on Ardipithecus ramidus, at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by David Templeton, which presents the views of anthropologist Owen Lovejoy.

The article is sensationalist and incoherent. First Lovejoy, as quoted by Templeton, states that the discovery of Ardipithecus shows that, rather than hominids being descended from the ancestors of modern apes, apes are descended from hominids!!!

The first major analysis of one of the earliest known hominids suggests that humans may not have evolved from apes.

One of the principal investigators, C. Owen Lovejoy, associate professor of biological anthropology at Kent State University, said the research reveals that the reverse could be true: Apes might have evolved from the hominids that eventually evolved into humans.

“People often think we evolved from apes, but no, apes in many ways evolved from us,” Dr. Lovejoy said. “It has been a popular idea to think humans are modified chimpanzees. From studying Ardipithecus ramidus, or ‘Ardi,’ we learn that we cannot understand or model human evolution from chimps and gorillas.”

The passage I’ve just quoted was also quoted by White and Goldberg, without commentary (Goldberg quotes a correspondent who criticizes Lovejoy, but the correspondent also makes a hash of the subject). Templeton then continues, basing his remarks on his interview with Lovejoy:

Because of its antiquity, Ardipithecus takes us closer to the still-elusive last common ancestor [of humans and modern apes].

However, many of its traits do not appear in modern-day African apes. One surprising conclusion, therefore, is that it is likely that the African apes have evolved extensively since we shared that last common ancestor, which suggests that living chimpanzees and gorillas are poor models for the last common ancestor and for understanding our own evolution since that time.

But to say that apes continued to change after the ancestors of humans split off from the ancestors of today’s apes 6 million years ago, is obviously very different from saying that apes descended from hominids.

Thus Lovejoy’s initial statement, presented by Templeton, that apes are descended from hominids is nonsensical. He doesn’t explain it at all, and then he says just the opposite.

I hereby move that all popular journalism about evolution and related subjects be banned. It’s worse than useless. But the problem is, the scientists are little better than the journalists. Much like the journalists, the scientists allow themselves to say whatever they feel like saying, with no concern for whether it is internally consistent or not, and even whether it makes sense or not.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 01, 2009 11:59 PM | Send

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