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Homo naledi skeletal specimens by Lee Roger Berger research team

Paleoanthropology Wars: The discovery of Homo naledi has generated considerable controversy in this scientific discipline

News of the explosive discovery of Homo naledi in South Africa reverberated throughout the world in September 2015. The scientific, popular, and social media were equally abuzz with the truly breathtaking nature of the find: thousands of fossils, more than a dozen individuals, almost an entire skeleton reconstructed. Never in the 150-year history of paleoanthropology had so much been found at once. In one fell swoop, there are now more fossils of H. naledi than there are of more than half of the other named hominins that lived and died over the past seven million years. It was a one-of-a-kind discovery.

The find was different in another way as well. Lee Berger, the anthropologist leading the study, showed a staunch commitment to get the results of the team’s work, and the fossils themselves, out to the public as soon as possible. Within two years of their initial discovery, the first papers were published and the fossils were made available to the public, and not just in the traditional way of publishing a paper and placing precious fossils behind plate glass for the public to gawk at. Berger and another member of the team, John Hawks, completed extensive three-dimensional imaging of the fossils and provided the resulting data free of charge to anyone. With these data, one can 3D print your very own high-resolution casts of the original fossils. From anywhere in the world, one can obtain a facsimile of the highest possible quality, at no cost except for the materials for the printing. Even in our open-access era, this is an unheard of level of transparency and data sharing.

Despite this great excitement, it didn’t take long for some grumblings to be heard. Paleoanthropologist and National Academy of Science member Tim White, for example, stepped forward as the critic-in-chief. White has earned his place in the field’s hall of fame several times over and perhaps his biggest contribution is Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), one of the oldest known hominins. Nearly two million years older than “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis), Ardi brought deep insight into how and when the lineage that would give rise to humans diverged from our common ancestor with apes.

White’s criticism of the Homo naledi is both of process and result. First and foremost, White has expressed extreme annoyance with how quickly Berger and his team revealed their findings and announced their conclusions. In his view, the proper place to announce fossils is a scientific conference, where their importance can be debated by the experts before engaging the public. He used the example of Ardi to make his point, noting that 15 years passed before the initial discovery of the fossils in 1994 and the first scientific paper about them in 2009. In the intervening years, preliminary measurements were announced at many scientific conferences, many voices were heard, and the final interpretation was a team effort of the brightest and most experienced minds in the field.

While it seems hard to argue with White’s position that slow, careful, deliberative science yields the most trustworthy conclusions, there is a dark side to one person holding such precious fossils close to his vest for so long: the accusation of elitism. During the many years that everyone in the field knew that White had in his possession the bones of an incredibly ancient hominin, he had complete control over who had access to them and how much could be revealed. In addition to bolstering his own fame in the field, the protracted protectionism of the Ardi fossils meant that the pace of research thereof was totally under his control.

Berger and Hawks hold a different view: fossils do not belong to, and should not be controlled by, any one person. They are precious gifts from our past and the property of the whole world. To guard and conceal them is tantamount to theft. This is a new way of doing science and the benefits are obvious and profound.

White’s criticism goes further and gets even more pointed. White does not feel that Homo naledi is a new species at all and is instead a smaller and more primitive variant of the well known Homo erectus. In an interview entitled, “Some Bones to Pick,” White levels his damning charges: “These are a small, primitive H. erectus… This is because they are not biologically different, in any significant way, from already known H. erectus… Of the 80+ traits listed in the e-LIFE supplemental material, only a small fraction of them are even claimed to differentiate these fossils from earlier described H. erectus, and that fraction of characters is known to vary among members of the same species (even population) of both H. erectus and H. sapiens. In other words, the newly described ‘species’ is an example of artificial species inflation in palaeoanthropology.”

Although White is known for being soft-spoken and mild-mannered, those are fighting words. Not long after the first article appeared, California Magazine, published by the Alumni Association of the University of California at Berkeley where White is the University Professor of Paleoanthropology, interviewed him for a follow-up article. He continued with his discussion of the overlap of some anatomical features between the two species and concluded, “these claims of a new species are a little sketchy.”

Hawks, second-in-command of Berger’s naledi team, responded swiftly on his blog, easily the most widely read blog on paleoanthropology. He detailed a half-dozen or more major differences between naledi and erectus. H. naledi has a substantially smaller cranial capacity, a thinner mandible, and a more flattened femur neck than erectus. He also notes differences in the scapula, tibia, pelvis, vertebrae, and several aspects of dentition between naledi and erectus and in all cases, the differences are so stark that there is complete or nearly complete non-overlap in the ranges found for these measures.

Hawks states it clearly, “It’s just a poor match to H. erectus, so that the only way to make the H. naledi fossils fit within Homo erectus is to stretch that species beyond any other ever defined in the human lineage.” Ouch.

This fight may be larger than a simple disagreement regarding the features of H. naledi. We could be witnessing a transition in paleoanthropology and the passing of the torch from the Old Guard to a new generation with a new take on how the field should advance. It’s not just about making fossils available or not; it’s about how the information in those fossils should be interpreted. Where White sees rich variation within a single widely dispersed and long-lived species, others see many individual species with a mosaic of shared and unique characters.

Through random mutation, evolution is relentlessly tinkering with the animal body plan, driving species toward diversification and various modes of living. The result is often a wide and bushy family tree that is trimmed and culled by the harshness of natural selection. Among the best examples of this among primates are the lemurs of Madagascar. While being geographically isolated for tens of millions of years, they diversified intensely, evolving into dozens of species with widely variant lifestyles and anatomy. If the many hominin species had flourished for a longer time period, we might have seen as much diversity within Homo and other related genera as we do among the sifakas and other lemurs of Madagascar.

As Ian Tattersall wrote in his recent book about the 20th century development of the field of paleoanthropology, many of the early powerful figures in the field had little or no training in evolutionary theory. They were mostly anatomists and had no basis for understanding how morphology can be used to understand evolutionary relationships. Each new fossil was a new species and that was that.

However, in came Ernst Mayr, who knew little about primates or hominids, but was an authority on evolution and systematics due to his work on the speciation of birds. His influence on paleoanthropology was to usher in the era of extreme lumping, convincing everyone that the entire human fossil record was one lineage and just three species, each turning into the other until we reach Homo sapiens. Echoes of that type of extreme lumping can be found in Tim White’s criticism of H. naledi, who similarly criticized the discovery of Australopithecus deyiremeda earlier this year, insisting that it was no more than a variant of A. afarensis, the species of Lucy.

I spoke with Ian Tattersall and asked his opinion of the controversy. While he was loathe to criticize colleagues whom he greatly respects, he did admit that “Tim’s definition of erectus is so broad so as to make that sort of thing inevitable.” When I asked for his opinion, he said “I don’t think there’s any chance this is erectus. It had a very small brain, but some surprisingly modern features to accompany that tiny brain.”

For his part, Tattersall seems to be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as White. “On top of that, I don’t believe that erectus was in Africa at all, so we’re not going to see eye-to-eye on that one. But I think White’s main complaint is that Berger made everything public so quickly.”

Asked where he stands on the matter of quick, open-access publishing, Tattersall was unequivocal, “Well this certainly sets an incredible precedent for the future in terms of openness and making things accessible and I think this is a very good move.” For an elder statesman of the field, Tattersall sure likes the new trends.

Tattersall also described White as “the ultimate traditionalist.” Although he denies it, it is hard not to see that label as a stinging rebuke given the thrust of Tattersall’s latest book. But I dare not twist his words. His respect for White was obvious.

For his part, Berger struck back immediately. In the same California Magazine article, he says, “The debate on Homo naledi being a ‘primitive Homo erectus,’ whatever that is, will not be settled in the media, either traditional or social. [White] continuing to use the media to argue whatever unsupported case he has for such assertions while protesting we are using media to ‘hype’ our fossils (although our ideas are in fact published in a well respected scientific journal) appears to be a way of just getting his name in the media rather than any form of scientific discourse.”

Instead, Berger invites White to submit his challenge in the scholarly literature and let the community of experts sort it out. He continued, “I would rather confine such discourse to where it belongs, a scientific paper published by Tim White in whatever journal he might be able to get such an argument in based on real numbers, real fossils, and not just his opinion.”

To dig a little deeper, I spoke with Professor Berger myself. I hadn’t even completed my first question when he said, “I don’t know why [White] would say that. He seems to be going just on anatomy and if you do that, we probably haven’t gone far enough!” Berger began to rattle off a list of anatomical differences between H. naledi and H. erectus before musing, “You know, [paleoanthropology] is a very public field and these things play out in the spotlight with big personalities and it’s clear that some of the arguments, particularly those raised in the media, have nothing to do with the science.”

I raised the question of whether White’s concerns actually stem from a much larger disagreement, that is, whether the entire human fossil record can be reduced to just a few species, each transforming into the other. Berger agreed but lashed out again, “I would further add that what he says and what he does are two different things. White does talk that way about other people’s fossils, but everything he finds is a new species.”

Taken aback, I asked if I could quote him on that. “Yeah, sure. I mean he takes tiny fragments like garhi [Australopithecus garhi]… and calls it a new species. He published a new genus in an erratum! Actions speak louder than words.”

Hawks echoed this criticism in his blog, stating that White, “has no time for species that he himself has not named.”

When I asked Berger where he stood in the disagreements about a rich variety of speciation among hominins versus a skinny family tree slowly evolving into H. sapiens, he clearly came down on Tattersall’s side, “What naledi and Homo sediba have clearly shown us is that there must have been some adaptive radiation.”

However, Berger advises caution on the matter. “Historically, paleoanthropology has been a field of fragments. What the complete skeletons are showing us is that [using] specific small parts of anatomy, like a jaw or some dentition or even a cranium, to make conclusions about other parts or about the whole body can be very misleading.”

I asked, “Because these species end up being mosaics of features found in other species?” He responded, “Exactly, yeah.”

Berger continued, “There are two possible scenarios. One, and I think this is the more logical one, is that if we could obtain a complete fossil record, we would see a lot of adaptive radiation. There is the possibility that we have misled ourselves on that based on a very fragmentary record. I don’t think so, however. Both naledi and sediba point to it being less likely. I think we have seen a large number of experiments [with anatomy and lifestyle] taking place over all this time.”

If something is not Australopithecus, it’s Homo. If it’s not Homo, it’s Australopithecus. Maybe it’s time for us to stop stuffing new morphologies into the old pigeonholes we’ve had for a hundred years.

Berger also took issue with how many paleoanthropologists, particularly in the U.S., place undue weight on the age of fossils instead of the phylogeny. “You don’t necessarily need to know how old something is to know how it relates to something else. There’s a trend in paleoanthropology over the last 40 years that says if you have the date for something, you know what it is. This only makes sense if only one hominid species existed at any one time.” Therein is the rub.

Because White has insisted that naledi is actually erectus, I asked if the dating of naledi would help resolve this. Berger demurred, “I think he would say that he already knows how old it is! [laughs.] He could tell you the date since it’s Homo erectus!”

I couldn’t resist probing for some unpublished results regarding the date, but Berger wasn’t ready to talk about that yet. “I have ordered four independent methods of dating before we come out with an age because, while the questions we were asking in the first phase didn’t require a date, there are other questions that need to be addressed where dating is important, such as the matter of the potential grave burial. Therefore I don’t want to make the mistake that others have made by releasing a date that is not the best we can do. We’ve seen the results of that in the fights that erupted in the past, which can be very destructive.”

Another matter dividing the paleoanthropology community is the need to revise the Homo genus, which suffers from poor boundaries and vague defining characteristics. As I’ve written previously, the discovery of H. naledi highlights this perfectly. I asked Berger if he agreed it was time to revise Homo, “Oh yeah, and we’re working on that as well. We were right in the center of that argument with sediba and again with naledi where half the field said you should have put in Homo and half the field said you should have put it in Australopithecus. The irony of this!”

Tattersall bemoaned this as well. “Because they found a brow ridge in some of the crania [of naledi] and you don’t see brow ridges in Australopithecus, it had to be Homo. That’s pretty much how it works. If something is not Australopithecus, it’s Homo. If it’s not Homo, it’s Australopithecus. Maybe it’s time for us to stop stuffing new morphologies into the old pigeonholes we’ve had for a hundred years.”

I asked if Berger thought that naledi would probably end up in a new genus if Homo is revised. “You know, I don’t know where things will end up if we ever reach a new synthesis. We probably need more fossils to really do that, more skeletons especially.”

That’s one point every single paleoanthropologist can agree on. We need more fossils. END

About the Author

Nathan H. Lents is Professor and Director of the Cell and Molecular Biology program at John Jay College of The City University of New York. His new book, Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals will be published in the summer of 2016 by Columbia University Press. He also maintains The Human Evolution Blog and is a free-lance writer on various topics that interest him. He can sometime be found on Twitter and Tumblr.

34 Comments

  1. Tzindaro says:

    Someday, when the outdated 19th century theory of evolution has been replaced by a recognition of spontaneous generation of new species directly from non-living matter under the influence of physical and energetic factors in the environment, it will be realized that which species forms is a function of the charge of the surroundings at the time of formation, modified by other conditions, such as salinity and Ph of the water in which species form, temperature, lighting conditions, season, etc., and that evolution is not due to development of individual species in isolation from others in the same region, a concept which fails to account for the close interdependence of numerous different species in ecosystems, but due to changes in these conditions bringing into existence whole new ecosystems at once because not only single species form, but whole cohorts that interact with each other as a unit all are spontaniously created together by natural process of self-organization.

    All the many species, including all the ones still living today, have no actual ancestral connection to each other. They just happened to form under similar conditions, so they resemble each other, with the relatively minor variations between those considered closely related actually due to slight differences in the conditions under which they assembled themselves.

    The Creationists and the Evolutionists are both wrong since they share an assumption that life got started once, a long time ago, and all living things today are descended from ancestors. That is incorrect. It can be disproven by observation in swamps and tidal pools, where new living creatures are still being formed today as an everyday event. To think that humans are any different from the other forms of life with which they share this planet is absurd. The commonplace observation that new organisms are constantly being formed from available materials demonstrates that humans must have originated the same way, in tidal pools or moist jungle floors, and no further development has taken place since.

  2. RAY says:

    “It can be disproven by observation in swamps and tidal pools, where new living creatures are still being formed today as an everyday event.”

    Really? Then please cite published research that backs up this fantastic claim.

    • Tzindaro says:

      I don’t need published research; I look for myself. I have seen this happening many times. Ask any hillbilly or other person who lives in a natural environment instead of university professors who seldom get outdoors to look around and would not believe what they saw if they ever did.

      But I do read some history. And I know the theory of spontaneous generation is not the “fantastic” one; it was the universally accepted one until it was abandoned for political reasons in the late 19th century. The French Academy declared Pastur the winner of a series of debates with Henry Carelton Bastian mainly because he was so popular in France that to rule against him would have been an unpopular move.

      And at the same time, in England, the upper classes took to Darwinism because it justified the British class system by proclaiming the people at the top`of the soicial pecking order were at the top because of natural superiority so therefore nothing could ever change the patently unjust social system because it was ordained by nature.

      The Darwinists have been defaming those who refused to buy into their upper class supremicist ideology ever since by claiming they must be religious and belivers in the bible. I have had that happen to me several times. As soon as I tell a biologist I think the whole idea of evolution is based on political apologetics, not science, he assumes I must be a Christian Fundamentalist. The mere possibility of an Atheist Creationist is beyond them.

      There was never any real evidence to refute the long-established theory of spontaneous generation. It was abandoned for 19th century political reasons that no longer apply. From a scientific viewpoint, it remains the established theory since it was not ever disproven by scientific evidence and any other theory is the one that must be supported by evidence.

      But there is plenty of material on-line about self-organization of living organisms under sterile laboratory conditions. There are even videos showing the process.

      Robert Brown and Wilhelm Reich: Brownian Motion and the Discovery of the Bions
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IXIvoBZ9AY

      WILHELM REICH’S BION-BIOGENESIS DISCOVERIES – EXPERIMENTAL
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PVnS72IIY8

      http://www.orgonomyuk.org.uk/Bion%20Experiments.html

  3. Anastasia says:

    Now Ray, don’t be so lazy. I am happy to offer you some directions to the swamp so you could see the phenomena for yourself: After going straight for 100,000 light years, take a right hand turn and skip the following three galaxys. Once you reach the fourth galaxy, dive in and ask around for the N2ab4993 solar system. At N2ab4993 solar system find the third planet and land at 46latitude and 89 longtitude. Make sure you take some accomadations with you, because you will have stick around some time before you see the whole process- minimum a hour- maximum 30000 years. Bon voyage and come back with your feedback of the whole thing…..

    • Tzindaro says:

      This kind of dismissive attempt at humor instead of serious answers to points raised is more appropriate to American politics than to a scientific discussion. Can you really refute anything I said with E-V-I-D-E-N-C-E instead of sarcasm?

      • D.H. says:

        You’re the one with the alternative theory. You need to show the rest of the world the E-V-I-D-E-N-C-E before anyone takes you seriously.

        • Tzindaro says:

          As I said, I am not the one with the alternative theory. The modern scientists are the ones with the alternative theory. The theory of spontaneous generation was universally accepted until less than 150 years ago, and was only discarded for reasons that had more to do with the political and social issues of the times than with natural science, so that discard was not valid and the previously accepted theory still remains the accepted one until there is a scientifically valid reason to discard it.

          So far, not VALID evidence against spontaneous generation has been presented. Most textbooks still cite Redi and Pastur to refute spontaneous generation. Both those examples do not qualify as valid evidence because of bias on the part of both the investigators and the authorities who decreed them right.

          What valid, replicable experiments can you cite to back up your unorthodox notion that all living organisms have an ancestry instead of just happening?

          • Raf Olliviere says:

            Creationism, spontaneous generation and intelligent design should not be discussed in a scientific forum. They are just nonsensical to anyone with a logical mind.

      • ACW says:

        Anastasia and RAY, I think we’ve initially fallen for Tzindaro’s clever satire, which is merely an updated version of the medieval belief in spontaneous generation (e.g., mice were spontaneously generated by piles of dirty rags). He’s taking his cue from Alan Sokal, methinks. Very amusing, Tzindaro, but just as the editors of Social Text failed to see through Sokal’s paper, there might be a few people not up on real science who actually took your post seriously. You do need to add a ‘just kidding’ disclaimer at the end. ;}

  4. Tzindaro says:

    Mice are not generated by piles of old rags. All life begins in water, so the place to search out newly-created mice or anything else is in water or very damp earth and damp piles of decaying vegetation. Land-dwelling life forms originate in water, then undergo a metamorphosis into land-living forms just as toads and frogs do. Exactly what forms they end up as depends on the ambient conditions surrounding them as they develop.

    But no species develops alone. The fundamental unit in nature is not the single species. It is the ecosystem, so a whole set of species forms all together, all of them adapted to living with the others in the same set. That explains the integrated functioning of ecosystems and why invasive species, having originated in a different cohort, are almost always destructive to an ecosystem when introduced.

    Several ”real scientists” agree with me. One PhD biologist at a major university once showed me a pile of papers he had written that he said he did not dare publish because he wanted to keep his job. But I suspect his fears were groundless. Most editors and most of the journal readership probably do not pay attention to what they read. And most of the ”Skeptics Movement” are not scientists. They tend to be science groupies who blindly accept whatever they are told is scientific truth without having any idea how that truth was arrived at.

  5. m savery says:

    There all nuts!

  6. Terry says:

    Morphological variation among existing human groups is said to be within the expected range for a single human species. What would happen if the types of relatively small differences used by “splitters” to designate new fossil species were applied to living humans? Are not fossil “lumpers” merely being consistent by applying similar criteria to the fossil record as those applied in studies of diversity and variation among existing human groups? A skeptical mind would like to know.

  7. Bob Pease says:

    Does anyone have comments about TODAY’S article?

  8. George W. Earley says:

    Don’t I see a certain racism creeping in here? Beginning to sound like the old White
    Supremacy thing is regrettably not of bygone times.

  9. Gtz says:

    Lee BERGER. not burger..

  10. Duncan says:

    I presume ancient aliens are the predominant physical or energetic factor. And the race card, you’re a bunch of comics ?!
    Not discovered here is a serious issue though. We South Africans are intensely proud of the Cradle of Humankind area in the Witwatersrand in which these astounding finds are made. They’re ours, makes us better than the New World somehow.
    However, Lee Burger is correct – these fossils belong to no-one. Making the data freely available instead of milking it selfishly will allow the level of analysis and informed debate that will determine where and how Naledi fits.

  11. Terry says:

    I’m not sure how seriously to take some of the comments posted here, but my own observations expressed previously were intended to convey a preference for the approach used by lumpers rather than splitters–as is discussed in today’s article in some detail in reference to Professor Tim White. The distinguished paleoanthropology professor, Milford Wolpoff, has often said that when he shaves in the morning, he sees the visage of a Neanderthal. In a similar vein, I personally met an adult, white male with craniofacial features outwardly very similar to those depicted in Neanderthal reconstructions. I later wondered how his fossilized skeletal remains would have been classified based on the taxonomic practices of lumpers versus splitters. As many of you know, there is still some disagreement about whether Neanderthals should be classified as a separate species, a sister species, a subspecies, or a full member of our own species. It’s understandable that paleontologists, whose primary data are fossilized skeletal remains, would tend to extract all possible information from their specimens. However, in so doing, I think there could be a risk of overinterpreting relatively small variations; and that’s one lesson that might be reinforced by the study of similar degrees of variation among existing human groups. I, for one, would prefer to see consistency in the scientific principles used to study fossil species and living groups.

    • Victor Corgo says:

      That could lead to the following, as one of my correspondents wrote to me:

      Where do you get the idea that chimpanzees are not human? You can’t treat people as if they were some kind of animal just because they happen to be chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are just as human as anybody else. They are just a different species of human, that is all.

      Blood type evidence proves they are descended from humans of the fully modern type, indistinguishable from todays’ humans. The relatively minor differences between chimpanzees and other people are just an adaptation
      to the tropical rainforest environment. The differences are not sufficient to make them non-human. The difference between men and women is far greater, but you do not regard women as non-human, do you?
      Why do you think a person is not human if he is a chimpanzee?

      • Terry says:

        This is yet another example of what can be the arbitrariness of taxonomic distinctions. Many anthropologists (possibly most) view the concept of “race” as a social construct rather than a biological reality. This is largely because the within-group variation is said to be as great as, or greater than, the between-group variation on important traits. However, when taken too far, the social construction of reality becomes indistinguishable from shared delusion (unless one believes that there is no such thing as delusion). Rather than strain terminology to the point where common sense and credulity are offended and delusion suspected, I would suggest extending to chimpanzees and other similar primates the rights that we extend to humans of limited intelligence, without actually reclassifying them as human beings. In the case of dogs and cats, which are my own passion, I would similarly suggest that we should afford them many of the rights ordinarily reserved for humans and treat them as we would developmentally delayed human family members. In addition to the forthcoming book by Professor Lents (the author of the excellent article from which this discussion emanates), I would highly recommend the book by Pat Shipman (also a paleoanthropologist), The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human.

  12. Zinjanthropus says:

    I think the real rub of White’s argument is in his phrasing, “biologically different,” which shows that he uses the biological species concept. If you read the paleoanthropology literature for any considerable amount of time, you will notice that people define traits differently. To oversimplify, you may have one person counting something, let’s say fingernail length, with the same “weight” as a trait that actually means something, like the length of a carpal bone that allows us to move our hand a certain way. (Not a real example, but exaggerated for illustrative purposes.)

    We all know that it’s ridiculous to designate a new species based on fingernail length. But we don’t know what goes into making differences in a lot of traits that paleoanthropologists use. To use an example from John Hawks’ weblog, the mediolaterally thin and long tibia. We know that some populations of human differ significantly in this particular trait, but we dont’ call them different species based on that trait. Instead, we study how the tibia gets to bet that way. Is it a biologically significant trait? Or is it just the result of a particular activity that this population engages in throughout their life?

    So it really doesn’t matter if they were unable to find a Homo erectus specimen that was similarly platycnemic. The question they should be asking is what causes this morhpology, and is the difference between naledi and erectus outside of the range of variation that we see in other similar species, like chimpanzees or humans? Not whether it’s outside of the range that we see in Homo erectus, because we have a very limited sample size of that particular species and don’t know what the range is for that species.

  13. Roger says:

    Good one, Tzindaro. I’ve enjoyed making similar kinds of jokes myself. Fun.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    I liked White when he sometimes around year 2000 noted that paleontologists shouldn’t make claims on published science if they hadn’t studies the fossils themselves. [I can’t find the reference as I write this, so the reader beware!]

    Now he himself is shown as both making the same unsupported speculations, and being a hypocrite to boot!

    Re the new research, it is an interesting experiment in open access.

    @Zinjanthropus: Yes, they should try to estimate variation of fossil species to establish clades. Ideally they should do some form of principal component analysis to establish a maximum number of maximal differences among populations at a guess. [But I am no cladist.]

    The problem seems to be that anthropologists publish data on fossils of a poor quality where other paleontologists would just store them for possible future use.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    @Tzindaro: Sokal Poe is non-funny Poe since the context is 2 centuries dead. [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_generation ]

    I think we can do better, but the margin of this comment is too large to be filled with more poe-memes.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    More putative evidence for a controversy: Hawks criticizes White on his earlier work and his phylogenetic ideas. [ http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/history/paleoanthropology/a-ramidus-missing-link-gibbons-2016.html ]

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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