Review/Critique of Elaine Morgan's 2008 book The Naked Darwinist
"I don't have enough new material to fill a sixth book on the AAT (aquatic ape theory). Instead, this is an attempt to provide an on-line introduction to the idea for those unfamiliar with it, a brief account of my part in promoting it, and the reception accorded to it, and the current state of play."
Elaine Morgan's website (www.elainemorgan.me.uk) 27 July 2008
"Take plunge for ‘aquatic ape’ theory latest"
May 1 2008 by Our Correspondent, South Wales Echo
BAFTA award- winning playwright Elaine Morgan is set to launch her latest book on a controversial view of human evolution.
Best known for almost single-handedly developing and championing the theory that humans are descended from an aquatic ape ancestor, the author will be visiting Cardiff University on Tuesday to talk about her new book, The Naked Darwinist.
The book launch will take place in Committee Rooms One and Two in the Glamorgan Building on Tuesday.
Elaine Morgan launched a eponymous web site a couple years ago, and prominently displayed the above first quote.
But apparently a whole lot of new material came available in a hurry, since she found herself able to fill 94 pages of that new sixth book with it in short order, short enough, in fact, to have the book launch several months before she got around to taking down her quote about not having enough new material from her website.
So naturally I'm eager to see just what this new info is and how she's answered the many valid objections to her ideas.
Yikes, the very first section, entitled "Don't ask", launches right into "lost our body hair" and "hairlessness".
I hate to belabor this, but if you are asking how we (or any other organism) came to have the characteristics it does you had better get the description of those characteristics correct, or you have GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).
If you're just having a barroom conversation I wouldn't object overly to this being called hairlessness, even though that's very inaccurate (although you'd better watch out for barroom wags making a bet with you when they spot easy money. :)
However, Morgan isn't having a barroom conversation; she's trying to do science, and when you do science you'd better get your descriptions right or you haven't got a hope of getting a correct answer.
Comparing our hair characteristics accurately to our near relatives what you find is that among primates there is a progression in number of body hairs, with apes and humans having fewer than monkeys, and the difference between humans and chimpanzees is not so much number of body hairs, but length and thickness, a difference caused by relatively minor genetic change, so minor we see almost as much variation among people today as between chimps and humans.
So we have shorter and finer body hair, longer head hair, tufts of hair around the genitalia and armpits (and for that matter a great many humans have quite a lot of body hair overall).
This makes us different from apes, but there's another group of mammals we resemble even less, when you look at these hair characteristics accurately: there are no aquatic and semi-aquatic mammal whatsoever sharing those characteristics.
None of them do.
Not one, anywhere.
Uh-oh, page 5 and we're back to another Morgan classic: why aren't we like camels?
Yes, AAT/H proponents constantly ask, why are we so much like our primate relatives?
Why, oh why?
They get very confused about why on earth this would possibly be so.
The rest of the world, outside of some science-deniers, accepted the answer to this at least a hundred and fifty years ago (the answer is phylogeny, relatedness, the central idea behind accepting evolution) but AAT/H proponents like Morgan apparently still find it baffling.
Morgan then asks "Why did our ancestors so often respond to exactly the same problems that confronted other animals by adopting diametrically different strategies?"
Oh I don't know: because this is what we see in animal after animal?
why lions and leopards met the challenges facing them by lions being more social and leopards less so?
why skunks evolved extremely pungent scent glands while porcupines met essentially the
same predator challenge with quills, and pangolins did it with body armor?
This variation in responses to common problems is the norm, but Morgan has always seemed to have a difficult time understanding that it is normal for this to be the case.
It's also common, mind you, for people to think of ourselves as uniquely different.
But this is an artifact of our own navel-gazing, our intense interest in human beings over interest in other animals.
Part of this is practical.
We've biased our research toward humans and what makes them tick, so we have a lot more info on humans than on most other animals.
Research money and time -- always limited -- was considered better spent on the affairs of humans, and a lot of our info about other animals is less a result of interest in them per se than an interest in what their physiology can tell us about us, or how we can better raise them for food or workers or pets, or medical research subjects.
Only relatively recently -- partly as a result of technology getting cheaper, partly because older, often easier, areas of research are occupied and new researchers want to stake out their own territory -- are we delving into the minutia of behavior and physiology of non-human animals to anything even remotely approaching the degree we've done with humans (it still isn't close).
So we tend to find it easy to see ourselves as special, while when we look at virtually any animal on earth in detail, we find they are all also special and different from even most of their near relatives -- in fact that's why we can divide them up into different species.
But a very superficial look and very superficial knowledge obscures this, which again, may be forgiven in a barroom conversation but not in science.
Morgan, page 6: "A recent weblog on pseudoscience posed the pertinent
question: “If the Aquatic Ape Theory explains so
much, why do the majority of anthropologists not
subscribe to it?”
Asked -- and answered -- by John Hawks, in his 25 January 2005 blog post, as he explains why even a cursory thought -- even without a detailed analysis -- leads reasonable people to reject the AAT/H.
Morgan, of course, ignores his answer with a wave of the imperial hand, never addressing it.
Hawks allows the AAT/H claims to go unchallenged, even though they don't stand up to scrutiny, but shows that even if those claims were unchallenged the idea has a gigantic gaping hole: since the aquatic ape does come back to a terrestrial environment -- including the hated-by-AAT/H-proponents savanna -- it requires two changes instead of one for a number of features, and requires some bizarre selection pressure to keep these "aquatic" traits intact in a terrestrial animal, in an environment where AAT/H proponents like Morgan say these features could not evolve.
This throws the AAT/H's claim of being parsimonious (one of their faves) out the window.
Of course some of the "new" proponents, like Verhaegen, simply claim that humans always have been semi-aquatic right up until recent prehistory, ignoring masses of evidence that this is not so, ignoring fossil sites, etc.
No wonder even participants in a recent "aquatic ape" meeting found the reasoning on some of his ideas "idiosyncratic".
She gets into the nitty gritty of her story with Raymond Dart, but in her enthusiasm suggests, rather strongly, that Dart's discovery of the Taung child started hominid fossil hunting in earnest, and began the time when fame was attached to hominid fossil finding.
The reality is of course that both those aspects had started -- in earnest -- with the much earlier finding of Neanderthals in Europe.
However, it's certainly true that Dart's discovery, and the acceptance of it as a hominid, kickstarted the hunt for earlier hominids, what we now call australopithecines, simply because until then it wasn't actually known there were such things.
Even Homo erectus had previously had difficulty being accepted as an early human ancestor since it was thought at the time (nearly a hundred years ago) that over a millions years was just too early for hominids, and it was generally assumed that the earliest "human" trait would be a more or less human-sized brain (that earliest trait -- from what we know so far -- turns out to be bipedalism).
Morgan, on page 9, starts to make a good point about the effect of specialization on studies of human evolution, but she immediately goofs there too, because she doesn't seem to understand that one big problem with looking at things that don't fossilize, which historically is most or all of what the AAT/H has been built on, you need to be able to test and investigate your hypotheses if you want them to be more than idle speculation... you know, like barroom conversations.
We haven't had the capability to do this until pretty recently, although some aspects can be demonstrated, like Peter Wheeler's "radiator hypothesis" -- briefly, very briefly, Wheeler has done a series of papers describing his studies of how shorter body hair arranged as human body hair is arranged, along with human style sweating, is an immense aid in cooling in a hot, dry, relatively open area, allowing the use of that environment at times when other animals find it difficult, or even effectively impossible, to utilize it.
So Wheeler, using accurate descriptions of our body hair and sweating abilities, was able to show how our hair and sweat characteristics would be an advantage in dry hot areas, and observations from cultural anthropologists show how this was indeed effective, for instance in persistence hunting -- also very briefly, "chasing antelope or other game in the midday heat, often for hours, until the animals overheat and collapse" (quote from Natural History magazine); the key here is that our eccrine sweat glands can keep flowing and therefore cooling us while the prey's apocrine sweat glands -- which Morgan has long held are superior to ours -- also work fine, but only for about 20 minutes and then need a recharging period, at which point the animal heats up and has to slow down or die while we keep going.
By the way, the knowledge about persistence hunting is an example of the other big problem I've seen over the years resulting from specialization, and from what I've seen it's a far bigger and more common problem than stones and bones people not looking at what anatomists are doing.
They're far more likely to look at the work of anatomists, and for that matter to be trained anatomists themselves, than they are to look at the work of cultural anthropologists.
This has led them to error at times, but I must say that the team approach taken to fossil interpretation in the past 25 years or so has helped that immensely.
So has the rise of journals like Journal of Human Evolution, which has papers not only from stones and bones people, but also primatologists and cultural anthropologists.
This was thought by many to be an oddly unfocused approach when Journal of Human Evolution first came out, but once they saw how helpful it was minds changed, which is what you see over and over in science, any science.
On page 13 Morgan mentions Max Westenhöfer, which has become common among AAT/H proponents.
Less common -- well, virtually non-existent it seems -- is looking at why Westenhöfer's idea never got any traction.
From elsewhere on my site: In recent years it's become popular to point to a German-language publication on an aquatic hominid past from well before Hardy's, by German anatomist Max Westenhöfer.
As a note of historical curiosity this could be sensible, but there seems to be a thought that it somehow legitimizes the idea of the AAT/H.
However, there is no indication that Westenhöfer's "aquatic human" work influenced anyone within the AAT/H community, much less outside it.
This should not be surprising, since from the excerpts I've seen translated it was really chock full of wildly mistaken notions, and concludes, in the words of one translator (Patrick Beck), that Homo sapiens cannot be a close relative of primates, and even uses fiction as evidence, as in the statement "For example, to me the story of Beowulf's struggle with the dragon under water is a hint that humans perhaps did live and fight with such dragons in water".
This, to me, is not someone I'd like to claim is on my side :).
Page 14: Le Gros Clark supposedly phoning Alister Hardy in 1960 and telling him to stop talking about the AAT.
Ever really happen? any evidence?
No evidence has ever given for this bizarrely unlikely claim.
AAT/H proponent Algis Kuliukas had, at the time he said it online, also falsely claimed that Le Gros Clark had been defending Piltdown Man up until a few months before Hardy's talk in 1960, while in the land we like to call reality Le Gros Clark had actually co-authored the definitive debunking study and report on Piltdown Man in 1953.
One can only assume that the tale of Le Gros Clark admonishing Hardy is of similar veracity.
Morgan continues her expose of The Great Anthropology Conspiracy on page 14:
"The whole affair was quickly smothered. Alister
reserved the right to contribute one article to The New
Scientist and give one talk on the BBC’s Third
Programme, to correct some garbled versions of what
he had actually said. His colleagues then forgave him,
comparatively few people ever heard of his gaffe, and
for the time being the matter was closed. After his
death, when a memorial service was held to honour
his memory, no mention was made of this incident in
his life, as if it had been a discreditable aberration on
his part which it was kinder to forget."
Any evidence that this conspiracy ever happened?
What about the evidence that it didn't?
For instance, the fact that Hardy wrote several articles about the idea, not the one Morgan claims he "reserved the right to" (apparently at the Great Anthropology Conspiracy World Headquarters).
And she's certainly aware he did so, since she reprinted one of them in her 1982 book.
Now it's true that at a memorial service it was perhaps "kinder to forget" the poor quality reasoning that Hardy put into this particular idea (more details on my page about Hardy), just as it was probably kinder to downplay his interest in telepathy and psychic experiences which he spent quite a lot more time and energy on than he did the AAT/H, and for which he set up a trust for research.
After all, his actual marine biology work was terrific and extensive, and isn't it nicer to talk about the deceased's good points than his failings?
(That, of course, is what my mom always told me; was my mother wrong about that?)
The next chapter, pages 16-19, are a rant about why on earth professional anthropologists didn't do extensive critiques of her first book, a pop book which by her own admission was poorly researched (she even puts the word "research" in quotes when describing her own research as "sketchy and superficial").
Another word, hubris, comes to mind.
"I have never
bought a book about spiritualism or UFOs in order to
weigh up carefully the arguments for and against. I
feel convinced that they must be tosh, just as others
were convinced that mine must be tosh."
Oh dear, poor Alister Hardy would be so disappointed to have the major work of his last 20 years (and which he had been thinking a lot about for the last half century of his life and set up a trust to continue after his death) dismissed so offhandedly.
On page 22 Morgan discusses her 1994 online debut:
"When I joined a group discussing
evolution, I was met with a torrent of scorn and
hostility and urged to get out of their air-space and go
back where I came from."
Oh dear again.
Having been there and seen Elaine Morgan's debut online and the reaction to her, she's --- how should we put this? -- not being entirely accurate.
She was treated, for the most part, respectfully, although certain people, me included, spent a lot of time pointing out her many mistakes and misunderstandings of both fact and theory.
I know that is never fun, but it is, as Carl Sagan pointed out, doing you a favor.
A lot of people spent quite a lot of time doing Morgan favors which she seemingly does not appreciate in the least.
She also doesn't seem to remember her own insults and general snideness -- she generally alternated between that, or a sort of unctuous attempt at flattering and cozying up to people, or a pose as a somewhat imperious "voice of authority" -- sometimes she'd try all of them aimed at one person at different times.
An abbreviated timeline:
13 Dec 1994
Morgan makes her first online newsgroup post
7 Jan 1995
"Hi Phil (Chris?) This is fun, isn't it?"
My, she's awfully nice about being met with a "torrent of scorn and hostility"; what a mensch.
13 Jan 1995
"Science papers. Oddly enough I have had science papers
published. I've even had two solicited. I've had a letter
(presumably peer reviewed) published in Nature. Not
oddly at all, none of these contributions had anything
to do with AAT."
Morgan here betrays the fact that after more than two decades of writing about science, she didn't understand peer review in even the slightest, most superficial offhand way; letters to Nature, like letters to any journal I've heard of, are not peer reviewed.
I have no idea what "had science papers published" refers to; I've never heard of them.
24 Apr 1995
"First to all critics of my "ranting and raving" paper some time ago:
OK, point taken. apologies, promises not to do it again etc. "
I thought everybody else was ranting and raving.
11 Apr 1996
"Strange how these resemblances occur to people. Has anyone ever told you
how much your style resembles Joe McCarthy's?"
21 Apr 1996
"You are just smearing like the worst kinds of politicians."
Very nice again; remind me who it was who spewed "scorn and hostility"?
She also had a habit of creatively "quoting" newsgroup participants (ie. rewording their comments and placing the result in quote marks as if it actually was what they'd written) and even, on one occasion at least, trying to make others look bad by accusing them of having agreed to these creatively "enhanced" quotes.
Page 23 has more of the GIGO problem which inevitably results from imagining humans to have hairless bodies rather than describing just what our hair characteristics really are (instead of as Peter Wheeler, for instance, has always done accurately in his hypothesis about a function of hominid body hair).
Page 24 has the return to Morgan's writings of Leon P. La Lumiere, whose idea -- the Danakil Alps -- she hasn't been writing about for quite some years.
Morgan claims Leon P. La Lumiere was a geologist but he's described in The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? as an acoustic physicist; he worked at the US Naval Research Laboratory, and the only non-AAT/H paper of his I find was indeed on acoustical engineering.
(Note that Morgan was familiar with La Lumiere, reprinted his paper in her 1982 book and was heavily involved in the conference that led to the 1991The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?, even so far as rewriting and combining La Lumiere's papers into one article for that book; it seems unlikely she would be unaware that he was not a geologist.)
He disappears within a paragraph however, which is probably wise.
Morgan used to use La Lumiere's idea to claim that a group of increasingly aquatic apes spent several million years stuck on an offshore island unable to leave -- that always did seem odd; no wonder she dropped it.
This time out Morgan seems to have a bit of a time travel problem with La Lumiere, claiming that up until La Lumiere wrote up his idea in 1981 the oldest hominid fossils had been found in South Africa, and that La Lumiere therefore pointed out a valuable new hominid fossil area.
But of course Donald Johanson took over the Afar fossil site well before that (Lucy was discovered in 1974 and that was the 3rd year Johanson had been looking for hominid fossils there) and the Leakeys had been finding what were then very early hominids in Kenya for 20 years before that.
The idea Morgan here promotes, that La Lumiere pointed a fossil area not already well known, is nonsense.
"I am no longer wedded to the idea that the
immersion was in salt water rather than fresh - it
could have been either."
She still hasn't learned what our sweat, tears, and general physiological behavior toward salt tells us about that.
It rules out -- about as categorically as possible -- that it just could not be in salt water.
More details in my sections on salt on this site.
This has been pointed out in excruciating detail to Morgan for nearly 15 years and she still -- based on this sentence -- doesn't understand it.
Page 24 has the appearance of Marc Verhaegen.
Morgan does have my sympathy on the matter of her supporters.
Lots on why I say this in my page on Verhaegen.
On page 26 she mentions me briefly only, apparently, to suggest that all I do is personally attack her; you'll have to judge that for yourself.
Let me just point out that her doing this is a tactic, in logical fallacies it's usually referred to as poisoning the well.
Then she pointedly refers to acceptance of "the" (there is no one "the" theory in human evolution, except for the obvious one that we did evolve and are most closely related to African apes) "revealed truth", which is part of her ongoing tactic of claiming that opposition to her ideas are merely closed-minded, brought about, apparently, by a religious-like adherence to "the revealed
truth" that frankly doesn't resemble any aspect of any science I'm familiar with.
But then I've never even been able to find the headquarters of The Great Anthropology Conspiracy or get invited to any of their meetings; seemingly I'd have more luck becoming a member of The Illuminati.
On page 28 Morgan does some nifty writing in which she manages to complain about being ignored by academia via the technique of repeated invites to present her ideas in universities.
On page 30 she talks about the 1987 Valkenburg (The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?) conference and says she learned there about hymens not being an "aquatic" trait and dropped it after.
First, Morgan used it in her 1990 book The Scars of Evolution and later admitted online that she had.
At that time she said she dropped it after that.
She did mention that -- as well as toothed whales, seals, and dugongs (she forgot manatees for some reason) -- guinea pigs and lemurs have hymens, but despite admitting these non-aquatic animals have hymens she still bizarrely claimed that "an aquatic connection seems the likeliest explanation.
She also neglected to mention other animals with hymens: llamas, horses, hyenas, elephants, rats, and some species of galagos.
But Morgan has apparently also forgotten her 1997 book (page 151, mentioned on my page critiquing that book), as well as many online mentions over the years.
Now Morgan uses a common tactic of hers on this subject (and she's used it over the past decade on things like tears and sweat as well); this is taking something she previously used as "evidence" and saying she's "dropping" it as evidence but continually bringing it up with a "I wondered, and still wonder" type of insinuation that it's somehow tied up with aquaticness, but carefully wording it so she can act offended if someone points out that she's still using it (there's an example of this method later in this book, and this critique, when she refers to ectoparasites).
She gets to John Langdon's 1997 Journal of Human Evolution paper, and doesn't like it, which is no surprise, but she really seems offended that someone did what she claimed to be asking people to do for years, to examine and weigh her ideas.
She also either doesn't understand or deliberately confuses the issue of what Langdon refers to when he says (as she quotes):
"Heterodox ideas, he told us, feed on “a suspicion of
and rebellion against established science and other
authority”, and have a special appeal for “peripheral
segments” of society."
A big part of her (and some other) presentations of the AAT/H has been railing against a supposedly close-minded scientific establishment which means Langdon's application of the term heterodox ideas and his description of them fits Morgan's work perfectly.
Morgan goes into an extended rant about politics of left and right and says these categories don't correlate with reaction to the AAT/H, which is both true and completely missing the point, if indeed she really missed the point and isn't just using a tactic to try to get you to miss the point of Langdon's remark.
Interesting that when Morgan mentions Langdon's examples of of "peripheral segments of the population" she says "He cites African Americans, and AIDS victims", which has an omission.
Langdon had given some examples of heterodox ideas, theories not supported by the science but widely accepted anyway.
He said "For some of the examples above the attraction is to AIDS victims, African Americans, and fundamentalists" and that Morgan left out fundamentalists is interesting -- maybe just to me -- for a couple of reasons.
One is that she obviously wants to be lumped in with only two of those, the ones people are more likely to be sympathetic to; the other is that -- sadly -- her methods are very similar to those of fundamentalist creationists -- altering quotes or taking them out of context, selectively either using or hiding data and twisting data to claim it says something it doesn't.
On page 37 Morgan uses a time-honored technique of hers of prominently mentioning of hominid fossil sites
"In many cases they were accompanied by the remains of
fish and crabs and turtles and crocodiles and the odd
hippopotamus", but now also gives an offhand "but also by occasional land animals".
Although she doesn't name Lucy this time that fossil is what she's referring to here.
Of course this doesn't accurately describe the situation of many fossilized hominids, but it's an improvement over her previous tactic of not mentioning the many -- not "occasional" -- terrestrial animals at all.
And with Morgan, one learns over the years, one must be content with small steps.
Very small steps.
She mentions taphonomic bias but doesn't actually describe it well; it seems to me she does so as a tactic to mislead the reader but I could certainly be wrong about that; however, that would mean she simply doesn't understand it after repeated explanations and decades of study.
Which isn't better, really.
Taphonomy is the study of how things fossilize, where they do, and how to tell something about numbers, habitat, etc. from the number and type of fossils we find.
For instance, very small mammals tend to be underrepresented in the fossil record because their bones get crushed too easily.
Which bones of a skeleton are present or missing can tell us whether predators and/or scavengers were involved, and often what type.
Also animals which live in water or along shorelines tend to be overrepresented because they live in places where they are likely to get fossilized.
In fact taphonomy is one of the biggest marks against the AAT/H since we would expect such a creature to leave an enormous number of fossils and we don't find this for hominids, especially early hominids.
On pages 37-38 Morgan attempts to gloss over the fact that fossil evidence doesn't show any signs of a semi-aquatic past for hominids in what has become a classic manner; she makes the otter/polecat skeleton claim again:
"It would be just as problematic to dig up the
fossil of a mustelid and ask a palaeontologist to
determine whether its life-style had been that of an
otter or a polecat."
This is something Morgan has been saying for years now and it's just silly.
What she's doing is a logical fallacy called argument from incredulity, basically that if she can't imagine being able to do it, it can't be done.
I'm sure Morgan couldn't do what she suggests, and neither could I.
The difference between us is that I know perfectly well that I'm not a trained anatomist and that such people can do a great many things with bone and fossil identification that I cannot.
For instance, can you glance at a fossil tooth and tell what kind of animal it's from?
For most of you the answer would be no, just as it is for me, but for many scientists this is a trivial exercise.
If a paleontologist could not do what Morgan says they can't, why this paragraph from a discussion of fossil otters?
"Otters are distinguished from other mustelids by the modification of their skeleton for swimming.
A nearly complete skeleton of Satherium collected by the Smithsonian shows that, like living otters, it was well adapted for life in the water.
In many swimming mammals, including the otter, the femur (upper leg bone) is short and stout and the tibia (larger of the two lower leg bones) is long.
The tail is long and muscular and along with the hind legs helps to propel the animal through the water.
The skeleton of Satherium has all of the features one would expect to see in a strong swimmer.
These features, along with the structure of the skull and teeth, support our interpretation that Satherium like the modern river otter could maneuver in the water to catch fish, frogs and crayfish or uncover freshwater clams hidden in the mud."
It's foolish to imagine that just because you can't do something yourself no one else can, and foolish to make a statement about what experts can't do without checking, and as with other examples on this page, this required only the teeniest bit of research in the form of a short online search.
That Morgan can't be bothered to do even this teeny bit of easy research and yet expects science to fall at her feet to accept her conclusions speaks of a massive ego.
Starting on page 38 she gets into a false definition (along with false dichotomy) of savanna versus areas with trees, etc. then gets indignant:
"One reaction caught on film was 'Just because the Savannah Theory is wrong, that doesn’t
mean the Aquatic Theory is right'.”
What is it with Morgan's tendency to write something other than what a person says yet put it in quotes?
Is it because she's won an award for docudrama, in which you make up conversations and put them in the mouths of historical figures as if they'd actually said them?
Lee Berger, in the 1998 BBC documentary Morgan was involved with, actually said "If one testable scientific hypothesis like the savanna hypothesis is out the window, because we found provable evidence that these apemen lived in forested environments, that doesn't have any relationship to the aquatic ape hypothesis".
It's difficult to imagine why Morgan finds this sentence so offensive, since it's obviously true.
Even if there were a "savanna theory" in anything like the sense that Morgan claims (ie. an environmentally deterministic theory) and the only other theory out there was the AAT/H (which isn't true either), proving one wrong certainly does not prove the other right.
It doesn't even lend it any support.
If you have two competing theories about what 2 plus 2 adds up to, and one says 7 and the other 9, proving that 2 plus 2 does not equal 7 does not lend the slightest weight to the claim that 2 plus 2 equals 9.
Of course the actual theories of human evolution from the last 30-40 years (at least) deal heavily with food, food-getting and sharing, and social interaction, and only tangentially with environment; they are not and were not environmentally deterministic as is Morgan's own AAT/H and her strawman "Savanna Theory".
On page 40 Morgan says
"But some of that fossilized
pollen was of lianas. You do not find lianas in
This is part of a confused passage where Morgan advances her usual false dichotomy of forest versus "open grassland" (sometimes it's "dry, arid plains") to advance her strawman version of savanna, ignoring what savanna actually means in science.
(I'm forced to assume that by "parklands" Morgan means "savannas" otherwise the sentence would be some bizarre non sequitur.)
The interesting aspect of this particular sentence is that it demonstrates how Morgan simply uses her own assumptions rather than actual data.
Lianas do grow in forests and are often thought of as "jungle" plants, partly because of the image of Tarzan swinging through the jungle on a vine, but they also grow on savannas (and in forests actually -- counter to common assumptions -- tend to become more widespread in drier conditions).
It's not that this means the lianas Morgan refers to were savanna lianas -- it's clear that early hominids were found in forests and then later wooded savanna areas -- but the point here is that Morgan couldn't make the statement she does if she'd spent any time at all looking at the reality of lianas.
For instance, with -- literally -- 5 minutes of online searching I found out about savanna lianas, including the abstract of an interesting sounding paper about a liana in West-African savannas whose thin sap is used as drinking water by local peoples.
Morgan, on the other hand, obviously didn't do even this tiny bit of research yet felt confident about making her pronouncement, perhaps based on extensive studies of old Tarzan movies.
So she just substituted her own dataless assumptions for reality.
This cannot be done in any science you want to stand up under scrutiny.
"a small group of believers
in the Aquatic Theory was invited to attend the Dual
Congress which assembled hundreds of palaeontologists
and biologists from all parts of the world in
South Africa in 1998.
So what happened next? Not a lot. Reviewers had
some kind words for its entertainment value as a good
read - “an engaging presentation” - but felt it
obligatory to wind up with a curt phrase damning it.
The Nature piece did it with “Only Morgan acolytes
will warm to this appeal.” The Sunday Telegraph was
even more laconic. “What a pity it is probably bunk.”
The word "acolytes" certainly seems fitting insofar as it's reminiscent of the followers of Ayn Rand.
(Thankfully Morgan's acolytes don't have positions of major influence over our financial institutions like Rand's do.)
At any rate, the "only Morgan acolytes" line seems to be from Ian Tattersal's review of Morgan's 1997 book in Nature (14 Aug 1997) rather than some review of the Dual Congress.
I have seen a writeup of the Dual Congress online; the part about Morgan's presence mentioned the TV crew she had following her, which she's perhaps too modest to mention in her book:
The TV program’s thesis was that science is a cosy male clique that has systematically and ruthlessly given the “cold shoulder” to Ms. Morgan and her hypothesis, primarily because she is a woman, and, secondarily, because she is outside conventional academia. Those who have met Elaine Morgan will know that she is a tiny doughty sparrow of a lady whose advanced years have not dimmed her, or her supporters’ abilities to literally pin you against the wall so that she, or they, can make their point. Any refutation to Morgan comes less from an “anti-Morgan” conspiracy than simply from a strategy for survival! At the meeting, the session that Elaine Morgan was to speak at was quite ruthlessly stage-managed with “planted” questioners whose interventions would ensure that the conspiracy thesis would be supported by the session itself.
Having watched the BBC documentary Wood mentions (critiqued here) and noted the way it presents Morgan's preferred embattled housewife versus closed-minded establishment storyline (sometimes to a laughable degree), I find Wood's above description entirely believable.
"There are more
papers than ever dealing with “When?” and “How?”
questions, but the question “Why?” - the essentially
Darwinian question - is silently by-passed."
I would say (and have said online) that "why" questions are not really evolutionary questions, but this disagreement with Morgan's above statement may be more semantic than actual.
Hard to say, since I have the feeling her statement is more a tactic than anything else.
In evolution the question is not so much why, but why not, as Gregory Bateson pointed out many years ago. Evolution works by random mutation followed by selection;
basically anything is "allowed" as long as it works well enough, so "why not?" is the question evolution "asks".
As for specifically "Darwinian", I would say the essential "Darwinian" question is "how" -- how could life evolve as it has without invoking supernatural causes.
"Or sometimes not even silently. A paper published in
2007 with the intriguing title of A new model for the
Origin of Bipedality laid this new policy on the line,
pointing out that we are no nearer to agreeing on what
benefits were gained by walking on two legs, but we
have gathered a lot of new data about genetics. It
proposes wasting less time on questions we cannot
answer. “Perhaps we need to stop wondering about
selective pressures and consider what kind of
mutation might be involved …
“Stop wondering about selective pressures” is a codephrase
for abandoning Darwinism, since selective
pressures are the essence of natural selection."
She suggests here, none too subtly, that paleoanthropology has "abandoned" Darwinism, has been "Turning away from Darwinism", which leaves, it seems, only brave embattled AAT/Hers like Morgan to champion Darwin and evolutionary theory, I guess.
Lucky we have such stalwart defenders of science to keep those candles lit in the long darkness the abandonment of science by paleoanthropology will create.
Notice here, as a study of debating tactics in Morgan's work, that she's here advancing her long-used method of suggesting, as unsubtly as usual, that academia works by edicts handed down from on high, orders from higherups which are obeyed.
Well, in reality, what happens in science is that people don't hand down edicts very often, because if they try they get laughed at, plus the edict would be ignored since the best way to get ahead in science is to point out how current thinking on some aspect of your subject is wrong and you're right; overturning a large amount of current thinking is surefire academic stardom.
This reality doesn't fit with Morgan's long-promoted idea of a brave and freethinking outsider battling the rigidly controlled establishment, so in Morgan's writings reality gets thrown overboard.
(She also tends to "disappear" the important work of women in paleoanthropology since the 1960s, work which changed the field, since this reality wouldn't allow her to claim, as she often does, that opposition to her ideas is largely fueled by opposition to women.)
There are a couple other problems with Morgan's view of science in this particular case.
One is that it makes perfect sense to not spend much time, energy, and money on questions that can't be answered and concentrate on questions that can be answered... unless you're in a spirited barroom conversation of the "who would win in a fight, Batman or Godzilla?" type (the correct answer is "Batman".
It's always Batman.)
Another is that natural selection is not the be all and end all of evolution; even Darwin knew sexual selection was another important component, and in recent decades it's been recognized that there are other critical possibilities, such as genetic drift.
Interestingly, Morgan has virtually always insisted that natural selection and nothing but natural selection be considered for any feature; she's long been solidly against even any invocation of sexual selection, probably because many of the features she seeks to explain via natural selection -- hair, sweat, fat -- are classic cases of sexual selection.
In the Bowers paper she mentions, two things: one is while it's already ludicrous to hold Morgan's idea that anthropology works via edicts from on high from eminent seniors the likes of Le Gros Clark, it's even more ludicrous that these supposed edicts come from relatively junior people in the field like an Associate Professor from Ball State University, no matter how talented.
The other is that Bowers is pointing out that the change to effective bipedalism just isn't so difficult or drawnout a change as we once thought; it's not unlike changes to hair, where large physical changes come from minor genetic changes.
In the case of bipedalism, all that's needed for a big physical change is fairly minor changes in a few genes which regulate development.
This is part of a field which is big right now, the evolution of development, or evo-devo as it's shortened to.
Although it's a "new" field, in the sense that it can be called a field, people like Richard Lewontin have been going on about this sort of thing for decades, and Gregory Bateson, famous for his work with Margaret Mead, suggested this aspect of development in evolution as critical many years ago.
(This is also particularly interesting because it highlights people's oft-confused thinking about "nature-nurture", since physical changes can be the result of things that happen in the environment -- both physical things and cultural things, some prenatal, some postnatal -- which fall in the "nurture" side of the debate rather than being simply the result of genetics or "nature".
This is something that Lewontin has been hammering on for at least 30 years, and is particularly interesting in animals like humans, with our unusual amount of postnatal development.)
I should also mention here about Morgan's use of the terms "Darwinism", "Darwinist", and "Darwinian".
There tends to be a divide about who uses these terms and this can be confusing; they're fairly commonly used among scientists in the UK but in North America they tend to be used just by creationists, who do so as a tactic, an attempt to claim evolutionary studies are a religion-like cult of Darwin.
Ironically Morgan here is using a somewhat cultlike view of "Darwinism" as a good, and specifically just Darwin's Natural Selection, ignoring all those other possibilities I just mentioned.
As she castigates science for "turning away" or "abandoning" "Darwinism", it sounds uncomfortably like just what creationists accuse science of doing, embracing a cult of unchanging Darwin.
I doubt that's what Morgan would like to see happen, but she's entangled herself in her own arguments over the years in an unfortunate way and she's sort of painted herself into a corner.
Page 46 starts "Part Two: Objections and Replies"; should be interesting.
"1. “The palaeontologists have found no confirmation of
They have found nothing that proves it and nothing that
disproves it. They have found things that disprove the
But there's the utility of having a handy strawman theory in opposition to her own instead of the real theories paleoanthropology has worked with.
The actual theories used in paleoanthropology have grown stronger and had large amounts of refinement due to new information; replacing those with her own strawman allows her to claim that not having any new information confirm her idea for decades is a big plus whereas in the real world it's clear this is a minus.
There's also the uncomfortable reality that not only has much of the AAT/H "fact" base been eroded by new finds, many of those "facts" were known to be untrue at the time they were first used by AAT/H proponents!
(Examples include but are not restricted to the diving reflex and salt hunger)
"2. “The hominids could not have lived by the water
because of crocodiles.”
She does her usual thing re predators, the same dismissal of the problem she's tried since she first started addressing this problem (some 2 1/2 decades after she started writing about the idea).
She's seen my writing on this, so she knows better, but still does the same ol' same ol'.
At least she no longer calls crocodiles "hypothetical", which was her first attempt to dismiss the problem.
(And it's not just crocodiles but also sharks as well as a variety of microorganisms.)
I won't repeat the info on my pages on predators, go there for the specifics.
"3. “If our ancestors had been aquatic we would be more
Makes sense since it's a common aquatic and semi-aquatic trait.
In answer she says we are streamlined, which is a mainstay of the AAT/H originating with Alister "Humans are shaped like boats" Hardy, and she does so by describing the picture of a diver she used in her 1982 book, The Aquatic Ape.
Copying from my Hardy page which describes this picture: Morgan has offered as evidence a picture of a human in bathing suit and cap diving with her arms held before her versus a picture of a sitting chimpanzee.
But a more direct comparison, of similar poses, would show two animals with shoulders which jut out, rather spoiling the streamlining.
The motions we use when swimming upset this streamlining even more, as opposed to the very different types of motions seen in aquatic animals.
And while whales and seals are actually streamlined via their fat deposits (otters too, which carry much of their fat in their tails which aids their streamlining), the fat deposits of humans stick out in the most inconvenient way when it comes to being streamlined.
Breasts, buttocks, all that fat just makes our shapes a bit too lumpy to be streamlined.
"4. “Morgan keeps changing her story. In the beginning
she said one thing, now she is saying another.”
Well, it's more like she says the same thing even after it's pointed out to her that she's wrong on the facts, and she claims to have dropped things but doesn't.
There is the ZING!ability problem I mention in the logical Fallacies section on my "General Problems with the AAT/H" page, but that isn't so much saying one thing then and another now as it is saying whatever comes to mind to counter one objection and then pretty much immediately saying another, contrary, thing to counter another objection (this is the ad hoc fallacy.)
"5. “The people best qualified to judge are against it.”
The people considered best qualified to judge are the
people who have spent most of their lives learning and
teaching about the current orthodoxy. They are
naturally the ones most resistant to change. And they
are in a position to ensure that supporters of change
find it hard to get promoted or have papers accepted for
Great Anthropology Conspiracy alert!
I think the reality is that those who've actually looked at it in detail know that the facts don't line up in favor of it, and for that matter are often reported inaccurately by the idea's proponents.
And those in academia who read about it generally see some major objections in it that fall within their areas of expertise, objections so big and so egregious that they can't see the rest being worthy of a lot of their limited time, energy, and money.
That's what I've seen in my experience with anthropologists and the AAT/H.
"7. “I know some people who believe in it and also
believe in astrology and ESP and all that stuff.”
Not really seen this objection, although I'm sure someone, somewhere, has made it.
Morgan mentions A. R. Wallace's spiritualism and Newton's alchemy, but oddly enough not Alister Hardy's spiritualism and his enthusiastic embrace of some of the great frauds of psychic studies (such as Basil Soals, who Hardy thought was a fantastic example of real psychic ability).
That doesn't demonstrate that Hardy's other work is equally fundamentally flawed, but it does show that he had some incredibly poor judgment on some of what he considered his important work.
His general marine biology work (and his invention of the Continuous Plankton Recorder) has stood up well, while his spiritualism and his AAT/H have not.
"8. “Some of them have this Eureka moment when they
hear of it and don’t look for any evidence. That’s no
way to do science.”
This certainly can't (and isn't, so far as I know) said about the principle proponents of the idea.
Rather, it's said -- accurately -- that they look only for evidence for it and not evidence against it, and mangle and twist the "evidence" for it, since that "evidence" usually isn't for it until they give it their special twist.
Even Morgan has said that she approaches the subject like a lawyer preparing a brief, which means highlighting anything that sounds good for your case and burying contrary information -- in doing so,
she simply buries contrary evidence (as she did in her earlier claims about tears
material), or bends and twists it until it she can claim it says
the opposite of what it does (as she did with Denton's research on
salt) -- which is definitely "no way to do science".
"9. “The picture she gives has got vaguer as time goes
on, instead of clearer.”
She says this is true of all paleoanthropology, which is laughable.
I think the problem on the AAT/H side has always been that she, as well as the other proponents after Hardy, were always very vague about just what they meant, about the times involved, about how aquatic these aquatic apes were, how they dealt with predators, etc.
Hardy did the best on this, but then his basic idea was that hominids were aquatic for more than twice as long as hominids have existed.
"I remember when David
Pilbeam could point out that all the hominid fossil
remains discovered up to that date could be contained in
a shoe box."
Mighty big shoe box, even then.
Imelda Marcus shoe closet maybe.
Actually, I haven't seen any Pilbeam remark about shoe boxes; he did give a vaguely similar remark once which Richard Leakey quoted which has been used by quote-mining creationists ever since.
Various forms of the "shoe box" claim have been used over the years, always, as far as I've seen, only when talking about certain specific types of hominid or prehominid fossils, not all hominid fossils.
For instance, I've seen it used some years ago when talking about hominid fossils older than 4 million years, which were indeed very rare at that time, and I've seen it used when referring to fossils of the extremely old prehominid ramapithecus.
And in fact the actual quote from Pilbeam, which doesn't mention shoe boxes, is about the extremely old hominid fossil period between what we had in 1981 when he said it and the last common ancestor, what has been called the "fossil gap" or here called the "fossil void" by Richard Leakey, in whose 1981 book The Making of Mankind the quote is reported.
(At that time this gap was from about 4 millions years ago to about 8 million years ago; it has shrunk quite a bit since.)
Here's the quote: "If you brought in a smart scientist from another discipline and showed him the meagre evidence we've got he'd surely say, "forget it; there isn't enough to go on."
What's most disturbing here is that this quote is used by a host of creationist sources in exactly the dishonest way Morgan does.
Creationists are generally the most dishonest people around when it comes to writing about evolution, and it's truly disturbing to see Morgan adopt their tactics so often.
Also, there's been quite a lot of fossil evidence found from that period since then (it's been over 25 years, how could there not?) so the quote isn't even accurate about that period anymore.
Morgan, apparently, doesn't care.
So that's her attempt to deal with objections to her idea; a mere 6 pages and not much real content in that little.
All in all, underwhelming.
Page 52 starts "PART THREE
Human Bodies Special"
Bipedalism: "we are still liable to suffer from chronic backaches and
other consequential disorders unknown in other
Simply untrue, and can only be said by people who haven't bothered to actually look at the facts before writing.
Have I mentioned that this is okay in barroom conversation but not in science?
And that even in the barroom it leaves you open to losing a bet from a knowledgeable wag.
Hint: if you find yourself in a bar sharing drinks with a veterinarian, don't try to win a bar bet using Morgan's claim.
“On the savannah walking erect enables you to look
further into the distance. Meerkats do it all the time: it
makes it easier for you to see an approaching predator.”
“In the wild, chimpanzees on the edges of the forest
sometimes stand on two legs to pick fruit.”
“Bipedalism frees your hands for other purposes, such
as making tools.”
“It was a protection against overheating, because if you
are upright, a smaller percentage of your body surface is
exposed to the perpendicular rays of the mid-day sun.”
“They needed to carry things.”
“A man walking upright uses less energy than a
chimpanzee walking on all fours.”
“It was for reaching up to gather the seeds from tall
“Rearing up on two legs was a signal to other males, to
intimidate them. We can see gorillas doing it.”
“We may not be able to outrun a deer, but if we follow
it for twenty or thirty miles, we have more stamina and
we can tire it out.”
Now note that all these things are true, and are certainly good reasons why bipedalism has been effective for our species and therefore have withstood the test of selection.
Note too that she twists these to try to make them sound foolish or otherwise make them sound less compelling.
For instance, when she says "Rearing up on two legs was a signal to other males, to
intimidate them. We can see gorillas doing it." this is undoubtedly true but incomplete because in fact virtually all apes and at least many monkeys (as well as many other animals) do this, use bipedalism in displays.
That hominids wouldn't do it, and have it contribute to selection pressure for bipedalism, is a bizarre thought.
And when she says "In the wild, chimpanzees on the edges of the forest
sometimes stand on two legs to pick fruit." this is also true, but again incomplete and misleading because chimpanzees in all areas sometimes use bipedalism when gathering -- and carrying -- food (not just fruits).
In fact most studies show it's overwhelmingly the most common time for chimpanzees to use bipedalism.
When she says "A man walking upright uses less energy than a
chimpanzee walking on all fours." she leaves out the vital information (which she has been informed of) that even for chimpanzees, which are adapted to walking quadrupedally, walking bipedally uses no more energy than chimpanzees walking quadrupedally.
If hominids were, due to more effective bipedalism, able to more effectively display, and observe, and persistence hunt, and gather foods, and carry foods, and carry tools, and at the same time get better protection from heat, doesn't that sound like a suite of reasons that makes effective bipedalism a good thing for hominids and therefore not subject to elimination through natural selection?
(Tanner also suggested that sexual selection, via "inadvertent" displays by males and consequent selection by females, played a part as well.)
Wouldn't a long list of good reasons for something be better than one item alone?
AAT/H proponents, for some reason, have long resisted this obvious conclusion.
"There is just one situation in which all apes and
monkeys resort to bipedalism. They all do it whenever
they have to cross a stream, or ford a river, or wade into
a swamp to gather some of the succulent plants that
grow in the water."
This has become the classic Algis Kuliukas falsehood (Kuliukas is, along with Verhaegen, the most prominent AAT/H booster of recent years, especially online), and we see that she got it from him because she immediately follows up by using Kuliukas's thesis claim of percentages, and just like Kuliukas she doesn't mention that his findings -- from his 5 hours of observation of captive bonobos (and 37 seconds of bonobos wading) --- are way out of line with every other study, most of which involved longer periods of study, often of wild bonobos.
When you have a study which is off the graph compared to every other study, you really have to confront this problem and look for explanations -- that's science.
Not doing it -- not science.
Anyone still wondering why the AAT/H hasn't taken academia by storm?
(More details on Algis Kuliukas and his thesis, etc. on my page on him.)
To get back to the claim itself, it's simply untrue.
Sometimes apes and monkeys will walk bipedally when crossing a stream but most of the time they don't, plus they don't cross streams all that often, far less often than they use bipedality in those other situations that Morgan derides.
In fact, it seems that most of the time that apes, at least, use bipedality when they are in water they are feeding, which is a major time they use bipedality on land; so which reason is it they're using bipedality in that situation, food-getting or the mere fact of being in water?
The fact that they're usually quadrupedal in water, and that they often use bipedality when food-getting on land, suggests that food-getting is the more critical reason in both cases.
But certainly at some times apes and monkeys are bipedal when in water, and in some very few occasions it's not for other reasons, so it's only reasonable that it be placed on the long list of occasions when primates sometimes use bipedality -- that long list which Morgan derides.
Being on this list is not what Morgan and other AAT/H proponents want -- in fact they rail against it -- they want it to be the reason for bipedality, which isn't reasonable because it just does not fit the facts.
Pages 60-67 are on the larynx.
She briefly mentions, without naming names here, Fitch's work with red deer, but not the many other species Fitch mentions.
Also mentions the chimp descended larynx paper by Nishimura, Mikami, Suzuki, and Matsuzawa, but dismisses it.
She also dismisses Fitch's conclusions, even though in doing so she has to dismiss his extensive, well researched and well thought out -- eminently sensible and scientific -- work.
She seems to think the answer to larynx descent can only be mouth-breathing (which I think she gets from Verhaegen; he does go on about mouth-breathing).
Bottom line is that she wants to somehow keep her earlier claims about the larynx in spite of the fact that they made little sense when she first made them and now -- with Fitch's and others' findings about the existence and most likely purpose of the descended larynx in a variety of unrelated species -- make no sense at all.
"Incidentally I believe, but have been unable to verify,
that we are the only terrestrial species equipped with the
gasp-reflex that makes us respond to sudden startlement
with a swift intake of breath. It is as if our autonomic
reaction to sudden danger was: “Get a lungful of air at
once. It might be some time before you can get
another.” No land animal has evolved to cope with that
One thing to note about this reflex is that it's extremely helpful if you really, really want to drown (it's mentioned in sports medicine as a major cause of kayakers' drownings).
Along with our reflex, suppressed in actual aquatic animals, of breathing in when we run low on oxygen even if we're underwater.
Odd adaptations for a supposedly aquatic mammal whose major features supposedly came from an extended period (millions of years) of aquaticness.
Also, regarding "belief" versus "verification", I did less than 5 minutes of online searching and found references in scientific papers to the gasp reflex being present in both lambs and macaques.
I would think that it, like the startle reflex and many other reflexes, is a very old ancestral reflex and likely present in a great many, if not all, mammals.
Unlike Morgan, however, I choose not to substitute my belief for actual data, especially when you can find that data from any Internet connection in a matter of minutes.
"Only a few mammals are able to exercise this kind of
control over their breathing. They are all aquatic. A seal
before it dives decides how deep it intends to go and
how long it is likely to be before it is able to take its
next breath, and acts accordingly."
First this seal reference she makes is not about breathing control, but bradycardia (the slowing of the heart rate); I describe this Morgan mistake (which she's been making for nearly two decades now) on my page "Can AAT/H proponents research be trusted?", in the section "Morgan quotes Elsner and Gooden: Accurately?"
As for conscious control of breathing, it is apparently an accidental by-product of (and another advantage of) bipedalism; in quadrupedal animals the muscles which control breathing are bound up with locomotion; when you don't need these muscles for locomotion they are freer to be used consciously.
She mentions Langdon explaining this (on page 69) but dismisses it or doesn't understand it ("Without
some compelling reason, being en-dowed with
conscious breath control would be no more liberating than being given conscious control over the bile duct.")
And Morgan denies this is true in apes ("True, respiration is locked in phase with gait in some quadrupeds, but that does not apply to the great apes.") but gives no reason for thinking so, nor any reason for anyone to believe her claim.
Lots of people are unfamiliar with, or uncomfortable with, the role of chance in evolution, and this is an interesting and important example of how that chance can affect important later adaptations.
That bipedalism allows conscious control of breathing and therefore provides an important component of speech is important, but is almost certainly just a lucky break, an extra benefit that wasn't immediately apparent.
Pages 70-73 are on fat.
She once again uses the statement: "Homo sapiens is endowed
with ten times as many adipocytes - the cells that store
fat - as would be expected in an animal of our size" without (again) seeming to understand what Caroline Pond was saying when she said this, even though Pond was very clear and explicit about what she meant and others (ie. me) have explained it to Morgan again and again online.
It's also on this site on my page on "Fat".
From there, briefly, the implication (sometimes said explicitly) by AAT/H proponents is that we are 10 times fatter or necessarily have 10 times more fat cells than our primate relatives or some unspecified "savanna" animal.
This is not what Pond was saying at all.
Pond's article and her statement about relative number of adipocytes was aimed at pointing out that the usual models for human fat studies -- rats and mice -- are inappropriate because they have relatively large and few adipocytes which then expand and reduce as total fat goes up and down.
Humans, as with other primates, have relatively small and numerous adipocytes and when we and other primates get fatter we tend to add more adipocytes since they can't expand as much as those of rats and mice.
This makes it harder to lose total fat compared to those rodents.
Page 71, Morgan referring to Caroline Pond again:
"But she refuses to refer to the
subcutaneous site as a “depot”. It is as if its presence
there was a kind of aberration, as if fat from more
primal and genuine sites has merely happened to
migrate, as it were illicitly, to the surface of the body
and spread out there to form a continuous layer."
Caroline Pond refuses to refer to it that way because doing so would be inaccurate, and in fact the fat we see under our skin, just like the same layer of fat we see under the skins of other primates which are allowed to get fat, has indeed spread out from the internally anchored fat depots they are part of to "the surface of the body".
"Her opinion is that the fat
“may simply be a consequence of our large body mass,
as it is in large, obese carnivores such as bears."
Pond does say this about superficial fat, and she demonstrates this physiological tendency in a graph which is based on extensive research on a wide variety of animals.
Morgan seems to be trying to "disappear" Pond's main conclusion, stated more than once and ignored by Morgan as often, that human fat characteristics indicate that it is a) evolved for shaping and due to sexual selection, and b) more abundant due to the fact that humans have, for a great many years -- since the use of fire and "advanced" weapons such as spears -- suffered relatively little predation and that, just like other animals which suffer relatively little predation, tend to have more fat than their near relations in the animal world.
Fat is a tremendous resource in lean times, but it slows one down, which makes the animal more subject to predation.
So animals tend to put on as much fat as possible, with predation tending to control the upper limit; remove or drastically reduce the predation and the population gets fatter.
About Pond's book (which is a fascinating book, by the way) Morgan says: "In short, this is a
fascinating book, but I get the feeling that it is trying
too hard not to rock the boat."
First Morgan says Pond is bucking the general idea among scientists that fat is primarily adapted for insulation (and Pond has good reasons for doing so, which Pond explains, and which are outlined on my "Fat" page) and that Pond is again bucking a general idea among scientists when she says that fat is not attached to the skin as a depot (and Pond has good reasons, which Pond explains, for thinking so) but nevertheless is "trying too hard not to rock the boat".
Wonder how much Pond would disagree with standard scientific thought about fat if she wasn't "trying
too hard not to rock the boat."
Brief mention of Cunnane and Crawford on page 73.
I go over the problems with their conclusions on my "Omega-3 gang" page.
Page 74: "We are furless".
We're like apes!
That's so weird!
Furlessness is a general ape/human trait, in fact less body hair than non-ape/human primates is a general ape/human trait.
You have to describe what you're attempting to explain accurately if you want to have any hope whatever of explaining it.
She poo-poos -- once again -- Darwin's idea that much of the reason for human hair characteristics is sexual selection.
The fact is that although Wheeler (and Jablonski who turns up in Morgan's book shortly) have shown how human body hair is useful for sweatcooling, many human hair characteristics -- variation within the species and different populations, differences between the sexes, and big changes right at puberty -- just scream sexual selection.
It's a classic case, and this isn't good for the AAT/H, which depends heavily on this fact not being so.
So Morgan discards it out of hand, as she's been doing for many years.
"How is it possible that a patch of the same hair that is
overheating the body could be so effective at cooling
As an experiment try these three situations on a hot day:
1. no shade whatever
2. shade the top of your head with a piece of cloth or cardboard
3. use the same type of cloth or cardboard (say a close-fitting coat, or a tent or cardboard box) and shut yourself up inside it
Which is cooler?
Morgan's question implies that situations 2 and 3 will feel the same; they won't.
In pages 76-81 Morgan attempts to come to terms with Nina Jablonski's work on skin.
"Jablonski’s critique is clearly and fairly presented. I
have only two small quibbles. In the notes she refers to
her source of information about the Aquatic Theory as
“Elaine Morgan 1982.” That early and amateurish effort
of mine has long been superseded by one published
fifteen years later."
Once again Morgan says that one of her books (written after a decade of her working on the idea) was "amateurish".
How she can get mad about others pointing this out when she does it herself is odd, but there you go.
Morgan finds it more acceptable that while Jablonski rejects the AAT/H, she doesn't do so merely because it is "not, however, supported by facts".
Morgan does not say why she thinks rejecting something that isn't supported by facts is such a bad idea.
Morgan also objects to Jablonski saying that body shaping rather than insulation is behind whale fat, but this has been shown by Pond and others through observation and experimentation (and this also has been pointed out to Morgan in the past).
On page 78 Morgan claims -- absolutely falsely -- that Jablonski "takes the view that once sweating had
been selected for, hairlessness had to follow, because
sweating would only be effective in the absence of body hair".
Morgan has a long-standing habit of misrepresenting what researchers say like this, always rewording what they said to make it easier to shoot down (the Strawman logical fallacy).
What Jablonski actually does say is that not having a thick coat of hair aids a great deal in cooling via sweating, that animals with coats of hair can and do cool via sweating but that it just isn't anywhere near as efficient as it is in humans due to our body hair characteristics.
This, described by Jablonski, is simple physics:
"The evaporation of sweat cools an animal because heat is lost from an object when liquid vaporizes from its surface.
The most efficient evaporative cooling afforded by sweating occurs right at the surface of the skin itself.
But if an animal builds up a sweat and its coat gets wet, most of the evaporation will occur at the surface of the coat and not at the surface of the skin.
this leads to a buildup of heat in the body because heat from the blood vessels in the skin must be transferred to the surface of the wet fur rather being dissipated quickly from the skin's surface.
As a result, the animals ends up sweating much more, and its fur gets wetter in order to achieve an adequate degree of cooling.
Physiologically, this is highly inefficient and nearly impossible to sustain for any length of time.
Unless the animal can drink water regularly while it exerts itself, it collapses of heat exertion."
(This is part of what allows humans to use persistence hunting to run down and catch otherwise much faster prey.)
"A hominid with a thick coat of hair would have a hard time keeping cool when it was highly active because its wet hair would act as a blanket, impeding the loss of heat from the skin's surface.
The body's efforts to produce more sweat in a vain attempt to keep cool would then result in rapid fluid loss.
Most authorities now agree that these are precisely the conditions that triggered the evolution of hair loss in the human lineage.
Remove most of the body hair and the problem of evaporating sweat from the surface of the skin disappears."
Morgan may be thinking here, as many people mistakenly do, that evolution searches for optimal solutions to any given problem.
Evolution tends to provide "good enough" solutions, some of them quite elegant, but not optimal.
In terms of Morgan's tactics, there's an interesting passage on page 78:
"Most animals have a long
history of being at the mercy of parasites which have
been extant almost as long as their hosts, without
leaving any detectable genetic evidence of such
assaults. The intriguing fact is that three of the
ectoparasites which have specialised in living on Homo
are unable to complete their their life cycle unless and until
their host enters the water."
The first sentence here is simply Morgan making a sweeping statement without the slightest backup; simply accept her claim -- why? because she says so.
The second is more subtle and very much like others she's used when she's been confronted with evidence that doesn't actually support her position (for instance on hymens, or on tears and sweat in her 1997 book); just insinuate there's some evidence there, refuse to explicate it, and try to leave a vague impression that this constitutes evidence for her position without saying enough to be challenged.
As I mentioned before regarding her claims about hymens, this also allows her to act offended if someone points out she's still using these statements as if they were, in some unspecified way, evidence for her position.
Specifically on the ectoparasites she mentions... well, since she doesn't mention any it kind of makes it hard to be specific in critiquing her claim, doesn't it?
The statement seems to imply that these are parasites which live fulltime on humans and that humans have to be in water for some time for these parasites to complete their life cycle, and that these live only on humans.
Without specifics what can one say?
Well, let's look at one such ectoparasite, the one causing schistosomiasis which Jablonski mentions and is therefore likely to be one that Morgan was referring to (note that Morgan's not mentioning that this is what she's referring to will allow her to act offended at my presuming this is it; that's part of why I refer to this as a tactic).
The parasite is Schistosoma mansoni, a fluke which lives for part of its life in freshwater.
It starts out living in a freshwater snail, then freeswimming, then enters a host when it encounters skin.
Morgan's statement would imply that this skin must be human, but actually they infect various non-human animals in addition to humans.
It doesn't require lots of water contact; in fact in Egypt they have problems with irrigation because of Schistosoma mansoni.
Of course using irrigation or washing clothes in a water source now isn't being semi-aquatic, and neither is going to water to drink or the occasional wading or swimming at any time in our past, but that's all it takes to fall victim to Schistosoma mansoni.
Morgan's statement also suggests or implies something that's a false dichotomy: either "aquatic ape" or no contact whatever with water.
If this statement of Morgan's isn't merely a tactic instead of an honest if incredibly vague attempt at an argument for her position, the oddest part is Morgan's thought that susceptibility to a debilitating disease or condition due to contact with water is evidence that we are adapted to heavy contact with water for millions of years.
She's done something similar to this in the past with the apparent vitamin A poisoning in KNM ER-1808, and Marc Verhaegen has done it with ear exostoses (described on my page on him).
That doesn't make sense.
On page 79 Morgan, as is usual for her, imagines that water is only available at waterholes or streams, when the reality is that this is not the only place one gets water in dry places.
This is true both of humans using stone age level and pre-stone age level "technology" as well as chimpanzees.
For instance there's those lianas I mentioned above, as well as water-filled tubers which are dug up and carried both by humans and savanna-dwelling chimpanzees; sipping from water deposits in nooks and crannies or trees, bushes, and rocks, and sponging up water with
crushed leaves -- done by both humans and chimpanzees.
Morgan's false claim is just an attempt to mislead by use of a false dichotomy (either dangerous waterholes and streams or no water).
Of course this also conflicts with the common AAT/H idea that the waterside is safe, but contradicting itself has been a mainstay of the AAT/H for decades.
She also compares humans with camels -- she has a thing about camels, apparently, always wondering why we, an environmental generalist not specifically adapted to any one environment and capable of living reasonably well in almost all environments, aren't like desert-adapted camels (in this case when it comes to how fast we can drink water).
On page 80 Morgan says
"When the word “savannah” is used it is carefully
preceded by “woodland” as if in recognition of the
revelations of the nineties."
Or is it as if in recognition of the generally accepted meaning of "savanna" in science for well over a century (since 1872), as mentioned on my page on "Definition of savannah".
Page 80 again:
"There is a passing
reference to the least convincing of the savannah’s Just
So stories - the legend that this primate decided it would
be a good idea to stay active under the mid-day sun
while all the animals with any sense retreated to the
Morgan here (like a lot of people do) gets confused by the fact that, in a case like this, an adaptation can allow an animal to use a specialized niche, and that this may later also be useful in new areas and ecological niches, which increases selection pressure for that adaptation, which allows better use of that niche and others, and so on in a feedback loop.
In this case the ability to use hot areas during their hottest times better than other animals opens up a niche, and allows other, later, behaviors such as persistence hunting.
It doesn't have to be (and no doubt almost never is) anything like a deliberate decision, but instead a lucky break that a chance change, or a change which at first was due to some unrelated reason, becomes useful for additional reasons, creating a feedback loop for more effective physical change which allows for more effective behavioral change which allows... well, you see how a feedback loop works.
Pages 80-81: Morgan suggests we should've just abandoned our primate heritage and "installed" an antelope brain-cooling system (from the Big Catalog O' Adaptations, no doubt... which is now available online, I hear.
I'm ordering up some gills as soon as I find the URL, which I am having some trouble doing; can anyone point me to this site where you can ignore phylogeny and install heritable bits from any animal?)
This is of her longest running and most ridiculous errors (you'll remember she started this book by wondering why we didn't forsake our primate phylogeny and become like camels; it's an old question of hers which she repeatedly repeats in a repetitious manner).
When someone writes ideas like this for decades, while claiming to be doing science and insisting science throw out scientific ideas which reflect reality and accept these foolishly flawed ideas instead, can anyone be surprised that scientists don't jump at the chance?
In the last pages Morgan offers up all the various less aquatic aquatic ape ideas as somehow better but doesn't note -- which is hardly unique to her among the ideas' proponents -- that this makes it harder to explain the idea rather than easier.
The essential problem is that people have been using as major examples of aquatic traits "present" in humans characteristics found only in whales, seals, and sirenia -- hair, fat, sebaceous glands, etc.
They describe these characteristics inaccurately, so they aren't the same at all, and therefore run headlong into GIGO, but the other problem is that they're now trying to say that through convergent evolution we grew to resemble animals which have been fully aquatic for tens of millions of years (longer than hominids have existed) by even less semi-aquatic behavior than before.
How do you evolve to be like a seal just by walking along the seashore and taking the occasional dip?
She gets kind of mad when she talks about the reaction to her comparisons of her idea's acceptance level with Wegener's continental drift, but she misses the point, whether through not getting it or as a tactic I don't know.
But I cover that problem on my page about Wegener.
She also claims he was seen as a crackpot, but as I describe on my Wegener page that is simply not so.
Page 84 "A fairy tale"
This is the central conceit of her book, from which she gets her book's title.
It's a short Freudian slip of a section where Morgan uses the tale of the Emperor's new clothes as if she plays the part of the brave little outspoken boy and not the emperor whose marvelous new set of clothes is spun out of nothing.
(This might have made some sense if paleoanthropology had not shown it makes sense by making made steady progress in its lines of research.)
I'm afraid what Morgan is doing here is engaging in projection, she being the one who spun a supposedly marvelous set of clothes out of special data that to informed and unbiased eyes is transparently false.
In fact, her book is, in effect, a long version of what PZ Myers has called "The Courtier's Reply".
PZ's "The Courtier's Reply" is a short essay written as a parody of one of the standard responses to Richard Dawkins' views on religion, in which one of the emperor's courtiers defends the ruler's garments from the brash accusations of those who dare to believe their own eyes.
The courtier haughtily announces that no reasonable person could say the emperor's clothing was not there unless they had studied the extensive writings about "proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics" and the like, just as the typical apologetics response to Dawkins' simply asking for proof of a god before acceptance of that god is to insist that this stance is untenable unless he has first studied various apologetics explaining why that proof is not forthcoming.
Since Morgan has built her idea out of false "facts", the analogy to "proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics" is especially apropos.
Morgan simply announces that her research, while self-admitted to be often "amateurish", "sketchy and superficial", is to be accepted in place of actual work done by thousands of actual researchers, and that when push comes to shove, and you have to choose between her superior "appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics" or your own lying eyes, you're supposed to pick her.
So, book read, it turns out not to have anything new, to be simply a regurgitation of her previous works in shortened form, with even less substance and more whining (whinging for you Brits), the insistence that the level of argument minimally acceptable in a barroom conversation should have swayed science despite the many errors of fact and misunderstandings of science it contained, and the complaint that academia viciously ignored her and her ideas via the truly dastardly method of repeatedly hosting her giving talks on that subject (the bastards!).
Then Morgan ends by suggesting a favorable comparison of herself and her idea to Mendel, Dart, and Wegener is in order, apparently forgetting that to obtain true netkookdom one simply must invoke either Galileo or Einstein, preferably both, as her fellow AAT/H proponent Marc Verhaegen so often does.
Her concluding Richard Feynman quote ("We have a way of checking whether an idea
is correct or not that has nothing to do with where it
We simply test it against observation.”) is, of course, is unintentionally ironic since it is by comparing her claims to observation that people have decided those claims don't hold water.
I feel I should add here at the end that this critique is an example of a problem I point out on another page of my site, "Why don't professionals spend their time refuting the AAT/H?", that critiquing the AAT/H is not worthwhile for professionals because it has so many errors and misunderstandings of theory.
You can see it reflected in the length of this critique, which is somewhat over half the length of Morgan's book!
I know I can be longwinded, but no book purporting to be science should contain so much wrong that it takes anywhere near that much verbiage to correct it.
Is it any wonder that the AAT/H hasn't been embraced by scientists as Morgan obviously so devoutly wished?