A brief critique of Morgan's 1997 book,The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Elaine Morgan's 1997 aquatic ape book -- her sixth -- is supposedly her best researched (according to her) so I've read it and here jotted down some notes of things that I could immediately see were errors, problems, or logical fallacies. This is instructive, since it shows just how badly done her work is, and why it isn't accepted as reasonable; if it's so easy to see major problems with something just at first glance, what hope is there that delving into it at length will turn up a useful scientific theory?

In this book, unlike her others, Morgan has often (though not always) tied her specific statements to references. You'll also notice she changed the subject from the Aquatic Ape "theory" to the Aquatic Ape "hypothesis". This first happened during the olden (mid-1990s) sci.anthropology.paleo days, when Elaine showed up and people tried to point out to her the many areas where her work fell short of, well, accuracy. When folks in the newsgroup also pointed out that her ideas were more properly called a hypothesis, she took it as a massive insult and an ad hominem attack (she called it a "new anti-AAT ploy"), and railed against the people who pointed out the difference between "theory" and "hypothesis". It seems she figured, like most lay people, that "hypothesis" means something like "crummy theory". It doesn't (for the differences, click here).

In chapter one Morgan sets right to work on a favorite technique of hers, constructing a savannah strawman. This is one of the classic logical fallacies (see the link to Steven's Guide to the Logical Fallacies on the links page). Rather than use the actual descriptions of environments anthropologists say was the transitional environment, and rather than use the actual definition of savannah, she carefully builds a false version of these because a false, "straw" version is easy to knock down. Although savannahs by definition are woodlands, and can be either dry or wet, Morgan's "savannah" is always an arid, treeless plain.

A short definition of savannah from the BioTech Life Science dictionary is "a type of woodland characterized by a very open spacing between its trees and by intervening areas of grassland"; see the savannah definition on my page "What is the Aquatic Ape Theory?" for more info. Suffice it to say that the definition Morgan insists be used is more than 100 years out of date.

One of the ways Morgan constructs her strawman is seen on pg. 16 where, referring to the fossil "Lucy", she says: "She did not die in a savannah habitat, but in a wooded and well watered area", contrasting "savannah" and "wooded and well watered", which is an incorrect contrast. This isn't a new technique for her; it's a staple in her work, for example, in her 1995 book, The Descent of the Child, she refers on pg. 158 to the "scorching heat of the open plains, the meagre vegetation, and the scarcity of water." Many other examples can be found in her books, articles, and online posts.

Morgan, by the way, has been corrected on this subject many times over the course of the past decade. Her response, honed during online interaction, can be seen on pages 17-18, where she misleads the reader by claiming that the definition of savannah used for the past 100 plus years is a new invention with which "younger anthropologists" have apparently been duped by their elders "throughout the ten years or so they have been studying the subject". She's done this before too, with phrases like "this new scenario". Again, on this subject she has been corrected many times. Her continuing with this wrong view, therefore, seems dishonest, although one can't be entirely sure it isn't just incredibly bad research on her part. But either way -- whether dishonest or incredibly poor research -- it doesn't make sense to insist that people accept an implausible theory based on it. It's also rather mean-spirited to take advantage of lay people's unfamiliarity with the subject by feeding them "false facts".

In chapter 2 Morgan continues a familiar complaint about the fossil Lucy's presentation; that Don Johanson and his coworkers made a point of leaving out the fact that the fossil site where Lucy was found also contained remains of crocodile eggs, turtle eggs, and crabs. She implies that this was a malicious sort of misrepresentation of Lucy's environment perpetrated by people out to hide evidence. That this evidence was "hidden" by publishing it in the official announcements of the fossil's discovery makes it seem they did a mighty poor job of it. Morgan, on the other hand, does rather better on her end, repeatedly talking up the eggs and the crabs found at the site and neglecting to mention not only the giraffes and elephants, but the many bovids, horses, monkeys and baboons, hyenas, cats, rhinos, rodents, and pigs also found there. We know that shorelines are good places to get fossilized, and that those animals which frequent such places are fossilized more often than others. This is also evidence which is ignored by AAT/H proponents, since, if our early ancestors were frequenting shorelines, we would expect to find far more than the relatively few we do find. Instead we find the sort of numbers we might reasonably expect from an animal which was spending most of its time elsewhere.

But it seems Morgan would have it that if you die in hospital; you must have spent most of your life there.

On page 30 Morgan tells us that crocodiles are just friendly, fish-eating fellows; which would come as a surprise to people who actually study crocodiles, like Charles A. Ross, croc specialist at the Smithsonian, who describes the Nile crocodile's diet: "Very large animals eat antelope, zebra, warthogs, large domestic animals, and humans". Not to mention the 100-300 people killed by them each year in Africa. More info on the "Predators" page on this site. Morgan also makes the mistake, which could have been easily corrected by minimal study, of assuming the smaller species of crocodiles in the region of Hadar today are the very same types seen there, in a very different environment 6-8 million years ago.

For Morgan, saying that predation by crocs is a massive problem for the AAT/H is "something on a par with saying that they could not have lived on the grasslands because they would all have been eaten by lions." But as you'll see on the "Predators" page, we have a model for savannah-living primates similar to hominids being able to survive in spite of predators -- savannah-living chimps. So we know it could be done there, by animals which are similar to our ancestors in size, intelligence, and birth rate (ie. population replacement rate). What we don't see is any such creature -- of any species -- in an aquatic environment. Anywhere.

Page 31 presents us with a beautiful, and unfortunately typical, example of the argument style termed "special pleading". Morgan attempts to deal with one of the 5 unanswered questions I mention on my page "Relevant Questions for the Aquatic Ape Theory". These are about actual aquatic traits of mammals (as opposed to the many claimed but not really "aquatic" traits the AAT/H uses) and I ask, why don't we exhibit any of them? The one she's wrestling with is about aquatic mammals and the length of their legs; they have shorter legs (or incredibly modified legs, like seals and whales) compared to their terrestrial relatives. Our australopithecine ancestors had legs and arms which were the same length as our terrestrial relatives. Why didn't they change? Morgan's answer is that there wasn't time in this "brief" period (Morgan: "a matter of two or three million years") for skeletal changes. She couples this with a strawman (again) suggesting the question refers only to seals and whales, when it's actually all aquatic mammals.

pg. 31: "As for the conformation of the skeleton of the earliest hominids, it has been claimed that if they were or had been passing through an aquatic phase their fossil remains would show unmistakable signs of it, as do the skeletons of seals and dolphins; their legs would have become shorter instead of growing longer and their arms would have begun to turn into flippers."
Now if any critics had actually claimed what Morgan says they (we) did, I'd have to say they're out to lunch. But of course they (ok, it was me, actually) simply said what I did above. Morgan decided not to tackle that very reasonable question, instead making a phony version of it which she could successfully attack. That's just the strawman part; the special pleading part is more serious.

You see, Morgan claims there wasn't enough time to change the skeletal features of hominids during her purported aquatic period yet, at the same time, she insists that there was a massive change to the skeleton, specifically the pelvis during that time and due to this aquatic period. This means that she says there was enough time for these changes, but only for her changes, and not for the ones that are ubiquitous aquatic traits in mammals. This is the essence of special pleading; here Morgan uses a double standard by insisting that her theory's equally great (or greater) skeletal changes could take place even though the counterargument's skeletal changes could not. (She often does this regarding other features as well).

Oh, then she starts floundering and suggests that (even though aquatic mammals all exhibit this trait vis a vis leg length) we simply ignored our mammalian heritage and changed like (some) birds instead. Let's get this straight; you don't just get to go down to the store, pick out an evolutionary trait from a catalog of any animal feature, and install it, no matter how handy you think it might be. Phylogeny is, after all, the central idea behind evolution. Real evolution, that is, not Morgan's version.

Chapter 4: Morgan suffers some confusion in this chapter. First she compares the energetics of running in humans with that of unrelated quadrupeds, showing what might be expected for a species which is particularly adapted for walking; we use more energy than they do while running. Then she gets closer to home, and even more muddled.

She gets out her strawman kit again, with her line: "Since 1970 one of the goals of anthropologists has been to erase the image of human bipedalism as recklessly profligate of energy." Actually, researchers simply asked the question: We think bipedalism would have been more energy wasting than quadrupedalism for our earliest ancestors, but we don't have any data one way or the other; shouldn't we do some experiments? Rather than the conspiracy Morgan sees, this is a pretty sensible way to do some science. Why does Morgan find this so suspicious? Perhaps because it contradicts her thesis that bipedalism was more wasteful. Here's what they found.

First, even for chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys (natural quadrupeds), running on two legs is no more wasteful of energy than running on four. Second, in another study, walking by humans today is far more efficient than quadrupedal walking by chimps. So, contrary to Morgan's long-held beliefs, walking bipedally was not likely to have been a disadvantage for our earliest ancestors. Yet the thrust of the AAT/H's argument regarding bipedalism has been that it could not occur without the support of water. And Morgan has argued this for more than a quarter century despite these facts being available in published form, easily accessible to any researcher, since 1973 and 1980, respectively. That's 4 Morgan AAT/H books since 1973, 3 since 1980, and only now has she bothered to look at the research on the subject. But hey, she dismisses it anyway, so I guess it wouldn't have made any difference to her theory-building. But why should anyone be expected to accept her theory if its premises are contradicted by currently available facts?

In chapter 5 she outlines, in somewhat dismissive style, a few of the reasons scientists suggest we might have found bipedalism advantageous. The major problem she's always seen with this is that there are so many reasons, rather than the one she suggests. She seems to feel that having one reason only makes one more likely to do something than having a dozen. Think about this: imagine you have two possible courses of action; there is one reason in favor of the first course of action and a dozen reasons in favor of the second. Which course will you more likely take? Personally, I find that the more reasons I have to do something, the more likely I do it. Morgan apparently marches to a different drummer.

On page 66, Morgan makes (as she often has before) the bogus claim that proboscis monkeys, which swim well and fairly often, use bipedalism more often than other primates (all primates use bipedalism occasionally) and often walk bipedally as "merely an alternative locomotor mode of getting from A to B." This is false. Morgan's source for overturning years of observations by primatologists? A few seconds of film showing some proboscis monkeys walking upright.

Then on page 70 she once again shows a remarkable blindness of vision regarding evidence, as she gleefully describes an example of an extant ape walking bipedally in water, "not for display behaviour, or sentinel behaviour, nor for reaching up for food on an overhead branch. It was walking bipedally in order to get from A to B." Really?

Well, no, not really. I too was fascinated to see these National Geographic pictures of gorillas wading, as they often do in that particular area, while feeding on plants. My fascination was more to the total situation, but I admit I also found it interesting that they exhibit exactly the sorts of locomotor behavior as gorillas who aren't wading: walking quadrupedally and standing for display behavior and to reach food. And that photo? The gorilla is standing stationary on two feet, staring directly at the cameraman (who was on a platform) and its arms are clearly wet up to a point about midway between the elbow and shoulder. In other words, we have a gorilla who was wading quadrupedally, saw someone, and stood up -- typical gorilla display behavior. Why didn't Morgan see this? Because she didn't want to. Nobody really wants to find evidence that upsets their own theories, but anyone worth their salt accepts it when they do, and anyone who doesn't can't very well expect their theory to be accepted as valid.

Morgan opens Chapter 7 with a quote from Darwin which she misrepresents in much the same way she did to him in The Scars of Evolution. The quote is "No one supposes that the nakedness of the skin is of any direct advantage to man." This quote is from Darwin's 1874 (1871 for the 1st edition) Descent of Man, and Selection in relation to Sex. Morgan leaves off the last part of the title, but a lot of people in academia do that too, even though they shouldn't. No marks off for that then :-).

Big marks off for not letting Darwin say what he actually said. First let me say that everyone should read Darwin. He was a terrific writer as well as thinker. His work is really readable and still thought-provoking; it's no wonder his books were best-sellers. He is one of our best science writers ever. You can get his books at any bookstore for dirt cheap, and if that's not cheap enough, you can download them for free from Project Gutenberg (there's a link on the links page). When you read Darwin you'll that a common Darwin technique is the use of a setup for a point he's about to make. He opens with a passage in which he plays Devil's advocate, citing the supposed difficulty of explaining such a feature. Then he explains it -- in near-excruciating detail. Dishonest quoters, such as creationists, often use the first part of one of Darwin's setups as if it were the complete thought. They will quote only the opening passage and leave out the meat (creationist Duane Gish is reported to have excused this by saying, "After all, you have to stop quoting somewhere.")

Morgan uses this technique here, quoting the setup and ignoring the meat. In the complete sentence Morgan quotes part of, Darwin says: "No one supposes that the nakedness of the skin is any direct advantage to man; his body therefore cannot have been divested of hair through natural selection." He uses this as a setup for his next paragraph, which begins: "The absence of hair on the body is to a certain extent a secondary sexual character; for in all parts of the world women are less hairy than men. Therefore we may reasonably suspect that this character has been gained through sexual selection." Then he goes on to provide 7 long paragraphs of info to support his contention. Note too that Darwin's statement suggests that adaptionist scenarios -- like the AAT/H -- do not explain the human hair patterns; this seems to escape Morgan's notice.

On the next page Morgan sarcastically derides the very idea of using the concept of sexual selection to explain the pattern of hair seen in humans, lumping it in with Wood Jones' "numerous quaint theories". As we've also seen in her earlier books, using sexual selection to explain these patterns really bothers Morgan. Why? Because using it makes perfect sense.

Darwin came up with the idea of sexual selection to explain a certain type of trait, and this idea has been accepted because, like his concept of natural selection, it makes sense and has been confirmed by many observations over the course of more than a century. Traits which are due to sexual selection have a couple things in common: they appear or change radically at puberty and they differ between the sexes. This pattern is true of several human traits which Morgan and other AAT/H proponents claim are aquatic adaptations (natural selection) rather than due to sexual selection. These are the pattern of hair growth, the sebaceous glands (and complimenting this the scent receptors), and the pattern of fat in humans. In aquatic mammals these features are the way they are by the end of infancy, and change little after that. If you've gone through puberty, or know someone who has, you know this isn't the way it is in humans. It's not easy to ignore this obvious fact, and it's so easily evident to anyone who looks at the people around them or themselves, that Morgan's only recourse is to try to bury the concept of sexual selection. She uses the shovel of sarcasm, which can be used, like any shovel, either to reveal or to hide.

So once you admit that -- as even a glance around you would show -- human hair patterns differ radically between the sexes and also change radically at puberty, you must be led to the same conclusion as Darwin was:

"The view which seems to me the most probable is that man, or rather primarily woman, became divested of hair for ornamental purposes, as we shall see under Sexual Selection; and, according to this belief, it is not surprising that man should differ so greatly in hairiness from all other Primates, for characters, gained through sexual selection, often differ to an extraordinary degree in closely related forms."
Charles Darwin, 1871, Descent of Man, and Selection in relation to Sex. (above from Project Gutenberg's copy of the 1874 2nd ed.)
Oh yes, on page 72 she offers a mea culpa about her previous quoting of Frederick Wood Jones about hair loss, or rather the lack of it, in humans. She says quite correctly "I did not know its origin" but she completely misses the point about the fact that what she did wrong when she quoted him by proxy (she got the quote from Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape), was that she simply made up the situation whereby Morris got the quote. I guess she thought it sounded good to say it was said during a TV show rather than a 1929 book. Since she apparently quoted it in order to deride the thought, perhaps she felt the made-up TV reference made it seem less authoritative. Odd for a professional TV writer, but the world is sometimes an odd place. (Shame she never offers any thanks to the person who pointed out the actual source of Wood Jones' quote. :-)

So Morgan inadvertently teaches us another point to remember about science if you want to be taken seriously: don't just make stuff up.

You want to read about the creationist style I referred to in quoting Darwin? Just click here.

In chapter 8 one immediately sees Morgan having trouble with the evolutionary concept of "convergence" (there's a definition on the "What is the Aquatic Ape Theory?" page). She's attempting to find a way around the fact that convergent features which are due to environment are generally found as a set of traits shared by relatively unrelated animals. The reason she finds this a problem is that there are ubiquitous traits among aquatic mammals, yet none of them are found in hominids; while her purported aquatic traits are either actually nonexistent, not shared with aquatic mammals, or unique to humans. Talking about arctic animals and their white fur or feathers, she says "But the Arctic fox and the Arctic hare and the others have converged in respect of one single trait only." (pg. 79). But this is not true, as even minimal study would have told her. In fact, it was pointed out to her online before this book came out, as I described on my "General Problems with the AAT/H" page. Besides the white coats, these convergent arctic traits include feet covered by fur or feathers, shorter extremities, and small ears, all of which help to contain heat rather than radiate it. (We see the converse in the arctic fox's relative the Fennec, a desert fox with enormous ears which act as radiators.)

These arctic traits are well known and oft-discussed; it would be easy for anyone who is doing even the least amount of research into convergent evolution to report this accurately. That Morgan did not suggests either a deliberate misrepresentation or very shoddy research; neither encourages one to have confidence in her work.

Pg 79: She uses the earlier studies of Scholander et al., conducted using the skin and fat of dead animals, to claim that fat is a better insulator than fur for these arctic species. But later studies with living animals, which were conducted well before Morgan began her AAT/H work, showed that the reverse is true in living animals.

In the next few pages she spends some time trying to convince us that elephants, pigs, and rhinos are "in some degree aquatic". From her explanation this apparently means they can swim pretty well (and many times AAT/H proponents treat such habits as wallowing in mud as "aquatic"). In this sense virtually all mammals could perhaps be said to be "in some degree aquatic." Then she mangles the problem of size and thermoregulation. Large animals have less surface area compared to their volume than small ones, and consequently, they lose heat less rapidly. This causes a build up of heat and is correlated with less body hair, except for those large mammals in cold areas (think woolly mammoth and rhino of the ice ages versus their present-day tropical cousins). Morgan, on page 85, insists this can't be so because bison have hair and pigs don't. She ignores the facts that bison are not tropical mammals (been to Alberta or South Dakota in the winter lately?) and that non-tropical non-domestic pigs (and some tropical ones) have plenty of hair.

Later that page (pg. 85) Morgan makes an even more bizarre statement about Galapagos tortoises and their shells; she apparently doesn't understand the concept of tortoise shells as protection. I wouldn't have believed that one if I hadn't read it myself.

Chapter 9 offers us some misinformation on fat. Page 88 mentions Rose Frisch's statements about female fat requirements for menstruation (and therefore reproduction) but not the research that showed her percentage requirements to be too high. Morgan also repeats the statement about humans having ten times as many adipocytes (fat cells) as would be expected in an average mammal of similar size, which she gets from Caroline Pond's 1987 article which points out that this feature of relatively small and numerous adipocytes, is common to humans, fin whales, hedgehogs, monkeys, and badgers, and not rats. Why did Pond mention rats? Because Pond was pointing out that rats, with their relatively large and few adipocytes, are not appropriate models for fat studies in humans, and that other mammals are a better fit. Pond also points out, in the same article, that captive monkeys which are not as lean as wild monkeys also have a similar ("ten times the..") number of adipocytes, but Morgan either misses or ignores this info, as she has since she first cited Pond's statement over a decade ago.

On page 91 Morgan again takes one of those ugly facts Huxley talked about 100 years ago ("a beautiful theory destroyed by an ugly fact") and attempts to bury it with her sarcasm shovel. It's about hippos this time, and the ugly fact is that these aquatic animals aren't very fatty. That is, they're plenty round, but they don't have very much fat -- the AAT/H says they should, but they don't. Naturally, Morgan doesn't like that fact, so a quick sidestep is in order; she accomplishes this by saying (pg. 91) "It is true that one article in the New Scientist stated in respect of the hippopotamus that contrary to appearances '...it is certainly not fat'. But this statement was made by a man who was trying to promote the marketing of hippopotamus meat. Perhaps what he meant was that a hippo steak would be less marbled with fat and contain less cholesterol than a beef steak."

Actually, what the fellow meant was the fact that a hippo just plain isn't very fat. Morgan tries to imply they aren't lean by talking about the thickness of the layer of fat under their skin, but seems to be unaware that a very large animal has very large dimensions in an absolute sense even when those dimensions are not particularly large in a relative sense. This is such an easy point to understand that I feel reluctant to provide an example for fear I'll seem to be talking down to my audience, but since Oxford grad Morgan has a problem understanding this, maybe others will too. So think about, say, the Sumatran rhino -- the one rhino which spends a fair amount of time in water, also known as the hairy rhino (darn those facts, eh, Elaine?) -- which is a very small rhino even though at around 800-1000 kg, it's a very large animal. In the absolute sense, it's big; in the relative sense, compared to its 3500 kg relatives, it's small.

Starting with page 96, Morgan attempts to come to grips with Caroline Pond (I keep wanting to refer to her according to her specialty, but "expert on fat" seems unwieldy and "fat expert" doesn't really work either). Morgan has attempted in the past to claim Pond agreed with her on the AAT/H, but somehow that seems unlikely when the very first article of Pond's that Morgan cited contained the Pond-authored sidebar "Not an aquatic ape--just an exceptionally fat mammal". Morgan then tried a new tack, claiming that though Pond said that human fat characteristics weren't due to an aquatic stage, she had no idea what it was due to, but since Pond has been saying (even in that 1987 article) that it's due to sexual selection, Morgan's technique there also rings false. Here in chapter 9 Morgan begins with a double-pronged approach to try to counter Pond's observation that human fat distribution is just like that seen in other primates and very unlike that of the aquatic mammals Morgan so wants it to be similar to.

First Morgan carefully builds some false context to make it seem that Pond is talking about something she isn't. Morgan says:

Pg. 96: "So, it is argued, we are not looking at a specifically human tendency for the adipose tissue to desert the internal depots and fly to the periphery: it is merely that 'An apparent shift in the distribution of adipose tissue arises as a direct consequence of an increase in its abundance."
"But the same thing applies to aquatic mammals like the seals."
The quote within the quote is Pond; Morgan's preceding sentence suggests that Morgan's insistence that humans have fat which is bonded to the skin and not to internal depots is a reality that Pond is explaining. But as Pond has explained many times, this AAT/H idea is not reality. The sentence after the quote attempts to obscure the fact that fat distribution in aquatic mammals, especially "like the seals", is radically different from humans. This is even more true when you look at fat distribution over the life history of aquatic mammals "like the seals" versus humans. There's more on this subject on the page "Fat and the AAT/H" so I won't repeat it here.

On to page 97, and Morgan is perplexed: "I find it hard to understand why she described the insulation hypothesis as 'a major tenet of the Aquatic Ape Theory'." Well, besides the references Pond provided for that statement, there's someone named Elaine Morgan who's used it as such in virtually everything she's written. Check out page 15 of Morgan's article in The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? from 1991; page 59 of her 1995 book, The Descent of the Child; pages 111-112 in her 1990 book, The Scars of Evolution; and it's virtually the entire argument of chapter 3 in her 1982 book The Aquatic Ape. (That's the problem with putting things in writing.)

Pages 99 and 100 see Morgan trying to kill the idea that human fat distribution is a sexually selected trait by pointing out that babies are fat. As she correctly points out, "epigamic adornments appear at puberty." She fails to see the reasons this isn't a valid argument (or maybe she does and just thinks her audience will buy it anyway). One is that during childhood we (both sexes) go through the leanest period of our lives, until puberty radically changes our fat quantity and distribution. The fat at puberty, and the differences between the sexes (has anyone besides Morgan not noticed this?) shows the classic signs of a sexually selected trait. The other is that the fat period of babyhood corresponds to the long postpartum developmental time in our species, which is unique. There's nothing else like it; not even close. And it's apropos to note that all aquatic mammals are the exact opposite in this postpartum period, having babies which are quite advanced compared to similar terrestrial mammals, or which grow very quickly, or both.

Also on pg. 100, Morgan suggests that the fat differences between the sexes in humans was due to major differences in habits of AAT/H females vs. males, with females being far more aquatic. Interesting that she does so, since she also lists sebaceous glands as aquatic adaptations (when they too are undoubtedly sexually selected); the far greater incidence of sebaceous glands in male humans would then have to mean that males were far more aquatic than females. This sort of mistake is called ad hoc reasoning.

To end this chapter, Morgan takes another shot at misrepresenting Pond's position. I haven't checked out the quote Morgan uses in connection with this, but it looks like her Darwin-quoting technique... more later when I've checked it out. At any rate, the quote is about differences in fat between the sexes, and so is not on the subject Morgan says it is, which is "Why are humans so fat?" Morgan says Pond has no idea. The actual answer is, simply, because we can get away with it. This view is backed up by research in other animals vis a vis predators, and there's more about it on my "Fat and the AAT/H" page. Oh yes, one of the researchers who's shown this to be so? Caroline Pond.

Morgan really gets to flailing wildly in chapter 10, as she tries to salvage her claims that sweat and tears are aquatic adaptations, while (almost) admitting that her evidence was nonsense. She opens with a self-serving quote from S.J. Gould, "Error is the inevitable by-product of daring" without thinking that error is also the inevitable by-product of using falsehoods as evidence.

There's a lot about salt, sweat, and tears here on my site ("Tears and the AAT/H" and its subsection on Homeostasis, "Salt and the AAT/H", "Salt glands", and "Skin, sweat, and glands" are the pages); I won't repeat much here. Suffice it here to say that her past statements about salt excretion via sweat or tears violate basic principles of physiology; stuff that's well supported and well known, and which has been well supported and well known for long before she started writing about the AAT/H and decided that established basic physiology was an encumbrance her theory didn't need to conform to.

Page 115 implies that eccrine sweating is less efficient than apocrine sweating (sweating via eccrine glands is one of humankind's major claims to fame to date :-). Seriously, sweating through eccrine glands is why !Kung hunters could run down much faster apocrine-sweating animals like giraffes. We just keep going and going, while the giraffe doesn't, because our eccrine glands can keep going and going, while their apocrine glands work rather nicely for about 20 minutes and then need a lengthy rest and recharge period. Hare and tortoise stuff.

On pages 115-116 Morgan tries again, despite the long-established facts of basic physiology, to have sweat be a salt excretor. It can't work; in fact, researchers on the subject have commented that sweat glands seem constructed so as to save salt. Sure, some escapes, but we always, always lose far more water than salt. This is explained in more detail in the Homeostasis subsection of the "Tears and..." page.

On the same page Morgan defends her earlier salt claims by saying, "It was all drawn from respectable academic sources." She's trying to defend her validity as a researcher by saying hey, I was just repeating what the experts said. This is not true; check my site's pages I mentioned above for examples. Her sweat salt claims were false, they did not say what the experts said at the time, including those she cited, and her claims violated known basic physiological principles. There's really no defense for that.

On page 119 she says that "The credibility of the AAT would indeed be weakened if..." and goes on to offer several things that would do so; the second and third are "...or if it had not been based on scientific data that had appeared valid at the time; or if I had continued to believe in it when the balance of the accumulating evidence clearly swung against it;..." Both these things are true, and the evidence on salt, which she distorted from the start, is just one of the examples of that fact.

Chapter 11: Oh no, it's more ad hoc reasoning, about the larynx this time. The descended larynx of humans is apparently unique only in that the hyoid bone descends with it, and is not at all like the descended larynx of those few aquatic mammals who have it, but that doesn't stop Morgan. The most ad hoc part of her larynx reasoning can be seen in the fact that it isn't descended for the first 2-5 years of our lives, unlike the larynxes of aquatic mammals which have descended larynxes. Remember that our baby fat is supposed to be an aquatic adaptation. According to AAT/H reasoning, this means that our larynx says our first few years weren't aquatic, but our fat says it was.

Also, fossil evidence shows the larynx wasn't descended until millions of years after the supposed aquatic phase. Maybe it was a delayed reaction. I do that sometimes; someone says "boo" and I jump several million years later.

I struck through the preceding paragraph of text rather than simply replace it because I didn't want to pretend my mistake hadn't been made. At the time I wrote it, I really should've known better, because by that time there was newer and quite different information available. And in fact Morgan should've used that info as well. It turns out the descended larynx isn't at all unique to humans among terrestrial animals -- older research had been done on dead rather than living animals, and newer techniques allowed researchers to discover that various animals, including chimpanzees and various deer species (red deer, wapiti, and fallow deer at least) have descended larynxes, and many other animals have larynxes that descend when vocalizing -- in fact, it seems to be a primitive rather than a derived trait. There's more about this on my Breath-holding, the diving reflex, the larynx, and the AAT/H page.

We enter chapter 12; on page 138 Morgan points out that apes, like other quadrupeds, have little or no motor control over the muscles of the diaphragm which help us when we talk. Those who study this subject tell us this was overcome due to our erect posture and bipedal locomotion; the muscles which otherwise would be constantly in use for locomotion of forelegs were freed up, and this turned out to be a valuable side benefit for vocalization. Perhaps this is why our larynx, also useful in vocalization, didn't descend for some millions of years after we started walking upright.

More strikethrough on the larynx; from the newer research it seems likely -- extremely likely -- that the larynx descending was not a late trait, but probably a primitive trait; from comparisons with chimpanzees, however, it seems the descending of the hyoid bone (which helps in forming sounds for more effective communication) was a later trait, probably as part of the suite of communication helpers that included the improved breathing control that was a side benefit of bipedalism. (Of course Morgan will have none of that, as we saw last chapter.)

On pg. 138 Morgan repeats a mistake she's made before, and which she's been corrected about. The details are on my page "Can AAT/H proponents research be trusted?". When she talks about aquatic diving mammals which are trained to dive on command, she says "the amount of breath it takes before the dive varies according to what the depth of the dive is going to be." However, this study she's referring to doesn't mention breathing at all; it's about bradycardia, the slowing of the heart when diving.

Swimming baby alert on page 144! See my page entitled, appropriately enough, "The 'Swimming Babies' reference" for info on this universal mammalian feature presented by AAT/H proponents as a unique human/aquatic feature. Interesting to note that since this book came out in 1997, she was likely working on it at the very time she indignantly protested that her 1994 book had no mention of the swimming babies info:

"In The Scars of Evolution you will seek in vain for a mention of hair tracts or swimming babies or the direction of the nostrils.
Elaine Morgan, sci.anthropology.paleo on 13 Jul 1995
I guess she was saving it for this book.

Chapter 13 is a grab bag of goodies. On pg. 151 Morgan informs us that hymens are "common among aquatic mammals"; while toothed whales, seals, and sirenia have hymens, Morgan neglects to mention a batch of terrestrial mammals with hymens, including humans and lemurs, guinea pigs, mole rats, hyenas, horses, llamas, elephants, rats, horses, and some species of galago.

On pages 152-153, Morgan muses about the menstrual cycle, wondering why its about the same as the lunar cycle. Well, it's the same as the oestrus cycle of chimps, so why the amazement that we so closely resemble our nearest relatives? It should also be noted that although the lunar cycle is extremely regular:

The occurrence of menstruation is an irregular event in the sense that women do not have a constant cycle length. In no age group do 28-day cycles occur more than 16 per cent of the time, and further, any given woman menstruates at her mean cycle length on only 16 per cent of occasions."

E.W. Wilson, and P.I.C. Rennie, 1976, The Menstrual Cycle, pg. 36

Morgan is attempting to draw a correspondence between lunar tides and menstrual cycles, but to do so she simply ignores the fact that it doesn't really correspond at all. (I'm struck by the irony of being male and having to explain menstruation to a woman. Thank god for books.)

More false facts on pp. 153-154: "Sebum is an oily fluid whose only known function in mammals is waterproofing the hair and skin." Sebum is the product of sebaceous glands, and its primary function in most mammals with sebaceous glands is for scent (think pheromones), although seals have large sebaceous glands which aid in keeping the skin pliable (check out the page on "Skin, sweat, and glands" for info on seal skin and seal sweat -- amaze your friends with arcane facts about seal sweat!). How can you tell if an animal's sebaceous glands are primarily a sexually selected feature used for scent? By now you probably see the pattern -- if it's not sexually selected but due to aquaticness, it's active and functioning when the creatures hit the water; if it's sexually selected, it becomes active and functioning at puberty, and probably differs between the sexes. In seals these glands are plentiful and workable by the first few months, when they start swimming, and they are pretty much the same in males and females. In humans these glands are incredibly scarce until puberty and those few that do exist don't work much at all until puberty; plus they are far more numerous in males, while females have better scent receptors. That screams sexual selection... it's a classic example of that type of feature really.

Morgan suggests, on pg. 157, that in humans the direction of the hair on the chest is good for water flow around the body if you are "performing some approximation of the breaststroke"; that would be an approximation which included keeping the head (and beard remember) completely out of the water and the arms held down along the sides. I'd like to see someone actually do that. I couldn't.

Pages 158-9 offers a pathological condition often -- but not always -- due to exposure to water (ear exostoses) as evidence of an aquatic past. She's done something like this before with an early Homo with signs of vitamin A poisoning (you'll see this is "Relevant Questions for the AAT/H"). The problem is, if we were adapted to an aquatic existence, why wouldn't this damaging susceptibility to an ailment -- which causes ear infections and can rob us of hearing -- have been weeded out through natural selection? The fact that it exists as a problem for us is evidence against an aquatic past not for it. This, by the way, is another classic logical fallacy, called "Irrelevant Conclusion" (also called "Ignoratio Elenchi").

Pg 166 offers the idea that differences in the percentages of haemogloblin and red blood cells in blood of marine mammals and apes and humans constitutes evidence for the AAT/H. Morgan, following the AAT/H proponent she got the info from, mentions the numbers for apes and humans but not for marine mammals. Wonder why? Could it be because those numbers make the aquatic mammals seem just a little too different? For instance, about 60% higher percentage of haemoglobin for seals as opposed to humans. And that's just the tip of the iceberg regarding these blood differences. Marine mammals, for instance, also have about twice the blood volume per kilogram as humans, and ten times as much myoglobin in its muscles, which is a protein which allows these mammals to store oxygen in their muscles for diving. They do this because they exhale when they dive, the opposite of humans. Morgan's AAT/H source, by the way, implies that these other facts (marine mammals vs. humans) aren't known, and that this is why he didn't provide them. Well, they are known, and easily found at that (check out an encyclopedia for instance). Why didn't he provide these facts that damage his case? Why didn't Morgan? Not mentioning available contrary evidence in this way is yet another logical fallacy, the "Fallacy of Exclusion". No one wants to mention contrary evidence, but in science you have to -- if you want to be taken seriously.

Finally (I heard that sigh!) we get to Morgan's last chapter, which is a page-long summary. How could you say anything incorrect in that small space? Well, don't underestimate Morgan, she's a trouper:

About the AAT/H, she says, "The answers it offers are speculative, but no more so than those of any other available model." (pg. 176).

I beg to differ. No matter what you call it -- theory, hypothesis, or model -- when it's built on "false facts" and has so many holes that a first reading can find as many as I have above, it's more than speculative. It's way past speculative and heading toward the realm of pseudoscience. If AAT/H proponents want to stay out of that realm, they need to heed the GIGO maxim, "Garbage in, garbage out". Unfortunately, if they do that, their "evidence" disappears.

Having been privy to the arguments on sci.anthropology.paleo in the mid 1990s, I can see that Morgan was reading and thinking about what was said. Many of the arguments she makes in The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis are reactions to critiques raised there -- even the title itself and giving page numbers for quotes. These points and many others were raised there, especially by Phil Nichols, Alex Duncan, and me (it would've been nice if Morgan had given us a little acknowledgment). However, the point is that Morgan could have taken these critiques to heart, because as that Carl Sagan quote I have on the first page says, "Valid criticism does you a favor". She could've used the information we dug up to try to make a more valid theory, but instead chose to just try to explain away some things, shovel over others, and offer many of the same old discredited arguments and "false facts" in a book which is superficially constructed to seem more scientific. Sadly, rather than create a work of science, she chose to make a facsimile of one.

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