Unlike some, I really think of -- and treat -- the AAT/H as a theory (it is correct that actually it shouldn't be called a "theory", but rather a "hypothesis", but I think that's not a critical issue in a lay discussion). Although Morgan and others have cried out for it to be treated as a legitimate theory, they don't seem to me to really mean it most of the time. They seem instead to simply want it to be accepted, but that's not science, that's belief systems. Legitimate theories get questioned and hammered away at, and frankly it gets a whole lot tougher "out there" than it ever gets "in here".

If the proponent(s) of a theory accept the challenge of scientific critiques and address the questions and objections that are raised, their theory improves. What I've generally seen done by AAT/H supporters is a reaction that usually consists of saying the same thing over again (and "shooting the messenger") without seriously addressing the objections. Do that with any theory and it turns to mush.

Internal inconsistency

The AAT/H is a theory which seeks to replace well founded and well argued theoretical views which have been made for many years. It is also radically different. I think it is reasonable to expect that for such a radically different theory to replace all others it should not be "supported" by the sorts of sloppy and/or dishonest methods I've described here. It has been, in print, in all its incarnations; you have only to check out my examples (and keep in mind that my examples are not an exhaustive list -- far from it).

Besides the many false "facts" it proffers as evidence, the AAT/H arguments are a hotbed of examples of the Logical Fallacies, including ad hominem, ad hoc, Strawman, Irrelevant Conclusion, Fallacy of Exclusion, Fallacies of Ambiguity, Appeal to Pity, and Special Pleading. It claims to use the principle of convergent evolution, but does so in a strange and unscientific way: first, they use it only in cases where they want to (inaccurately) claim similarity of features, not when it is evidence against their theory (as in the case of the actual ubiquitous aquatic features); and their version of convergence ignores the role of phylogeny (relatedness) in evolution (as in expecting humans to use reptilian or avian salt glands for salt excretion instead of kidneys as all mammals do). Since phylogeny is the central idea in evolution, this places their theory not only outside the mainstream, but indeed outside of all evolutionary theorizing for the past half century or more.

Another major problem the AAT/H has arises from its ad hoc reasoning: the theory is internally inconsistent. For instance, the aquatic ape needs to be in salt water to evolve its radically different salt excretion system, but it needs massive amounts of fresh water for this system to be even remotely possible. Babies need to be aquatic to explain their fat, and non-aquatic to explain their larynxes; later, as children, they need to be non-aquatic again to explain their lack of fat and sebaceous glands, and aquatic to explain their larynxes. Women need to be far more aquatic than men to explain their fat and hair differences, but men need to be far more aquatic than women to explain their sebaceous glands. Although these things are contradictory, generally AAT/H proponents use them all at once, or all in the same book or article. This means the theory is not only contradicted by facts, but by its own claims.

Why is the AAT/H so popular?

The AAT/H, I hope you've seen, suffers a number of problems that render it incredibly unlikely to be true. The evidence which is supposed to support it is either chock full of "false facts", or consists of misrepresented or misunderstood science. The style of argument used in putting it together contains so many of the classic logical fallacies the theory as a whole makes a good case study for students of the history of science, whether in anthropology or other fields. So an interesting question remains: why do so many people fall for it?

No doubt a major reason is because people like a good story. The idea of an aquatic phase appeals to a lot of people as a story, and the tale of a theory championed by outsiders showing up hide-bound scientists who conspire to hide the truth is a classic. But for a good story to be good science, it has to use actual as opposed to false facts, it needs to not contradict basic, established physiological principles, and it can't go misrepresenting what scientists say. As for how good a story the AAT/H is, I think real science is a far more fascinating story, and I think it's pretty mean-spirited of AAT/H proponents to take advantage of the public's lack of knowledge about the subject.

Part of the problem is that most people who like the AAT/H know little outside their own personal areas of expertise, so they accept the AAT/H proponents' version of the facts, and a typical AAT/H argument uses, common to other fringe ideas, "snowstorms of details to give the impression of vast knowledge" (John Cole, "Cult Archaeology", Early Man Spring 1980; this method is also seen in creationist arguments, where it's known as the "Gish Gallop" after a famous practitioner who flings out enormous numbers of false "facts" as an opening gambit in debates). If you're confronted with a list of features which are unique to aquatic animals and humans, it seems sensible that this should be explained. If it's then stated, quite accurately, that paleoanthropologists' theories don't explain why these features are unique to aquatic animals and humans, you might agree that an alternative to their theories is in order. The essential problem with this, as this site shows, is that these AAT/H proponents' lists of features are hogwash. This means that there's a really good reason why paleoanthropologists' theories don't explain these similarities -- they can't reasonably be expected to explain that which isn't so. The fact that the phony evidence for the AAT/H is drawn from so many widely varying fields means that few people, even those with scientific expertise in one area, will have much knowledge of them all.

The unpopular role of luck in evolution

Some people may like the AAT/H because they don't see how we would otherwise have been forced to become what we did become; the hypotheses coming from academics don't have this element of being compelled to do so. This is a major thrust of Morgan's arguments, for one. I think this is because many people are uncomfortable with the concept of luck in evolution, but it plays an enormous part. Sometimes luck in evolution is as bald as being in the wrong place at the wrong time (see paleontologist David Raup's 1992 book, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? for an exposition of this problem); a localized population, a big meteor, and poof! no matter how promising you might have been, it's over, you're extinct. Another way this happens is that of the changes that happen now between isolated populations in a species, some will turn out to work way better over time even though all work well enough now. What happens is that different populations of essentially the same animal (we'll just talk animals here) vary. This is always the case. Sometimes these differences become exaggerated, but each variation actually works well enough to last. But some changes allow other changes as well, which in turn allow other changes later, and so it goes. This sort of thing is exactly what we have in our past.

We have as our closest relatives the African apes, and both we and they have changed over time. At one point we were all one species, but various populations took slightly different paths. Of these changes, the most dramatic early change has been in locomotion; we used bipedalism more, and they adopted a particular form of quadrupedalism called knucklewalking. For an extremely long time, some 4-6 million years, both systems worked quite well. Both chimps and gorillas were likely as numerous as hominids (they remained fairly numerous until modern hunting and habitat destruction caught up with them in the past 100 years or so). But our adaptation to bipedalism also coincidentally allowed for other, later advantages, for instance freeing the muscles of the diaphragm from the burden of locomotion, which wasn't of any immediate advantage (so our ape cousins didn't suffer from not having it) but which later allowed other lucky changes to be useful. For instance, in the bipedal branch of the family, due to that earlier coincidental freeing up of the diaphragm, an improved larynx, along with a hyoid bone which descends with it, would allow for enhanced communication, an advantage which would mate up well with our existing primate mapping and problem solving abilities. This would then create a feedback situation, where both improved diaphragm control and larynx would be an advantage to this population of hominids, and these features would also make larger brains more useful. This also adds to this feedback where one physical feature makes improvements in another an advantage, which makes improvements in the first feature an advantage, and so on. Changes like these ended up giving us a huge advantage over our relatives after 4-6 million years, even though the initial changes were just different and not necessarily a huge advantage. But their changes, equally useful at the time, remained perfectly useful for millions of years -- just not so useful in so many places as ours later turned out to be. But being on one track or the other at the start was just a matter of luck.

Parsimony and Occam's Razor

Another reason people seem to like the AAT/H is that it's said to be "simple". This is a common comment I've heard about it, sometimes stated using the science term parsimonious. Occam's Razor is sometimes brought forward to support this "simplicity" as a valid reason for accepting the AAT/H. This is usually stated in the manner of: "Occam's Razor reminds us that the simplest answer is the correct one". But not only is the AAT/H not simple or parsimonious, that isn't even what Occam's Razor says.

Perhaps the primary reason the AAT/H is so often thought to be simple or parsimonious is that, again, people tend to accept the AAT/H proponents' version of the facts. It sounds simple that one aquatic period explains so much, and for students, this is attractive cause there's so much less to study. For a feature like -- to pick just one as an example -- sebaceous glands to be numerous in humans ("like the seals") due to an aquatic period seems simple and direct. One step -- but it's only one step if we accept the false "facts" the AAT/H gives us. The reality is that if it were due to an aquatic period both the glands and the skin would have to have changed radically from the ancestral condition to what we see in aquatic mammals (sebaceous glands present equally in both sexes and functioning at a very early age, and a radically different sort of skin surface) and then change again to what we see in humans (sebaceous glands present predominantly in males and not functioning until puberty) and this second change would have to be so complete as to leave no trace whatsoever of the skin change. That's two massive changes, as opposed to the paleoanthropology view that this is an attenuation of what we see in other primates. This is just one example, mind you; I'd have to repeat much of the info I've already got down on this site's pages to list all such examples.

About the common misconceptions of what Occam's Razor says, let's look at the sci.skeptic FAQ:

Ockham's Razor ("Occam" is a Latinised variant) is the principle proposed by William of Ockham in the fifteenth century that "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate", which translates as "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily". Various other rephrasings have been incorrectly attributed to him. In more modern terms, if you have two theories which both explain the observed facts then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along.
This doesn't mean it's correct or even likely to be correct, just that you probably want to go with it until the evidence favors something else. The problem for the AAT/H is that the evidence has never favored it, even though AAT/H proponents have said it did, and even though some, like Morgan in her latest book, have issued mea culpas which claimed the evidence did favor some points but that more evidence came along and invalidated them. When you look at the evidence, this just isn't true; virtually on every point the actual evidence invalidating the AAT/H argument was available when the AAT/H argument was first made, and in far too many cases, it was available in the very source the AAT/H proponent used to try to support their claim. This is an extremely serious error, if error it is, and calls into question the trustability of the authors. In science, it's okay to be wrong, but really bad to not be trustable. When I look at the litany of "false facts" the AAT/H has left scattered in its wake, the feeling I have is that the authors of the theory can't be trusted in their research. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that's going to be the longest lasting legacy of the AAT/H: a trail of "false facts" that, as Darwin noted, last very long indeed.


Scientific theorizing is typically done in exacting language -- almost too matter of fact at times -- which is intended to make what the theory says extremely clear. In contrast, AAT/H proponents commonly seem to have difficulties with fully laying out just what their theory says, except for intimating that somehow, in some unspecified manner, some vaguely specified degree of contact with water produces changes in fat, hairiness, sweat glands, etc. That it hasn't done so in things like bipedalism and sweating (etc.) for actual aquatic mammals is left unexamined. That the only aquatic mammals that fit most of their other criteria are whales, sirenia, and seals (except that seals aren't hairless, including tropical seals) is also left unexamined, and anyone who points this out is accused of misrepresenting what AAT/H proponents claim -- yet they are the ones who claim humans have these features shared only by those fully aquatic mammals. They don't seem to realize the implications of what they are actually claiming -- either that or they are deliberately obscuring what they are claiming. As I've said many times, I'm not a mind reader, so I can't tell whether they are honest and incredibly poor researchers or deliberately misleading others -- maybe they don't know themselves anymore.

Theory leading the data

Finally, this quote from a newsgroup describes an essential problem with the AAT/H:
If you put discovery of the mechanism of evolution first, it means that you have to wait on a convincing trail of artifacts, skeletal material and/or, lately, genetic material, first. If you put the theorization first then you simply have to rearrange the existing material, edit out what is inconsistent, twist and turn the facts, and Walla you have a 'why' theory that no-one can absolutely disprove. Of course you also have a theory that is also beyond actual proof.

One common feature how the theorist actually behave, in an instance whereby they make a claim, it is often based on the lack of evidence they use as evidence for their theory. When the evidence for something arises, then they twist the theory such that lack-of-evidence that previously supported their theory becomes the presence of evidence that supports their theory. Negative of positive, the evidence always supports the leading theory. Why else do you create a theory before you have sufficient evidence, so that you can lead the data as it comes out, at least until so much data comes that the theory looses all support. Very seldomly does the theorist actually back out of supporting his theory because new data fails to support it.

An excellent example of this are the C13/C12 levels in africanus, as it became increasingly clear that africanus was a grassland derived carbon consumer, the AAT theorist tried to manuever their theory such that it had to be an aquatic grassland that was providing the C13/C12 levels, and the focus then became, see C13/C12 levels support aquatic theory because sedges are also aquatic and thus Africanus must have consumed sedges (not might have, may have or could have, but must have).

Philip Deitiker, 22 Sep 2004 sci.anthropology.paleo

In the hands of AAT/H proponents it typically ends up with this formulation:

a) if A is true, then the AAT/H is true, but
b) if A is untrue, then the AAT/H is still true.

An example (one of many which could be made; Deitiker gives another in his quote) is behavior toward water among apes.

This in fact was also the essential core of the response to the info I posted some 8-10 years ago about chimps' responses to water and their commonly supposed hydrophobia. Their supposed hydrophobia was taken as evidence for the AAT/H, but when I pointed out papers describing that this supposed hydrophobia was just not so (they vary a lot in their responses to water, just as they vary in many other habits and likes/dislikes) that also was taken as support for the AAT/H. This was amplified when AAT/H proponents began dealing with information about bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas wading, information that had been known in anthropological circles for some time but which the AAT/H's proponents didn't find until later (the gorilla info not, apparently, until National Geographic did some articles on it).

And more recently this method, or tactic, was seen more recently on the subject of swimming by chimpanzees. It's pretty well known that chimpanzees don't like to swim and don't seem to be good at it; many times when a chimpanzee gets into a situation where swimming is necessary they simply drown. This has given rise to a "well known fact": chimps are physically incapable of swimming. You can find this "fact" stated baldly pretty frequently, although if you look online you'll see that the more thoughtful will state something different, far more nuanced, like Jane Goodall who says:

In general chimpanzees do not like to swim. Chimpanzees have stocky bodies that prevent them from being strong swimmers. Many chimpanzees, however, enjoy splashing around and playing in water.
or the San Diego Zoo:
Chimpanzees donít like to be in water and usually canít swim.
or even the online The Big Zoo:
Chimpanzees avoid large bodies of water and are usually only able to swim if extremely excited.
And in fact, at the very least, we find one chimpanzee swimming -- David Attenborough mentions him in a 2002 book, "Life of Mammals" (in what you'll see later is irony, I first learned about this through a newsgroup post by AAT/H proponent Algis Kuliukas, although several years after he'd written it). I've seen it stated that others have seen common chimpanzees swim (very rarely) but I don't have a single reference for this, so you can't take that definitively... but here's the thing: even if that one chimpanzee that Attenborough mentions is the one chimp in all of chimpdom for all time who ever swam, it still proves that chimpanzees are capable of swimming. (By the way, you may also find statements about various other animals not being able to swim. I've seen this claim made of rabbits, giraffes, kangaroos, sloths, bats, and camels, and almost all these claims are false (giraffes, as far as I have been able to find out, cannot swim due to their physical build; as you might imagine, in relatively calm water they wade very well at considerable depths). If I was forced to wager on how many mammals are physically incapable of swimming, I'd bet none except for giraffes and, oddly enough, adult hippos. (Adult hippos are the only semiaquatic mammal which cannot swim. The apparent reason is that they are very dense.)

Now this may seem like splitting hairs, but when you want to figure out why something is the way it is, you have to first be accurate about the way it is -- otherwise you will wind up with nonsense. This is the "garbage in, garbage out" axiom common in computer programming (and is also seen, for instance, when people ask why humans lack body hair when we don't -- you need to ask about the actual condition or characteristic, described accurately, even painstakingly accurately or your answer will be wrong). In the case at hand people have worked to answer the question "why can't chimpanzees swim?" when they really want to be answering "why don't chimpanzees swim?" and this means they come up with a wrong answer -- there's no way they couldn't come up with the wrong answer. The usual answer is that chimpanzees are too lean, and therefore dense, to be able to swim. Now, even without the evidence of the chimpanzee swimming, this could be seen to be false, with just a little thought and study. First, one might realize that jockeys, noted for having extremely low -- often unhealthily low -- levels of fat, can swim, and often do as recreation or as part of their training. But it's not just jockeys; one of the 1990s best swimmers is noted for having a very low level of body fat -- 3% -- which puts him right in the chimpanzee range. His name is Tom Dolan and he's a remarkable athlete, not just because of his body fat, but because he was a 5-time U.S. national champion, world record-holder swimmer -- an Olympic gold medalist in 1996 (with his picture on a Wheaties box to prove it :) -- in spite of having asthma and tracheal stenosis, which is a narrow windpipe (20% narrower than usual). He shows that the dense/body fat explanation doesn't make sense. And then along comes a chimpanzee to nail down the proof.

But all this, while interesting, is just trivia as far as this site is concerned; what makes it apropos is how this information has been used by AAT/H proponents. Not the Tom Dolan info; they never looked up that apropos information even while saying that body fat explains chimp non-swimming. What I mean is the "chimps cannot swim" idea.

Previously I mentioned Algis Kuliukas, who has become one of the AAT/H's chief proponents. In September of 2001 he emailed me after seeing my site (he didn't like it) and in this email he said flatly that chimpanzees can't swim and that it wasn't a matter of preference or behavior but rather a physical impossibility. He considered this powerful evidence for the AAT/H. Then in November of 2002 he read Attenborough's book and learned that chimpanzees could swim, which he said changed his perspective. "The distinction in swimming between humans and apes would certainly not be as distinct as I had thought..." he went on, and since chimps being unable to swim was so important a piece of evidence for the AAT/H (his "mild" wading version), one might reasonably expect that he'd feel the opposite evidence would be evidence against it, right?

Wrong. He continued that sentence with "... although I feel this data only adds still further to the plausibility of wading as a model for bipedal origins."

a) if A is true, then the AAT/H is true, but
b) if A is untrue, then the AAT/H is still true.

Or as Philip Deitiker said, "When the evidence for something arises, then they twist the theory such that lack-of-evidence that previously supported their theory becomes the presence of evidence that supports their theory."

On this particular bit of data, there's an extra interesting AAT/H method involved, and harks back to my "What is the AAT/H?" page and this section: "When honest scientists have facts pointed out to them which prove their line of evidence is wrong, they drop that line of evidence. AAT/H proponents rarely do, and even when they do, others -- both active proponents and casual aficionados of the idea -- often continue to use it."

Here we see Kuliukas using a fact he thought was true in 2001 (and using the "true" position as support), and learning it was not true in 2002 (but using the "not true" position as support anyway); but after that he begins again claiming they can't (not "don't", "don't like to", "do so extremely rarely", but "can't"):

"Put it this way, really what's the explanation that chimps can't swim?"
Kuliukas sci.anthropology.paleo Jan 1 2004
"Moore et al think humans evolved without any significant influence of water even though we can swim but chimps can't."
Kuliukas sci.anthropology.paleo Apr 23 2004
And he continued to do so for many months until I pointed out his hypocrisy, after which he started waffling something fierce, first making up duration times and distances for the Attenborough chimpanzee swim and insisting that since chimps (rather obviously) do not swim as well as or anywhere near as frequently as humans, "chimps cannot swim", then turning the account into a "hypothetical chimp". He could have said any number of accurate things: they don't swim well, they don't swim often, or even they don't seem to swim except extremely rarely and under unusual circumstances. Instead he simply refused to do the more nuanced sort of position we see in the Goodall and San Diego Zoo statements I mentioned above, insisting on a binary can/can't construction that was contrary to facts he knew, to the point where he finally ending up insisting (despite the record of what he'd written):
"I never claimed it was impossible for chimps to swim but they're clearly not as good at it as humans."
Kuliukas, sci.anthropology.paleo May 26 2005

The point here is not the personalities involved but rather the AAT/H method this example shows, because it's common:

  1. a) if A is true, then the AAT/H is true, but
    b) if A is untrue, then the AAT/H is still true.
  2. Claim something based on lack of evidence ("A is true") then, if "evidence for something arises", showing that "A is untrue", "then they twist the theory such that lack-of-evidence that previously supported their theory becomes the presence of evidence that supports their theory."
  3. Afterward continue to use the lack of evidence as support even though they know the evidence exists until...

    Someone points out the hypocrisy involved, at which point the AAT/H proponent either waffles, trying to continue to use the "A is true" position even though they know it's not true, claiming they'd never said what they can be shown to have said, or possibly, as we saw in Verhaegen's approach to my pointing out he was wrong about Steller's sea lion pelage, acknowledge the correct info and then afterward simply confine the incorrect statement to audiences likely to be more friendly and less questioning. Or -- again from Verhaegen -- simply declare (inaccurately, of course) that any evidence you like is evidence, while evidence you don't like is dismissively waved away as "non-evidence", as he did with "auditory exostoses": "The presence of AEs proves diving habits, their absence does not."

That's not the way to do science.

This desire to have it both ways, or all ways, so that any evidence is evidence for the AAT/H and contrary evidence is wished away, is one of the most damaging things that AAT/H proponents do to their attempts to make a reasonable theory. (That, and shooting the messengers who help them out by pointing out their many errors. :)

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