Marc Verhaegen

Beginning in the early 1980s a medical doctor (general practitioner) from Belgium, Marc Verhaegen, penned a number of articles on his version of the AAT/H. In his version, rather than a limited time as an aquatic or semi-aquatic animal, virtually all of hominid evolution is "aquatic" -- albeit without any meaningful explanation of what he means by "aquatic". This is that problem with "ZING!ability" I mentioned on my "What is the AAT/H?" page -- in Verhaegen's hands their "aquaticness" varies from feature to feature and critic to critic, in an ad hoc zig-zagging that makes criticism difficult -- when you point to one degree of water use, the creatures ZING! over to another degree of water use, ultimately being wherever he wants them to be at any given time to counter valid criticisms, no matter what inconsistencies this creates. You find this is virtually all AAT/H accounts after Hardy; the degree of "aquaticness" is, shall we say, awfully fluid.

Verhaegen also entertains various other idiosyncrasies, such as positing Neanderthal noses as snorkels (due to sea otter-like diving habits, according to him). The more basic problems with Verhaegen's work are the by now classic AAT/H environmental determinism, the also classic AAT/H special pleading regarding convergent evolution, the classic AAT/H strawman version of mainstream paleoanthropological theories (restricting them, inaccurately, to savannas, and not just any savannas, but the super-restricted AAT/H strawman version of savanna), and the -- yes, classic -- numerous false "facts".

Since I find that one relatively recent AAT/H proponent tactic is to claim that the only problems with any proponent's ideas or claims are those I've written down here, let me stress that the following are by no means the only false "facts" that Marc Verhaegen uses or has used -- in fact he uses so many that it's difficult, time consuming, and even distressing, to go after them all. So I'm offering a few as examples, and using these examples to point out how unreliable, at best, his scholarship is. And the sources I give for his statements are not the only places he's said these things; he tends to repeat himself, and cite himself, quite a lot. And I've also found a few quotes, from referees of a paper that Verhaegen co-wrote, to show that I'm hardly alone in recognizing this problem of his.

With that in mind, here are only a few of the false "facts" Verhaegen has used or introduced into the discussion:

He calls this one of the "features that clearly contradict the savanna theory and/or favour the (semi)aquatic theory":
"a body core temperature lower than 38°C"
pg. 165, Verhaegen, "Aquatic Versus Savanna: Comparative and Paleo-Environmental Evidence", Nutrition and Health, 1993, Vol. 9, pp. 165-191
"In other words, humans have a normal temperature resembling that of sea mammals, lower than most terrestrial ones, and markedly lower than that of any active savannah species."
1991 "Human regulation of body temperature and water balance", in The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? Edited by Machteld Roede, Jan Wind, John M. Patrick and Vernon Reynolds. Souvenir Press: London.
And he repeats this in the sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup on Feb 7 2003: "humans have a normal temperature resembling that of sea mammals, lower than most terrestrial ones, and markedly lower than that of any active savannah species"

First note, on this argument as well as the next, Verhaegen demonstrates a common tactic in AAT/H accounts (in addition to basing them on false "facts"), one which he has embraced with gusto, not only using it over and over in his work but taking it to extremes perhaps unmatched by any other AAT/H proponent. First, he ignores the fact that hominids did actually learn to live even on the open arid savannas that AAT/H proponents typically use as their strawman, doing just fine with those characteristics he claims can't be found in savanna animals. He also imagines that in doing so we should have become like very distantly related animals (antelope, hunting dogs, etc.) instead of our primate relatives. In doing so, he ignores the central element of evolutionary theory -- phylogeny, the relatedness of one living thing to another. Doing this is a bizarre element begun by Elaine Morgan and which has since become common to much of the AAT/H as put forth by virtually all its proponents. And finally, he ignores primates, especially those primates which live in the type of open arid savanna he uses as a strawman -- no doubt he does so because the characteristics he's claiming can't be found in savanna animals are found in those open savanna primates.

Our body temperatures are in fact very much like our primate relatives, including those which live in savannas. There's a lot of information on this on the "Body Temperature and the AAT/H" page. It is certainly not like distantly related savanna animals such as the ungulates Verhaegen thinks we should resemble, and this is to be expected -- why AAT/H proponents are continually surprised that we resemble other primates far more than antelope and other distantly related animals has always amazed and perplexed me.

He also calls this one of the "features that clearly contradict the savanna theory and/or favour the (semi)aquatic theory":
"daily temperature fluctuations of less than 1°C"
pg. 166, Verhaegen, "Aquatic Versus Savanna: Comparative and Paleo-Environmental Evidence", Nutrition and Health, 1993, Vol. 9, pp. 165-191

Human body temperature actually typically varies 2-3 degrees during the day even without strenuous exercise; exercise makes it vary even more. As with the ear exostoses mentioned later, the obvious question here is how can a medical doctor be ignorant of the medical literature on such a well-known and basic characteristic about which accurate information is so readily available?

The antelopes that Verhaegen, in the article cited, thinks we should resemble have specialized adaptations to allow their body temperatures to rise quite high (compared to primates) while keeping their brains cool enough to survive. It should not be surprising that relatively unrelated animals in similar environments use different methods to accomplish the same goal (in this case staying cool enough to live) since this is extremely common. You do not simply go down to the "Adaptation Store" and pick out a feature you think sounds nifty -- evolution simply does not work that way and this has been known for, literally, centuries. Well, not known to Verhaegen, it seems, but known certainly to any reasonably thoughtful person. :)

He also calls this one of the "features that clearly contradict the savanna theory and/or favour the (semi)aquatic theory":
"ventro-ventral copulation"
pg. 166, Verhaegen, "Aquatic Versus Savanna: Comparative and Paleo-Environmental Evidence", Nutrition and Health, 1993, Vol. 9, pp. 165-191

Verhaegen here expects us to give up a trait we find in various non-human primates (seen in orangutans, black-handed spider monkeys, and occasionally in woolly spider monkeys and gorillas) because of a change in environment -- certainly this must be one of the most extreme examples of the AAT/H's environmental determinism. Again, it's amazing and perplexing that AAT/H proponents are continually baffled by our resemblance to our closest relatives.

He has claimed that seawater is potable to humans:
"Never heard of the Bombard experiments? French Navy IIRC. When one gradually shifts to drinking small frequent bits of seawater + eating fish, it's possible to survive for months."
Verhaegen, May 8, 2004 sci.anthropology.paleo

This is incredibly stupid, and dangerous -- it's completely false and if followed, would result in extreme ill-health and, if continued, death. How a medical doctor could believe such nonsense is incredible to me. The experiments of Dr. Alain Bombard, and the subsequent followup experiments by the French Navy, did not show what Verhaegen claims they did.

Dr. Bombard did an experiment where he drifted in a raft across the Atlantic, supposedly without any rations being used other than things he got from the sea. I say supposedly because he did carry fresh water and provisions which he was not supposed to use, and it may be that he didn't, but Dr. Hannes Lindemann, who later did several similar experiments with more data reported, also reported that Bombard was reprovisioned at sea at least twice, with photos of one of these times being printed in a Dutch newspaper. Regardless, Bombard did definitely do something that was difficult at best and came through alive and in relatively good health, although anemic and having lost 55 pounds in 65 days, and he did (and does) advocate the drinking of small amounts of seawater as an emergency measure. His voyage seems to very often be inaccurately reported (although generally not so inaccurately as Verhaegen did). His idea was to start off drinking seawater and getting fresh water temporarily (until he could collect rain) from crushing chucks of fish (which he would catch) in a press, and using a fine net to get plankton for Vitamin C, the major dietary necessity he couldn't get from fish. This is problematic, however, as Lindemann found that one couldn't get fresh water from fish in such a manner, not surprising since their bodily fluids are saline. Nevertheless, Bombard claimed he managed to do so and survived in this way for some days, although I don't find it clear just how many, not having his book before me. What I find mentioned online is that he drank seawater (in addition to his fish juice, apparently) for no more than 3 to 6 days at a time, but that rain didn't come for 23 days. This would suggest that he used other water before he got the rainwater. At any rate, after the rains started, his problem was not lack of fresh water, in fact, he joked that he might drown in it if the rain kept up, and after several such rains he had more than enough rainwater for his voyage.

The French Navy experiments suggested that small amounts of salt water could be drunk starting right away when the body was well hydrated, and that if you then drank fresh water after several days your body could then flush out excess salt. It must be stressed that they, and Dr. Bombard, considered this an emergency measure only, as they recognized that it's not a healthy thing to do -- their suggestion was simply that it could be used to stave off death at some cost to short-term health. They also recognized that seawater can only be used safely if used in small amounts and with fresh water being available soon to help dilute it and flush out the excess salt from the body. The dangers of salt buildup are loss of mental functions, general lethargy, and the danger of complete renal shutdown (which keeps the kidneys from getting rid of many of the body's toxins and results in a fairly rapid deterioration and death). It should be noted that Dr. Lindemann considered the drinking of seawater to be an extremely bad idea, and that no one (no one in their right mind) would suggest that seawater could be used as a water source (without desalination) for humans for more than an extremely brief period -- a few days at most -- Verhaegen's suggestion that it could be done for months is absurd.

Claims that supernumerary kidneys (extra kidneys) are common in humans:
"Humans have 10-12 papillae in every kidney, and frequently an extra (third or fourth) kidney."
pg. 169, Verhaegen, "Aquatic Versus Savanna: Comparative and Paleo-Environmental Evidence", Nutrition and Health, 1993, Vol. 9, pp. 165-191

Supernumerary kidneys are actually a rare occurrence, something well known and something one might reasonably expect a medical doctor to know even if he hadn't done any research on it (which of course he should have done before making the statement):

"Supernumerary kidneys
This is usually seen as a double kidney on one side and occurs in less than 1% of births." Klinik und Poliklinik für Urologie, Inselspital, Bern, Switzerland

"They are relatively rare..." The Encyclopaedia of Medical Imaging Volume IV 2

"Supernumerary kidneys
Third kidney is very rare and not to be confused with relatively-common, unilateral duplication of the renal pelvis."

On exostoses in Neanderthals and Homo erectus skulls:
"The auditory canals of their skulls often show exostoses of a kind that is only seen in humans that swim almost daily in water colder than 18-20°" pg. 171, Verhaegen, "Aquatic Versus Savanna: Comparative and Paleo-Environmental Evidence", Nutrition and Health, 1993, Vol. 9, pp. 165-191
"Ear exostoses, Anne, are only found in populations that dive (usu. for shellfsh)."
Jan 11, 1999 sci.anthropology.paleo
"We have the ear exostoses (only seen in long-term cold water divers)..."
May 11 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo
"Auditory exostoses, bony swellings of the ear canal, a condition well-known to otolaryngologists, occur exclusively as a direct result of long-term exposure to relatively cold water..."
Jan 10 1999 sci.anthropology.paleo
"The auditory exostoses in Ns prove that those people frequently dived in water colder than 19°C."
Apr 30 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo

These are bony growths in the ear canal, seen in a small number of Neanderthal (apparently 2) and Homo erectus fossils (apparently 1), that Verhaegen says only occur after a great deal of time (he usually says years) either swimming or diving. He calls them "undeniable indications of frequent diving" (sometimes he says swimming) and says that they must have been wading and diving because "Their ear exostoses leave no other choice..." (ellipses in original -- links to these posts are in the references). But ear canal exostoses actually can be due to almost any irritation, most commonly either cold air or cold water. They are not due only to cold water, as he repeatedly claims, and this is widely known and readily available in medical texts (and Verhaegen is a medical doctor). Even online medical sources mention this:

"Exostoses occur when the external canal is repeatedly exposed to cold air or water." "Geriatric hearing loss: Understanding the causes and providing appropriate treatment" by Michelle C. Marcincuk, MD and Peter S. Roland, MD

"Exostoses are bone growths that often develop when the ear canal is repeatedly exposed to cold water or cold air." Yale New Haven Health Library

"The exciting cause of ear exostoses, where the predisposition to these exists, may be anything mechanical or chemical that produces prolonged irritation, with consequent hyperaemia to inflammation of any part of the bony meatus." Ales Hrdlicka quoted in Dry Bones, Chapter 4."

The obvious question here is how can a medical doctor be ignorant of the medical literature on such a well-known ailment about which accurate information is so readily available?

But certainly ear exostoses are associated with -- though not exclusive to -- swimming and diving, and do in fact help show whether a population is regularly engaged in these activities... but this, rather than being a boon for Verhaegen's claims actually helps negate them. If Neanderthals were, as he claims, swimming and diving regularly, you'd expect to see far more specimens with ear exostoses. But we don't -- we see two. This, frankly, sounds a lot like the normal percentages you see in regular, average populations (which range from about 3-10% -- and in some inland groups as high as 20% -- while coastal populations show around 30%). And in modern humans who actually do a lot of swimming and/or diving, the percentage is even higher, in the 40% or more ranges.

So it seems that:
a) Verhaegen is wrong that ear exostoses could only have come about through swimming and diving, and
b) The small number of such exostoses in hominid fossils is evidence against their being in any degree aquatic rather than being evidence for it.

Verhaegen "solves" this problem in classic (and all too typical) AAT/H proponent fashion:

"The presence of AEs proves diving habits, their absence does not."
Verhaegen, May 4 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo
i.e., if the evidence is for you, embrace it; if the evidence turns against you, wave it away -- better yet, do both at once!.

On "semi-aquatic" or "predominately aquatic" rhinos, "semi-aquatic" mountain beavers:
(for instance mountain beavers in Marc Verhaegen and Pierre-François Puech, 2000, "Hominid lifestyle and diet reconsidered: paleo-environmental and comparative data", Human Evolution 15: 151-162; rhinos ("3 of the 5 species of rhino are as aquatic as hippos are") online on 1999/05/29, in print (rhinos claimed to be "predominately aquatic") in Marc Verhaegen, 1985, in "The aquatic ape theory: evidence and a possible scenario", Medical Hypotheses 16:17-32)

As is common for AAT/H proponents, Verhaegen seems to think any animal which sometimes or seasonally wades is correctly classed as semi-aquatic (or even "predominately aquatic" as he's said for rhinos). Mountain beavers (a very interesting little mammal of western North America; they're very shy and have very primitive kidneys for a mammal) are not even semi-aquatic; Verhaegen is either confused by the name or thinks that liking -- in some mountain beavers -- damp burrows makes one "semi-aquatic". This is not so in any reasonable sense of the term -- and if he was confused by the name it shows he did astonishingly little research on the animals.

The "aquatic rhinos" claim I've dealt with on the "Rhinos, Pigs, and selective evidence" page.

"hairless" male steller's sea lions, walrus
(for instance Feb 22 1999 ("Male Steller sealions have neck hairs, but are otherwise furless."), Dec 14 2002, Dec 27 2002 in sci.anthropology.paleo)

Verhaegen has been making this claim regularly for years, yet the real facts are not only well known but easily available, for instance in general encyclopedias. And since the advent of the web search it has taken only minutes at most to find these facts, yet Verhaegen still didn't know this one until I pointed it out to him in 2005 (in response to his post which began "I think not, you fool" to my post which accurately said "I think Marc has incorrectly claimed that Steller's sea lions are hairless except for the male's mane.") This speaks of either incredibly poor research or deliberate dishonesty -- which one it is in Verhaegen's case I don't know for sure -- although the latter seems more likely since, although he hasn't yet repeated this false claim in a newsgroup he did repeat it the following month in his own Yahoo group ("...but mammals that spend some time outside the water in cold regions retain fur, except the very large adult male Steller sealions, walruses and elephant seals." Nov 15, 2004). And I know he saw my post because he not only replied to it, but, quite uncharacteristically, admitted he was wrong and thanked me for pointing it out, so his repeating the claim later can't be excused by ignorance.

Actual facts:
Walrus, from "Females and younger males have a relatively thick brown fur. Older males have a thinner coat of hair that allows you to see their skin..."

Steller's sea lion, from North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium (four participating institutions: the University of Alaska, the University of British Columbia , the University of Washington, and Oregon State University).

"Coat: Male Steller sea lions have a thick mane. To protect themselves from the cold temperatures and from jagged rocks, Steller sea lions have thick coarse fur when dry, and smooth, slick fur that lies flat against the skin when wet. Stellers molt for about 4 weeks in the late summer, or early fall.")

From 2003 COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) Assessment and Update Status Report on the Steller Sea Lion Eumetopias jubatus in Canada
"Pelage of both sexes is comprised of short coarse hairs." pg. 11

From a study on moulting patterns which describes how the pattern of the moult over the body of bull Steller sea lions is similar to that in females. Note that at no time is the body of bulls or females not covered with hairs, either the old hairs or the new ones pushing the old ones out during the moult.

1999 The Timing of Moulting in Wild and Captive Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) by Raychelle G. Daniel
"Steller sea lions do not undergo a catastrophic moult, with a sloughing of the entire epidermal layer, similar to elephant seals. Instead, each new hair replaces and pushes out the old hair from the shared follicle." pg. 10
"Bulls appeared to moult in a similar fashion to later moulting adult females" pg. 31

"most-sweating" sea lions:
"nonsense... Don't you know, bk, that the most sweating mammals known are furseals on land" Verhaegen, Dec 25 2003 sci.anthropology.paleo
"The most-themoregulatorily-sweating mammals besides humans are sea-lions at the shore..." Verhaegen, Jan 17 2004

Verhaegen has often claimed that the animal, after humans, which uses sweat cooling the most is the sea lion (sometimes he says the fur seal, but when he does this he is apparently confusing this bogus claim of his with the "eccrine sweating seal" bogus claim of his that I describe next):

I go through the process of explaining how wrong this is on my "Skin, sweat, and glands" page. Perhaps the most damning aspect of this claim of Verhaegen's is that the contrary info, the info that shows it to be wrong, is in the very references he uses to attempt to support his claim. This indicates that either he didn't read the references he used, or that he did and deliberately reported it incorrectly.

On eccrine seal sweating:
For instance "fur seals are the only non-human mammals which sweat thermoactively through abundant eccrine glands" in 1991 "Human regulation of body temperature and water balance", in The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? Edited by Machteld Roede, Jan Wind, John M. Patrick and Vernon Reynolds. Souvenir Press: London.
(and Dec 28 2002 ("Thermoactive eccrine sweating is abundant in sealions & humans on land. I have no examples of this in other mammals."),
Dec 30 2002 ("Abundant eccrine thermoactive sweating is only seen in humans & sealions on land.") in sci.anthropology.paleo)

He apparently got the bogus "eccrine seal sweating" claim from Morgan (same statement, same reference) and this is something that is easily shown to be untrue, and which I pointed out wasn't true back in November of 1995. (He also sometimes seems to get this confused with his "most sweating" bogus claim and claims that this claim refers to "sea lions" but then further confuses things by parenthetically explaining that by "sea lion" he's referring to the "Pribilof fur seal".) I go through the process of explaining the reality (or rather the lack of it) behind this claim on my "Skin, sweat, and glands" page. This false claim is not only damning in itself, it's also an example of "incestuous citing", which I describe further below.

One of the odder claims Verhaegen has made is the "snorkel" idea; it has two parts. First he claims that proboscis monkeys use their noses as a snorkel when swimming, which is simply untrue.

"All elephants & proboscis monkeys use the nose as a snorkel to cross rivers or to swim." Verhaegen, May 4 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo

Look, this simply isn't true -- proboscis monkeys hold their heads up out of water far enough so their nose clears the surface, just like other moneys do, and in fact just as most other mammals do, including humans when they do the dog paddle, which is the swimming stroke that primates -- and most all mammals use other than specialized swimmers -- use. He's also claimed that baby proboscis monkeys float on their backs when swimming with their mothers, when they actually cling -- usually to the mother's back, but sometimes to the mother's front, underwater, during short swims.

Then he claims that Neanderthals looked the way they did because they had sea otter-like habits, floating on their backs cracking clams, while their noses acted like snorkels (he also claimed, at least for some years, that Neanderthals' nostrils were on the tops of the noses instead of the bottom). So ridiculous is this notion that even Verhaegen seemed to feel embarrassed by it when it came up online:

"*I* didn't come up with "snorkels" here. Some antiAATer did. No doubt, to ridicule AAT instead of discussing it."
Verhaegen, Dec 5 2001 sci.anthropology.paleo

And indeed one did (Phillip Bigelow on April 1st of 1998) but he did so by accurately quoting none other than Marc Verhaegen's claim, in a 1991 Medical Hypotheses article, that "In a Neanderthal swimming on his back, the large nose with distal nostrils and the protruding midface surrounded by large sinuses functioned as a snorkel." It seems hypocritical of Verhaegen to decry someone bringing up one of his own statements because the statement might "ridicule AAT".

"Besides, O.Hauser, who discovered the Moustier Neandertal, said the Neand.nostrils were on the top of the nose rather than underneath it."
Verhaegen, Sept 18 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo
And he claimed on several occasions that Hauser (who was famous for being an unreliable amateur fossil finder who, among other archaeological sins, reburied and unearthed the Moustier specimen several times so he could "discover" it for important visitors) saw the soft tissues of the nose of this fossil:
(as Otto Hauser described after the discovery in 1908 of the Moustier fossil: soft tissues can often still be discerned after unearthing, in the seconds or minutes before the soft tissues fall apart).
Verhaegen, Apr 3 and 28 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo

This is nonsense. And his source was a popular book written decades after the fact, not anything by Hauser (which is available, after all). So not using a primary source, using a pop book as a reference for a scholarly article -- these are horribly bad policy for supposedly scholarly work -- but even worse, it's not even what Verhaegen's reference source really said. What Hauser supposedly saw (and since he was a notoriously unreliable excavator and self-promoter we can't be sure he's even saying that honestly) was an imprint in flint flakes that were under the skull. We have only Hauser's word for this, and it seems unwise to trust him given his history -- even more unwise to trust his claim secondhand. So why did Verhaegen do so? He was asked that online, and he replied "I once read it somewhere, and I believe everything what I read...".

Don't do that.

Verhaegen has gradually changed his view from a snorkel-nosed sea otter-like swimming Neanderthal with nostrils on the tops of their noses to just a snorkel-nosed sea otter-like swimming Neanderthal with nostrils on the ends of their noses. I guess that's an improvement (but I'd suggest you not follow his lead).

"If you had read me carefully, you should have known that IMO an external nose arises only (& not necessarily) when a mammal starts becoming aquatic..."
Verhaegen, Jun 26 1998 sci.anthropology.paleo
Besides several species of bat (the long-nosed and the leaf-nosed, for example) there's the saiga antelope:
"The most striking feature of a saiga is its large head with a huge mobile nose that hangs over its mouth." (Animal Diversity Web)
And where do they live?
"Saiga tatarica inhabit dry steppes and semi deserts." (Animal Diversity Web)

Again, just making things up is not the route to good science.

"Incestuous citing" is a method whereby a "fact" that has no backing can be made to seem to have backing by citing a source within a circle of like-minded researchers -- not a source with accurate information, but one who has inaccurate information, sometimes bogus interpretations, sometimes speculation, sometimes simply made up "facts". Incestuous citing can even be done by citing yourself. This is one of the ways that "false facts" can "endure long", as Darwin said, and can be done either as a deliberate deception or completely unintended, as is done many times in urban legends. For instance, the urban legend about "drinking 8 glasses of water a day" was simply repeated, apparently honestly, for years (at least) before a researcher looked into it and found no basis for it -- the fact that so many people said it made it easy to find some source one could cite saying it, but at the root of all those people saying it there was, it turned out, nothing to support the claim.

Possibly the most common sources in AAT/H circles of incestuous cites is Elaine Morgan, because she has written so much, and so many "false facts", on a variety of subjects dealing with the AAT/H. Besides the bogus seal sweat cite I mentioned just above, one common cite, used by Verhaegen as well as others, is Morgan's claim that the proboscis monkey is either commonly, predominantly, or often bipedal on land. There is no evidence for this -- in fact it's contrary to primatologist' observations, but it refuses to die (exactly as Darwin suggested "false facts" would endure) because one can always cite Morgan as saying it, even though she just made it up after seeing a short segment of a nature film. False "facts" like this are common in some politically motivated debates over science and are often called "zombies" now because they refuse to die (examples abound in issues like DDT use and various anti-global warming claims).

On the subject of diving there's an example brought up by referee 11 below (see referees' remarks).

These are nowhere near the only such incestuous cites within AAT/H circles; in fact such cites seem to be becoming more and more common as the group of AAT/H proponents grows. Let me stress, as I did above, that these few examples are not the only examples available, despite that recent tactic by AAT/H proponents suggesting that the only problems with any proponent's ideas or claims are those I've written down here. I'm simply offering a few examples out of many such possible examples.

Referees remarks to one of Verhaegen's papers

The following remarks are by referees for a paper that Marc Verhaegen co-wrote, which were in an online version of the paper that he offered for download. That version (with the remarks) is no longer online, as far as I've seen, and instead he has a differently titled version of what is essentially the same paper available (the original version without the remarks is still available online). The original was apparently in the poster session of a conference, the "3rd Conference on The Evolution of Language April 3rd - 6th , 2000" as "The Origin of Phonetic Abilities: A Study of the Comparative Data With Reference to the Aquatic Theory" (and the written version with the remarks was apparently intended for the published proceedings of that conference) and the new, barely changed version was published as "Possible Preadaptations to Speech. A Preliminary Comparative Approach" by Marc Verhaegen and Stephen Munro in Human Evolution 19: 53–70, 2004.

The changes were minor, such as changing "goldfish" to "small fish" in the following:
OLD: "Humans do not have to chew raw oysters in order to eat them, and can swallow goldfish whole."
NEW: "Humans do not have to chew raw oysters in order to eat them, and are able to swallow small fish whole."

This was apparently in response to one of the referees (referee 6, below) mentioning the "goldfish" remark unfavorably, but unfortunately Verhaegen and Munro didn't change any of the botched references and other problems mentioned (see especially referee 11 below). Why he left these remarks in I don't know, but they are illuminating so we can only thank him for doing so. Note especially the middle section of the quoted comment by referee 11, which hits on just what is so difficult about countering the AAT/H proposals -- it describes a central problem with virtually every account by virtually every author -- certainly the best known and most influential ones which are by Morgan and Verhaegen:

"A free-ranging, poorly focused paper on "phonetic preadaptations for language"."
"All in all, an undisciplined paper with little serious insight to offer."
-- referee 5

"I can confess to knowing so little about the AAT that I am neither for nor against it in principle. I welcomed the opportunity to read this paper, as a way of informing myself about the central issues. However, I found it extremely difficult to extract the basic shape of an argument from this paper, and I fear that any reader coming to the theory for the first time would have the same problem. This could be argued not to be an issue, if the paper offered something of significance to those who already know about the theory, but as far as I can tell, this is not the case."

"To be specific, the paper seems to dance around a set of general assumptions about the AA theory, without ever articulating them. Yet, in the detail that is given, I could not find any clear indication of what the authors were saying that was new. It seems to all be a reiteration of established observations, and though the authors do, no doubt, offer new insights, it simply isn’t clear to the reader where they are."
"Through much of the paper, I could not see where the account was going, nor what the relationship was to the general question that needs to underlie all papers in this book, namely, ‘how did language originate?’. There are certainly snippets of relevance here, but there is no coherent story at all. If the paper is accepted, then the authors must pay some serious attention to the ‘so what?’ factor, and explain, at regular intervals, where they are going with the account, why, and how it is relevant to the underlying question."
"p.9 para 3 of ‘Feeding – mouth and tongue’, what is the purpose of the observation that humans can swallow oysters whole, and why on earth are goldfish mentioned (who is swallowing goldfish whole other than a character in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’?)"
-- referee 6

"This paper is, loosely speaking, an argument for the AAT of human origins. However, the paper does not attempt a specific argument in favor of the AAT but instead adopts the strategy of presenting a loosely-organized mass of data all of which is intended to have some bearing on the AAT. Thus the paper consists of a collection of "facts", some of questionable veracity, assembled in support of the AAT, mostly drawn from the literature on this subject. Many of the statements that are made are not supported by references at all, and many (if not most) of the supporting references that are cited are inappropriate, inaccurate or both.
For example, humans are cited on page 3 as being more efficient divers that other primates, but the citations are all to other AAT papers, and only one (an unpublished Swedish PhD thesis) actually contains data relevant to this claim, and in fact concerns only human diving, not that of other primates. Unpublished abstracts by Fitch and Ohala are cited instead of the appropriate and abundant peer-reviewed publications. Other citations are simply inaccurate (the Schlaug et al 1995 [note misspelling of author's name] paper does not show enlargement of "temporal cortex" in response to musical training, but simply raises this possibility in discussion). Deacon 's (1997) "Symbolic Species" is cited repeatedly (7 times) as if it were a source of primary data, when it is a popular book. Other of the "facts" presented are simply incorrect."

"It would take days to go through the paper and fill in all of the missing references, eliminate the incorrect ones, and check each one of the citations."
"I am not usually harsh about reviews. So it may be worth explaining that I am sympathetic to the AAT, think there's something to the hypothesis, and I certainly believe that it deserves air time. This said, I am frustrated by a propensity shown by proponents of this theory to shoehorn data into a form that seems to support the AAT, and to ignore data that goes against it. The current paper is a mess in terms of both the "facts" and the citations."
-- referee 11

There are several aspects of Verhaegen's online arguing style that may sound like ad hominem complaints (and which I thought of not pointing out for that reason) but which I think are indicative of his methods over and above the problems I mentioned above.

Online, besides his numerous insults in several languages, he commonly makes comparisons of himself and/or the AAT/H to Wegener (starting with his very first online post, after only a few days online), and he also commonly makes more offhand comparisons of himself and/or the AAT/H to Darwin, Galileo, and Einstein, as well as comparing the AAT/H theory to Copernicus'). This something that virtually all "net kook" or "crackpot" indexes feature as a prominent warning sign (probably the best known of these indexes is "The Crackpot Index: A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics" by John Baez).

Another suspect tactic is inflating credentials; in Verhaegen's case he's done this by claiming an affiliation with "Studiecentrum Antropologie". It turns out that "Studiecentrum Antropologie" is not a real institution at all, as Marc explains to a supporter in his Yahoo group:

"In fact, it's "Studiecentrum Antropologie". My Instutution is not very large (about 1 room) :-D but if you want to get something published, I thought you better have some Institution. I got this idea after a correspondent on mine (Jos Verhulst) created his "Louis Bolk Centre" (about 2 rooms) for the same reason."

If you read the sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup, you may see him referred to by his nickname, "macro-man", which he got due to his habit of continually posting one of a few versions of an uninformative mishmash of his theory without regard to whether it's at all apropos to the thread in question. This behavior in others (common among creationists, for instance) has been described, in a lighthearted but nevertheless serious and accurate way, as "Argumentum ad Assertion Repetitio ad Nauseam". Here's an example:

In 1960 Alister Hardy ("Was Man more aquatic in the past?" New Scientist) described how a sea-side lifestyle - wading, swimming, collecting edible shells, turtles, crabs, coconuts, seaweeds etc. - could explain many typically human features that are absent in our nearest relatives the chimps, and that cannot be explained by savanna scenarios: very large brain, greater breathing control, well-developed vocality, very dextrous hands, stone tool use, reduction of climbing skills, reduction of fur, thicker subcutaneous fat tissues, very long legs, more linear body build, high needs of iodine, sodium & poly-unsaturated fatty acids etc.

Hardy was only wrong at the time in thinking this seaside phase happened more than 10 Ma. Early Pleistocene Homo fossils or tools have been found in Israel, Algeria, E.Africa, Georgia, Java. When sea levels dropped during the Ice Ages, H.ergaster-erectus followed the Mediterranean & Indian Ocean coasts. Although most Pleistocene coasts are some 100 m below the present sea level (IOW the fossil & archaeological record often shows the inland Homo populations that entered the continents along the rivers) Homo remains have frequently been found amid shells, corals, barnacles etc., in European, African & Asian coasts, throughout the Pleistocene (eg, Mojokerto, Terra Amata, Table Bay, Eritrea), and even on islands that could only be reached oversea (Flores 0.8 Ma).

The reason Verhaegen is such a source of false "facts" and nonsensical statements is perhaps explained by his incredible admission in response to someone asking why he believed a particular piece of nonsense: "I once read it somewhere, and I believe everything what I read, at least until I find evidence of the opposite." This folks, when it comes to science, is a recipe for disaster.

Update 1 July 2009:
I see that several times in the past year (17 April 2009, 09 Jan 2008, and 20 Sep 2008) Marc Verhaegen made online attempts to squirm out of this bizarre quote of his, once even starting a new thread to attempt to push this rewriting of context.

moore is even too stupid to realise that this was about his savanna
nonsense: i believed it until the facts proved it nonsense
Marc Verhaegen 17 Apr 2009 sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup
But in fact his statement (Marc Verhaegen 8 January 1999 sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup in reply to Dan Barnes' post of 8 Jan 1999) was not about savannahs, but about Neaderthal nostrils:
(Verhaegen 4 Jan 1999):
>>I had got the impression that at the
>>moment of the discovery, before the soft parts fell apart, the nose etc. had
>>been discernable for a short time (I believe it's less than a few minutes).

(Barnes 8 Jan 1999):
>Where did you get this information from as it is clearly wrong?

Verhaegen (8 Jan 1999):
I once read it somewhere, and I believe everything what I read, at least
until I find evidence of the opposite.

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