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Friday, 25 January 2008

More crap science


In reference to your article

"Human Origins and Intelligent Design"

I read your article with interest, particularly your conclusion that "similarities make mating compatibility between Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, with modern humans (Homo sapiens ) a strong possibility."

You support your arguments with referenced sources, however, as one who is reasonably familiar with the literature on early hominids, I was puzzled by, both by your choice of references in many cases, and furthermore, by the way you chose to use those references. Two examples will suffice.

Firstly, you state that Neanderthals "probably interbred with humans". Your reference for this is given as

Wong, K., "Who were the Neandertals," Scientific American, Aug 25, 2003, pg. 28-37.

A quick search of Scientific American reveals that this article is not a peer-reviewed paper, but an article (a good article nonetheless) by a journalist, Kate Wong, describing the ongoing debate between proponents of the Out of Africa modeal and the Multi-regional model of human evolution. Where this article touches on the possibility of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, the person who suggest this as a possibility, Fred Smith, of Loyola University, is clearly speculating, and even he concludes "that we need a good deal more data." To derive from this that "Neanderthals probably bred with humans", is, at best, a very weak conclusion.

Secondly, you assert that

"Neanderthal remains have with been found with art,42 culture,42, 43 including burial of their dead,44 and technology including the usage of complex tools, 42, 43 and chain-mail armor.45"

Chain mail armour? Your reference for this is:

45. Notes in Nature, 77:587 (April 23, 1908).

Another quick search of Nature's archives supplies the full text of your reference, which is as follows:

"In the February edition of the Bulletin International of the Academy of Sciences of Cracow, Mr K Stolyhow describes a human skull dating from the historic period which presents strong indications of close affinity with the Spy-Neanderthal type, the so called homo primogenius, of the Palaeolithic epoch. The skull, it appears, forms part of a skeleton from a tomb, in which was buried a suit of chain armour, together with iron spear head &c. In the great development of the supra orbital ridges, and the notch at the root of the nasals, the skull, which was found at Nowolowiska, closely resembles the Neanderthal type. It may be added that in view of Prof Sollas' recent reference of the latter to the Australian stock, the occurrence in eastern Europe of a survivor of the same type is a matter of profound interest."

Your "source" is interesting because it refers to a period of archaeology before modern dating techniques were available, but it also resonates uncomfortably, illlustrating one view of the time, held by many, that across the globe, there were still "races" of humans who were more "evolved" than others. The "Australian stock" referred to are Australian Aborigines, who were held to be among the least "evolved" humans, along with various groups "classified" variously as different types of "negroes".

I have no doubt that your intention was NOT to refer back to a period of anthropology (a very dark and unsavoury period) when scientific discoveries were used to promote racism, and I would never suggest that one possible aim of the proponents of Intelligent Design may be to promote the idea that certain races are pre-destined to rule, while others are designed to be ruled, but your careless use of references, (of which there are many more examples throughout your article) illustrates why Intelligent Design is seldom found in the pages of mainstream journals.

Your organisation claims the following:

"At the heart of our advocacy is to promote intelligent design theory purely on its scientific merits."

As a final note, I do not necessarily dispute that humans interbred with Neanderthals. For example, since the discoveries of the burial in Lagar Velho, Portugal where the remains of a young (homo sapiens) boy show decidely Neanderthal features, some leading anthropologists believe that limited interbreeding did actually occur between sapiens and neanderthal. This however has to be taken in the context of the overwhelming mass of mitochondrial DNA research which shows that large scale interbreeding of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals did'nt happen.

Martin Nickson

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