Availability of type specimens and hominid evolution

John Grehan jgrehan at TPBMAIL.NET
Sun Apr 4 08:54:37 CDT 2004

  Aside from the vexing problem of orangutans vs chimps, there is another
quandary in hominid systematics that may be of more general concern to this
list and that concerns the availability of holotypes to be examined by
researchers other than the discoverer. It seems to me that this is
imperative or systematics becomes a non-science in the sense that
independent testing of claims is rendered impossible. Below is the excerpt
(from http://www.post-gazette.com/healthscience/20021014leakey1014p2.asp)
illustrating that very problem:

"One of the problems with all of these claims, Schwartz said, is that
scientists are becoming increasingly reticent about showing their fossils
to other investigators. Traditionally, scientists have been expected to
make available those fossils that are the basis for identifying a species,
but many have recently begged off, claiming their reports of new genera and
species are only "preliminary," he added.

"Brunet won't allow anyone to see [the Chad fossil]. When you ask him to
see it, he won't even answer your email," he said.

Leakey "has really been a good example in the field" for her willingness to
cooperate with other researchers, Schwartz said. Though he hasn't yet seen
the Kenyanthropus platyops fossil, he was allowed to photograph her
previous finds for his current project -- a set of scientific volumes that
include photographs and consistent descriptions of all human fossils.

"On one level, this rash of discoveries is very exciting," Schwartz said.
"But then the question is, what are they?" Though the debate seems to get
nastier and nastier, it is forcing greater consideration of basic
questions, such as what defines a hominid, he added."

John Grehan

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