Lucy in Newsweek

John Grehan jgrehan at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG
Wed Mar 31 11:55:20 CST 2004

For those interested, Lucy made Newsweek, April 5, page 10 (at least the US

Ken may go on about his skepticism of the morphology since it does not
agree with 'genetic' relationships, but one could also look at the
morphology as a test of the genetic claims. Further, perhaps the fossils
are also another test.

If the genetic relationship of humans and chimps is an indicator of actual
genealogical relationship then as a theory one might expect it to give
clarity to other forms of information. The problem is that it does not. We
share more unique characters with orangutans (actually almost nothing
morphologically unique with chimps) and the fossils conform to orangutan
features.  If one is not a cladist then nothing of this matters since Gary
Nelson tells me that DNA sequence data, at least, is just phenetics. But
then I suppose some would try to say that Gary does not understand cladistics.

Thus, the chimpanzee theory of genetic relationship is not very good as a
predictor of either morphology or fossils. People like Ken also face the
quandary that if morphology is so unreliable as not to be relied upon at
all unless supported by DNA molecules, then all fossils are meaningless
(everyone tries to step around that one, but its the obvious and necessary

Yes one could say that parsimony of total characters is just an arbitrary
numbers game. There are two ways to consider this (perhaps among others).
Each proposed synapomorphy is a theory of relationship. In that sense each
is a predictor of the totality of information regarding relationship and
thus the greater number of characters involved can be seen as
corroboration. On the other hand, there are characters and characters. What
I am finding is that the human-chimp/African ape characters of the orthodox
literature are often atrociously documented, and often completely wrong. In
contrast, the orangutans characters are all very well documented and
therefore eminently testable case by case. I don't know much about
character weighting in formal systematics, but it does seem that quite a
few of the human-orangutan characters figure prominently in human biology
and morphology.

It would be an irony if Lucy were to unset the authority of molecular
characters 3.2 million years after she died. Quite a legacy.


Dr. John Grehan
Director of Science and Collections
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, New York 14211-1293
Voice 716-896-5200 x372
Fax 716-897-6723
jgrehan at

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