Great apes again

John Grehan jgrehan at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG
Sat Jan 8 13:24:52 CST 2005

I would like to add the further observation that there have been changes in the list of proposed orangutan-human characters and I expect there could be other changes in the future - either by removal of a character that does not stand up, or the addition of new characters that come to notice. As examples of characters tht have been removed I can cite the lack of a molar cingulum and the smooth transition from premaxilla to nasal floor. In the case of the cingulum being absent in humans and orangutans as a uniquely shared feature (this is a ridge on the side of the molar) it is also apparently absent in many (but not all) chimpanzees. The smooth transition to the nasal floor is certianly unique to humans and members of the orangutan clade, but the developmental formation of the premaxilla in humans is unique so the transition may not be homologus to that of the orangutan. 
In the normal practice of science I expect one is most critical (harsh as Ken would say) about alternatives, and conversely in the normal run of affairs, one's opponents provide the best (harshest) critique of one's own views (which is why, in science, one's opponents are one's best friends - unless they ignore your work altogether or try to suppress it, in which case they are doing no one any favors - including themselves). The problem with the quality of systematics for large bodied hominoids (including humans) is the 'normal' scientific process has broken down altogether. 
The Shoshoni et al paper actually includes some of Schwartz's characters, but no justification is given for their inclusion while rejecting the rest. Also, a good number of the characters are cited as from an unpublished data set! This is about as bad an approach to systematics as I can think of. I am not aware of any other area of systematics where one could produce evidence without critical, indepedent ovesight, and then whatever Iis published would be accepted at face value. Maybe members of this list are not much interested in this particular field, but I notice that no one has come forward to say that the overall quality of systematics for large bodied hominoids (living and fossil) is great or even good.
One of the Shoshani et al authors has publically accepted 12 of the proposed synapomorphies although I don't think all were actually included in thepaper, and privately that author has accepted 15 characters and suspended judgement on several more.
John Grehan

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