[Taxacom] orangtuans and human origins

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Sat Nov 1 20:53:53 CDT 2008

I kindly received some pertinent comments off list. I feel they are of
general interest in relation to the issues I am confronted with and so I
am responding on the list, but without the person being named since I
presume privacy was preferred.
Dear John,
 >  Having just been to the Hennig-meeting in Tucuman I can assure you
too (as did Jim Croft) that morphological analysis is not dead, and was

>  an important element in many of the papers presented there  
But does morphology represent an important element if it is subordinated
to molecular similarity? That's the problem in primate systematics, not
only for the human-orangutan/African ape problem, but also the tarsier
vs anthropoid or prosimian problem, and the cheirogaleid lemur vs other
Madagascan lemurs or lorisiforms. In each case the argument made is that
the molecular results must be right and the morphology must be wrong. If
morphological systematics is wrong simply because it is not supported by
DNA molecular similarity then morphological systematics is not longer a
science. Rather it is a fantasy. That's the implication that everyone
dances around. It amazes me how many morphologists are subservient to
molecular similarity. It seems that they have no concern that this
position makes nonsense of their discipline (ironically I met one
paleoanthropologist who admitted that there was no longer reason to
employ morphological systematists).
> (although most people found that the results were roughly congruent
with the molecular analyses, if they could compare them).  
Where there is incongruence of some parts, does that mean the congruence
of other parts is still informative?
 One particular point that absolutely requires the consideration of
morphological data is, of course (as was pointed out a number of times)
the inclusion of fossils in an analysis.  
But if only molecular similarity can be relied upon to give the correct
answer then the entire fossil record is uninformative and scientifically
meaningless because there is no way to scientifically know what the
fossils are in the absence of molecules to tell you.
I would suggest that you firmly stick to that point, and try to deal
with the discrepancies as points that are interesting, but not
particularly alarming. There should be no reason to accuse you of
"reliance" if you merely point out what the data make you infer... 
We did that, but the editors want us to give them some reasons why the
molecular result may be wrong (whether or not it is in this particular
case) even if different genes give the same answer. 
John Grehan

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