[Taxacom] orangtuan outrage

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Wed Jun 24 09:52:10 CDT 2009

One of the good things about getting into the science media is that one
can force reaction when it is otherwise easily avoided in the scientific
literature simply by avoiding the subject altogether. But when the media
asks for comment it is probably harder to decline and so what comes out
are insights into scientific prejudice that would otherwise be opaque to
the historian or philosopher of science.


In the National Geographic page



The article presents the evidence for the orangutan relationship and
then takes reactions from others. Paleontologists Peter Andrews notes
that he still backs the chimpanzee relationship but believed the
controversial study should be aired. 


But the article notes that "scientists found direct proof that humans
and chimps are 96 percent the same genetically". Here's where the
problem of systematic theory gets overlooked as one might naturally ask
- what of this 96% is really evidence of relationship that is closer
between humans and chimpanzees than humans and orangutans. This is the
question that is sidestepped by the molecular theorists who basically
argue the law of large numbers - that will lots of DNA one is more
likely to have the right answer. The law of large numbers is accepted,
for example, by the orangutan biologist Carel van Schaik - although he
did not say why. Anthropologist Newton Fisher described the theory as a
"wacky idea". I find it interesting that when one is in the majority it
is fully acceptable to use this kind of language in describing
scientific alternatives to popular perspectives - even one that uses
standard systematic procedures. I wonder how many morphological
systematists out there are happy to be considered "wacky" if their
results do not agree with the molecular authorities?


John Grehan



Dr. John R. Grehan

Director of Science

Buffalo Museum of Science1020 Humboldt Parkway

Buffalo, NY 14211-1193

email: jgrehan at sciencebuff.org

Phone: (716) 896-5200 ext 372




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