[Taxacom] [PS] orangutan outrage

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Wed Jun 24 12:26:57 CDT 2009



Thanks for providing the clarification. The points listed are very
reasonable. I can sympathize with the challenge of media communications.
In another article the theory was dismissed as "preposterous nonsense"
and "loopy", but by anonymous commentators. I have copied your comments
here to a couple of other list servers as well.


John Grehan 


From: Dr N.E. Newton-Fisher [mailto:N.E.Newton-Fisher at kent.ac.uk] 
Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 11:47 AM
To: John Grehan
Cc: primate-science at primate.wisc.edu
Subject: Re: [PS] orangutan outrage


Just to point out - if I did say "wacky" (my only recollection was that
I might have said something along the lines of 'some might regard it as
wacky - although it would be an odd term for me to use), then I'm being
quoted out of context. The thrust of my response to the journalist was
that it was (1) not a mainstream idea, (2) alternative hypotheses should
be aired and considered and (3) that he should talk to someone with more
expertise on systematics, as it is not my area. It didn't help that he
phone kept cutting out and the interview was never finished.

Nick Newton-Fisher

John Grehan wrote: 

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




Ghost moth research


Human evolution and the great apes




Dr Nicholas E. Newton-Fisher
Lecturer in Biological Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
University of Kent
Tel: +44 (0)1227 827814
Recent Publications:
(2009) A melding of minds. Personality and Social Psychology Review,
with Brosnan & Van Vugt.
(2007) Chimpanzee hunting behaviour. In: Handbook of Paleoanthropology
(Henke & Tattersall), Springer pp.1295-1320.
(2006) Female coalitions against male aggression in wild chimpanzees of
the Budongo forest. IPJ 27:1589-1599.
Full list:

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