Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Evolution quotes #46

"But [Earnest] Hooton identifies an even greater danger. This is 'the
psychological conflict in which the discoverer or describer is torn between his
desire to find primitive, unique, or anthropoidal features which will allow him
to place his specimen nearer to the apes than any previously recorded, and his
equally powerful urge to demonstrate the direct and central position of his new
type in the ancestry of modern man.'
When the former impulse is in the
ascendancy, says, Hooton, 'the author is likely to blow the dust off his Greek
and Latin dictionaries and perpetrate some horrid neologism in creating a new
zoological species, genus or even family, thereby committing simultaneously
mortal sins in both philology and taxonomy.' When the latter impulse succeeds,
the describer 'may seize upon metrically or morphologically insignificant
features common to both [modern man and the fossil under study] as evidence of
their genetic relationship.'
In other words, on the one hand you exaggerate
the difference between your fossil and modern humans, thus getting for yourself
a nice, ancient, discrete ancestor. And on the other, you overlook the
differences and exaggerate the similarities, thus setting your fossil on the
threshold of the noble Homo sapiens."

Roger Lewin (noted science journalist), Bones of Contention (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster Inc., 1987), p. 26

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