I don’t know why I do it to myself. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment and frustration. Every so often, I’ll feel the need to go to one of those Intelligent Design/Creationism blogs and get myself all angry and riled up. This morning I went over to Evolution News and Views and saw that Casey Luskin has been to the Pacific Science Center’s Lucy exhibit, and he’s soooooo not impressed. That’s okay though, because I’m not impressed with his critique.
The first thing my friends and I noticed when seeing Lucy’s bones was the incompleteness of her skeleton. Only 40% was found, and a significant percentage of the known bones are rib fragments. Very little useful material from Lucy’s skull was recovered. (This seems to be common: many of the replica skulls of early hominids at the exhibit were clearly based upon extremely fragmentary pieces.) And yet, Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date.
I’m not sure if this is just a confusion of terms or just glaring ignorance, but Lucy is not the most complete fossil hominid known to date. Meet Nariokotome Boy. If you’re looking for complete skulls, let me introduce you to the Taung Child, Little Foot, Mrs. Ples, or KNM-ER 406. Or, open a book and introduce yourself to any number of the other skeletons that are comparatively or more complete than Lucy.
A Primate of Modern Aspect goes on to utterly demolish him, but the fun doesn't end there. Afarensis gets his smackdown on:
In the second section Casey tries to cast doubt on the bipedality of Lucy by quoting from a News and Views article by Collard and Aiello. The Collard and Aiello article reports on a "letter" to Nature by Richmond and Strait called Evidence that humans evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor. In that paper Richmond and Strait claim to do two things. First they provide evidence that Australopithecus anamensis and A. afarensis both share wrist morphology indicative of knuckle-walking. They then argue that knuckle-walking is a synapomorphy that links the African apes and humans. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, the relationships between chimps, gorillas, and humans was considered an unresolved trichotomy. Quite a few people argued that chimps and gorillas were more closely related to each other than either was to humans. Others argued, based on morphological and genetic evidence, that chimps and humans were more closely related. Richmond and Strait's results took away a crucial piece of evidence for the gorilla-chimp clade. Casey, having "...studied about Lucy and other fossils..." doesn't mention any of this. Of course, if Lucy really is the commingled remains of who-knows-what as Casey argued above, then none of this matters and one has to wonder why Luskin goes futher. But he does. Says Casey:Lucy did have a small, chimp-like head, but as Mark Collard and Leslie Aiello observe in Nature, much of the rest of the body of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, was also "quite ape-like" with respect to its "relatively long and curved fingers, relatively long arms, and funnel-shaped chest."
Given that Luskin is dedicated to exposing the misreporting on evolution, I'm sure you will be shocked as I am to find that this is only kind-of sort-of what Collard and Aiello said:The basic facts are not in dispute. A. afarensis has a combination of traits that is not seen among living primates. In some respects, A. afarensis is quite human-like (for instance in the foot structure, nonopposable big toe, and pelvis shape). In others, it is quite ape-like (relatively long and curved fingers, relatively long arms, and funnel-shaped chest).
My goodness. An IDiot twisting the scientific literature to suit his own purposes? Say it ain't so!
I'm discovering that you can indeed learn a lot from a dummy, because the smart people have such fun taking them apart.
(George points us to Afarensis' follow-up, which is an excellent chaser.)