Human/Chimp Follow-Up

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, have a look at Carl Zimmer’s post on the subject. He provides a lot of the scientific specifics:

But that’s not what has emerged from the new study. The Broad Institute scientists lined up millions of bases of DNA in humans and chimps and measured their differences. Humans and chimpanzees both inherited each segment of DNA from a common ancestor. Over time, the copies of that ancestral segment picked up mutations. The differences between them can offer clues to how long they’ve been evolving along separate paths. It turns out that the ancestors for some of those segments are much older than others. The only way to make sense of these results, according to the scientists, is to conclude that hominids and the ancestors of chimpanzees were interbreeding–to some extent at least–for four million years.

Meanwhile, anthropologist John Hawks provides some reasons for skepticism here:

I’ve read the paper, and I have to say it doesn’t deliver on its promises. It fails to cite previous work on the topic, it discards without explanation the hypothesis supported by most previous studies, and it promotes a “provocative” hypothesis for which there is no good evidence. It doesn’t even show that the speciation of humans and chimpanzees was “complex”.

It’s just a mess.

Hawks goes on to back up his charges in considerable detail.


  1. #1 Joseph Smigelski
    May 18, 2006

    I am not a scientist, but I appreciate this kind of scientific debate, at least as far as I can understand it. I think it is unfortunate, however, that sometimes this kind of debate feeds into the arguments of the Intelligent Design proponents and the Creationists. They’ll say something like, “See, even the evolutionary scientists can’t agree; therefore, evolution is a bogus theory.” John Hawks mentions this concern in the article you referred to:

    Here is what I think is the worst part. It is sad that I have to care about it, but this idea of human-chimpanzee hybridization should be very appealing to creationists.
    Now, I don’t think that science should either entertain or reject hypotheses on the basis of creationist arguments. But I do think it is important to be cognizant of those arguments, since we can easily predict the way that some scientific hypotheses will be deliberately misinterpreted.

  2. #2 VJB
    May 18, 2006

    Amen, Brother Joseph. It really rankles that you can’t have an interesting discussion of any topic in evolutionary biology without having to look over your shoulder for flashing knives.

  3. #3 g bruno
    May 31, 2006

    I saw recently a tree for MHC – I think it was HLA.
    Some humans were closer to chimps than to other humans.
    This seems to be an independent indicator of dallilance?