Special Edition of Evolution: Education and Outreach!

In case you haven't heard, the latest edition of the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach is almost entirely about transitional fossils. There's something for everyone, from synapsids to onychophorans, so make sure you check it out!

My only complaint, though, is that there is not a paper about early hominins or human evolution. Human evolution is often ignored or given short shrift when we talk about transitional fossils, yet the past several decades have seen an explosion in new types of extinct humans. I have no idea why such a paper does not appear in the collection (perhaps one was solicited but not completed), but I hope that such a review will soon be printed in the pages of Evolution. Since much of the culture war over evolution is rooted in different ways of finding our place in nature, defenders of evolution ignore paleoanthropology at their own peril.

UPDATE: Apparently the December 2009 issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach will be entirely devoted to human evolution. That is definitely good news. It would have been nice to see a piece on transitional hominins with the reviews in the latest edition, though. I have long been puzzled by the division between paleoanthropology and vertebrate paleontology, and I think the former discipline suffers when it is not integrated with vertebrate paleontology as a whole (more on that soon). Many thanks to Glenn Branch for the correction.

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Thanks, Glenn. I will amend the above post. It still would have been nice to see a human evolution paper integrated with the rest, though, if for no other reason that I think paleoanthropology suffers when treated as a science distinct from other branches of vertebrate paleontology (but more on that later).

I have long been puzzled by the division between paleoanthropology and vertebrate paleontology, and I think the latter discipline suffers when it is not integrated with vertebrate paleontology as a whole (more on that soon).

*Cough* former *cough*. I definitely agree with you, though. There are countless examples of "unbelievable" discoveries in palaeoanthropology (such as the recent Homo floresiensis) that are not really so remarkable once you lose the notion that humans are somehow "special".

Thanks, Chris. I don't know what it is about today; I keep making all these little typos. In this case I rewrote part of the sentence and didn't keep up with the changes.

I'll get into this more in a full post, but I was specifically thinking in terms of cladistics and "ancestor worship." Whenever a new hominin is found the first question is always "Is it one of our ancestors?" and there seems to be a lot of "My fossils are important, yours are crap" posturing. To some extent this is unavoidable in popularization, but it seems to permeate the science of paleoanthropology, too. Even as the human evolutionary tree becomes bushier, there still seems to be an obsession with finding straight lines of descent. I am sure there are plenty of other hominins, especially early hominins, yet to be discovered, and I can only imagine how present evolutionary scenarios will change as we find more evidence.