May 20, 2003
A Chimp by Any Other Name?

New Scientist is reporting on one scientist's contention that chimpanzees should be moved to the same genus as humans. His justification? A new genetic comparison that seems to indicate humanity and chimpanzees share 99.4 percent of their genetic material.

Classic press-release reporting, although at least they did get a quote or two from someone who disagrees. There are big problems with trying to move troglodytes (chimps) into hominidae (human-like creatures). First, speciation is not just judged by genetics, but also by morphological data (what it looks like, how it's built). Hominidae have a fundamental morphological difference from chimpanzees... all of our ancestors, back literally as far as we have found so far, were fully bipedal. Chimpanzees are not.

Also, the author of the study seems to be engaging in at least two bits of what seem to be cherry-picking. The less important one is his contention the chimpanzee-human split ocurred only 5-6 million years ago (mya), when (last time I checked) the consensus was still that the split ocurred as long as 10 mya.

More importantly, Dr. Goodman compared only what he termed to be "most important" gene sequences. This seems to skate dangerously close to selective sampling, picking only the data you know agree with your hypothesis and then calling it proved.

So, it's an interesting hypothesis, but (from the evidence given in the New Scientist article at least) one which seems on the face of it seriously, perhaps even fatally, flawed.

Posted by scott at May 20, 2003 11:12 AM

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Are hairy cigar-smoking rollerskaters any closer to chimps than ordinary humans?

Posted by: Laurence Simon on May 20, 2003 11:41 AM
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