Re: The straw man.

J. Moore (
Fri, 13 Oct 95 17:02:00 -0500

El> From: Elaine Morgan <>
El> Subject: The straw man.
El> Organization: None

El> I've noted two new anti-AAT ploys.

This strawman-creation must be a reflex with you by now; you're
even using it here. Neither of these is either "new" or a "ploy".
They've been debated in this newsgroup for coming up on a year
now, since well before you arrived.

El> One is to rename it AAH or AAS. No
El> hassle. A rose by any other name...Personally I'll stick to AAT because
El> I@m used to it, but the other terms are equally accurate. Like any other
El> attempt to explain the differences between apes and humans, it is of
El> course a hypothesis. It is of course a speculation. Renaming it is an
El> attempt at philosophical pseudo-speciation, implying "What you are doing
El> is qualitatively quite different from what we are doing." That is not
El> the case.

The differences between "theory", "hypothesis", and "scenario" are
important in science, but among the lay public the terms are often
thought to be interchangeable. None of these terms in considered
derogatory in science; and in scientific debate, on human evolution
as on other subjects, not all arguments are called "theories",
contrary to what you suggest above. Personally, I've considered
this debate (at least for the on-line audience) to be much less
important than the numerous errors in the various incarnations of
the AAT, and certainly less important than your constantly using
a strawman "Savannah Theory" as a foil.

El> The other is the charge that AAT constructs a "straw man" in the shape
El> of the late savannah theory and attacks it because it is easier to
El> demolish than the more solid and unassailable scenario which has
El> replaced it. Rubbish.

Rubbish? How so? Let's see:

El> AAT's case against the savannah theory as presented in the 50's and 60's
El> was not that it did not accurately represent the ecologoical conditiond
El> in Africa at the timr of the split.

The "arid, treeless" land of your strawman? Even in your latest
book you inaccurately equate "savannah" with only "grasslands", and
instead of the actual environment described by paleoanthropologists
as the habitat of our ancestors, you insist that they refer to the
"scorching heat of the open plains, the meagre vegetation, and the
scarcity of water." (Morgan 1995: 158, *The Descent of the Child*)
In this book, you are clearly referring not to the very old scenarios
from 35 or more years ago (as you state above), but to (and again I
quote [Ibid pg. 157]) "this new scenario".

What you're doing there is in fact building a strawman.

El> We now know that it was in fact
El> inaccurate but neither side knew it then. The argument was that even if
El> it was accurate, it failed to explain the main physiological differences
El> between apes and humans i.e. it cannot be predicted that an ape moving
El> to the grasslands would become naked and bipe=dal.

It certainly can be predicted that they wouldn't use the same
thermoregulatory mechanisms as "the wild ass and the camel", as
you insist they would have done.

El> Now look at the new improved model. Nobody questions it is solider and
El> more unassailable as a true picture of the the then environment. The
El> question is whether it is less or more successful at explaining our
El> physiology. The "straw man" gibe implies it is so much more successful
El> that AAT cringes from the prospect of challenging it and scuttles back
El> to the easier practice of attacking the late lamented savannah theory.

You mean "attacking Elaine Morgan's strawman Savannah Theory".
The difference between your strawman and the actual ideas of the
last 20-30 years has been explained here again and again.

<snipped -- exposition of Elaine Morgan's strawman Savannah Theory>
El> If it was hard to believe that a life of obligatorily scavenging a
El> meagre living on the the savannah on a full-time basis would do that, it
El> is very much harder to believe that life in savannah mosaic would do it.
El> AAT has no need to attack obsolete straw men when the latest version is
El> even more insubstantial, in terms of its explanatory power, than its
El> predecassor.
El> Elaine

"A life of obligatorily scavenging a meagre living on the the
savannah"? Nice strawman, there...

BTW, my system must have missed your answer to my question about
eccrine sweating in aquatic mammals. I seem to remember you
saying it existed; what animal was it and what's the ref for it?

Jim Moore (

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