Re: The straw man.

Thomas Clarke (
18 Oct 1995 19:32:52 GMT

In article <45kp7f$> (Phil Nicholls)
> Elaine Morgan <> graced us with the following
> words

> >I've noted two new anti-AAT ploys. One is to rename it AAH or AAS.

> I believe I can take credit fo originating the "AAH" in that the
> aquatic ape is AT BEST an hypothesis. A theory, in my opinion, is a
> broad explanation for a group of related observations that has been
> extensively tested and has not been disproven. Hence evolutionary
> theory is true theory and is quantum theory and the big bang theory.
> Theories are tested through the hypotheses generated by them.

The exact meaning of "theory" must depend on the science.
When a theorist writes a paper purporting to explain high temperature
superconductivity in rare-earth copper oxides, he is generally said
to be offering a "theory". Of course, it is also a hypothesis,
subject to comparison with data, and so forth; almost certainly it
is wrong, there have been hundreds of papers on the subject. But in physics
and similar sciences any theoretical explanation is said to be a

> The AAH is not a broad explanation and it has not, to my knowledge,
> been tested. It is at best an untested hypothesis and that may be a
> stretch. It may be untestable, in which case "story" is more
> applicable.

Certainly, untested but the broadness is in the eye of the beholder :-)

> Applying the word "theory" to something like the aquatic ape indicates
> a lack of understand of how science works and I would think you would
> want to put the best foot forward in this regard.

Nah, just a cross-science usage.

> I have several textbooks in physical anthropology on my bookshelf.
> Some of them are classics I have collected at used book stores. I
> have searched through each of them for reference to a "savannah
> theory" and I can find none.

Now taken into account what I have said about the usage of
the word "science" in other disciplines. Might there then
be words in those books that have the same meaning as "theory"
in those other sciences?

> The savannah plays a role in most scenerios of human evolution because
> we KNOW that hominids occupied savannahs.

Some hominids. Again, I take the opportunity to ask if you
know that Lucy and the first family occupied a savannah. They
may have occupied a savannah, but maybe not.

> Every author I
> have read has pointed out the traditional nature of the
> savannah-woodland habitat as providing trees for ready escape from
> predators and open space to practice bipedalism.

"Traditional"? Whose tradition? Tradition hardly has a place in science.
"Practice bipedalism"? Under whose tutelage.

> This is not a
> theory, it is a setting which numerous authors exploit in developing
> possible behavioral scenerios that might have lead to bipedalism.

Considering that the earliest fossils to date have not been found
on the savannah, the setting is an assumption, hence a component of
a hypothesis or a theory or a scenario.

> Many of these were simplistic, focusing on a single behavior such as
> food carrying or intimidation. What these hypothesis have in common
> with later hypothesis is that they propose the following scenerio:

> [1] Preadaptation = most primates can walk bipedally. Apes are the
> most bipedal of all primates with chimpanzees reported to engage in
> bipedalism something like 10-11% of the time they are on the ground.


> This means that the common ancestor was at least as proficient at
> bipedalism as living apes and may have been more so as they had not
> yet become knuckle-walkers.

This does not follow.

> [2]Behavioral Shift more than likely early hominids undertook a
> behavior shift toward increased frequency of bipedalism. Very likely
> it occurred under conditions that are likely to result in bipedalism
> in living apes today (Goodall, ;Kortlandt, 1962)

> - when hands are need to carry food.
> - to obtain a better view of the surrounding area.
> - jumping across small brooks
> - treat displays.
> -when watching an unusual part of the surroundings
> -when locating another member of the group
> - greeting and courtship displays.

This is theory/hypothesis/scenario, as you acknowledge with the
words "more than likely".

> [3] Biological Changes = simply put, morphological changes follow
> behavioral ones.

Only if the changes result in increased reproductive success.

> Hence the role of the savannah is important to all of these scenerios
> because it provides a transition from an arboreal to a terrestrial one

It is not the only possible transition.

> and because hominid fossils are found in association with
> savannah-woodland environments.

> ANY explanation of hominid
> evolution must involve the savannah because it is obviously important
> to our evolutionary history.

Of course. The AAT/H/S fully acknowledges the importance of the
environments in which hominds actually lived which clearly
involved the savannah post A.a.

> This does not justify taking all of
> these explanations and calling them the "Standard Savannah Theory."
> Do do so is a classic strawman exercise which is why myself and others
> have called you on this.

Wait a minute, you just went through a whole argument about how
"ANY...must involve the savannah".
Call it what you will, but it sounds like a theory to me and it
pointed excludes the possibility of the role of a non-savannah

> There are almost as many explanations for the evolution of various
> aspects of hominid morphology as there are paleoanthropologists -- a
> large but finite number. Yours is certainly no worse than some but
> that is not saying a lot. If you really want to impress people I
> suggest you spend less time complaining about ill treatment and more
> time proposing a way to test the AAH. If it is not testible I am
> afraid it doesn't even deserve the "H".

Not testable, falsifiable is the criteria from the philosophy of science.
The AAT/H/S is certainly falsifiable, just find some 5 and 6 million
year old fossils in the hominid lineage that clearly were not dwelling
in association with water.

Tom Clarke