Meet Australopithecus sediba

Australopithecus sediba skull

Matthew Berger, aged 9, tripped over a lump while his father hunted for fossils and thus his father uncovered beautifully preserved fossils of two individuals in South Africa from about 1.9 million years ago. Discover Magazine reports:

…we don’t know for sure where Australopithecus sediba would belong on the evolutionary tree with respect to us. “There’s no compelling evidence that this newly proposed species was ancestral to Homo,” remarks Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. [Science News]. These bones date to a time when the genus Australopithecus was beginning to give way to Homo, our own. The New York Times reports, however, that while Berger’s team places its find within Australopithecus, not all anthropologists are sure it can be so easily classified.For instance, the Australopithecus sediba arms are long like an ape’s, suggesting these hominids were competent tree climbers. But the hands are smaller, like ours. The boy’s skull is small, like Australopithecus. But his nose and cheekbones more closely resemble Homo.

“They are a fascinating mosaic of features,” said Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution. “It reminds us of the combining and recombining of characteristics, the tinkering and experimentation, that go on in evolution” [The New York Times].

Donald Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy (which is classified under Australopithecus), praised the find but says Berger’s interpretation is way off. He think the fossil is a variety of Homo.

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Misquoting random dead French scientists

You might have heard the creationist declaim

“Evolutionism is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless.”
Prof. Louis Bounoure (Former President of the Biological Society of Strasbourg and Director of the Strasbourg Zoological Museum, later Director of Research at the French National Centre of Scientific Research), as quoted in The Advocate, Thursday 8 March 1984, p. 17. (p. 5 of The Revised Quote Book)

This quotation is false. The fact is, this is two different quotations from two different people at two different times and in two different contexts. Prof. Bounoure was not director of research at the Centre, nor even a member. Even more important, the words were written fifty to sixty years ago, referring to debates long past and science that has been surpassed for forty or fifty years.

“Evolution is a fairy tale for adults” is not from Bounoure but from Jean Rostand, a much more famous French biologist (he was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the French Academy). The precise quotation is as follows: “Transformism is a fairy tale for adults.” (Age Nouveau, [a French periodical] February 1959, p. 12). But Rostand has also written that “Transformism may be considered as accepted, and no scientist, no philosopher, no longer discusses [questions – ED.] the fact of evolution.” (L’Evolution des Especes [The Evolution of the Species], Hachette, p. 190). Jean Rostand was … an atheist.

These quotations, however mangled, were taken from people who knew that evolution takes place, but felt that the explanations of mechanism were not complete or that arguing about the mechanisms was not the most fruitful form of research.

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