Aquatic Apes

In a previous post I referenced Elaine Morgan’s Aquatic Ape theory [1].

Simon Waters pointed out that the site which exists to analyse all the evidence about such issues [2]. Based on that I am convinced that the Aquatic Ape theory has little merit.

My mistake was to put too much faith in the organisers of the TED conference. They have a good history of inviting speakers who know their stuff. I recently analysed the facts behind one dubious claim made in a TED talk, but that case was a single claim which was not required to support the essential points of the lecture [3]. I expect other mistaken claims such as that one from any lecture anywhere, in a TED lecture I expect the central point to be well supported but it seems that my expectation was incorrect.

I will be more skeptical about TED talks in future.

Thanks Simon for correcting me on this issue! One of the advantages of blogging is that when (not if) you get something wrong there is likely to be someone out there with a good reference to evidence to the contrary.

8 comments to Aquatic Apes

  • Elkin

    Ted Talks are a nice place to get inspired. I agree, they are not a good place to get your “facts”.

  • etbe

    Elkin: I agree that TED talks are not designed to present all the facts on an issue. The limit of ~17 minutes per talk obviously precludes that. Some errors will creep in with any talks, again it’s not something that can be avoided.

    But they can avoid hosting talks that are just wrong, as seems to be the case with Elaine’s talk.

  • neo

    “But they can avoid hosting talks that are just wrong, as seems to be the case with Elaine’s talk.”

    How do we really know it’s wrong? It is a plausible hypothesis

  • etbe

    neo: It’s a hypothesis that has many holes in it. All of her claims seem to be have serious flaws when you look at the evidence (EG hairy pigs).

  • neo

    Almost every hypothesis usually has a number of holes in it. I don’t see how this one is say particularly more weak than Evolution itself or the hypothesis on origin of life and many others.

  • Nathan Myers

    It’s true that almost every hypothesis has holes. It’s also true that almost every hypothesis is abandoned shortly after it’s proposed. Some hang on for a while, artificially held up by powerful advocates, and pass on when they die. A few just won’t seem to go away no matter what evidence surfaces, apparently as a result of human psychological and sociological weakness. We call these “zombie hypotheses”.

    AAH is a good example of a zombie hypothesis. Another is the “efficient market” hypothesis in economics. Another, “comets are untouched remnants of the formation of the solar system”. Another, “IQ is a genetic endowment”. I could go on and on.

  • etbe

    Nathan: Markets are efficient for certain things within certain parameters. It’s only when people make a religion out of market efficiencies that things go wrong. Elene’s TED talk about Ethiopian economics demonstrates ways in which markets can be very efficient.

    The best evidence I’ve seen suggests that IQ is strongly linked to genetics IFF nothing else goes wrong to reduced the IQs. Malnourishment, poor teaching, poor family situations, and disease are some factors that can lower the IQ of children. It seems to me that only a very small portion of the population are fortunate enough to have a childhood that allows them to reach their potential. Of that small portion I think that to a large extent IQ is determined by genetics.

    However AAH seems to just be wrong in many areas and the more you examine it the more inconsistencies become apparent.

  • Nathan Myers

    Nobody disputes that markets are a very powerful mechanism. The “efficient market” zombie hypothesis is a more precise, and wrong statement: it insists that markets necessarily settle on the best possible estimate of a commodity price. Often they do, of course, but the crash of 2008 is an example where the price of insurance on crap mortgages was way too low, and people who understood things said so, loudly, but the market didn’t respond. There are myriad other examples of market failure falsifying that particular hypothesis, but it won’t die because of a sort of fetishism about markets. (Markets usually do settle on a price that everybody can live with, and that’s usually good enough.)

    Guns are powerful too — see examples here, here, and here — but they are not the solution to all problems, and sometimes they are the problem.

    Of course IQ is affected by genetics, but it’s also very strongly affected by an enormous variety of environmental factors, not least fashions in puzzle style popularity. The “IQ is a genetic endowment” zombie hypothesis is precisely that environment is irrelevant, and it’s very appealing to (in particular) racists.