Georgia On My Mind

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David Byron

David Byron is a software developer working for the military-industrial complex. At Popehat, he writes about art, language, theater (mostly magic), technology, lyrics, and aleatory ephemera. Serious or satirical poetry spontaneously overflows from him while he's recollecting in tranquility. @dcbyron

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25 Responses

  1. Liptonius says:

    Not sure about THAT Georgia, but down around Atlanta, there is some SERIOUS differentiatitatin' goin' on…

    I mean antlers, scales, articulated follicles, feathers, neck frills, fenders, horny plates, gills and blowhole variations and combos, and that's in your average High School Junior Varsity Football lineup.

  2. David says:

    It's a heck of a wreck.

  3. JTM says:

    Alternative explanation: The degree of variation between the skulls in a single area, and individual skulls showing features previously thought to belong to different species, can both be explained by an Alien-run "Human Petting Zoo & Breeding Program."

    The truth is out there.

  4. Max says:

    I was actually quite happy that humans might not have exterminated the neanderthals, just had sex with them till they melted. Then: Vox Day.

    Yay, for neanderthal genes and the best interpretation.

  5. Doctor X says:

    This is the Achievement of SCIENCE [!--Ed.]: constantly reevaluating theories and the interpretation of evidence based on new evidence.

    Unlike . . . not . . . SCIENCE [!--Ed.]

  6. Alistair says:

    I'm a proud anti-Denisovan bigot. I hate Denis.

  7. Josh C says:

    The last rumor I heard was that erectus slept around with anything even vaguely hominid. Even if there were distinct species, it's not surprising that there was a gradation between them.

  8. eddie says:

    which features different among the samples are sufficient to assert speciation, and which count as natural variation within a single species

    Can someone who knows please explain why this is anything other than a matter of terminology?

  9. Dragonmum says:

    @eddie
    "natural variation within a single species" – think of all the variation in the current crop of humans – skull shaped, height, bone structure (not to mention skin, hair and other things fossils don't give us). John Boehner and President Obama are the same species. Sigh.

    "which features different among the samples are sufficient to assert speciation" Badly stated grammatically – should be "Which features among the samples are sufficiently different to assert speciation". Meaning far enough outside the normal variation of one species to be obviously a different one. Like the difference between a Navii or a big headed, green alien with huge dark eyes from a "flying saucer" and Ken. Not the same species. Clark? Not so sure…

  10. Peter says:

    If you announce to the world that you've discovered a new hominid, you get your picture in the paper and a TV interview conducted by an impossibly beautiful woman. Oh, and don't forget the grant money.

    If, OTOH, your announcement is about a transitional form or variation, you get mentioned in a footnote. In a doctoral thesis.

    Paleontologists are, after all, people.

  11. En Passant says:

    They found them in Georgia. So aren't they all at least first cousins?

  12. David says:

    "which features different among the samples are sufficient to assert speciation" Badly stated grammatically – should be "Which features among the samples are sufficiently different to assert speciation".

    The phrase is grammatically correct but syntactically awkward and elliptical. I plead haste. :)

    Paraphrase: which [of the] features [that are] different among the samples are sufficient [on that basis] to assert [that] speciation [is the best explanation of those differences].

  13. Steven H. says:

    @Josh C

    The last rumor I heard was that erectus slept around with anything even vaguely hominid. Even if there were distinct species, it's not surprising that there was a gradation between them.

    And this differs from modern man how?

    Other than that there seem to be some of who removed the qualifier "even vaguely hominid"….

    @Alistair:

    I'm a proud anti-Denisovan bigot.

    You've got something against Abos (please insert appropriate politically correct label – I haven't been within 10,000 Km of Australia in 30 years, and have no idea at all of what the current label is)?

  14. ketchup says:

    Alistair,

    I'm a proud anti-Denisovan bigot

    You have just ruined your chances at national political office. If you decide to run, the crack research team of the opposition will unearth this quote, link it to you, turn it into "I'm a proud . . . bigot", and run it ceaselessly in attack adds.

  15. delurking says:

    "Can someone who knows please explain why this is anything other than a matter of terminology?"

    It is in some sense just a matter of terminology. More precisely, it is a matter of the definition of "species". If you arrange into an evolutionary tree every creature that ever lived, there will be no obvious dividing lines between species, just continuous variation of features along the various branches. The dividing lines we put in are somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless, the field has a definition of species that is useful for many things (like keeping track of extinctions, etc.) and it is valuable to keep to one definition of species.

  16. marco73 says:

    I'm actually more of a Piltdown man, myself.

  17. John says:

    @marco73…. Stoner!

  18. eddie says:

    @dragonmum – Thanks for the explanation, but I fear it leaves me wanting.

    @delurking – Thanks for the further explanation, and I think it confirms my suspicion that the question is "just" a matter of terminology, although your answer hints at something more which I'd like to better understand.

    As I see it:

    Fossil A has features X, Y, and Z. Fossil B has features I, J, and K. Some scientists are arguing that these features are sufficiently different that A and B must be different species, while others are arguing that they're sufficiently similar that A and B must be the same species.

    My question is this: why is this even a subject that merits debate? Whether they are declared the same or different species won't change the features that they have, and there is no disagreement over what those features are.

    What consequences are there from determining that they are or are not the same species? What inferences and conclusions can we draw that are different depending on which determination we make? Who cares? Why? I'm sure there must be good answers to my questions, but I'm too ignorant of the subject matter to know them. Dear readers, if you can shed any light here I would be most grateful.

  19. David says:

    You're right. Taxonomy is crap. Let's just regard all biodiversity as a single blob.

  20. grouch says:


    My question is this: why is this even a subject that merits debate? Whether they are declared the same or different species won't change the features that they have, and there is no disagreement over what those features are.
    — eddie

    Go to a library. In the center of a large room is a mountain of books. Protruding from the mountain's summit is a sign: "My Books". Please procure from "My Books" all of the non-fictional texts concerning engine lathes built between 1920 and 1930, having a capacity of 12 inches to 18 inches in swing and with a bed length of 48 inches to 144 inches.

    It's a database management debate.

    Mountains are great for picture postcards. If you want to figure out how Hawaii came to be, for example, you're not going to want piles of postcards on your desk, covering up the geology.

  21. thomas says:

    @eddie

    There isn't /guaranteed/ to be any underlying truth as to whether two individuals are of the same species, but in almost every case they either will or will not be. That is, if two populations don't in fact interbreed, they will diverge over time and eventually end up different and incompatible, so ambiguous cases are rare and temporary.

    However, some animals and many plants will sometimes interbreed with closely related species to form hybrids. Plants will occasionally interbreed even with other genera (Leyland cypress is an intergeneric hybrid, as is triticale, a moderately important cereal).

    In the case of the Neanderthals and Denisovans it doesn't matter to any individuals, but it's still historically interesting to know how long the groups interbred and when they separated. That's what's behind the question of 'same species'.

    Also, it's possible that there is a definitive answer. Humans have 22 chromosome pairs plus the sex chromosomes and the other two species of chimpanzees have 23 plus the sex chromosome: two of their chromosomes fused to make our chromosome #2.

    There was (and perhaps still is) a speculative but not loony theory that our separation from the the Neanderthals was due to exactly this chromosome fusion. The fusion happened at roughly the right time, according to DNA recombination rates. This theory implies that sex between Neanderthals and our ancestors would mostly have led to no children or infertile children, so the extent of interbreeding is important as evidence.

  22. eddie says:

    @David, @grouch – Why so hostile? At any rate, thank you for confirming that this is just a matter of taxonomy. That wasn't clear to me from the get-go; I thought there might be something else at issue, some disagreement over facts or consequences rather than naming conventions. I appreciate the clarity you've brought.

    @thomas – Thanks for the context regarding interbreeding. Do you think, then, that the scholarly dispute Clark referenced above is actually about the degree of interbreeding between the populations (a factual matter) rather than simply taxonomy?

  23. En Passant says:

    The distinctions between H.erectus, H.habilis and H.rudolfensis are no more. I am not a Denisovan, but an American!

    No taxonomy without representonomy!

  24. cbcalvin says:

    Perhaps love thy neighbor as thyself because you are kin?

  25. thomas says:

    @eddie

    Don't know, sorry. The last time I was exposed to current research on this issue was about six years ago.