Jim Moore's "AAT Sink or Swim?" Web Site
Read Elaine Morgan's own response to Jim Moore's Web site.
Considering that the so-called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is so well known (or perhaps infamous might be a better term) there is surprisingly little about it in the scientific literature. John Langdon's (1997) paper in the Journal of Human Evolution is probably the only paper in a leading paleoanthropological journal to attempt to reject it. The other serious piece of work that is often quoted is Roede et al (1991) the published proceedings from the 1987 Valkenburg Conference on the AAH.
So sparse is the literature against the AAH that you tend to find that you are often referred to the equally infamous 'Jim Moore's web site' for, apparently, the ultimate refutation of the AAH. One regular participant on the paleo.sci.anthropology newsgroup called it a 'Magnus opus'! It is difficult to imagine any other area in science where an amateur's web site (he admits himself to lacking 'any formal credentials in evolutionary science' although he was the husband of the late Nancy Tanner, anthropologist) could take on such a role, but it would appear to be the case here.
This section, then, is dedicated to Jim Moore's web site, it's rebuttal of the AAH and what might best be described as a character assassination of Elaine Morgan. Jim Moore has promoted his web site by suggesting that "for a scientific critique of the aquatic ape theory, go to www.aquaticape.org" but actually how scientific is it? In writing this section I am going to try to answer three questions: Which of Jim Moore's objections to the AAH are valid?; Do they amount to a refutation of the AAH?; and Are his criticisms of the scholarship of AAH proponents justified?
Moore's choice of URL
It is interesting to note that since I started doing
this critique (I announced it in a conversation with Richard Wagler on the
sci.paleo.anthrop newsgroup on 22nd January) Moore has been adding several
pages starting on 29th January. I do not know if the thought of having
someone pouring over your work with a view to publicly critiquing it has
caused Jim to want to add to it but the web site had been quite static prior
to this for at least a year or two. I will review the new content in the
The Web Site's Introductory comments
Jim Moore does start out with some sort of working definition of the hypothesis he is about to critique, which is more than Langdon (1997) did, but unfortunately he makes the usual classic mistake of misrepresenting it:
He states: 'The Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT) says humans went through an aquatic stage in our evolution during the transition from the last common ancestor we shared with apes to hominids' (my emphasis.)
The nub, as usual, lies on that word 'aquatic'. He states, quite clearly, that the AAT is claiming humans (suggesting post Homo) went through an 'aquatic' stage but what does he mean by aquatic? We shall see, but Hardy made it quite clear that he envisioned our ancestors (and he was thinking about ancestors that lived long before the advent of the genus Homo) being less aquatic than an otter. "It may be objected that children have to be taught to swim; but the same is true of young otters, and I should regard them as more aquatic than Man has been" Hardy (1960:643).
After such an ambiguous (at best) definition of the hypothesis and one that, if taken literally, would also be rejected by even the most vociferous proponent, it does not strike a great deal of confidence in what is to follow. But let us give Jim some slack here and just assume that, like most, he's just not quite clear about what the AAH is proposing.
He says, right from the onset, that his web site is one of the few to be 'treating it as a serious scientific theory' claiming that his is one of the few that give 'critical examination' of the theory. Next, Moore offers a word of explanation as to why he has written this site. He writes "I am doing what many AAT proponents -- including its principal proponent, Elaine Morgan -- have repeatedly claimed they want done: treating the AAT as befits a serious scientific theory.
I am sure that Morgan had something more in mind than a web site dedicated to it's dismissal. And the way that Moore's very first sentence on the hypothesis contained at least two serious errors (stating that 'humans', not human ancestors, went through an 'aquatic', not 'more aquatic' stage) hardly amounts to befitting serious scientific treatment.
makes a good point in stating that "All scientific theories need to be
examined for accuracy; it's an essential component of the process of
science." No-one could argue with that. But then adds that "I'm afraid that
when the Aquatic Ape Theory is examined, it does not fare well. The AAT is
built on many supposed facts which, when examined, do not turn out to be
true. Perhaps the kindest thing would be to ignore it, but I am not that
Such a goal is indeed laudable. No-one, least of all Elaine Morgan, would expect anyone to accept the AAH without a critical appraisal of it first. And, one should not forget that Hardy's original paper ended with this paragraph: "My thesis is, of course, only a speculation - an hypothesis to be discussed and tested against further lines of evidence. Such ideas are useful only if they stimulate fresh inquiries that may
bring us nearer the truth." Hardy (1960 p645.) So, when Moore writes that is is absolutely necessary to look at the facts that support an hypothesis, he should be clear that we (proponents of the AAH) are 100% behind him. What remains to be seen is if Moore himself is being objective and faithful to the facts as he claims to be and whether his theoretical understanding of the hypothesis is free from pre-conceived misunderstandings which prejudice his view, perhaps leading to a false refutation.
then goes on to make a very serious and important allegation: That the
source material which supposedly supports the claims of the AAH were not
given. He writes "chief AAT theorizer Elaine Morgan was posting regularly in
the sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup, and claimed to be willing to supply
references for her written AAT claims, but she proved to be reluctant to
provide these references to people who have a past history of actually
reading the source and reporting back what it really says."
Jim Moore argues right from the beginning that the scholarly methods employed by ' most pro-AAT accounts' (e.g. not citing references properly and misquoting sources) are not repeated by him and yet, up to now, he has not made one specific citation of any work by Morgan or any other proponent of the hypothesis.
Even his specific criticisms lack specific references. For example he makes great play on writing this paragraph:
"The references for AAT statements, when they are given at all, are often maddeningly incomplete or misleading. For instance, it took some hunting to find the source for a quote when the quote supposedly came from a "famous authority during a television programme" (it was actually a 1929 book by Prof. Frederick Wood Jones). Another time the source of information for a claim was said to be a 1979 book, with an author mentioned. Finding the ref then started with finding that book, then finding the one page out of hundreds (which wasn't given) that referred to the actual reference which contained the info (a 1956 article), then finding the article which contained the info, which, it turned out, didn't actually say what the AAT proponent claimed it did. To complete the critique of that one AAT claim (about seal sweat) also required finding yet another article, and a total of perhaps 6-8 hours of actual research time. I'll guarantee you the original one paragraph AAT bogus claim didn't take that long to churn out... and people wonder why anthropologists don't spend their time and meagre research grants chasing down AAT claims."
This sounds very impressive, but one should notice that he omits to actually cite any of these examples so that those of us who are sceptical of Moore's motives are unable to go and check them out. We are supposed to just take his word for it. Already we see a certain double standard emerging. He can criticise AAH opponents for their shoddy methods, but he is above that same criticism himself.
He ends his intro by defending his attacks on Elaine Morgan. He writes "I find it really annoying when good science is taken to task for not accepting a theory which is so full of holes and mistruths, and which is argued for so dishonestly." He claims that he is no harder on Morgan than scientists are on each other and on their own work. But therein lies the point: Morgan is no scientist and has never claimed to be one. She is an interested commentator on human evolution.
She heard about Hardy's theory and thought 'that makes sense, how come no-one has looked at it?' So, she used her talent for clear and entertaining writing to author five books on the subject, the purpose of which was to wake scientists up to the possibility that there might be something in this idea. I think Elaine Morgan actually deserves some formal recognition for over thirty years work in this area but certainly a great deal more generosity than people like Jim Moore have been willing to give. Thankfully there are others in the field who share that view.
Jim Moore asks: "I don't have any formal credentials in evolutionary science, so how can I expect you to believe what I tell you instead of what AAT proponents say?" It's a good question which he attempts to answer by claiming that he's good at library work, has an ability to learn basic scientific principles and that he's 'just a little bit nutty'.
So, perhaps another opinion about Elaine Morgan's work would be a timely end to this introductory page about Jim Moore's web site, from someone who actually does have excellent credentials to comment, Phillip Tobias. In a 1998 BBC documentary interview, he said: "I see Elaine Morgan, through her series of superbly written books, presenting a challenge to the scientists to take an interest in this thing, to look at the evidence dispassionately. Not to avert your gaze as though it were something you that you hadn't ought to hear about or hadn't ought to see. And those that are honest with themselves are going to dispassionately examine the evidence. We've got to if we are going to be true to our calling as scientists. (Tobias 1998). Clearly, not everyone is so 'annoyed' by her work.
The rest of his opening page acts as a contents page for the rest of the web site. This critique will mirror that structure allowing, as does Moore's, for a page by page reading if you prefer. Each critique page here will also refer back to the related page on his web site.
Roede, Machteld; Wind, Jan; Patrick, John; Reynolds, Vernon (eds.), (1991). Aquatic Ape: Fact of Fiction: Proceedings from the Valkenburg Conference. Souvenir Press (London)
Tobias, Phillip. V. (1998) Interviewed in the BBC Documentary "The Aquatic Ape."