Jim Moore's "AAT Sink or Swim?" Web Site
Can AATers research be trusted?
This page makes serious allegations against the AAH's chief proponent, Elaine Morgan and her writing practices. More than once, he implies that she deliberately misleads and misquotes as part of her normal reporting technique. The heading and introductory paragraphs seem to have been written in a way to lead the reader into a belief that the claims made in her books are little more than lies and deception. However, if one reads the detail of the page one finds that, actually, Moore has only four specific examples to back up these claims and none of them are anywhere near as bad as he portrays them to be.
1) The Darwin misquote. Moore lambasts Morgan by suggesting "Dropping 27 words from the middle of an 86 word quotation of Darwin and pretending it's whole is just not kosher, and certainly contradicts Morgan's self-righteous claim." The 22 words, Morgan omitted... "As Mr. Wallace remarks, the natives in all countries are glad to protect their naked backs and shoulders with some slight covering" did not affect the meaning or the context of her quotation in the slightest. The claim Moore alludes to, made on an internet newsgroup, that Morgan never omitted words without indicating she'd done so with a row of dots, was clearly proven as false, but how many of us have not made such claims and wished they hadn't? Moore does so himself on this very web page. He wrote 'You won't find these problems here', alluding to three types of deception, including leaving out "relevant material from the same source which contradicts the AAT position" when we do find such problems on at least one one occasion. (see the Denton misquote below).
2) The Elsner & Gooden Misquote. Here Moore correctly calls Morgan to task for misquoting a reference to bradycardia as evidence in support of better breathing control. Morgan was clearly in error but as the evidence Elsner & Gooden were citing was still of the nature which AAH proponents would use to argue in favour of the diving reflex, if not for greater breathing control.
3) The Negus quote. Here, Moore is clearly scraping the barrel as he abandons Morgan's early published books and, instead, resorts to postings made on internet newsgroups. Even here, it is not clear that Morgan's omissions made any substantial difference to the argument she was making.
4) The Denton Quote. Moore
rightly points out that Morgan misquoted Denton. She used the word 'selective'
instead of 'selection'. He also correctly points out that she omitted a word
('appetite') without informing the reader of it. Nor did she
accurately show that her quote was only a part of a sentence. However,
Moore's allegation, that Morgan's placing of Denton's quote in a savanna
context was a "complete fabrication" is a little less certain. Not only did
Denton clearly allude to 'Kalahari Bushmen' in the first paragraph of this
section but Moore chose to omit that sentence from his own quotation which
was meant to justify his allegation.
It is argued here that, sloppy as some of these
examples may be, they are almost certainly the result of genuine human error
and not any sordid intent to mislead. The fact that Moore could only find
only four, very poor examples, supporting relatively minor points about the
AAH from a book that Morgan published in 1990. In her five books Morgan
makes hundreds of points, most backed up by referenced quotations. Her last
book, especially, is relatively accurate in all of this. It is mischievous
in the extreme to imply, on the basis of this evidence, that this is a
general symptom of all her work.
research be trusted?
However, unfortunately for the AAH, Moore does have a point that Morgan's first four books are not referenced as well as they could have been, and certainly not as well as the best popular science books are. However, as was pointed out before, the quality and accuracy of her references was very similar to Morris' 'The Naked Ape' (1967) on which she probably based her standards. Her 1997 book was as well referenced as most popular science works.
So, onto those misquotations... Just to add to the tension Moore starts by citing Morgan (from a newsgroup posting 27 May 1996) claiming that she never omits words from quotes without using the ellipses (...) to indicate missing words. Statements like this have a tendency to come back and bite you, like when Jim Moore wrote 'you won't find these problems here' (when suggesting that his referencing standards were better than AAH proponents.)
Moore goes on to tell how he knows Morgan's claim was untrue because he had a list of four examples where she'd done exactly that. Moore's quite explicit in telling us, even in percentage terms, how much of the substance she's omitted and he claims that, on occasions, what was missing was a key word. And the quotes are.... ? Well Moore doesn't actually tell us that bit. Once again, we just have to trust him on that.
Next subject... "Morgan also occasionally changes words in quotes" Moore assures us. This time he does provide an actual reference: Scars of Evolution, p 60. So I looked it up.
She quotes Darwin as writing "The loss of hair is an inconvenience and probably an injury to man, for he is thus exposed to the scorching of the sun and to sudden chills, especially due to wet weather. No one supposes that the nakedness of the skin is any direct advantage to man; his body therefore cannot have been divested of hair through natural selection."
Unfortunately neither Morgan, nor Moore give a reference to the original quote from Darwin. Later, Moore informs us that Morgan's quote is actually from 'Descent of Man' Darwin (1971) but he doesn't provide the quote or a reference to that either.
After some searching it turned out to be in chapter 20 of Descent of Man on page 622. Indeed Morgan is guilty as charged. She omitted the following words from her paragraph... "As Mr. Wallace remarks, the natives in all countries are glad to protect their naked backs and shoulders with some slight covering." Perhaps the reason Moore doesn't actually divulge this detail is because anyone reading would think 'So what? What iota of her argument does that change? Why are you wasting my time with such banalities?'
Moore concedes that these omissions and 'twistings' could just be down to human error, and not a deliberate attempt to distort, but "either way it makes her research and writing unreliable, and if her research and writing is unreliable - if her facts are unsound and her quotations inaccurate - how likely is it that her conclusions are good?"
This would be a reasonable argument if all her work was really so badly written but it should be noted that several well respected people in the field have praised Morgan's books (see the last section here) so that would appear to be unlikely. Much more likely is that, as a human being, Morgan made a number of honest mistakes and Moore has pounced on them and attempted to portray them as deliberate attempts to fool people.
Moore's tirade against Morgan's writing abilities continues, even though as yet we've yet to have a single scrap of evidence placed before us. His next point is that not only is she sometimes sloppy, sometimes she 'precisely excise those words which would damage her case, as she did in the case of Sir Victor Negus'. More on this later.
His next accusation is that Morgan sometimes uses a non sequitur quote, in which 'she gives as support for a claim is about another subject entirely'. He cites her use of Elsner & Gooden's work to support an argument about breath-holding when it is actually about bradycardia (slowing down the heart) to back this up. To Moore's credit, this time he does provide a full citation to Morgan's quote and the context it was made and their original text, later. See next section, too, for a response.
Then, going back over the Darwin misquote again, Moore this time adds a further accusation that Morgan was 'creating a false context for a quote.' Basically, he argued that Morgan was creating the false impression that in 'Descent of Man' he had not changed his mind about something he had first published in 'Origin of Species' 12 years earlier. (That hairlessness in man constituted 'an inconvenience and possibly an injury'.) Moore appears to have just cause to argue that Morgan does imply that Darwin had first had this thought in 1859 and so the implication he hadn't changed his mind about it is therefore misleading.
As we delve through these detailed quotes by Darwin and Elaine Morgan's apparent misrepresentation of them one might be forgiven for questioning if this was really such a serious crime.
Two questions should be asked:
1) Did Morgan misquote Darwin in suggesting that hairlessness in man was, somehow, odd? The answer has to be: No.
2) In her mistaken (or deviously calculated) point that Darwin hadn't changed his mind about this in his 1871 work, how did the AAH argument gain from that? The answer is not at all. Morgan was merely suggesting that Darwin's explanation for nakedness might have been sexual attraction, as sexual selection was a major part of that work, but that he never actually claimed it in his books.
On this matter one is left thinking that Moore has been blowing hot air trying to stir up feelings of mistrust in Morgan's writings when actually the substance of the allegation is minor in the extreme and not any kind of analogy to the methods of creationists in misquoting Darwin in order to discredit him, as Moore claims.
After such a build up any reader is likely to be desperate to read the dirt on Morgan. And then, at last, it follows, To give credit to Moore, the three specific examples he gives are well referenced this time. Two are taken from her 1990 book, Scars of Evolution and one is taken from a quote on the science.paleoanthropology newsgroup.
Morgan quotes Elsner and Gooden: Accurately?
The best that could be argued from the point of view of the AAH is that Morgan was citing them in the context of evidence suggesting that the merely the anticipation of diving in aquatic mammals affected them and just mistakenly attributed their work to a different, but similar, phenomenon. She wrote "a diving mammal regulates its breathing in relation to actions it intends to perform, as explained in a report by R. Elsner and B. Gooden." But to suggest that this (breathing) evidence was supported by Elsner & Gooden was inaccurate.
At worst it was a deliberate attempt to twist the words of Elsner & Gooden to imply it supported her hypothesis.
The question has to be asked: Did the misquoting of Elsner & Gooden improve Morgan's argument? In that it was meant to aid her case that breathing control was better in aquatic mammals than terrestrial ones, no doubt it did. But what about the case for the AAH, generally? In that regard the quote is hardly out of place as one used to support an AAH-like argument. Although it has to be disappointing to see Morgan shown to misquote someone, the result is rather underwhelming. It leaves a taste in the mouth of someone nit-picking and begs the question how many other popular science books have been scrutinised to such a degree to look for such errors.
Morgan quotes Sir Victor Negus: Accurately?
So what is his allegation anyway? That Morgan misquotes (omits words and phrases without indicating they have been removed) Negus and as a result enhances the AAH argument.
Indeed she does leave out a couple of '...'s from time to time. But, without wishing to be condescending to any senior citizen, you have to remember these postings were written by a 74 year old at a time when even the most computer literate of us were only just starting to get into posting to newsgroups.
And, if you read through Jim's case, as I have done several times, it really doesn't strike you that she has misrepresented him in any case. She's missed a little of his preamble to some of the points but it never effects the argument. It appears to be just more picky bluster on Moore's part, trying to imply Morgan's being dishonest when she's just not.
Morgan quotes Denton: Accurately?
However, even in this instance, it is difficult to see how Denton's full paragraph, actually quoted in full by Moore, could be seen to contradict the gist of Morgan's citation.
Here it is again...
A number of questions need to be asked here.
First, read that paragraph (above) and ask yourself the question: "Is Denton not arguing that wild herbivorous mammals might be expected to retain salt appetite mechanisms?"
Moore himself shows that Denton is arguing "he principal consideration in this discussion of the 30 million years of evolution of the Hominidae, is that diet was probably almost exclusively vegetarian during the first 25 million years." (Denton 1982:p70) so, secondly, does it not follow that human ancestors, being vegetarian before 2-3 million years ago, would have also had this kind of salt appetite mechanism?
Third, isn't Morgan right that the major paradigm explaining human evolution until very recently has been that it occurred on the savannah?
Moore accuses Morgan of "a complete fabrication" in placing Denton's words in a savannah context. "Denton neither says it, nor implies it" we are told.
Moore goes on to write (tedious, this, isn't it?) ...
refers instead to the 'environmental, dietetic and metabolic conditions'
which led to 'the behaviour towards salt of a wide variety of species of
wild herbivorous mammals', and he points out that these conditions could
naturally have 'operated on hominoids over a large part of their evolution'.
So he is not, as Morgan implies, referring to a relatively transient period
of a few million years or to only 'savannah conditions', but instead to a
wide variety of environments and conditions over tens of millions of years.
Notice that last citation. This, remember, is on his web page dedicated to critiquing Morgan's selective use of quotations but what was the very next sentence? The one he chose not to paste?...
It was this: "If the deductions of hunter-gatherer societies based on the Kalahari bushmen and the Hadza are valid in relation to hominids, then diet may have also been predominantly vegetarian over the last five million years, though there was considerable variation in diet according to the prevailing climate and conditions." (Denton 1982:p70.)
Yes, that's right. The very next sentence after ones Moore cited as evidence that Denton had not even implied any link to the savannah, we have a sentence where Denton very clearly is linking hominid diet with that of savanna peoples.
It is probably true to say that this sentence was meant in the context of later human evolution, rather than the phase Morgan was probably alluding to, but Morgan's claim is that a post-LCA, pre-Homo aquatic phase took place. Assuming the consensus on those dates of around 7-5mya, there is clearly a greater overlap to Denton's savannah people time frame (last five million years) than there was to the earlier (the 25 my before that) phase in which he was not alluding to the savanna, but that Moore quoted as evidence that he was not alluding to it at all.
Denton is, in his first paragraph on the 'Diet of
Hominids' clearly is making a reference to savanna people and linking
them to his argument about hominids being largely vegetarian.
Whatever the verdict on this particular misrepresentation, the savannah was certainly the place where the consensus placed hominid evolution in the past and, even if Denton did not say so explicitly, he made it clear enough that he too was open to such ideas.
Now read once again Morgan's original quote... "On the other hand, when an animal has had enough salt it will take no more. In humans neither the compulsory search nor the abrupt cut-off point can be relied on. Their intake bears no relation to salt deficit or surplus. This is surely not a characteristic that would have been acquired on the savannah. As Denton points out, in savannah conditions '...selective pressures would favour retention and perhaps elaboration of salt mechanisms'." Morgan (1990:101)
Is this really such a misrepresentation of what he was arguing? I think not.
The argument about whether humans really have lost this 'salt hunger' is a separate issue. Moore refutes that elsewhere on his web site (and so do I) and for some AAH proponents this would be no great problem if it were false in any case.
Moore has shown on this page that Morgan has been guilty of at least one example of sloppy reporting in her 1990 book 'Scars of Evolution' but it hardly amounts to the character assassination Moore seemed to have planned or that people reading the first paragraphs of this page might have expected.
However, Morgan's books generally, (and certainly her first four) were never meant to be taken as such rigorous pieces of scientific work, as Moore knows only too well. They were "think pieces", trying to get her readership to consider this idea and to question why science seemed to have rejected it.
Morgan would be the first to admit that her first four books could have been more clearly referenced and quotations more accurately attributed but Moore goes much too far in implying that this was a deliberate policy of intent to deceive. One could pick up any similar kind of popular science book targeted at a lay audience and find similar pieces of sloppiness. Moore's implication that this is something more sordid and inherent in the mantel of the AAH proponents is itself sordid. The way he uses the same tactics he accuses Morgan of in supporting his claim that she had placed Denton's quote out of context indicates the levels he is prepared to stoop to try to discredit her work. One only has to remind oneself of the URL Moore uses (www.aquaticape.org) to publish this material to understand his motives.
I suggest that Moore's points of critique here are highly selective and largely irrelevant to the main arguments being put forward. To answer his question 'Can the AATers research be trusted?' the best answer is probably: 'As much as anyone else's can be.'
Quotes Jim Moore didn't mention
"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).
"When Sir Alister Hardy in 1960 put forth his hypothesis that, as one newspaper headline put it, "Dip in Sea Turned Ape into Man", there was an initial stirring of discomfort from evolutionary anthropologists, then silence. Only Elaine Morgan's support of the hypothesis has kept it alive all these years: first, in The Descent of Woman (1972), where, having devastatingly demolished Robert Ardrey and Desmond Morris, she searches for a nonsexist alternative model of human evolution and settles for the aquatic hypothesis almost by default, then in The Aquatic Ape (1982), where she explains in detail why an aquatic (preferably marine) phase in human evolution must be postulated to explain a number of human anatomical and physiological peculiarities; and most recently in The Scars of Evolution (1990), where she documents the aquatic model in the greatest detail of all. Yet despite all this effort, the aquatic ape hypothesis still has received little professional attention beyond occasional sniping from the wings." Groves (1993:p1038)
Writing about the aquatic ape theory..."Many of the counterarguments seem awfully thin and ad hoc. During the last few years when I have found myself in the company of distinguished biologists, evolutionary theorists, paleo-anthropologists, and other experts, I have often asked them just to tell me, please, exactly why Elaine Morgan must be wrong about the aquatic ape theory. I haven't yet had a reply worth mentioning, aside from those who admit, with a twinkle in their eyes, that they have often wondered the same thing." (Dennet 1995 p244)
Dennett, Daniel (1995) Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Penguin. London. New York.
Elsner, R & Gooden B (1983) Diving and Asphyxia. Cambridge University Press (1987)
Groves, Colin P (1993). Book Review: The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?. Human Biology Vol:65 Pages:1038-1040
Morgan, Elaine (1990). The Scars of Evolution. Oxford University Press (Oxford)
Morgan, Elaine (1994). The Descent of the Child. Penguin Books (London)
Morgan, Elaine (1997). The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. Souvenir Press (London).
Negus, V. (1965) The Biology of Breathing.E&S Livingstone Ltd.: Edinburgh and London
Tobias, P V (1998) The Aquatic Ape (Documentary) Interview.
Tobias, P V (2002). Some aspects of the multifaceted dependence of early humanity on water. Nutrition and Health Vol:16 Pages:13-17