Jim Moore's "AAT Sink or Swim?" Web Site
Why don't anthropologists mention the AAT much?


On this page Moore tries to justify the almost totally mute response by paleoanthropologists to Hardy's idea. It should be a difficult thing to do but Moore makes light work of it. 'What hope should they have of having their theory taken seriously?" he asks, when they propose such things as 'aquatic rhinos', and features as diverse as hymen and salt glands to support their argument. He suggests that he AAH is like the astronomer Fred Hoyle's claim that the archaeopteryx fossil feather imprints was a fraud and that it's too easy for writers like Morgan to produce poorly researched books compared to the huge amount of studious work needed to refute them, to make it worth it.

He ends the page by denying even a crumb of charity to over thirty years of largely unrecognised work by Elaine Morgan, arguing that even from the point of view of promoting the role of women and children in human evolution her work "did not break new ground." There certainly does appear to be a strong feeling of sour grapes to Morgan herself personally, throughout the whole web site.

Having gone to the trouble myself to return to academia, specifically to try to answer the very question Moore poses here and having now spent much of the last five years at the institutions of UCL (London) and UWA (Perth) I think I am in as good a position to answer it as anyone has been. I honestly think that what Moore offers here in that regard falls well short of the mark.

Hardy might not have been a paleoanthropologist but he was a Fellow of the Royal Society and had written a number of books on the subject of evolution generally. Potentially, his views should have been well respected. The important question is: Why weren't they? It seems that in the crucial weeks that followed his controversial speech at the Brighton Aquatic Club in February 1960 a series of events transpired which colluded to assign the hypothesis to a kind of scrap heap. Firstly, there was the reaction of the popular press. Apparently "DIP IN SEA TURNS MAN INTO APE" was the headline that prominent anthropologists in London read and, following so quickly on the tail of the Piltdown Man scandal, one might excuse their feelings of horror and indignation that one of 'their own' might have made such a gaff.
Hardy was moved to write a fuller and more balanced account of his ideas in New Scientist early in March but despite a favourable mail bag in the weeks that followed, it appears that the elite of London paleoanthropologists had already made their minds up about the idea. This, for me, is the most disappointing part of the episode.
When you hear an idea for the first time, it seems to me, there are three possibilities: You might, intuitively, get the idea of the author exactly right. More likely, you won't. You might misunderstand the point being argued, not quite grasping the full impact of the point being made almost to the point of it being seen as trivial or, possibly, you might over-estimate it and exaggerate it to the point that it almost seems ridiculous and therefore dismiss it. One might expect that senior scientists would be used to these possibilities and have the skill and experience to alter their perception of a new idea, sliding it forward or backwards effortlessly until a point is reached where it makes the most sense. It seems, however, that the response to the AAH was very much of the exaggerated kind, even though Hardy went to great pains to stress that he was only suggesting man was More aquatic in the past and never as aquatic as an otter. No-one, it seems, made the effort to slide the hypothesis back to see if they made sense in some, less extreme form.

One might forgive them somewhat, as the prevailing view at the time was, apparently, very much that humans had evolved on the savanna but with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Tobias) it does seem that academic inculturation (where students study subjects and take views due to the influence of their lecturers and tutors) has blocked any possibility of someone breaking ranks, even over forty years later, to consider it properly.

Moore says that his web site does what Morgan claims she wants - for the AAH to be taken seriously as a scientific hypothesis. But in reality he does no such thing. That would involve the process I allude to above - a serious attempt to find a point where the hypothesis makes most sense and to honestly and openly consider it's strongest arguments at those points. What Moore does on his web site is quite the opposite: He collates a series of the most outlandish claims, finds the arguments  that back these that are the weakest and most open to criticism and proceeds to pull them apart. He claims that he is critically reviewing the hypothesis but really he is just rubbishing it in a very facile way.

Why don't anthropologists mention the AAT much?
Moore poses this question and then starts to answer it by suggesting that the main reason is that AAH proponents have not offered good quality evidence for it so far.
He writes "if the proponents can't come up with better information than false 'facts' like 'rhinos are predominately aquatic' or 'only marine reptiles and birds have salt glands', 'only humans and aquatic mammals have hymens', etc. etc., what hope should they have of having their theory taken seriously?" but this is a highly selective and facile argument.
Of course 'they' have come up with far better arguments than this.
For example, the fact that humans are rather good at swimming whereas chimpanzees are very poor at it, or that the place where apes move bipedally most predictably is in shallow water, or that hair loss is associated with some aquatic mammals and shaving what little body hair we have improves swimming efficiency, or that comparatively fat infants makes little sense in open or arboreal settings but does makes sense as an aid to buoyancy in water.

Moore says that essentially what the AAH is saying is "I'm saying this without good evidence; accept it or prove me wrong" but, if you look at the list of observations above, no-one would dispute them. The overwhelming evidence is that humans swim better than apes, that apes move bipedally in water, that shaving reduces swimming drag and that human infants are more buoyant than chimp infants. It is not the evidence that is lacking, it is the willingness for people to interpret in any way that might be perceived to involve the dreaded 'a' word.

He argues that "This [approach] leaves the critic with the task of proving a negative, and of assembling all the evidence, including the evidence that the proponents should've gotten together in the first place. This is an unattractive prospect. (I hate to tell you how many hours I had to spend digging out the real facts about the AAT.)"
I have to report that I had a similar experience critquing this web site. Almost every single claim Moore made about what 'AAH proponents say' was unsupported. I had to go searching through my collection of AAH related literature again and again to find out if Morgan really did say what Moore implied she said. More often than not, she hadn't actually made the claim in the full, exaggerated, sense Moore implied.

Moore then, bizarrely, claims "This problem can perhaps be most easily understood by looking at the history of Fred Hoyle's claims about Archaeopteryx." How? Well because the astronomer Hoyle's claims that archaeopteryx fossilised feathers imprints were either frauds or mistaken caused many hours of palaeontologist's time to refute. Get it? Moore's saying that the AAH is also only supported by people who don't know what they're talking about. They make claims that take many hours to refute and paleoanthropologists are busy enough already, so they don't bother.

Perhaps there is something in this view. Richards (1991) agreed that a great deal of the scepticism against the AAH in paleoanthropological circles is due to the 'perceived outsidership' of Elaine Morgan. But Richards certainly disagreed with Moore about whether they were right to do so.

Moore goes onto argue that the AAH is typical of 'marginal theories' by supporting a shifting target. He claims "specifically, the 'aquatic apes' have become less and less aquatic over the years, from being fully acclimated to sea life, diving, etc., to seashore-dwelling waders, to denizens of the shores of streams and inland lakes."
This is simply a misrepresentation. Hardy made it quite clear, right from the outset in 1960 that he did not envisage that human ancestors were ever more aquatic than an otter. (Hardy 1960:643.) And Morgan's views have, more or less, mirrored Hardy's all along.
In any case, if the AAH had shifted towards a moderately 'more aquatic' ape (even though that is all Hardy postulated in the first place) then how can that be argued to be a bad thing?
Any hypothesis should be modified as new evidence appears and if new evidence has led to the abandonment of some aspects of the model - for instance the idea of a distinct, fully aquatic phase post the Pan/Homo split but pre-Homo sapiens - then surely, that only adds strength to the plausibility of the hypothesis.

Moore claims that diluting the degree of proposed aquaticism 'wipes out some of their arguments'.

He says: "that human sweating and tears are a marine adaptation to excrete salt doesn't work at all in a freshwater environment" but, of course sweat cooling per se does work particularly well in a water-side model as an adjunct to going for a regular dip to keep cool.

He argues "bipedal locomotion could not have been successful without the support of water, yet even after the scenario moves to an ape wading along the shallows of the shoreline, the argument stays" but ignores the evidence that shows that extant apes tend to move bipedally even in very shallow water, probably because of the simple logic that it is safer to wade on one's hind legs when one cannot be sure how deep the water is.

Moore, rather patronisingly claims "there are other problems with the AAT that experienced researchers see immediately. The first is the remarkable lack of fossils for the time period involved."
As has been admitted here, it is true that there appears to be little support for a true post Pan/Homo split, pre-Homo sapiens full-on, aquatic phase as Hardy originally posited. But to argue that the fossil record is actually against the AAH when practically every hominin fossil ever found is from a lacustrine or riverine depositional environment and when there is a distinct absence of any such fossil attributed to a gorilla or chimp ancestor in the last 2 my, is perverse distortion of the fact.
Moore would appear to have got his argument completely the wrong way around here - conveniently, because he seems to assume that the AAH must propose a coastal marine phase - arguing that the so-called 'lack' of fossil evidence would be understandable if it were in wet and wooded habitats which, he claims, are "not conducive to fossilization" whereas "shorelines are great places to get fossilized" according to Moore. If anything, the opposite is true. In any case several recent fossil finds have been attributed to 'wet and wooded' habitats.

Moore repeats his predation argument again, claiming that "in open forest or savannah, upright hominids would have little problem spotting predators" but forgetting that the predators would also be more likely to see them too. He echoes his argument that aquatic predators would, in contrast, be difficult to spot and ends by suggesting that "the AAT prefers to sidestep this issue or pretend that it doesn't exist."

No such sidestepping is suggested here. It is a serious objection to the AAH but it is argued that Moore and aquasceptics like him choose to exaggerate the dangers of aquatic predators and downplay the terrestrial ones. They do not give serious enough consideration to the notion that living on the edge of water and land might uniquely offer a species better protection from the main specialist predators in the two environments.

Why don't professionals spend their time refuting the AAT?
Moore then makes the rather elaborate claim that the reason no professional scientist has bothered to refute the AAH is because by the time they have gone to the trouble to do so, the original proponent of the theory can produce more 'original' work and, consequently, appear to 'outsmart' the reviewer.

What appears to be definitely true is that the AAH has suffered from a lack of serious scientific study. The blame for this can hardly be laid at the footsteps of Elaine Morgan. She was already 52 when she wrote 'Descent of Woman.' It would be asking  a great deal for her to make a third shift in her career into the field of paleoanthropology to do the required original research.

What she, and Hardy himself, tried to do was to provoke a response from someone already in the field to take the matter seriously. Not in the way Moore has done, spending a lot of time and effort trying to rubbish the weaknesses in it, but to approach the problem from the hypothetico-deductive method: Ok, the AAH might predict this, so how might we test it?

It should be pointed out, and of course Moore ignores it completely, that Philip Tobias has made the same plea himself several times over the last few years. For example he wrote "this is a plea for the heavy, earth-bound view of hominid evolution to be lightened and leavened by a greater emphasis upon the role of water and waterways in hominid development, survival, diversification and dissemination" (Tobias 2002:16)

Did Morgan at least break new ground regarding the role of females during our evolution?
Moore ends this page with a seemingly bitter and rather pointless attack on Elaine Morgan from a completely different perspective.
Impartial observers might conclude, as Moore suggests himself, that at least it might be concede that Morgan might have helped promote  the role that women and children played in human evolution.
It seems a fair point, after all she did write books entitled "The Descent of Woman" and "The Descent of the Child." Who else did that?
Come on, Jim, how about it? Can't you even concede her that much?
No. Apparently not even that much. "Morgan didn't break new ground in her treatment of women and children" he tells us. "That ground had already broken during the 60s by researchers such as Thelma Rowell and Jane Lancaster  ... and perhaps most directly by Sally Linton."

Perhaps there is some sour grapes here which might give us a clue as to the real motivation behind Moore's efforts in attacking the AAH and it's most productive proponent. Moore concludes the page by writing "Linton's work provided much of the inspiration for the later influential work of Nancy Tanner and Adrienne Zihlman. It's a shame that Morgan's supporters ignore the incredibly important and influential work of these pioneering women."

Richards, Graham (1991)
. The Refutation that Never Was: The Reception of the Aquatic Ape Theory, 1972-1987. In: 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 (2002). Some aspects of the multifaceted dependence of early humanity on water. Nutrition and Health Vol:16 Pages:13-17