Monday, June 21, 2010

Reckless and farcical

Wow, Peter Line had a pretty scathing rebuttal to my hominid baraminology paper on the CMI website last week. Here's the last paragraph of his article:
Used in the hands of someone who acknowledges the limitations, these studies may have applications. However, when used recklessly as some kind of a ‘be all and end all’ human-australopith ‘truth detector’ the outcome is worse than useless—it is downright misleading. In some ways the result of Wood’s analysis is so wrong it can be refuted by simple observation. Consider the similarities of the Australopithecus sediba cranium to that of the Australopithecus africanus cranium Sts 71 from Sterkfontein. Then ask yourself, is a technique to be trusted that finds more similarities between the Australopithecus sediba skull and a modern human skull, than between the Australopithecus sediba skull and the Australopithecus africanus skull, to the point where Australopithecus sediba is classified as human and Australopithecus africanus is classified as an extinct australopith-type ape? Something is not right. One wonders about the next ‘baraminological’ entry into the human family.
The next one? Homo gautengensis. I don't even have to do a new analysis. My original hominid paper included the type specimen STW 53 of this newly-described species.

Anyway, a few points of clarification might help. First, I never claimed to have a truth detector, and exaggerating what I wrote does not help our disagreement. Second, Ad hominem arguments and insults (characterizing my claims as "farcical" or "reckless," for example) don't help either. Line's article is unfortunately quite a contrast with Senter's critique of baraminology. Third, Line's response muddles the issue by implying that comparing sediba to africanus is as meaningful as comparing sediba to sapiens. From a baraminological standpoint, the key question is not whether sediba is very similar to Homo sapiens but whether it falls within the range of the group of species to which Homo sapiens also belongs. Based on the single published baraminological analysis of cranial information in my paper, it falls well within the group to which sapiens belongs. It's therefore part of the human holobaramin, at least as far as the craniodental data is concerned.

Let me close by quoting my own paper:
Though the present research unequivocally groups H. habilis, H. rudolfensis, and “Au.” sediba with other species of Homo, this should certainly not be considered definitive. The present study has several drawbacks. First, although holobaramins are supposed to be defined from “holistic” data, all of the datasets used in this study contain only craniodental data. Second, like all fossil datasets, many of the character states are unknown. Since baraminic distances can only be calculated based on known states, unknown states require elimination of taxa, characters, or both. Third and most serious, the criteria for selecting characters informative for baraminology remain unknown. This is especially significant in this study, since two of the datasets analyzed were uninformative, despite being comprised of craniodental characters like the baraminologically informative datasets.
That doesn't sound anything like a reckless or misleading truth-detector to me. It sounds like I critiqued my own study in the very paper in which it was published.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.