Letter: Men and apes
Friday 09 October 1998
First, the meaningless and oft-quoted "statistic" that we share 98.6 per cent of our genetic material with chimps. What does this mean? The spurious accuracy of the last 0.6 per cent means very little, and even less when you know that we also share a large proportion of our genes with fish, flowers and even fungi.
Second, molecular biologists do not "know how long it takes for changes to accumulate in DNA", they merely have an estimate, which means that there is some uncertainty about the date at which the last common ancestor of chimps and humans lived.
Given this uncertainty, the scenario that Gribben sketches is indeed possible, but it is also possible that the divergence took place earlier, before the origin of upright walking, leaving the chimps, gorillas and all their ancestors comfortably walking on their knuckles.
The nonsense about the "Australopithecines" being the ancestors of modern chimps and gorillas would take too long to untangle here, but the vast weight of evidence (including the molecular studies) speaks against this. In addition to the fact that the idea of a large and a small species of Australopithecine (thought by Gribben to be ancestral to the "large" gorilla and "small" chimpanzee) is now out of step with palaeontological research, Gribben also misreads the molecular evidence.
Even if the chimps did diverge after the origin of bipedal walking, the gorillas are an altogether earlier offshoot. While Gribben points out that we must avoid seeing humans as the centre of the evolutionary universe, it is he that falls straight into this trap by so casually conflating the chimps and the gorillas merely because they are "hairy apes". The point here is that we are closer cousins to the chimps that either chimps or humans are to the gorillas (who, by the way, don't live a "life in the trees".)
Dr MARK LENEY
New College, Oxford
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins line-up as final celebrities revealed
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 4 Saudi Arabia executes 19 in one half of August in 'disturbing surge of beheadings'
- 5 Brother and sister, Christopher Buckner and Timothy Savoy, arrested for 'committing incest after watching 'The Notebook''
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins line-up as final celebrities revealed
Great British Bake Off 2014: Ofcom receives 13 complaints about Baked Alaska episode
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Meet the contestants
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
- < Previous
- Next >