Letter: Not the origin of the species

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The Independent Online
BRIAN CATHCART quite rightly argues that Piltdown Man fooled so many for so long because it fitted then current beliefs about hominid evolution ('Everybody fell for Mr Piltdown' 22 May). But to claim that Piltdown Man 'fitted Darwinian theory to perfection' is misleading. Rather, Piltdown Man made 'sense' because it fitted an incorrect picture of evolution where 'missing links' were expected to bridge the gap between 'primitive' apes and 'advanced man'. Piltdown's skull housed a large brain and it was not understood then that bipedalism evolved before large brains. Mr Piltdown remains a classic example of the interdependence of data and ideas, and the people who use the latter to make sense of the former.

Frederic Vallee

St Albans, Herts