Discovering Ardi — my thoughts.

I liked it.

Overall, I think the Discovery Channel did a good job of capturing the painstaking work that goes into scientific research, in this case spanning more than 15 years from discovery to publication. Some other quick thoughts:

  • This was not hype. If anything, it was pretty modest, given the amount and significance of the work involved. I didn’t see the Darwinius special, but even the previews had me wincing.
  • Mike Rowe is an excellent narrator. I have enjoyed his work when I have watched Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, but I would also like to see (er, hear) him on more specials like this in the future. Mike, if you happen to read this, nicely done.
  • The special did a fine job of emphasizing over and over what needs to be emphasized over and over: we are not descended from chimps, we share a common ancestor with chimps.
  • This isn’t so significant as evidence for the fact of human evolution — we had plenty of that before. This is an important find that illustrates more about the path of human evolution.
  • I am not sure I entirely see why Ardi necessarily shows that the common ancestor was not chimp-like (knuckle-walking and large canine teeth could have been lost after the split), but I will see if this is made more clear in the actual papers. Nonetheless, no one should have assumed the common ancestor must have been very similar to a chimp — that assumption is based on a poor grasp of phylogenetics, basically.
  • The show could probably have been about 1/2 hour shorter. I enjoy seeing reconstructions, and I appreciate that they showed how this is done (I go through this briefly in one of my lectures as well, and I also liken it to forensic reconstruction). However, this did seem to imply a little more than I would have liked that coming up with a digital animation was the culmination of the work rather than an interesting aside.
  • They could have done without the just-so story about pair bonding and carrying food. I guess viewers would prefer some idea, and they did mention that there were many previous hypotheses, but if I had one significant complaint about the special it’s that this part was really speculative and not up to the standard of the rest of the meticulous research depicted otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Discovering Ardi — my thoughts.

  1. “Nonetheless, no one should have assumed the common ancestor must have been very similar to a chimp — that assumption is based on a poor grasp of phylogenetics, basically.”

    So what should someone assume, basically? The common ancestor would be
    1.very similar
    3.somewhat similar
    4.somewhat dissimilar
    6.very dissimilar

    Your use of the terminology “very similar” is vague.

    Speciation is an area in evolutionary biology that certainly needs more work. I am not aware of any well articulated(detailed)explanation of the genetic pathway through which species are differentiated. What is the actual genetic transmission mechanism by which one species evolves into another? What genetic changes are required? At the genetic level, what changes are necessary and sufficient, to differentiate one species from another?

    Life is good,


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