Thursday, November 02, 2006

New issue of American Scientist is out! There are a few non-sub articles available online:

-- Interview with W. Paul Brown a winner in the Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge for his team's 3D CT scanned image of an Egyptian mummy.

-- Pat Shipman talks about missing links, specifically the "fishapod" Tiktaalik roseae.

-- A discussion of the the psychology of animal behavior. This one is particularly interesting, especially for anthropologists. It cuts into the longstanding admonition against anthropomorphising animal behavior, delivering the term anthropodenial:
With respect to inference, if humans share a trait, such as empathy, with some other animal, then the rejection of that possibility constitutes a type I error, or what primatologist Frans de Waal at Emory University refers to as anthropodenial.

They explain its utility thus:
Evolutionary theory suggests that species with a recent common ancestor are more likely to have traits in common than are distantly related species. Of course, common ancestry does not ensure identity, but as a reflexive stance, neither anthropomorphism nor anthropodenial makes sense. If morphological, physiological and genetic traits merit bidirectional inference, then there is scant reason to exclude mental states. Continuing to do so encourages systematic (and unrecognized) type I errors, thereby adding to a canon of groundless theory.

Aha, you say, what does this have to do with people?
By erasing an implicit separation of human beings from other species, scientists are pressed to address conceptual inconsistencies and perhaps some uncomfortable conclusions.

Chimpanzee homicide is a clear example—society treats the same behavior in human beings as criminal and pathological. Does this mean that we should view a killer chimp as the equivalent of a felon, or must we stretch the definition of "natural" behavior for primates (including us) to include such acts? Evolutionary biologists argue that chimpanzee infanticide might be an adaptive reproductive strategy. In contrast, students of human behavior—lawyers, anthropologists and psychiatrists—regard it as abnormal.

This doesn't seem to be too far away from what some researchers are doing for human evolution, be it Darwinian medicine, Darwinian psychology, or what have you. Attempting to explain certain modern human physiological or psychological characteristics with reference to their origin and maintenance (through selection) in our Pleistocene hominid ancestors.