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Jerry Coyne as a “tailless catarrhine primate” (self-description); John Hawks as the adult

John Hawks in Rome

In “Humans aren’t monkeys. We aren’t apes, either,” paleoanthropologist John Hawks takes issue (2012-03-18) with Jerry Coyne (“writing about a silly column”).Coyne is upset because he insists we are all apes:

Last time I looked, I was also a tailless catarrhine primate, so that makes me an ape as well. The only thing I’d take issue with is Richard [Dawkins]’s statement that he’s an African ape. He’s an ape who is descended from African apes, but he’s currently an Oxford ape. (Richard was an African ape when he was growing up in Kenya.)

Goodness gracious. Hawks replies,

Humans are hominoids. Hominoidea is a taxonomic group. Phylogenetic systematics holds that taxonomic groups should be monophyletic — meaning that they include all the descendants of one ancestor, and don’t leave any descendants out. Humans are closely related to chimpanzees and bonobos, more distantly to gorillas, then orangutans, then gibbons. All these living creatures are crown hominoids.

The Hominoidea includes all these, together with extinct animals like Australopithecus, Proconsul, Dryopithecus, and many others.

Chimpanzees are apes. Gorillas are apes, as are bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons. We routinely differentiate the “great apes” from the “lesser apes”, where the latter are gibbons and siamangs. Humans are not apes. Humans are hominoids, and all hominoids are anthropoids. So are Old World monkeys like baboons and New World monkeys like marmosets. All of us anthropoids. But humans aren’t monkeys.

Not sure we get all this, but a more basic point is, we are having this discussion, and apes are not.

Anyone whose world view does not include that fact should just rethink their worldview and not bother the rest of us with the results of pretending otherwise.

By the way, if you are enviro-conscious: Apes need us for protection; we don’t need them. The nice thing about getting past “apes r’ us” is that we can get much further with conservation goals if we just accept that we are the adults in the schoolyard.


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