The Problem With 1470: Sal Cordova Blows It

As Chris O’Brien points out (and beat me to it, darn him), Salvador Cordova pontificates about a new reconstruction of KNM-ER 1470.

The subject of Cordova’s attempts at pretending to know something about paleoanthropology concern the recent reconstruction of 1470 by Dr. Timothy Bromage of the New York University School of Dentistry (he works with Dr. Paul Caufield). The reconstruction was presented as a poster at the International Association for Dental Research (I wonder if Dr. Egnor can enlighten me as to why anthropologists are presenting cranial reconstructions at dental research symposiums since evolutionary theory offers nothing to medical research). The poster can be found here. I don’t wish to inflict the details on you, instead I will just give you the results. At issue is the cranial capacity and facial profile of 1470. Based on Richard Leakey’s reconstruction 1470 had a flat face and a cranial capacity of about 775 cc’s. Bromage’s reconstruction gives 1470 a more prognathic face and a cranial capacity of 526cc 49cc. “Ah Ha”, cries Cordova “Leakey manipulated his data to make 1470 look more human”. I can’t blame him for parroting that line because Bromage is pretty snarky about Leakey and his reconstruction as well, saying at one point:

No biological principles were initially used to reconstruct KNM-ER 1470, thus the extreme orthognathy and cranial capacity posited for this specimen were free to satisfy 1970’s preconceptions of the shift from more ape-like relationships and proportions, such as represented by the genus Australopithecus, to those that were more human-like; that is, “to be Homo it must have a flat face and large brain”.

and at another:

It wasn’t long before the age was corrected to 1.9 million years, but the reconstruction has endured despite a common appreciation for the psychosocial circumstances surrounding Richard Leakey’s reconstruction. Based upon the premise that KNM-ER 1470 was the oldest human, preconceptions led to it being reconstructed with two supposed quintessential traits of Homo: a large brain and flat face.

Which may or may not be accurate (and I personally think it is not, putting crushed and fragmented skulls back together isn’t easy). The question is, does this reconstruction bear the weight that Cordova places on it. Does it, in fact, vindicate Wells hackery in Icons of Evolution? The answer is no. See, here is the problem. There are a number of fossils that have been attributed to Homo habilis. Among them are: OH 7, OH 13, OH 16, OH 24, OH 37, KNM-ER 1470, KNM-ER 1590, KNM-ER 1802, KNM-ER 730, KNM-ER 1813 (which Bromage compared 1470 to), KNM-ER 820, KNM-ER 992, KNM-ER 1805, KNM-ER 3732, and KNM-ER 3735 to name a few. As these fossils began to accumulate, paleoanthropologists (contrary to Sal it is not spelled paleoantrhopologist) realized that the above assemblage contained a large amount of variability in cranial anatomy and measurements. Some argued that there was too much variability to be contained in one species and suggested dividing the taxon into H. habilis, H. rudolfensis and possibly H. ergaster. Bernard Woods, for example, put all the Olduvai fossils (the OH’s above) into H. habilis along with KNM-ER 1813, KNM-ER 1478, etc. 1470 went into H. rudolfensis along with 1482, 1590, 1802 and 3732 (among others). This was done on the basis of a whole slew of morphological features that differentiated the two groups. Cranial capacity (and Bromages estimate is only 2 SD from the mean for H. rudolfensis) and prognathism, or lack thereof, are only two of them. Additionally, there are some traits that H. rudolfensis shares with earlier australopithecines (which, by the way are considered to be because of convergent evolution). As Conroy put it in Reconstructing Human Origins:

In this taxonomic scheme, H. habilis from Olduvai is regarded as an early species of Homo that retains an essentially australopith postcranial skeleton with a more Homo-like masticatory complex, whereas H. rudolfensis combines a more Homo-like postcranial skeleton with a more robust australopith craniodental complex…

Regardless of whether Bromage’s 1470 reconstruction holds up and 1470 is either moved to H. habilis or considered one of the smaller H. rudolfensis I don’t see how this helps Wells or the creationist movement.
Update 1: There is at least one critic of Bromage’s reconstruction – more specifically, the cranial capacity estimate:

But not everyone agrees that brain size can be inferred from jaw protrusion. Biological anthropologist Robert Martin, of the Field Museum in Chicago, said the researchers “may well be right” in their reconstruction of the face, but said the researchers’ claims about being able to estimate cranial capacity from facial features are “crazy.”
“What they’re claiming is you stick the face out, and because the face sticks out more the brain capacity has to be less. I don’t follow that at all,” said Martin, who is an expert on hominid skulls and who was not involved in the study.
“They haven’t changed the skull at all; they’ve simply rotated the face outwards,” Martin added.
Martin also disputes the claim that H. rudolfensis’ large cranial capacity made it stand out among ancient hominids. Martin points out that a 1.6 million-year-old Homo erectus skeleton known as “Turkana Boy” had a cranial capacity of about 900 cc.


13 Responses

  1. I’m too stupid to know if Bromage’s reconstruction correct or not. What gets me is that the creationists do absolutely no work. But when there is a suggestion by real scientists that previous work might be in error they jump all over it. I guess they hope that the disagreement somehow supports a position that neither the author of the first thesis, in this case Leakey, nor the author of the dissenting thesis, in this case Bromage, would subscribe.

  2. Don’t sell yourself short, I’ve always found you to be pretty sharp. I absolutely agree with you on the other stuff. Neither Cordova nor Wells would know an anatomically modern human skull from a baboon skull if it bit them on the rear. Yet, they want to insult Leakey and, basically accuse him of being incompetent and intellectually dishonest. I ain’t none too happy with Bromage either because he said some things I felt were uncalled for. Having said that, I don’t know if the reconstruction will hold up. Considering the people Leakey had with him at the time (Walker, Wood, and Day) I have a hard time believing their reconstruction was wrong. Especially since Richard Leakey is considered to be gifted in putting skulls back together (which as I’ve mentioned is quite difficult – I’ve tried it on some forensic samples and you really have to know your cranial anatomy to do it. It is rather like putting together a puzzle with pieces that are all the same color.)

  3. Back in MY college days, I also did facial reconstruction, but not on anything that looks like it was run over by a grader, as I am sure Leakey’s skull 1470 was. There IS a lot of wiggle room to adjust angles (flat vs prognathious), and the more pieces there are, the more flexible the reconstruction will be.
    The takehome lesson is that if 20 different anthropologists did the reconstruction, we would have 20 different looks, showing a range of variation, and anyone with a brain (this leaves Sal out)would realize this. Skull reconstruction has ALWAYS been like this, it is no big deal. This is just the usual ID grasping at straws, and based on the quality of their thoughts, I think they use the straws to sniff cocoa products, and in Sal’s case, it is probably Dembski’s fart machine.

  4. If science never changed or revised previous findings, this would be “evidence” in their eyes that it was sheer dogma, thus unworthy.
    When science does change and revise previous findings (whether or not Bromage’s more recent interpretation holds up), the complaint is that it is not therefore eternal (like dogma is) and unchanging, thus it is unworthy.
    These guys just hate science, both because it isn’t religion, and because it is not their religion.
    Glen D

  5. It’s a bit ironic, considering Egnor’s flatulence, that Stony Brook is honoring Richard Leakey on April 11 at some sort of “stars of Stony Brook” thing.

  6. Glen, you’ve hit the nail on the head! And the funny thing is, they think that their style of arguing proves something.
    Is is OK if I quote you on my blog?

  7. straws to sniff cocoa products

    Would that be the stuff that melts in the nose, not in the hand?

  8. More importantly, when a theory is revised it is taken as proof that scientists were making the whole thing up.

  9. John Hawks notes that the illustrations being published are rotated differently, and when they’re aligned the difference in facial slope is just 5 degrees. He adds that the downward revision of the cranial capacity estimate is (in my word) bullshit.

  10. “when a theory is revised, it is taken as proof that scientists were making the whole thing up.”
    I think this is crux of it – religionists know the Truth, the Unchanging Truth. Scientists have “theories” which aren’t the truth. So when scientists change their minds or even do a little fiddling around the edges, it raises the suspicion in religionists’ minds that they (scientists) were mistaken in the first place. It really is a world view problem – do you want to believe in something rock solid or do you want to have to constantly change your view of things? I have no problem with changing views, it is how we grow. But religionists really do not want to grow. They just want to have something to cling to during life. Changing and growing are just too scary. Also explains how they can be easily manipulated by their fears (homosexuality, moslems, feminists, etc).

  11. RBH – That is a great catch by Hawks (In my opinion Hawks is one of the more perceptive and insightful paleoanthropologists). Once he pointed it out it becomes incredibly obvious that he is correct…

  12. The two are pointing out a clear difference between creation “science” and standard science. Science revisits old ideas and checks them for errors, creationism tends to view that as nothing short of blasphemy and a clear path to atheism.
    To them apparently finding errors isn’t science it’s just a quick way to prove that science is riddled with holes.

  13. Glen, you’ve hit the nail on the head! And the funny thing is, they think that their style of arguing proves something.
    Is is OK if I quote you on my blog?

    I guess I could hardly say that “Glen Davidson” can’t quote Glen Davidson on his blog, so sure.
    Glen D

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