In an earlier post I talked about Sal Cordova blathering about KNM-ER 1470. Cordova is arguing that the Bromage reconstruction vindicates everything Wells had to say about the fossil. This has led me to don my biohazard suit and dip into Wells execrable Icons of Evolution.
The claimed Wells vindication comes from this quote on page 219 of Wells book:
“One famous fossil skill, discovered in 1972 in northern Kenya, changed its appearance dramatically depending on how the upper jaw was connected to the rest of the cranium. Roger Lewin recounts an occasion when paleoanthropologists Alan Walker, Michael Day, and Richard Leakey were studying the two sections of “skull 1470.” According to Lewin, Walder said: “You could hold the [upper jaw] forward, and give it a long face, or you could tuck it in, making the face short…. How you held it really depended on your preconceptions. It was very interesting watching what people did with it.” Lewin reports that Leakey recalled the incident too: “Yes. If you held it one way, it looked like one thing; if you held it another, it looked like something else.”
The story comes from Lewins book Bones of Contention and the paragraph doesn’t end there. Here is how it is in Lewin:
“You could hold the [upper jaw] forward, and give it a long face, or you could tuck it in, making the face short…. How you held it really depended on your preconceptions. It was very interesting watching what people did with it.” Lewin reports that Leakey recalled the incident too: “Yes. If you held it one way, it looked like one thing; if you held it another, it looked like something else. But there was never any doubt that it was different. The question was, was it sufficiently different from everything else to warrant being called something new?”
There was a bit of an argument about a species designation. Leakey felt it was Homo of some sort and refered to it for quite a while as Homo species indeterminate. Walker felt it was an australopithicine. Lewin says:
Both Leakey and Walker now agree that their divided views illustrate cogently how very difficult it is to define what is actually meant by the genus Homo. Surprising as it may seem, there is still no good, generally accepted crisp definition of Homo. And even if there were, the real evolutionary picture may have been so complex that some specimens from some time ranges inevitably would fall at the edges of such a definition.
Wells was arguing that Leakey’s preconceptions forced him to see a human like fossil that did not exist. In other words he was distorting the data to fit evolutionary theory. In reading Lewin’s account of the episode it is clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Leakey, Walker, Wood and Day spent a lot of time discussing the anatomy of the find and arguing over it. The situation with 1470 was made even more puzzling because a few days later 1813 was discovered (see above). Far from trying to force the data into an evolutionary paradigm, the four were trying to make sense of two specimens that fell at the edges of the definition (and still do).