The Missing Link Does Not Exist!

I got home from work to the news that the “missing link” had been discovered. Which promptly raised my blood pressure. Kambiz has the story. As does Reuters and the Register. Both Reuters and the Register say something along the following lines (from the Register):

Scientists are postulating that a 10 million year old jawbone unearthed in Kenya’s northern Nakali region may belong to the so-called evolutionary “missing link” – the common ancestor of African great apes and humans.

From Reuters:

The species — somewhere between the size of a female gorilla and a female orangutan — may prove to be the “missing link”, the key step that split the evolutionary chains of humans and other primates, Kenyan scientists said.


As much as I would like to unleash my wrath on the two news services, I can’t because, as the second quote shows, this rubbish is being perpetuated by paleoanthropologists (and shame on them):

Frederick Manthi, senior research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya, declared at a press conference: “Based on this particular discovery, we can comfortably say we are approaching the point at which we can pin down the so-called missing link.”

In point of fact the “missing link” is a pseudoscientific construct that is a holdover from religious views concerning the animal kingdom and man’s place in nature. Such notions have been dispensed with – or should have been – a long time ago. What was actually found was part of a mandible dating to about 10 MYA.

Nakali 1(Source)

Reseachers have erected a new species, Nakalipithecus nakayamai and have suggested that it comes before the split between gorillas, chimps, and humans. The fossil is described, in the Reuters article, as follows:

“The teeth were covered in thick enamel and the caps were low and voluminous, suggesting that the diet of this ape consisted of a considerable amount of hard objects, like nuts or seeds, and fruit,” Yutaka Kunimatsu at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute said in a telephone interview.

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The research is supposed to be in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and we all know how fast they are at getting things up on the web.
I’ll have more to say when I find the article.

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14 Responses

  1. I think you just have to accept the fact that there is a missing link. They are all missing links. Everything is a missing link.
    Hey, I work in South Africa, where they (meaning my colleagues, not newspaper reporters and such) use the word Ape Man.
    And they were. They were Ape Men. And Women. And little Ape Babies, etc.

  2. Missing links are an irritating problem. Say we have A and B with a missing link between them. Suppose we discover missing link C which fits in between A and B. Problem solved? Nope, problem doubled, now we have two missing links; one between A and C and another between C and B.
    Better to become a cladist, for whom all ancestors are hypothetical, and “missing link” is a meaningless concept.

  3. So if that’s the missing link, then the evolutionary line must go something like Nakalipithecus–> Ben Stein –> Australopithicus–> Home Erectus –> TV News Journalists –> Economists –> Modern Humans.

  4. Please explain why you donät like the “missing link” concept. Here’s my take.
    We have species. And we have a split between hominids and apes. Thus there must be a single species that immediately predates the split. Why not call it the link between the two branches? A link that is currently missing and may just have been identified in the fossil record?

  5. No Moopheus. You’re mistaken. Economists are much further down the evolutionary scale. Sort of near weather forcasters.
    Martin R. The missing link concept is flawed because species don’t change overnight into another species. Genes move through a population, sometimes rapidly, but you can’t really define the boundaries. There’s evidence that suggests the split between humans and other apes may have taken more than a million years, with several periods of back hybridism. So when do we decide that the species is suddenly no longer an ape? What can we use as a definition of human anyway? Just simply call something that looks like most of us alive today human? Were Neanderthals human? Or just some of them? Or any of them? What’s a species anyway?
    The best argument in this so far has been Jim Thomerson’s. How fine a definition of difference do we have to make before there is no more missing link?

  6. No Moopheus. You’re mistaken. Economists are much further down the evolutionary scale. Sort of near weather forcasters.
    Martin R. The missing link concept is flawed because species don’t change overnight into another species. Genes move through a population, sometimes rapidly, but you can’t really define the boundaries. There’s evidence that suggests the split between humans and other apes may have taken more than a million years, with several periods of back hybridism. So when do we decide that the species is suddenly no longer an ape? What can we use as a definition of human anyway? Just simply call something that looks like most of us alive today human? Were Neanderthals human? Or just some of them? Or any of them? What’s a species anyway?
    The best argument in this so far has been Jim Thomerson’s. How fine a definition of difference do we have to make before there is no more missing link?

  7. But taxonomists seem to have no problem identifying a “last common ancestor” in other lines than the hominid/ape one. Can’t “missing link” be used as a synonym of that term?

  8. One problem that I have with the expression “missing link” is that it reminds me of the old idea of “the great chain of being”. A link suggests a chain, and a chain suggests linearity. Evolution is not linear, it is typically branching. There is no straight line leading from apes to humans, with links inbetween.

  9. Please explain why you donät like the “missing link” concept.

    Because this fossil may very well be a cousin of the last common ancestor, and not the common ancestor itself.
    So it would not be a link, but just another dead twig.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  10. Even the ‘branching tree’ analogy is seriously flawed. A bush analogy is better. Still better: dispense with the analogies, evolution is an optimization process whose structure and products defy simple visualizations. Every species, except the last one in a lineage which has become extinct, is a transitional form.

  11. The phrase “missing link” also helps to propagate the “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” reasoning. The average person, when they hear “link” envisions a link of chains, you progress from one to the other, effectively eliminating past links from the present.
    So not only do you have the idiotic idea that there is a single “link” it also feeds into uneducated questions of special replacement.

  12. If you are not familiar with cladistics here is a good place to browse. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/phylogenetics_01

  13. If you are not familiar with cladistics here is a good place to browse. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/phylogenetics_01

  14. I find it funny that paleoanthropologists always want to declare their find as a ‘missing link’. The discoverer’s of Sivipithecus claimed that it was in the human lineage until they found a skull and realized it was probably more closely related to the orangutan. Even more recently the discoverer’s of Orrorin have claimed that it is a human ancestor based only on a couple of traits. When will they learn to hold their tongues until more evidence comes in?

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