August 29, 2007

No Furry Humans

A magazine or journal called "Medical Hypothesis" has awarded a prize to Judith Rich-Harris, a psychologist who wrote a paper theorizing why there are no furry humans:
Harris' paper describes Stone Age societies in which the mother of a newborn had to decide whether she had the resources to nurture her baby. The newborn's appearance probably influenced whether the mother kept or abandoned it. An attractive baby was more likely to be kept and reared.

Harris' theory is that this kind of parental selection may have been an important force in evolution. If Stone Age people believed that hairless babies were more attractive than hairy ones, this could explain why humans are the only apes lacking a coat of fur. Harris suggests that Neanderthals must have been furry in order to survive the Ice Age. Our species would have seen them as "animals" and potential prey. Harris' hypothesis continues that Neanderthals went extinct because human ancestors ate them.

This is a good opportunity to discuss when to listen to scientists and when to ignore them. None of her theory above has anything to do with her area of training. She is not an anthropologist, she is not an archaeologist, she is not a biologist, she is not an historian. There is no reason to lend credence to her theory any more than she would consider anything I had to say about psychology.

There is no evidence that Neanderthals were furry. There is no evidence that modern man considered Neanderthals animals. There is no evidence that any human society, stone age or not, ever killed their children based on their attractiveness or hairiness, and there is certainly, without a doubt, absolutely no evidence that modern man killed and ate Neanderthals into extinction. None, nada, zip.

Now, if I were to write something about psychology, I might say that Ms. Harris' article is about her own feelings. She harbors deep-set feelings of remorse over having children during her prime career years. She thought she would have time after her children to return to her work, but instead became ill, bed-ridden with lupus and systemic sclerosis. Subconsciously she believes her pregnancies were the cause of her illness and she places these feelings in the only safe place she can: into the minds of stone-age mothers who murder their children when they are born.

Yes, of course that's a crock, I'm no psychologist, I only read her biography at one of the links up above. No one would ever listen to a computer science major spout off about psychology.

And neither should anyone listen to a psychologist spout off about prehistoric human cultures, what those cultures considered attractive and whether they killed their babies and ate their enemies.

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