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The Red Ape: Orangutans and Human Origins [Hardcover]

Jeffrey H. Schwartz


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Book Description

13 Dec 2004
Anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz advances his controversial but remarkably insightful theory that our closest living relatives are orangutans, not chimpanzees or other African apes. }We've all heard that chimpanzees are our closest relatives - that, in fact, they share 98 per cent of their genes with us. But what evidence supports these often-repeated commonplaces? Very little, concludes physical anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz. In his keenly insightful demolition of conventional wisdom on the family relationships between apes and humans, Schwartz provides a fresh examination of fossil evidence, modern anatomy and physiology, and DNA. He argues that it is not chimpanzees or other African apes that are humankind's closest cousins, but Asian orangutans. The result is a compelling challenge to what we think we know about the origins of humans, and about the pursuit of science.In this thoroughly revised edition of The Red Ape , Schwartz analyzes the myriad fossil discoveries made since the publication of the first edition. He reveals the embarrassing fact that orangutan and human teeth are so similar that they have commonly been misidentified for each other in the fossil record, even by experts. New material provocatively addresses whether molecules (DNA) are more reliable than fossils and anatomy in assessing evolutionary relationships. Numerous new plates and drawings illustrate the text. }

Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 2nd Revised edition edition (13 Dec 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813340640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813340647
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,589,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is professor of physical anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the author of "The Red Ape," "What Bones Tell Us," and "Skeleton Keys."

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How to make a contradictory hypothesis but never ever argue why it is correct 5 Mar 2009
By Joshua A. Ludtke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The last ~20 years of molecular evidence strongly supports a Homo+Pan sister grouping. Schwartz is (all but) alone amongst primatologists by stating that morphological evidence does not support this grouping, and instead supports a Homo+Pongo sister grouping.

How does Schwartz explain away the molecular data? Does he run a total evidence analysis combining molecular and morphological data? Does he try to find bigger, better molecular analyses to run on primates to show that the genes already sequenced aren't telling the real story? Does he scour the palaeontology literature of morphological phylogenetics and find comparable cases of molecular v. morphological discordance and make an appeal to reason that if, say, artiodactyls are confusing, then maybe primates are too?

OR does he make an appeal to the 1950s science of Willi Hennig and claim that molecular analyses can not be cladistical because they doesn't code character states as being 'primitive' or 'derived' before the analysis occurs?

I read this book to find out how Schwartz would explain away hundreds of molecular phylogenetic papers that place Homo+Pan as sister taxa. Hennig-worship is basically all he does.

Well, that and also write for 40 pages about how molecular analyses conducted in the 1970s and 1980s disagreed with each other. Which might have made sense back in 1987 with the first publication of this book, but, seriously? In 2004 he is going to argue against the scientific correctness of molecular studies published 20 years previously?

Therefore, the only conclusion I can come to regarding Schwartz's position is that he doesn't have scientific evidence supporting his position. To go slightly further with this rant, he doesn't spend any pages trying to explain why both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA BOTH say that Homo+Pan is a valid group. These two forms of DNA inherit in similar ways but are independent of each other as far as mutation types / rates are concerned. If Homo+Pan was an artificial arrangement, then there should be discordance between these two independent sources of molecular information. There is not.

What does Schwartz say about mitochondrial DNA? Amongst other things, that it is almost useless because it can only give trustworthy results on phylogenetic events within the last 10 million years ago. (p 194-195). I don't know many molecular systematists but all of them were puzzled when I informed them of this. Maybe Schwartz knows more than they do about how mitochondrial DNA works?

I am willing to accept that all of the modern great apes have interesting morphological features in common with Homo. I think that a cladogram using morphological evidence, if tweaked slightly, can support a Homo+Gorilla clade as easily as a Homo+Pongo clade, if not more so.

But for me to ignore molecular data is going to take a lot more discussion than just telling me "it's not good." Schwartz fails in this task, and for that, this book is really just a contradictory hypothesis that fails to refute the dominant hypothesis.

The Good: Well illustrated, retells the basic story of the last 100 years of palaeoanthropology fairly well.

The Bad: Is a dumbed-down version of the authors' primary articles, which might explain why it does such a bad job of promoting his hypothesis.

The Ugly: Never gives a scientifically valid reason why his alternative hypothesis should be accepted and why all molecular data should be ignored. Never fully explains which fossil ape species are supposed to be related to who, just says they're all hominids. Sections about molecular systematics are either written poorly or contain inaccuracies. When comparing morphology amongst apes to provide evidence for the Homo+Pongo clade, does little to show that outgroup taxa never show similar morphology.

Buy or rent: RENT, unless you want a book on your shelf that will make your primatologist friends laugh OR you have an axe to grind against modern evolutionary biology OR you are John Grehan.

PS I am adding the tag "Chewbacca defence" because I think that is a valid tag for this book. The author attempts to explain why molecular evidence can not be trusted by ...mentioning that orangutans and humans have sex in a similar manner, and then hoping that that makes your head hurt so you stop thinking and accept his hypothesis. Logic FAIL.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun - and what if he's right? 17 Jun 2006
By Jon Shemitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a tremendously thrilling, rewarding book to read. This book will make you think.

We are told that chimpanzees are our closest relatives. We are not usually shown how the software that 'keeps confirming' this conclusion sometimes generates alternative trees that split the great apes in three: the chimps, the gorillas, and then a particularly bright and flexible clade that split into humans and orangutans. These alternate interpretations are 'obviously wrong', so the researcher finds the 'wrong assumptions' that can be changed to make it come out right, with chimps and humans side by side.

But when you look at the morphology, feature by feature humans and orangs either share some aspect that chimps and gorillas don't, or we're both the 'most derived' members of the great apes. Fossil hominid teeth and skulls and fossil orang teeth and skulls are similar enough that many fossils now labeled as fossil orang were once labeled as fossil hominid.

Humans and orangs are the only great apes that grow long body hair, albeit in different places.

Gorillas and chimpanzees are obligate knuckle walkers. That means that they have a system of tendons and bone shapes that snaps the heavily callused knuckle to the ground when they walk on all fours (as they usually do). Gorillas and chimpanzees are born with knuckles predisposed to callus.

Humans and orangutans show no trace of this complex adaptation. We are not born with incipient calluses, we do not have tendons that snap our hands into a fist when we stretch.

Schwartz argues that if we weren't talking about human relatives, any trained morphologist would say it's us and orangs over here, and knuckle walkers over there.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Update to a earlier edition 4 Sep 2007
By Ursiform - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read the earlier edition of this book, and have now read the update. The author's premise is that morphology (anatomical similarity) links people and orangutans, despite genetic and molecular studies that say that chimps (and, more specifically, bonobos) are our closest relatives. What to make of this? The most likely answer is that we are most closely related to bonobos and chimps, but Schwartz's arguments cannot be dismissed without consideration. The morphology is certainly relevant, and the question is how it competes with the molecular evidence.

To argue Schwartz' point from a slightly different perspective, all genetic and molecular measures of relatedness are really tests of hypotheses against data. When you test hypotheses against data it is possible that none, one, or more than one hypothesis is consistent with the data. This is often lost in a claim that one hypothesis is the best match to the data. The best match needn't be the only hypothesis consistent with the data, and the difference between the best and the second (or third, or ...) best match need not be statistically significant. Further, the result can depend on the assumptions made.

Suppose, for example, that a rigorous, molecular, test of relatedness between creatures says there is a 50% chance that critter a is the closest relative, a 30% chance that critter b is, a 15% chance that critter c is, and a 5% chance that some other critter is. The best bet would be on critter a, but there would only be even odds that that was the correct answer. If other evidence not considered in the statistics supported critter b, that should be a serious consideration.

Schwartz objects that the approach taken in most studies is tainted because the molecular comparisons tend to assume that the orang is a more distant relative, and set up the molecular tests based on that assumption. He argues that molecular tests should be done with an assumption of an old world monkey as a known ancestor, and all ape/human relationships uncertain. To do otherwise biases the results against a orang-human link.

A molecular survey done with a wider range of options, and a morphological overlay on that, might result in an answer different than the accepted story. The odds are currently against it, but the theory deserves fair consideration. Schwartz's argument is not trivial or silly. It is a serious argument of the sort that forces science to answer the right, hard questions before accepting a particular theory as likely to be true. The most likely result is vindication of the prevailing (chimp-human) theory. But there is still the possibility of an upset!

And that's why I'm a scientist ...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Charming" 23 Mar 2009
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is odd to describe a book of science, especially a book which is in good part a polemic, as "charming". I do this because the author is so likeable, his writing is good, and he is a believer in the kind of close observation which has characterized the history of science. I tend to trust his impatience with so many of his fellow paleontologists.

The problem is that the DNA evidence supports the chimpanzee as man's closest cousin, and Schwartz just does not know enough to discuss the DNA evidence in any satisfactory way. "The Ancestor's Tale" by Richard Dawkins was copyrighted in 2004, a year before "The Red Ape". Dawkins discusses many of the difficulties in using DNA evidence, but there is no need to assume a priori who is related to whom, as Schwartz seems to say. Moreover, one can get some kind of probabilistic answer, so it would be nice to know whether DNA evidence assigns any significant chance of the orangutan being our closest cousin.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iconoclastic. 10 Sep 2010
By Bruce Oksol - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Schwartz, who it appears is disliked by everyone in the field, raises some interesting questions and points out some tautologies among molecular paleontologists.

1. First, and most cleverly, he points out that molecular studies tend to validate relationships that have heretofore been based on morphology.

2. Second, molecular paleontologists required morphologic studies and conventional paleontology to help them "set the clock" for their own molecular clock.

3. Molecular distances among anthropoids are too narrow to be statistically significant. In those rare cases where they may be statistically significant, genetic mutations from earlier ancestors may not be the reason.

4. Regulatory genes are more important than structural genes. Although it is said that human DNA and chimpanzee DNA varies by less than 1 percent, one would not argue that morphologically and behaviorally humans and chimpanzees are 99% alike.

5. Regulatory genes are more important than structural genes. Molecular studies claiming that human DNA and chimpanzee DNA varies by less than 1 percent did not distinguish between regulary genes and structural genes.

6. Having said all that, Schwartz feels comfortable arguing that morphology and behavioral findings are key to understanding relationships among and between species.

7. Schwartz puts forth a solid argument that morphologically and behaviorally, the orangutan is more comfortable at home with humans than are chimpanzees and gorillas. Or are humans more comfortable at home with orangutans. That reminds me: I need to look at "Every Which Way But Loose" again.
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