Just before the end of my biology (for majors, second semester) class this morning, my teacher dropped this
bombshell: "Some scientists consider humans to be apes. We're very closely related to the chimpanzees and especially bonobos, but that doesn't mean we evolved from
apes, just that we share a common ancestor." And as I was sitting there thinking "surely she's misstated that," she draws something like this on the board:
I don't talk in biology. I don' t ask questions, and I don't argue. It's a survey course, and she doesn't want my questions about gastrulation in the Edicarian fauna. I know this. Her statement pissed me off beyond belief, though, and I raised my hand before I could think about it and said, "but when you draw it like that, 'apes' becomes a paraphyletic grouping, since chimps, bonobos and gorillas are more closely related to us than they are to the pongoids (Orangutangs and their extinct relatives). Homo originates from within the 'great apes'." And then, remembering to put my criticism in the form of the question, "Doesn't it?"
So she drew this:
So I waited until after class and approached her with this:
(Pan, ie the chimps and bonobos, are at the tip to make a point, because you can draw a clade in either direction, since both members are equally related to the previous clade)
And said: "This is the order of phylogenisis accepted by the all of the most prominent evolutionary scientists and primatolagists of the last ten years. Why are you teaching this class otherwise?"
Her: (with conspiritorial smirk) "I didn't want to blow their minds."
Me: "But you're a science teacher. That's your job
Her: "This is a very controversial topic."
Me: "Okay." And silently :
This is not a controversy. There is no controversy in science, only things we aren't sure about yet, and this isn't one of them. The illusion of controversy only exists here because people like you don't teach the subject properly. You had one chance to completely reshape the way half this class thinks, and you've lost it. You have contributed to the intellectual death of our society, and I hate you.
And then I went home. This is an issue I feel extremely, extremely strongly about. Writing that last bit honestly made me cry. The Louisiana senate is currently debating a bill which would support the teaching of so called "intelligent design theory
" (which is not a theory, and didn't you people take science in the fifth fucking grade?). The African hominids are being slaughtered. Humans are ruining this planet. Nobody fucking cares. It all comes down to that little cladogram, that one little picture, a few lines and words. Either we're a part of life on this Earth, or we are something separate, over and above and untouchable. One of those answers is a beautiful, almost spiritual statement that opens up a universe of possiblities. The other is a death sentence for our species, and thousands of others.
I won't even mention the shoddy science.