Friday, May 20, 2011

If you need to fight, stand upright.

Did our ancestors began to stand on two legs, because it gave them an advantage in beating up their rivals? Well at least this is what David Carrier tried to find out in his most recent study, as he looked at how hard people were able to punch when they stood upright and when they didn’t.

First of all, how does someone come to this kind of idea? Carrier explains that an upright stance is a common behaviour seen ion other mammals when they want to threat/fight their opponents and that especially apes often display this kind of behaviour.
And indeed, an upright posture is more effective when it comes to smack people in the face, but does this mean that male to male aggression has anything to do with the evolution of human bipedalism?

It’s funny that my last post was about how we’re able to build up testable hypothesises in evolutionary biology and which kind of problems you face while doing so, because this study completely made some huge mistakes in this regards. First of all, the study only relies on data from present day organisms. We have little knowledge about how our earliest ancestors (or their ancestors) even looked like, which makes it even more difficult to make any serious assumptions on how they behaved. Therefore evolutionary models solely relying on behavioural evidence from extant animals are almost untestable via the fossil record. But we need to test those models with fossil evidence if we want to avoid telling “just so” stories. I have mantra that I picked up from one of my teachers: “The past is a foreign country, they did things differently there.” Surely we need observations on recent animals to build up our models, but they can never be a complete substitute of the fossil record.

Papers like this make me wonder if I might get something wrong in how I approach this field. In my eyes it completely omits all standards of how to build a scientific theory in favour of making some wild assumptions on human evolution and I don’t understand how this can happen or how such stuff gets published in the first place.


Carrier, D. (2011). The Advantage of Standing Up to Fight and the Evolution of Habitual Bipedalism in Hominins PLoS ONE, 6 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019630