Trying to debunk the aquatic ape hypothesis… or not. Or the day I tried to defend David Attenborough.

The so-called aquatic ape hypothesis is one that has attracted a lot of attention and much derision. In 1960, British marine biologist Alistair Hardy posited the idea that humans might once have had an aquatic phase (or more accurately a semi-aquatic phases, spending some time in a watery habitat but a significant amount of time on land). This was picked up highlighted in popular zoologist Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape . However, Elaine Morgan was one of the the hypothesis’ main promoters, writing a book called The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis . There have been several debunkers of the hypothesis including Southern Fried Sciences’ own David Shiffman although Jim Moore’s website is probably one of the most comprehensive debunking sites for the hypothesis . Today Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin posted a critique of the aquatic ape hypothesis, mostly in response to a new BBC radio series The Waterside Ape which is being presented by David Attenborough.


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The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Science can often be complicated, which makes a simple explanation extremely appealing. Sometimes, these simple explanations are correct. Sometimes they are spectacularly wrong.

One of the most complicated areas of science is evolutionary biology. Describing the origin of current species  is a lot like putting together an enormous puzzle when most of the pieces are missing. A simple explanation for an evolutionary problem would be very, very appealing. Some people believe they have found one for human evolution, and they call it the “Aquatic Ape Hypothesis”.

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