Ad Hominin. What's in a name?
Wed, May 13 2009 02:04 | Scepticism
Until quite recently humans and their ancestors were referred to as hominids. This was a reflection of taxonomy of the time: the family Hominidae consisted of humans, while the family Pongidae consisted of orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos. However, molecular studies showed humans, chimpanzees and bonobos to be more closely related than previously thought. The current consensus taxonomy for the family Hominidae consists of the following subfamilies: Ponginae (orangutans), Gorillinae (gorillas) and Homininae (chimpanzees, bonobos, humans). Strictly speaking chimps, bonobos and humans are all hominids. However, we still need a way to talk about ourselves and our ancestors. The Homininae subfamily is divided into two tribes: Panini (chimpanzee, bonobo) and Hominini (humans). Thus, in recent years there has been a growing trend of referring to humans and their ancestors as hominins.The Latin prefix ad means "towards", so ad hominin can be translated as "towards humankind". Many of you will undoubtedly notice the allusion to argumentum ad hominem - a type of argument where one attacks the character of the opponent rather than their arguments. This pun is intended and reflects my interest in critical thinking and logic.Many people lack the cognitive toolkit to critically examine such psuedoscientific claims as homeopathy, psychokinesis or acupuncture. As a physical anthropologist I am well aware that evolution is not impervious to wild misconceptions. It is my hope to give people the tools and knowledge necessary to recognise fallacious arguments and critically examine extraordinary claims.