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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chimps: 99% Chimpanzee claim admitted to be myth

David Tyler discusses the recent startling admission that the claim that humans share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees has long been known to be wrong:
For over 30 years, the public have been led to believe that human and chimpanzee genetics differ by mere 1%. This 'fact' of science has been used on innumerable occasions to silence anyone who offered the thought that humans are special among the animal kingdom. "Today we take as a given that the two species are genetically 99% the same." However, this "given" is about to be discarded. Apparently, it is now OK to openly acknowledge that those who are involved in this research have never been comfortable that the 1% figure was an accurate summary of the scientific information. But more recent studies have made it impossible to sustain the old orthodoxy. They have raised "the question of whether the 1% truism should be retired."

The claim should actually never have been made, for reasons that Jonathan Marks addresses in What does it mean to be 98% chimpanzee?. So why was it made?
It is comments like these that can give sociologists of science a field day, for they reveal how social context influences what results are emphasised and what are overlooked. In this particular case, evolutionary biologists need to take full responsibility. It is good to see a start being made in setting the record straight. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, writes: "DNA is beside the point. To concede so much to biology risks taking such privileges away from ourselves. [. . .] Chimps may resemble Homo sapiens in a tedious and literal sense, but in everything that makes us what we are H sapiens is unique indeed. Biology, in its proof of our physical similarity to other primates, underlines its own irrelevance."

O come on, Jones! For many years now the similarity was used not to underline biology's irrelevance but ours. That was not an accident either, it was the promotion of materialist propaganda in the guise of science. And the schtick is being retired now because no one was prepared to believe it. Want to know why? How about the rabbi's reflections on sharing your genes with the chimp and the banana.

Tyler addresses the details in his most interesting post.

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