Anthropology and Archaeology
Does Size Really Matter?
In 2003 the skeleton of a tiny person was found on the Indonesian island of Flores. It was proclaimed as a new species of human, Homo floresiensis, and nicknamed the Hobbit. It was about 3 feet tall with a brain about 1/3 the size of the average human today. It was claimed these other humans evolved from Homo erectus and coexisted with Homo sapiens. Speculation immediately flourished about this creature, even though it was all based on one skeleton.
Other scientists, led by primatologist Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago, came to a very different conclusion. In an article in Science magazine they concluded that, far from being a new species, the bones were of Homo sapiens suffering from the pathological condition microcephaly, which results in small brain and body size. Martin said the original analysis dismissing microcephaly as an explanation for the creature’s small size was based on faulty models and comparisons, and he criticized the scientists responsible for that analysis.
What happened with the Hobbit story is like so much science reporting today, “There has been too much media hype and too little critical scientific evaluation surrounding this discovery, and it is simply unacceptable that papers should be published without providing proper details of the specimens examined,” said Robert Martin.
A new report by the original discoverers disputes the findings of those who dispute the original claims. If all this sounds a little confusing, that’s because it is. When scientists have agendas, true science gets left behind. Their agendas may be their evolutionary bias or it can be much more personal. If the discoverers of the Flores Island Hobbit are confirmed in their findings, then they are literally looking at fame and fortune. They have every reason to hold to their original claims.
Which side is right is unclear and in fact may never be known. The thing to remember about scientific inquiry is that it is done by humans, with all of the good and bad that that implies. The one thing we need to remember about scientific claims is that they are both imperfect and tentative. They are not something that you should put your faith in.