Both Greg and P.Z. Myers have noted, in conjunction with others, that there may be an insidious connection between climate-change denialist David Koch, who largely funded the Smithsonian’s new human evolution exhibit, and the contents of the exhibit itself. (Greg doesn’t buy it.) After I learned that Koch was a denialist, I drew a connection between one or two of the displays I saw and Koch’s views. And according to Climate Progress, I missed other exhibits showing how wonderful climate change was for our evolution.
Before I read about this kerfuffle, I was going to put up these pictures as examples of some of the wonky views on evolution on offer in the exhibit, but now I see that they may have a more insidious meaning.
At the exhibit, I noted that there was considerable unfounded speculation about the influence of climate change on evolution. Here’s a display suggesting—and there is NO evidence for this—that adaptation to changing climate was a major force propelling the evolutionary increase in human brain size. Note, at the lower right, the two graphs showing a “coordinated” increase of human brain size with increasing variability of climate (click the picture to enlarge and read the captions). Note also that as the fluctuations in temperature increased, the average temperature also decreased, so there’s no way, at least from these data, to separate brain evolution from average temperature versus erratic temperature. And of course there are tons of other hypotheses, not connected with climate, to explain why our brains got bigger.
This display, while not as scientifically unfounded as the one above, is still speculative, without any indication that there’s no solid proof that human body morphology reflects adaptation to climate. It’s a good guess, but we don’t know for sure and, at any rate, since the theme of the exhibit is “how do we know what we know?”, the curators should have injected a cautionary note about the conclusion:
Smithsonian, j’accuse! Get your curators in there and expunge all the questionable “science” tying our evolution to climate change. And call a spade a spade: if something is just a hypothesis, label it as such rather than implying it’s settled fact.