On the usefulness of Twitter: #spaceape vs #aquaticape

by Matthew Cobb

Jerry (see previous post) is rightfully pleased that the excellent Jab Amurad of the fabulous NPR programme Radiolab has mentioned WEIT’s twitter feed (@evolutoinistrue) in the NYT. Radiolab is marvellous (and I too have been on it in an adult-rated episode, along with fellow-Brits Steve Jones and Tim Birkhead…) so Jerry’s pleasure is quite justified.

BUT, like the curmudgeon he is (don’t forget, he calls this a WEBSITE when we all know it’s a BLOG – I’ll probably get banned for that), Jerry can’t resist griping about Twitter, suggesting it’s all about what you have for breakfast etc etc. Jerry, that is so 2007. Twitter today is MUCH more interesting, and even funny. My proof, the current spoof hashtag that’s keeping people all over the world busy on Sunday when they should be doing something else: #spaceape.

This arose earlier today as a spoof of the silly ‘aquatic ape’ hypothesis that Elaine Morgan popularised in the 1970s and which argues that the human lineage spent a long time in the sea, which claims to explain our (relative) lack of thick hair, fat distribution etc. This has resurfaced (excuse the pun) because in the Observer (aka the Sunday Guardian), Robin McKie has published an article about an upcoming conference on the topic, which got the folks at the Guardian, and many of the commenters very excited. I’m not going to go into the whole thing again (Greg posted a nice, brief piece with good links back in 2009, or you could look at today’s excellent post by Paolo Viscardi), but please feel free if you wish to chip in below.

Rather than get into unhelpful 140 character squabbles, the good people of Twitter decided to make fun of the whole basis of the idea (apparent correlations with no evidence) by suggesting that humans in fact evolved from space apes. Here are just a few of the recent ones (I particularly like the last one). You don’t need to be on Twitter, you can see it all here. [EDIT: The whole #spaceape thing was the idea of Brenna Hassett (@Brennawalks) on her BLOG].



  1. Posted April 28, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    You’ve got a slight typo in the post: @evolutionistrue, not @evolutoinistrue 😉

  2. wildhog
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I love twitter. By following the folks and organizations that I do, I get a whole different “news feed” than I would if I had to rely on – ceiling cat forbid – something like CNN.

    BTW, scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning.

  3. wildhog
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Twitter can also be used as a form of “reality” entertainment. You can find someone from a different generation, region, and social class than you, and if they are tweeting the goings-on in their life, get a look into the life of someone very different from yourself.

  4. Posted April 28, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Not really interested in social media, except have been following
    chris Hadfield aboard the ISS. Most interesting pics. Not sure if any previous commanders did this but it’s a marvelous idea.

  5. Filipe
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I just read the Guardian article. Almost as funny as the space-ape thing. I particularly like the «evidence.» Who knew we couldn’t develop proper brains without access to sea food? Take that all you vegetarians out there.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 28, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      That is actually one of the few things in all this that may make sense.

      I seem to remember a recent paper where gorilla max out hominid brain size in models of their nutrient intake. So meat/fish diet, cooking & agriculture, yadda, yadda.

      The take home message I guess must be that if you place today’s vegetarians in space, they will die.

  6. Posted April 28, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Glad you liked my post! I can’t believe I missed #spaceape on twitter. I decided to write my post after having had three incidents in which the AAH was raised in the last month or so – the Observer article was the last straw…

    • Michael Hart
      Posted April 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Did one of those incidents involve this bit of spam?

      On 2013-04-07, at 4:55 PM, Hanna Tuomisto via Webropolsurveys wrote:

      Dear colleague,

      A while ago, I invited you to answer a survey on human evolution.

      If the topic is not of interest to you, please ignore the rest of this message and forgive me for having taken your time.

      [Describes the purpose of the survey: “to find out how researchers evaluate the relative explanatory powers of alternative hypotheses on the origin of human traits.”]


      The survey was not generally about “alternative hypotheses on the origin of human traits”, but was specifically about the AAH. I’d be interested to know if others received this and how they responded.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the info, when I saw the Guardian article’s theme I just wanted to sink under the surface.

    But #spaceape, of course! So we evolved trichromatic vision in order to fully use the fancy screens, I take it.

  8. Diane G.
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    “Usefulness?” Useful for what?

    • Dominic
      Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Well I can see the latest news stories from Norway, Iceland, the Guardian Science pages, my friend who studies medical history & tweets interesting articles/pictures on that, the feed from Nature which alerts me to new content, Matthew’s musings on life (the universe etc), climate scientists like Michael Mann & people at Hadley, new articles from the Journal of Zoology, news stories from Carbon Brief & environmental activists, websites like GRIST, “Ant man” Alex Wild ‏@Myrmecos, Sam Harris ‏@SamHarrisOrg, Richard Dawkins, etc etc.

  9. Posted April 28, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Not being active on twitter I’de like to know where news sources are. Seriously. Thanks

    • Dominic
      Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      All the major journals have Twitter accounts as do all the major newspapers & broadcasters. Take a look at one person/organisation’s tweets & if it is not for you do not bother. I only use it from a computer as I have no smart phone.

  10. Filippo
    Posted April 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    “Jerry can’t resist griping about Twitter, suggesting it’s all about what you have for breakfast etc etc. Jerry, that is so 2007.”

    Really? If so, then whither Anthony Weiner? “So” 2012?

  11. Dominic
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    Twitter is really useful – I use it to (try to) promote our library, or new content in relevant or interesting journals. How effective that is I cannot say. To me it is not about being a ‘social’ medium, but about information spreading – that is really useful. It is also a way – sometimes – of contacting an expert directly & briefly. By adding a photo (e.g. Twitpic) it becomes a type of ‘live’ e-mail.

    Interestingly, while many academics love it, few students – in my experience – do – they use feaces book, which I really DO hate!

  12. nickswearsky
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I saw the ads for this conference last week. Donald Johanson and Dennis Stanford (Solutrean = PaleoIndians) are also speaking at the conference. Way to associate yourselves with the fringe guys!

  13. Dominic
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    This is relevant to the aquatic ape…

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  1. […] has been a fun pseudoscientific parody called the “Space Ape Theory” which took off rather nicely on Twitter and is doing a good job of highlighting problems with the […]

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