Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Big Honkin' Brains
January 5, 2010 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Boskops. A race of South African Hominids with great big brains. Were they super smart? Or not.

Found at Arts & Letters Daily
posted by Trochanter (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
That second link isn't saying the Boskops were not super smart. It's saying they never existed except as a figment of the imaginations of early twentieth century academics.

The follow-up from the same site is perhaps more clear: I am unaware of any credible biological anthropologist or archaeologist who would confirm their [Discover magazine's] description of the "Boskopoids," except as an obsolete category from the history of anthropology.

Interesting story though. Thanks.
posted by motty at 9:28 AM on January 5, 2010


To paraphrase Prizzi's Honor: If they were so fucking smart, how come they're so fucking extinct?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:32 AM on January 5, 2010


That's quite the smackdown.

There's a neat take on Neanderthall intelligence theory in Ted Kosmatka's really neat short story N-Words (audio).
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2010


Check out the BIG BRAIN on BOSKOPS!
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:36 AM on January 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Do ridiculously non-factual popular books hurt a scientist's professional credentials? (Controversial books probably do, but I wonder about the non-factual per se.)
posted by DU at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2010


This is totally a non-story, except that Discover magazine should be embarrassed to have run such an ignorant article. They might as well be publishing stories about phrenology and alchemy.
posted by EarBucket at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are they in the habit of putting such fringey stuff on their cover?
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2010


A brain so big that it willed itself out of existence.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2010


This is awesome, because it shows what science does best! Far from being a monolithic group of atheist babykilling status-quo-supporters, as certain creationists would have one believe, scientists are a varied group of bickerers who are only too willing to shut one of their colleagues right the fuck down when said colleague is misrepresenting evidence for personal gain. Go scientists!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Are they in the habit of putting such fringey stuff on their cover?

It's a magazine, so yes. (Additionally, it's Discovery so ignorance is also to be expected. They aren't even SciAm, which....damn.)
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2010


Wow, reading him shut them down so easily and completely made me embarrassed for all of them.

Their information was so out of date and obviously bunk that he could have just written--

what
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:09 AM on January 5, 2010


I had read the Discover story and found it strangely unscientific: without any fact and full of apparently gratuitous speculation. John Hawks' detailed response in your second link answers all of my questions.
Thank you for this post.
posted by bru at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2010


They died off after their failure to secure adequate breeding stock.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:25 AM on January 5, 2010


Still not as bad as New Scientist.

The thing that's facinating, and I just found out about this recently looking around on wikipedia about human evolution is the Toba Catastrophe. About 70-75k years ago there was a huge volcanic explosion that caused (according the theory) human population to drop pretty spectacularly.

Remember, the human race came about about 100k years ago. But during the toba catastrophe the number humans on earth dropped to between ten thousand, and potentially all the way down to one thousand pairs of humans. The evidence for all of this is supposedly in our genome.

That means the human race was nearly wiped out and all of us today descended from from people who passed through this evolutionary bottleneck. That means entire branches of Homo Sapiens died out.
posted by delmoi at 10:28 AM on January 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Both Lynch and Granger are full profs at top schools (Granger at Dartmouth, Lynch at UC Irvine, one of the best cog sci programs). Lynch is 40 years deep in his career, and Granger has publications going back 20 years. So they may be writing with a certain impunity as senior faculty who have an idea they've always wanted to play with and make some money on at the same time. As someone who's worked a lot with neuroscience and cog sci folks, one thing that all the serious researchers would say here is that neuroscience is passing through a difficult phase where modest successes and public interest are being turned over for quick bucks with a new rapacity. Aside from bad popular science and press accounts of new studies, you have things like that company that was doing fMRI and PET scans of people before the 2008 election to "show" people's "political orientation" with the results. This book may be an extension of that larger phenomenon.

However, Granger has much bigger things to worry about than crap neuroscience right now. Like, resigning his position at Dartmouth after his wife embezzled $300,000 from a California church. Some of those funds seem to have been passed through a company that Granger himself owns.
posted by el_lupino at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Still not as bad as New Scientist.

New Scientist can be somewhat breathless or speculative at times, and the worst examples of that seem to be what makes it onto MeFi FPPs, but they don't go printing fringe science nonsense as their cover story with a complete lack of qualifiers.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


New Scientist can be somewhat breathless or speculative at times, and the worst examples of that seem to be what makes it onto MeFi FPPs, but they don't go printing fringe science nonsense as their cover story with a complete lack of qualifiers.

Agreed. Although their fascination cold fusion is a little wearisome.
posted by zarq at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2010


This is the bit that jumped out at me:

The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies.


Where did that even come from?
posted by Trochanter at 10:49 AM on January 5, 2010


Interesting and quite weird. Why are they using theories that were debunked over half a century ago? That seems like eons in scientific research time.
posted by ob at 10:56 AM on January 5, 2010


Those aren't Boskops. Those are Krell.
posted by basicchannel at 11:03 AM on January 5, 2010


I hope this line of inquiry leads to the discovery of the Bosshogg, an ancient race of corpulent hominids who ruled the earth in the Hazzard Epoch.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:06 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


My brain is so big I misspell hominid.

Homonid = the same network interface device?
posted by lalochezia at 11:20 AM on January 5, 2010


My brain is so big I misspell hominid.

BUGGER!!1!

I knew it looked wrong!!
posted by Trochanter at 12:24 PM on January 5, 2010


Trochanter: "This is the bit that jumped out at me:

... Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies.

Where did that even come from?
"

They want to believe.
Next month's Discover Magazine follow-up cover story will detail how the Boskops went extinct as a result of succumbing to 'a mysterious black oil'.
posted by vapidave at 1:35 PM on January 5, 2010


Despite it all, I still adore Loren Eiseley.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:41 PM on January 5, 2010


Yakub thought he had destroyed all the evidence. He steers his spaceship away from Earth with an annoyed expression.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2010


zarq Agreed. Although their fascination cold fusion is a little wearisome.

That is because cold fusion would be awesome. Really. When a magazine's editorial staff and most of their readers think a thing would be awesome, the magazine a story about it whenever something that even hints at it crops up. Like "Women's Monthly" and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston having a threesome on their Spanish lawn. Which, in all honesty, would approach awesomeness itself, but not within a lightyear of how awesome cold fusion would be. Which puts the relative amount of text and pictures devoted to speculation on these two scenarios into a depressing perspective.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2010


Ironically, a fascination with cold fusion was what wiped out Boskops Man.
posted by Flashman at 4:36 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Boskop.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:28 AM on January 6, 2010


Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies.

I thought that was remarkable, too. I've never heard of Boskops before, but reading the description, I immediately pictured a Grey. I wonder to what degree stories of Boskops have been a source for this popular image of extraterrestrials?

(Metafilter: small, childlike faces and huge melon heads ... I'm sorry!)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:32 AM on January 6, 2010


Hawks seems to appeal to a lack of interest in the scientific community for the last fifty years as the best evidence of a lesser race of Boskops than imagined. The Discovery article explicitly deals with the theme that the Boskops were ignored scientifically because they refute a wishful thinking of complex development (giving us false hope perhaps). This is the same premise of the common notion that big brains or higher intelligence automatically equates to survival, as if survival was simply a foregone conclusion of figuring out how to reverse all that depletion that took so long to accomplish.
posted by Brian B. at 6:36 AM on January 8, 2010


Hawks seems to appeal to a lack of interest in the scientific community for the last fifty years as the best evidence of a lesser race of Boskops than imagined.

It's worth looking at Hawks's follow-up, where he goes into greater detail about problems in the book.
posted by el_lupino at 5:47 PM on January 8, 2010


« Older Freya von Moltke died on New Year’s Day at age 98....  |  “Popular New Look passenger ap... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments