I admire today’s TED talk by Elaine Morgan as a great presentation, but I have reservations...
Morgan promotes the “aquatic ape” hypothesis. This suggests that the many anatomical features that distinguish humans from chimpanzees and bonobos were due to humans being aquatic at some point in their evolutionary past. It is not a loopy idea by any means, and is quite an interesting explanation.
Unfortunately, some of Morgan’s claims of why this hypothesis hasn’t got traction are very close to the sort of rationalizations that all manners of denialists use. Rather than admitting there are any weaknesses in the evidence, she instead chalks up resistance of the hypothesis to vague and shadowy forces of vested interests: “academia” and “paradigms”. She doesn’t call it a conspiracy; Morgan is clearly too sophisticated for that. (And I don’t mean that in a derogatory “Oh, she thinks there’s a conspiracy but just doesn’t use the word” way; I think her view is more smart and subtle than most wacky conspiracy “theories.”)
In that sense, yeah, I think the aquatic ape hypothesis is fringe science. Sorry, Elaine.
Human paleontology is its own very specialized field, so I make no claims of expertise here, but it seems to me that what is missing from the aquatic ape hypothesis is that it hasn’t been able to generate predictions. Pretty much every piece of evidence advanced for an aquatic past is, “Here is a distinctive anatomical feature that we already know about, and it makes sense if we had an aquatic past.” In other words, it’s always retrospective and ad hoc evidence – another warning sign.
One logical prediction to me would seem to be, “If we had an aquatic past, then we should routinely find hominid fossils associated with ancient lakes, rivers, and other water bodies.” To the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t been the case. When the aquatic ape hypothesis starts making useful testable predictions, it’ll move into the mainstream.
Additional: After writing this, I found AquaticApe.org, which indicates much the same thing. I admit confirmation bias may be playing a role here, though.