Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Neanderthal genome

by Rob - February 13th, 2009.
Filed under: Hominids, Neanderthal.

In my novels Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids, I argued that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens probably didn’t crossbreed in nature. At the time I was writing those books, it was a very contentious issue in paleoanthropology, with some vociferously arguing that, in fact, Neanderthals hadn’t really gone extinct at all, but that we’d just co-opted them into our own gene pool.

But the first-draft of the Neanderthal genome, released just yesterday, shows that Neanderthals were indeed a distinct species that didn’t intermix genetically with us.

I found it intriguing that yesterday, a special US federal court ruled that the case, also vociferously fought, that vaccinations caused autism had no scientific merit.

And, of course, yesterday was Darwin’s 200th birthday, and we all know people who have devoted their lives to arguing that he was wrong.

I wrote a story called “Flashes,” first published in Lou Anders’s 2006 anthology FutureShocks, and since reprinted in my own collection Identity Theft and Fiona Kelleghan’s anthology The Savage Humanists, in which SETI succeeds and we receive the long-sought-after Encyclopedia Galactica, and droves of scientists who have spent their careers arguing positions that were totally off base end up committing suicide.

It was a grim little story, but I do wonder how people who spend their whole lives advocating something that turns out to be wrong make their peace with that. (Of course, the answer is that in many cases they don’t: they refuse to accept the new evidence, because the cost of accepting it — and realizing they’ve wasted so much of their time — is too much to bear.)

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