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What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee

What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes, With a New Preface

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 333
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  • Book Info
    What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee
    Book Description:

    Marks presents the field of molecular anthropology—a synthesis of the holistic approach of anthropology with the reductive approach of molecular genetics—as a way of improving our understanding of the science of human evolution. This iconoclastic, witty, and extremely readable book illuminates the deep background of our place in nature and asks us to think critically about what science is, and what passes for it, in modern society.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93076-6
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    Jonathan Marks
    (pp. 1-6)

    C. P. snow, who was both a scientist and a novelist, observed in a classic essay from the 1950s that the sciences and the humanities were coming apart at their academic seams and forming “two cultures.” He meant this in a specifically anthropological sense—two cornmunities that speak different languages, see the world in different ways, don’t understand each other, and regard each other with suspicion. Each thinks itself superior to the other.

    This rift is probably irreparable. As the frontiers of knowledge have expanded, it has become hard enough to keep up with the work in one’s own ridiculously...

    (pp. 7-31)

    You know them. you’ve seen them, perhaps in the zoo, perhaps in the movies or on television. You’ve looked deep into their dark, soulful eyes, pondered their hairy faces, and recognized a mind behind those eyes. A mind like a child’s perhaps, but a mind akin to your own. You’ve seen their sinewy arms, their long fingers clasping something—a twig to use as a tool? Or perhaps a Raggedy-Ann doll?

    And you know about those resemblances. That chimpanzee, says the narrator, is more than 98% genetically identical to us. That similarity, he says, blurs the line between us. We...

    (pp. 32-50)

    Where does a number like 99.44%, ostensibly representing our basic similarity to another species, come from? Three sorts of data have produced these tabulations. The first is a comparison of protein structure from 1975, by Berkeley geneticists Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson. Proteins are long strands of elementary subunits, which reflect gene structure and can be compared. Examining the differences between forty-four known proteins of human and chimpanzee, King and Wilson found they were 99.3% identical. (Amazingly, only 0.14% away from the legendary purity of Ivory Soap!)

    We know that about only 1% of the total DNA of a cell...

    (pp. 51-71)

    The most prominent, or at least newsworthy, of our seemingly natural categories is race. We tend to divide people into a few large categories: white, yellow, black, red, or the more politically correct Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Native Americans. And we tend to perceive facial features that stereotypically follow this division: light skin, almond eyes, kinky hair, beaked nose. In fact, these categories do not reflect any natural division of the human species and have principally been the construction of social history.

    Teaching that racial categories lack biological validity can be as much of a challenge as teaching that the...

    (pp. 72-99)

    Peoples of the world differ from one another, and to understand the nature of those differences we are obliged to compare them. The social issues involved in such comparisons, however, necessitate considerably more introspection than would be taken for granted by a scientist accustomed to comparing spiders or earthworms.

    Skin, hair, face, and body form all vary across the world’s population. In humans, these biological differences are complemented and exaggerated by differences in language, behavior, dress, and the other components of the cumulative historical stream we call “culture.” The skeletal differences anlong the world’s most different peoples are actually quite...

    (pp. 100-127)

    We know intuitively that nature and nurture somehow combine to make us what we are; we don’t need science to tell us that. But science brings authority to the table. Many teachers unfortunately skim over the material because it is “emotional,” or they attempt to “present both sides”—usually uncritically, as if genetics and behavior were simply a case of “you say potay-to, I say potah-to.” Actually, though, an anthropological approach complements and illuminates the genetic data quite well and shows how much we actually do know about the “nature-nurture debate.”

    Contemporary genetics relies on the ability to relate an...

    (pp. 128-158)

    The history of genetics would be no different if Gregor Mendel had never been born. The field was not at all influenced by his ideas, and it wasn’t until thirty-five years after his work, in 1900, that other scientists independently hit on the same results, only to find that he had scooped them by decades. In creating a new science, actually given the name “genetics” by the English biologist William Bateson in 1906, they adopted Mendel as a figurehead.

    Mendel’s “Two Laws,” now universally memorized by college biology students, were not even formally codified as such until the American geneticist...

  13. Seven HUMAN NATURE
    (pp. 159-179)

    In a recent book calledDemonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence,primate sociobiologist & chard Wrangham and his co-author Dale Peterson write that it is a natural inclination of the human male to be aggressive—to be “demonic.” And this inclination, they tell us, “is written in the molecular chemistry of DNA.”

    Even for the moment overlooking the crude essentialism of the thought, the question that jumped out at me when I was asked to review the book for the journalHuman Biologywas: What exactly is the evidence from the molecular chemistry of DNA?

    In fact,...

  14. Eight HUMAN RIGHTS . . . FOR APES?
    (pp. 180-197)

    When we talk about whether antisocial behaviors are innate or not, we are making anthropological pronouncements and invoking what looks like genetics in support of a social and political philosophy. In this case, the idea is that the poor and uneducated deserve what little they have, for nature (rather than the avarice and malice of others) has put them in the social position they are in. This can be easily recognized as the central argument ofThe Bell Curve,for example. But much of Western social history has involved the development of views antithetical to that one, social ideologies that...

    (pp. 198-218)

    If ape genetics is political, imagine how politicalhumangenetics gets. The big lie all too frequently taught in university genetics classes is that human genetics is, or at least ought to be, just like mouse or fly genetics.

    It isn’t.

    It can’t be. Mouse genetics doesn’t have to deal with abortion, genetic screening, racism, discrimination, the loss of health insurance, and the rights of oppressed and indigenous mice.

    Everyone knows about the Human Genome Project, a medical genetics program begun in 1989 for sequencing all the DNA in a typical human cell and identifying all its genes, and incidentally...

    (pp. 219-241)

    There is a question that I am frequently asked, usually by wideeyed students who have already taken their science requirements, often in preparation for medical school, and who are now settling in for a semester of biological anthropology, an elective that looks at least relevant to their scientific interests. It comes up when I arrive at the topic of molecular anthropology, and of the genetic similarities between apes and humans.

    “Given the genetic similarities between chimp and human,” begins the student, “could they interbreed? Could we make a human-chimp hybrid?”

    Now, there are a lot of self-defeating ways to deal...

    (pp. 242-265)

    While kennewick man’s skeleton may seem to be a subject remote from the 98% genetic equivalence of humans and apes, it really isn’t. It’s all fundamentally about descent and relatedness—how I identify my relatives and what their relationship to me means. In many cultures, this is usually expressed through the medium of blood.

    Blood is one of the most powerful substances the human mind has ever invented.

    I don’t mean that, of course, literally. People didn’t invent blood. It existed as a biological substance before people did.

    But as such it has no meaning. People gave it meaning. It...

    (pp. 266-288)

    Science is a cognitive system, a way to think about things. There are, of course, lots of ways to think about things.

    Scientists are among the last great ethnocentrics in the modern world. And why not? They have a system that works; it produces technology. Why should they be humble? As Richard Dawkins, a leading spokesman for science, puts it, “The proof of the pudding is: When you actually fly to your international conference of cultural anthropologists, do you go on a magic carpet or do you go on a Boeing 747?”

    The great paradox of modern science is that...

    (pp. 289-302)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 303-313)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 314-314)