The TERFs have science on their side!


A remarkable letter sent to Julie Bindel congratulating her on her ‘service’.

The remarkable bit is this paragraph:

The usual number scientists talk about is 200,000 years for modern humans, give or take. She’s only off by about 2500 times.

She beat the creationists, who claim humans have only been around for 6000 years, so they go the other way, but are only off by about 33 times. Yeah, they also claim that the whole dang planet has only been around for 6000 years, rather than 4.5 billion, so they do get somethings even more wrong.

What’s cute about her 500 million year guess is that puts us back in the Cambrian, and the basal state for chordates (actually, for all animals) was almost certainly hermaphroditic, back then.

Comments

  1. loop says

    Although the 500My thing is funny, the rest of the letter is just rage-inducing. It’s trying to equate refusing to allow a platform to someone because they are Jewish with refusing because you strongly disagree with their opinion.

    It’s a bit like accusing you of being racist because you didn’t let someone use your facilities to make a speech about how race shoudn’t be a protected characteristic.

  2. submoron says

    I thought the earth was 4.5 billion years old and the universe was 13.7 billion years old.

  3. cartomancer says

    Sigh… yet another one of these morons who tries to mischaracterise transness as being about “biological sex”. Nobody is arguing that it’s possible to change your chromosomes or what gametes you produce. Nobody.

    What they’re arguing is that those things are utterly irrelevant to everyday life, and where our socially constructed ideas of gender are concerned we should recognise that.

  4. kingoftown says

    At least, living in a democratic nation, the good people of Winterbourne can vote to remove her from office. Oh, wait… Nevermind

  5. submoron says

    PZ, I’m fairly certain that your post initially said that the universe was 4.5 million years old. Did I misread or have you changed it?
    Apologies if I misread!

  6. birgerjohansson says

    The eejits might have been confusing this with the Cambrian explosion ca 550 million years ago.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    500 million years of human existence

    The usual number scientists talk about is 200,000 years for modern humans, give or take.

    I suppose one could take the position that “human” applies to our genus rather than our species. I think the usual figure for the split from chimpanzees is 6 million years, give or take. That would get her within a factor of 100.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Possibly relevant, though beyond my skills to assess: Early human ancestors one million years older than thought

    The fossils of our earliest ancestors found in South Africa are a million years older than previously thought… The Sterkfontein caves at the Cradle of Humankind world heritage site southwest of Johannesburg have yielded more Australopithecus fossils than any other site in the world.

    Among them was “Mrs Ples”, the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus found in South Africa … The researchers found that Mrs Ples and other fossils near her were between 3.4 and 3.7 million years old.

    This means that members of Australopithecus africanus like Mrs Ples were “contemporaries” of East Africa’s Australopithecus afarensis, including 3.2-million-year-old Lucy who was found in Ethiopia…

    So, with a long stretch of the definition of “human”, the Baroness may have erred only by a factor of 150 or so. Though we may reasonably doubt whether she’d have ever invited Mrs. Ples over for tea and scones.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    @14 Early human ancestors…

    The language is ambiguous. That could be “ancestors of humans” or “ancestors who were human.” See my comment about genus vs. species.

  10. John Harshman says

    What’s cute about her 500 million year guess is that puts us back in the Cambrian, and the basal state for chordates (actually, for all animals) was almost certainly hermaphroditic, back then.

    Not that it makes the Baroness any less absurd, but can you provide some reference for this claim? I haven’t done this formally, but my impression of how it would look if you optimized sexual systems onto the tree would suggest separate sexes for both the bilaterian and chordate roots. Impressions can of course be wrong.

  11. Tethys says

    Hermaphroditism or separate sexes aren’t the only reproductive options for many extant marine animals. There were plenty of animals in the Cambrian who were capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. Trilobites are thought to have separate sexes, though there are few specimens that preserve soft tissue of sexual organs or eggs. Mobility seems to be correlated with the development of separate sexes. Some marine snails begin life as highly mobile males, who then become sessile and female when they get to a certain size.

    Vertebrates cluster with Echinoderms down at the basal level. They can clone themselves, regrow their limbs, and also reproduce sexually via spawning.

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12968170/

  12. John Harshman says

    #19.

    Hermaphroditism or separate sexes aren’t the only reproductive options for many extant marine animals.

    All true, though the paper I referenced would count animals that change sex with age as hermaphrodites and count those capable of sexual reproduction as hermaphrodite or with separate sexes depending on how it works when they reproduce sexually, regardless of facultative asexual reproduction.

    Plants are of course weirder, able to have male and female parts combined in a single organ, separate organs on a single individual, or in separate individuals, and with differences of variety within a population, not to mention all the asexual reproduction.

  13. mandrake says

    @6 cartomancer
    It’s as simple as what you stated. It’s distressing that those who need to understand that have no desire to be corrected. Anything less doesn’t fit in with their biblical world view. These are people I am all too familiar with, as they are in my immediate family and then some. It’s depressing.

  14. Silentbob says

    @ 10 Reginald Selkirk

    I think the usual figure for the split from chimpanzees is 6 million years, give or take. That would get her within a factor of 100.

    Surely you’re not suggesting our common ancestor with chimpanzees counts as human?!

    @ 14 Pierce R. Butler

    “Australopithecus” means ‘southern ape”. “Homo” means ‘man’ in the sense of ‘human’.

    I think Homo Erectus goes back 2 million years?

    Of course it’s all very sketchy. The fossil record is so sparse the division of species is dubious, let alone who was human enough to count as human.

  15. John Morales says

    Silentbob:

    Surely you’re not suggesting our common ancestor with chimpanzees counts as human?!

    How much clearer could Reginald have been?
    “I suppose one could take the position that “human” applies to our genus rather than our species.”

    (nevermind subspecies)

    … let alone who was human enough to count as human.

    “Homo sapiens subspecies” — subspecies being the operative words for modern humans Homo sapiens sapiens, and for Neanderthals Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, among others.
    And species in the sense that the other subspecies have become extinct.

    (Is it not evident to you that “human enough” is a subjective categorisation?)

    Point being, those hundreds of millions of years are… bullshit.

  16. chrislawson says

    Just to put that date in context, it’s almost exactly the age of the Burgess Shale (508 Mya), so this predates modern humans (200 kya), the human genus (2 Mya), primates (55-85 Mya), mammals (~200 Mya), and synapsids (~300 Mya). At this time our ancestors were the amazing new evolutionary success story: boneless, jawless fish.

    To be fair to the Baroness though, her views probably fossilised about this time.

  17. Allison says

    It seems to me that the whole discussion is kind of a red herring. It’s a way of distracting people (such as PZ and most commenters) into a pointless argument that has nothing to do with TERF-ism.

    What TERFs and other anti-trans folks want is to force trans women to be treated as and be required to fulfill the procrustean social expectations and requirements that are placed upon cis men. (Note that they don’t seem to be much worried about trans men, and they don’t even want to think about enbies.) This is what TERF-ism is all about.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the mutability of “biological sex,” or whether human biology can be so neatly split into two distinct (and immutable) categories.

    That trans women exist — in the sense that there are people who were assigned male at birth who however wish to fit into the social role mandated for people assigned female at birth — is hard to dispute. And that — that is, our very existence — is what the trans exclusive folks can’t stand, and so they come up with irrelevant arguments and invent libelous lies to justify eliminating us, by whatever means necessary. I think we trans women — and probably most non-binaries — have reason to fear for our lives if the TERFs have their way.

    But this has nothing to do with biology, or any sort of “science.” It has, however, everything to do with maintaining a power structure which depends upon forcing (by violence if necessary) half of humanity into oppressing the other half (and most of their own half, as well.)

    (How this can be construed to be “feminist” is beyond me, but nobody asks my opinion….)

  18. John Morales says

    Allison,

    It seems to me that the whole discussion is kind of a red herring.

    It seems to me that PZ’s post (this post) drips with sarcasm.

    And that — that is, our very existence — is what the trans exclusive folks can’t stand, and so they come up with irrelevant arguments and invent libelous lies to justify eliminating us, by whatever means necessary.

    I’m pretty sure every single commenter here has no problem whatsoever with trans people. Or with the science.

    It’s not like the discussion is about the merits of the TERFish claim being ridiculed, it’s kinda riffing off it and off each other.

    (And come on, would you rather it actually was that, as happens pretty much everywhere else?)

  19. Owlmirror says

    “Australopithecus” means ‘southern ape”. “Homo” means ‘man’ in the sense of ‘human’.

    I think Homo Erectus goes back 2 million years?

    Of course it’s all very sketchy. The fossil record is so sparse the division of species is dubious, let alone who was human enough to count as human.

    The problem is not really the sparsity, but the fact that it is not at all certain where the line should be drawn, or if it even makes sense to draw a line. To put it another way: Very late Australopithecus shades into very early Homo, and paleoanthropologists bicker about fossils from the bordering times and places.

    talkorigins hasn’t been updated in a while, but here’s one of the later postings:

    https://talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/sediba.html

    Interestingly, prominent scientists quoted in the media have split fairly evenly on the question of whether sediba should have been assigned to Homo or Australopithecus – Bill Kimbel, Don Johanson, Susan Anton and Colin Groves went for Homo, while Meave Leakey, Tim White and Ron Clarke didn’t. Some scientists have even suggested that it may be a late-surviving variant of Au. africanus.

  20. Allison says

    John Morales @26

    I’m pretty sure every single commenter here has no problem whatsoever with trans people. Or with the science.

    It’s not like the discussion is about the merits of the TERFish claim being ridiculed, it’s kinda riffing off it and off each other.

    (And come on, would you rather it actually was that, as happens pretty much everywhere else?)

    I am aware that PZ’s commenters have no problem with trans people (and those who show up that do are given a rather cold welcome.)

    The thing is, nobody anywhere cares about the accuracy of the “science” in her tweet; certainly not the people who tweet and retweet it and certainly not their target audience. It is yet another transphobic meme in the non-stop salvo of transphobic claims, like the bathroom libel, whose truth is irrelevant. The goal is to saturate the public discourse with them to the point that people will start to believe them, because “everyone” is repeating them and because “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Ultimately, the goal is to normalize transphobia and make us trans people and our defenders seen as crackpots and kind of a threat to “normal” people. And they’ve succeeded to the point that transphobia is public policy in the UK and much of the USA.

    To me, this claim is a threat to my life, and that part of it is not ridiculous. So when I see a discussion that focusses on the ridiculousness of the “science” of the tweet and not on the threat that it represents, it does not make me feel particularly safe.

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