Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Monkey Girl" and False Icons

 
Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul is a book about the Dover trial. It's written by Edward Humes, an ex-newspaper journalist turned author.

The cover of the book shows one of the common, but false, icons of human evolution. This series of skeletons depicts a steady upward march of human evolution from a chimpanzee to modern humans. The image is false in two ways: (1) humans did not evolve from something that looks like modern chimpanzees, and (2) the "progress" was not a linear transformation as depicted, instead, there where many side branches and lineages that went extinct.

This is the icon that Stephen Jay Gould attacked in Wonderful Life and elsewhere in his essays. Even the Intelligent Design Creationists recognize that this is a bad way to depict evolution. Casey Luskin writes in A Partisan Affair (Part 2): False Attacks Upon Discovery Institute in Edward Humes’ Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, "Monkey Girl".
Any book with an icon of evolution on its cover — in this case, the fanciful diagram of ape-like skeletons transitioning into a human skeleton — is bound to be unfriendly towards intelligent design (ID).
For once I agree with Casey Luskin!!!! The diagram is a fanciful "icon" and the book is unfriendly towards creationists.

I realize that trade book authors don't get much say in cover design but that has to change. I urge all authors to insert a clause in their contracts that requires approval of the cover design and title. Let's try and prevent future embarrassments of this sort.


7 comments :

  1. Ok, what about this: if one, say, traces out a path on a graph and only focuses on the actual path (or takes snapshots of the path) then the actual path would be linear.

    The error, I think, isn't showing the "arc" but rather thinking of the depicted arc (a singular trajectory of evolution) as being the entire graph of evolution.

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  2. Hello, Larry. I offer two responses to your observations about Monkey Girl:

    1. The proverb about not judging a book by its cover is apt. Why base your criticism on an illustration when the book contains detailed discussions of evolutionary theory? The text of the book also includes the explicit statement that the idea that man evolved from monkeys is a myth used by creationists to attack evolution. It seems to me it is silly to focus on the cover of the book while ignoring the book's substance. Silly and misleading. Rather like Casey Luskin's blather.

    2. The illustration in question is NOT a mistake. It is a purposeful use of what you are calling a "false icon" of evolution. The book is titled "Monkey Girl" for a reason: This was an epithet used to demonize kids who opted out of the intelligent design presentation mandated by the Dover School Board, the unconstitutional act that led to the Kitzmiller vs. Dover judgment. The book title is based on a schoolyard taunt aimed at those who supposedly had "the monkey in the family" -- i.e., those who supported teaching evolution, not supernatural theories of origins, in public schools. The cover art, then, fits the title; it is a representation of the cartoon version of evolution that is used to incite such insults -- and such cases as Kitzmiller. All this is addressed in the book, and I've written several OpEds on this very subject, of the "two theories of evolution" -- the cartoon version, and the real one. Your readers can find them at the HufingtonPost, the LA Times, or my Monkey Girl blog.

    I hope this clarifies matters for you.

    Regards,

    Ed Humes
    www.EdwardHumes.com

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  3. Edward Humes writes,

    The proverb about not judging a book by its cover is apt. Why base your criticism on an illustration when the book contains detailed discussions of evolutionary theory?

    Because I'm judging the cover and not the contents.

    I hope this clarifies matters for you.

    It certainly does. Thank-you very much.

    I had assumed that the choice of a cover illustration was due to an editor who misunderstands evolution.

    Now that I know the choice was deliberately made by the author, my perspective changes.

    It was a bad choice. You don't deliberately put a "false icon of evolution" on a cover and expect everyone to buy your book in order to discover that it is, indeed, false.

    That's extremely naive. You were just asking for trouble, don't be surprised that you're getting it—from both sides.

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  4. My sophomore/junior year of college we got into so much shit with our bio professors for designing our BBB T-shirts with that image on them.

    Actually, it was the reverse image, 'De-evolution of a Truman bio major', where it started with an upright, perky freshmen, and ended with a senior crawling on his hands and knees... it was funny... But we got chewed out.

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  5. If you look carefully at the diagram, the skeleton on the right appears to be the skeleton of a human girl, ergo the drawing is kind of a parody of the "traditional" ape-to-man graphic. And it is thus directly tied to the title, which is after all "Monkey Girl."

    You might as well criticize the book for it's *title*, which is *also* inaccurate science, which is kind of the point.

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  6. Nick Matzke says,

    You might as well criticize the book for it's *title*, which is *also* inaccurate science, which is kind of the point.

    Now that you mention it, the title does kinda suck, doesn't it? How many people reading that title on the shelf of a book store are going to "get" it? Not me. When I first saw it I thought it was a really dumb title.

    And what about the subtitle: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul? Talk about pretentious. The Dover trial may have been a lot of fun for you and some others but, trust me, it's not where the battle for America's soul is happening.

    It's almost 2009. Nobody cares about Dover, just as nobody cares about the Arkansas or Louisiana trials any more.

    The good guys are still losing the war.

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  7. And what about the subtitle: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul? Talk about pretentious. The Dover trial may have been a lot of fun for you and some others but, trust me, it's not where the battle for America's soul is happening.

    Well, I haven't read the book, but I would assume that the "battle for America's soul" doesn't just refer to the events at Dover. It concerns the wider fight, using Dover as an example.

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