2

votes

Any thoughts on this article?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created July 24, 2012 at 12:16 AM

A relative just posted this article on her Facebook. Any thoughts?

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/07/23/human-ancestors-were-nearly-all-vegetarians/

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 25, 2012
at 01:54 PM

That's definitely him from the photo. What's he doing in Nevada. According to SA he lives in Raleigh, NC. He's an associate professor at NCSU. He's certainly spouting the vegan propaganda, and even being in a different section of biology, he should know better than to use such incredibly dubious reasoning.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on July 24, 2012
at 08:02 PM

Most of the bleeding occurs when allegedly smart people like academics and journalists (well, okay, half-smart) abuse English usage. I'm amazed at the grammar and usage of journalists--of all people who should master it. Those f***ers go begging this question and that, as if it's the most clever thing to say. When it's on the radio, my ears bleed. "Well," he says authoritatively, "it really begs the question: blah blah blah...?" I wanna respond with a hauty flourish, "Yes, quite indubitably...Now won't you please excuse me, as I play the grande piano...?" as I turn and sweep out of the room.

4ecfe8ee47ea62a11be516cd59701a4b

(30)

on July 24, 2012
at 03:12 PM

This seems like the definitive answer - in evolution it's who survives. Adopting failed tactics that led to extinction seems obviously stupid.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on July 24, 2012
at 02:27 PM

HA! I can't believe you've managed to stay on PH as long as you have, if you're that sensitive to poor English usage. Your eyes must bleed daily. (And I'm with you!)

2e5dc29c61f97d335ffb990508424719

on July 24, 2012
at 01:27 PM

I forgot to mention, this I enjoyed you well written response. I would answer the author that our ancestral diet fit into a certain "envelope" of macro-nutrients. As long as we stay in that envelope (think low grain-based carbohydrates) we will thrive. It is more detailed that that but those are the basics.

5457372e78a910c00cd1dd579ecbdce3

(1230)

on July 24, 2012
at 02:23 AM

Wow this is getting completely TRASHED in the comments too. There is very little in the way of accurate information from what I can see.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:56 AM

Gah! The more I read of this article, the more glaring errors and misinformation shows up. It's horribly aggravating. Apparently according to the author, human guts couldn't have evolved much difference in several million years from earlier primates, but we evolved like crazy after agriculture developed 10K years ago. Denise Minger should take this on, but I think it would be too easy for her. It's so frustrating to read this, know that a scientist wrote it (not in his field) and therefore a lot of people will buy it.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 24, 2012
at 01:23 AM

It is a theory, but more solid than any alternative hypothesis.

61844af1187e745e09bb394cbd28cf23

(11058)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:17 AM

Read the article before jumping all over my answer.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:10 AM

as I said, I had not read the article, just that I wouldn't automatically dismiss it as propaganda.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:05 AM

Point taken. We became our species, H. sapiens @ 200,000 years ago, as I mentioned above.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:51 AM

I think he's trying to be flippant in the article.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:50 AM

Well respected author does not equal always accurate author, particularly for scientists wandering outside their usual field.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:49 AM

I don't think that being an insect specialist necessarily gives you any expertise in human biology.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:48 AM

Rob Dunn is a biologist and associate professor at NCSU. His specialty appears to be ants and some other insects, not human evolutionary biology. For some reason I haven't been able to find his CV online.

61844af1187e745e09bb394cbd28cf23

(11058)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:42 AM

I didn't call Scientific America a propaganda site. I dismissed the loony writing as propaganda. I tried to read the article, but became bored quickly. I don't know if he is trying to write to a dumbed-down audience or if it's his feeble attempt at humor, but parts were patronizing and annoying.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:40 AM

Oops: "but" should be gut. Should've just written "butt".

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 24, 2012
at 12:40 AM

Enjoying some grass-fed steak as well!

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:39 AM

Pretty sure that "traded but for brain" idea is only a theory. I pretty much believe it but I wouldn't say it's set in stone. Researchers are still trying to figure that out.

2e5dc29c61f97d335ffb990508424719

on July 24, 2012
at 12:39 AM

We are defined as human by our Genus, Homo, not our species, sapiens. Humans are ~2.5 million years old. We became sapiens ~200,000 years ago

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:26 AM

Scientific America is not a propaganda site. And Rob Dunn is a respected writer. I haven't read the article yet, but I would not just dismiss it.

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12 Answers

12
2e5dc29c61f97d335ffb990508424719

on July 24, 2012
at 12:32 AM

There are more holes in this story than a wheel of swiss cheese. For example he said, ???Our guts are remarkably similar to those of chimpanzees and orangutans?????? Um, no. They don???t have zonulin and thus are not as leaky as human guts. Their entire masticotry system is different. We did not evolve from them! We split from a common ancestor about 5 million years ago. Since then we have been eating different things. ???Our guts do not seem to be specialized hominid guts; they are, instead, monkey/ape guts.??? Um, no. See what I said about zonulin and the fact that our guts have been SHORTENED compared to other apes. This would suggest that we have evolved in a direction to more calorie dense foods. Humans are roughly 2.5 million year old line. I don???t think that is partially relevant that we came from fruit eaters 20 million years ago. Finally, the author makes the all too common mistake in looking at what our similarities with our ancestors. What makes us human is how we have evolved and that involves the introduction of sea foods and the evolution of the human brain. For evidence I offer the out of Africa model, which is the accepted model of human planetary conquest. We are the only apes that followed and thus evolved with the coastal waterways. We are evolved to eat from the intertidal zone. It is what made our brain large. A chimp would stave on the coast. We would thrive and grow large meat-needing brains.

I wonder if the author is a vegetarian or has an agenda?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recent_African_origin_of_modern_humans

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:56 AM

Gah! The more I read of this article, the more glaring errors and misinformation shows up. It's horribly aggravating. Apparently according to the author, human guts couldn't have evolved much difference in several million years from earlier primates, but we evolved like crazy after agriculture developed 10K years ago. Denise Minger should take this on, but I think it would be too easy for her. It's so frustrating to read this, know that a scientist wrote it (not in his field) and therefore a lot of people will buy it.

6
61844af1187e745e09bb394cbd28cf23

(11058)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:23 AM

The first thing I noticed is that it's a blog post. I then scrolled to the bottom and there are no references. I dismiss it as propaganda and go back to eating my grass-fed steak.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:50 AM

Well respected author does not equal always accurate author, particularly for scientists wandering outside their usual field.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:49 AM

I don't think that being an insect specialist necessarily gives you any expertise in human biology.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:10 AM

as I said, I had not read the article, just that I wouldn't automatically dismiss it as propaganda.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:51 AM

I think he's trying to be flippant in the article.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:26 AM

Scientific America is not a propaganda site. And Rob Dunn is a respected writer. I haven't read the article yet, but I would not just dismiss it.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 24, 2012
at 12:40 AM

Enjoying some grass-fed steak as well!

61844af1187e745e09bb394cbd28cf23

(11058)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:17 AM

Read the article before jumping all over my answer.

61844af1187e745e09bb394cbd28cf23

(11058)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:42 AM

I didn't call Scientific America a propaganda site. I dismissed the loony writing as propaganda. I tried to read the article, but became bored quickly. I don't know if he is trying to write to a dumbed-down audience or if it's his feeble attempt at humor, but parts were patronizing and annoying.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:48 AM

Rob Dunn is a biologist and associate professor at NCSU. His specialty appears to be ants and some other insects, not human evolutionary biology. For some reason I haven't been able to find his CV online.

4
80890193d74240cab6dda920665bfb6c

(1528)

on July 24, 2012
at 05:16 AM

The author of this piece makes a very common error - we split from chimps and other primates quite some time ago. We can't really be judged by what chimps and gorillas do now.

All our other vegetarian relatives in between are, let's face it, extinct. The "naturally vegetarian" early relatives of us are dead. They just didn't make it. It doesn't seem like a coincidence.

So who did? Us, the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans. We're the only ones who made it - and we're omnivores. All of us who made it pretty far have meat-eating histories. And of the three, we appear to be the ones who perfected the stone tools, so here we are today. He can't ignore this simple fact - the vegetarian ancestors all died out.

The author's also wrong to dismiss how much chimps love meat. In the late summer when the colobus monkeys have given birth, the chimps go on raiding parties to grab baby monkeys and viciously eat them. They literally tear them limb from limb.

The only reason chimps eat so little meat is that the baby monkeys they so love are only snatchable for a small part of the year. Chimps lack tools other than plain rocks and a few sticks, so they can't kill larger monkeys. I would hate to see a group of adolescent male chimps with flint-tipped spears, though. That would be serious slaughter. When chimps attack, they are incredibly dangerous.

As for evidence, I suggest the author go see In Search of the Perfect Human Diet. The experts at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology certainly appear to be the most trustworthy experts, and the conclusion they draw there is very clear.

4ecfe8ee47ea62a11be516cd59701a4b

(30)

on July 24, 2012
at 03:12 PM

This seems like the definitive answer - in evolution it's who survives. Adopting failed tactics that led to extinction seems obviously stupid.

4
A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on July 24, 2012
at 04:42 AM

I stopped reading when he used the phrase "...attempting to hone in on the diets of our most recent ancestors." I don't trust the credibility of an academic who can't get a basic expression like this right.

For the record: one homes in on something, or one hones something. Hone means to sharpen, as in that thing paleolithic humans did to turn stones into tools of sweet, bloody carnivorous death.

They were capable of making tools out of stones, while this man pounds so much sharp out of his stick that it can't even give me the poke in the eye I'd rather have than finish his article. What a Neanderthal.

If next someone tells me he also misused "begs the question" later in the piece, I'm going to completely lose it.

A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on July 24, 2012
at 08:02 PM

Most of the bleeding occurs when allegedly smart people like academics and journalists (well, okay, half-smart) abuse English usage. I'm amazed at the grammar and usage of journalists--of all people who should master it. Those f***ers go begging this question and that, as if it's the most clever thing to say. When it's on the radio, my ears bleed. "Well," he says authoritatively, "it really begs the question: blah blah blah...?" I wanna respond with a hauty flourish, "Yes, quite indubitably...Now won't you please excuse me, as I play the grande piano...?" as I turn and sweep out of the room.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on July 24, 2012
at 02:27 PM

HA! I can't believe you've managed to stay on PH as long as you have, if you're that sensitive to poor English usage. Your eyes must bleed daily. (And I'm with you!)

4
5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:34 AM

This is a pretty standard vegan argument. What you need to notice is that the author skipped straight from Neanderthals* straight to the other ape genera and monkeys. Why would they do that? It's @ 7 million years back to our common ancestor with chimps, much longer than that with monkeys. And they have evolved separately for that length of time also. So 14 million years of separate evolution total between us and chimps. That kind of time allows for a lot of evolutionary difference.

Our probable early ancestors the Australopithecines were largely plant eaters, although again, millions of years apart. By the time humans became our species** of human 200,000 for early Homo sapiens, 100,000 years for more modern H. s. our species were well established omnivores who ate considerable meat. We evolved that way. We're not australopithicenes. We're not chimps, we're not monkeys.

*They also got it wrong with the Neanderthals who contributed at most 4% to our gene pool in some populations of H. sapiens. Don't trust their science.

Added: This article is just packed full of errors or distortions. Try this one on for size. "A paleo diet is an arbitrary thing. Which paleo diet should we eat? The one from twelve thousand years ago? A hundred thousand years ago? Forty million years ago?"

Since the paleolithic era is defined as the period of time that humans used stone tools, it's reasonably well defined. 40 million years doesn't come into it at all. Technically it stretches back to the australopithicenes 2.6 million years ago who used some primitive stone tools. However the paleo diet is generally regarded as applying to the middle and upper paleolithic eras, starting @ 300,000 years ago for middle PE and 50,000 years ago for upper PE. That's the time period when we became what we are now.

Not 40 million years ago, and even an insect biologist like Dunn should know that.

**Added for accuracy.

Added: Another fun tidbit: "I would argue that, IF we want to return to our ancestral diets, we might reasonably eat what our ancestors spent the most time eating during the largest periods of the evolution of our guts. If that is the case, we need to be eating fruits, nuts, and vegetables???especially fungus-covered tropical leaves."

By this logic, chimps and gorillas should be eating the exact same diet, since the ancestors of both (presumably going back to the first primates) spent more time being ancestors than chimps have spent being chimps or gorillas being gorillas. I suspect most zookeepers and primate biologists aren't going to think much of this idea. Not to mention the poor chimps and gorillas eating species inappropriate diets.

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 24, 2012
at 01:05 AM

Point taken. We became our species, H. sapiens @ 200,000 years ago, as I mentioned above.

2e5dc29c61f97d335ffb990508424719

on July 24, 2012
at 01:27 PM

I forgot to mention, this I enjoyed you well written response. I would answer the author that our ancestral diet fit into a certain "envelope" of macro-nutrients. As long as we stay in that envelope (think low grain-based carbohydrates) we will thrive. It is more detailed that that but those are the basics.

2e5dc29c61f97d335ffb990508424719

on July 24, 2012
at 12:39 AM

We are defined as human by our Genus, Homo, not our species, sapiens. Humans are ~2.5 million years old. We became sapiens ~200,000 years ago

1
3d9c1a375d46ab8dbcbe47cbbfcb27c4

on July 25, 2012
at 03:11 PM

The author is neglecting the link between the evolution of the human brain and the human gut..

The Expensive Tissue Hypothesis contends that the increase in brain size in humans is balanced by an equivalent reduction in the size of the gastro-intestinal tract. In other words, the increased energetic demands of a relatively large brain are balanced by the reduced energy demands of a relatively small gastro-intestinal tract. This relationship also seems to be true in non-human primates.

The size of the gastro-intestinal tract is dependent on both body size and the quality of the diet. It is argued that humans (and other primates) could not have developed a relatively large brain without also adopting a high quality (ie protein) diet that would have permitted a reduction in the relative size of the gastro-intestinal tract.

Dietary quality has played a prominent role in theories of human evolution in general and the evolution of the human brain in particular. One of the most memorable of these theories is the Man the Hunter (Ardrey, 1961; Washburn and Lancaster, 1968). This theory argued that increasing amounts of meat in the hominid diet lead to increasing levels of cooperation among the males in the hunt, which lead to brain expansion and the associated development of cognition, language and symbolic culture. This hypothesis was fuelled by the realisation that an increase in the apparent consumption of meat correlated with the increase in brain size seen in Homo habilis and Homo erectus. It was also supported by the recognition in the archaeological record of the basic elements of a hunter-gatherer life-style (home bases and food sharing) (Isaac, 1971). Although the rather simplistic reasoning underlying the Man the Hunter hypothesis has lost favour in more recent years (eg. Tanner, 1981; Power and Aiello, in press) the importance of a high quality diet, and meat eating in particular, has been a common theme (eg. Foley and Lee, 1991; Leonard and Robertson, 1992, 1994).

1
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:41 AM

So it looks like Rob is playing a bit of a contrarian. This is one of the normal arugments that people who are anit-paleo use.

Part of it is the marketing bit of paleo. People see it and think caveman. I see it and think, modern scientific understanding of our biology has determined that insulin response is very important to how we can utilize the energy we consume. Too much insulin and our body turns most of the calories into fat, burns the sugars for energy, and causes a downward spiral of inflammation. As we investigate further, we've found that eating vegetables, meats, and fruits tend to provide lower insulin response. It just happens that all of this is due to evolution.

1
C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 24, 2012
at 12:35 AM

The article starts off by saying we need to look at our evolutionary past and even talks about the guts of carnivores and herbivores, yet fails to mention that our gut is much closer in line with carnivores. Sure many monkeys were primarily vegetarian omnivores, but we are not monkeys. That is what set us apart, and allowed us to afford such a metabolically expensive brain. We lost some gut and gained brain. Fair trade, and in doing so, we ate fattier, more nutrient dense food.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:39 AM

Pretty sure that "traded but for brain" idea is only a theory. I pretty much believe it but I wouldn't say it's set in stone. Researchers are still trying to figure that out.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on July 24, 2012
at 12:40 AM

Oops: "but" should be gut. Should've just written "butt".

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 24, 2012
at 01:23 AM

It is a theory, but more solid than any alternative hypothesis.

0
Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on July 25, 2012
at 01:00 PM

Rob Dunn is part of a "raw food meetup" group.

http://www.meetup.com/RawLasVegas/members/54092372/

Sounds like the vegans have got to him...

5ccb98f6ae42ce87e206cf3f6a86039f

(11581)

on July 25, 2012
at 01:54 PM

That's definitely him from the photo. What's he doing in Nevada. According to SA he lives in Raleigh, NC. He's an associate professor at NCSU. He's certainly spouting the vegan propaganda, and even being in a different section of biology, he should know better than to use such incredibly dubious reasoning.

0
F9013a3c7944d40c983e955f3cc83627

on July 24, 2012
at 01:55 AM

I tend to embrace paleo primarily as a rejection of processed foods; it is not necessarily meat-centric. Secondarily, for me anyhow, not the paleo community, it is a rejection of grains and cereals.

0
54f75fb54778cfa947990bec1175307a

on July 24, 2012
at 01:32 AM

Seems like this guy is preoccupied with idea of farting. No wonder, taking into consideration that his diet is "supplemented with some of the great beans produced by the agricultural revolution"

0
Af3e3615beba642bcafd0f21d64d74f7

on July 24, 2012
at 12:57 AM

no, he's right about apes and humans, we both eat meat.

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