Friday, January 18, 2008

Follow Up On The Monkey Business

Sadanand who blogs at Chintan had some interesting comments about my previous post on Harbhajan Singh and his alleged monkey comment:

The third chart is a family or genealogical tree as you have clearly identified. Since structurally all three charts use the same technique of depiction, an unwary or uninitiated reader is likely to perceive that, contrary to your lucid commentary, all charts are about speciation. S/he may then wrongly conclude that Harbhajan & Symonds belong to different species. This may lead to an unintended & unexpected outcome where "racism" may be replaced by "specism". An honour indeed to father a new 'concept', but one that you would certainly hold dubious & shun like "Maa ki".

A very valid point. Iconography about evolution has always lead to misinterpretations. Check out this great site for diagrammatic depictions of evolution. In this case Sadanand is saying that since my technique of depicting species and family relationships is the same i.e. branching diagrams, can Harbhajan and Symonds be misinterpreted as belonging to different species? In my defense I can say that the explanation clearly mentions that one is a species diagram and the other is a family one, but in fact the diagram of the family tree I drew is flawed. Species by definition are reproductively isolated groups. Once they originate, the branches remained separate. In contrast, within a species, family branches often come together through intermarriage. This happens at all levels of family relationships, i.e. branches which have been separated for hundreds of years may come together, as when populations which have been living on different continents start intermingling through migrations, or it may happen within closely knit families when cousins marry. So a modified depiction of the human family tree is shown below. Black dotted lines depict intermarriage between different family lines.

Successful mating between even relatively isolated human populations is the reason why Harbhajan and Symonds belong to one species. Thanks for pointing that out Sadanand.

Sadanand also comments:

I wonder if you have been uncharacteristically brazen in using RED for Vajpayee & Newton, though with Bhishma you are on safer grounds. You would have done well to put a sign "(?)" after the first 2 names. It is one thing to say they have left no legal heirs, but quite another to assert that they have no descendants.

Another good point, although my intention was simply to make a distinction between broken and unbroken family lineages. In order to avoid more controversies I will stick to the official version on the reproductive success of the concerned people :-)

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