The Third Chimpanzee

New Scientist
This article talks about new research into the genetic differences (and similarities) between chimps and humans, and the idea that we are, in the words of author Jared Diamond, “The Third Chimpanzee”


It’s an attractive and alluring argument. The human part of the shrub of life is awfully barren, and its more a case of parochialism than a genuine representation of the facts.
Taxonomy for the masses:
Species is the basic unit of organism populations. What a species is, is something not as easy to define as a basic biology course might like. Nature is messy that way, but its basically a group of organisms which can breed successfully with each other and only with each other. Dogs, even the diverse ones, all can theoretically interbreed, so they make up one species. So do humans, no matter how stupid racists are.
The next step up is the genus. It’s a group of related species, and the name of a genus and species makes up the scientific name of an organism. Homo Sapiens. Homo is our genus, Sapiens our species. There is only one species in the genus Homo, us. There used to be more–things like the Neandertals and such were in our Genus. Some of the more radical of the “third chimpanzee” advocates think that the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus) should be in Genus Homo.
It’ll never happen, because of conservatism among scientists, not to mention the segment of the public which literally believes in works like the Bible or the Koran. It would acknowledge too close a kinship with “mere animals”.
I do think, however, that a strong argument can be made to put at least the common chimps into the next higher bracket, the Family. Humans are in the family Homindae, the only member of the Family. (Yes, this is unusual to have a Family with exactly one genus and species in it. But it is a way to keep us “seperated” from the rest of the animal kingdom). Chimps and Apes right now are in the family Pongidae. Probably even the Great Apes and the Orangutans could be put into the same family as Humans, a genetic argument could be made for it. You could, if you wanted to be a purist, keep the genus Homo solely for modern humans.
It would acknowledge some link between us and our closest relatives on the planet.