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SNM (single Neanderthal man) seeks SHF (single human female)

May 7, 2010 | 10:43 am

A toggle story, common in science reporting, is one that contradicts a previous story and is likely to be contradicted by a future story. So if you're discomfited by a story headlined "Universe older than previously thought, scientists say," just follow the advice in the joke about what to do if you don't like the weather in England: Just wait. Sooner or later you'll be reading "Universe younger than previously thought, scientists say."

My favorite toggle story has toggled again. It involves the question of whether modern humans and Neanderthals did it -- interbreed, that is. Friday's Los Angeles Times reports that an examination of DNA has shown that the two species did indeed get it on 80,000 years ago, leaving a small residue of Neanderthal genes in modern people.

We'll see if the story toggles back to the view that nothing happened between the two breeds. Meanwhile, it's understandable that people would cringe at the thought of a Neanderthal in the recent family tree, just as 19th-century Englishmen were appalled when evolutionists suggested that they were monkey's nephews.

There is a consolation, however. Some scientists suggest that not only did humans and Neanderthals swap genes but that the beetle-browed cavemen contributed a gene for higher intelligence to their human significant others. A later study toggled that report back, concluding that Neanderthals possessed a more primitive version of a brainpower gene. But maybe the next study will show that our Neanderthal ancestors were smarter than we thought after all, even if they looked like the Geico cavemen.

-- Michael McGough

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