First, what a great idea from you, Algis, to start this new discussion group. Well done! My husband Renato and I once planned a similar project with the same aims, but we were afraid not to have the time necessary for such a forum. You have therefore our full support!
I am a 40 years old Swiss medical doctor specialized in epidemiology, prevention and public health. Since my school times I am interested in human evolution and so I wrote my MD thesis on the history of the aquatic hypotheses, especially on the life and work of the German pathologist Max Westenhöfer (1871-1957). It is fascinating to see the strong convergence of ideas between him and Alister Hardy, with most of the aquatic arguments expressed independently by both scientists. If you can read in German, there is a PDF of this thesis on http://www.aquatic-hypothesis.com
After some clinical years I did a PhD in behavioral ecology. I did a little research on the difference between two cat breeds concerning their behavior towards water and spent several years studying the interaction between hormones and brood care behavior using a fish model (an amazing example of behavioral and physiological concergence between fishes, birds and mammals!). I am now buidling up a research group in evolutionary medicine. Since 19 years (yes, that long!) I am collaborating with my husband Renato on several topics around "water and human evolution".
Although I have a deep respect for the pioneers of the aquatic hypotheses and I am fascinated by the explanatory potential of some of their arguments, I am convinced that the aquatic discussion did not have a good start. I acknowledge several points expressed by critics, although I do not agree with some premisses of their criticisms. But instead to criticize aquatic proponents or their critcs I am very interested in creating a new theoretical fundament to discuss human and non-human primates interaction with water.
Which are the minimal conditions that can be accepted by most paleoanthropologists and primatologists to carry out a fruitful discussion on "waterside-topics"? I think that the answer to this question cannot be found in an endless discussion on the sense or nonsense of superficial analogies between penguins (or dolphins, or wolves, or baboons, or kangaroos) with humans. I am also skeptic about coining new terms for the old aquatic hypotheses, or any other attempt to simulate originality in this area without proper empircal, epistemological and historical investigation.
Renato and I share the conviction that the main problem with the aquatic hypotheses is strongly related to its attempt to use the same approach like classical paleoanthropological hypotheses and to construct an oversimplified scenario of early hominin evolution. Instead of this, we are trying to convince other scientists that a fundamental change in paleoanthropology is needed. This change should stress the limits of our capacity to reconstruction human past and the need of new empirical data. This topic is explained in detail in a paper (provisory title: Savannah Hypotheses’ Origin, Reception and Biasing Effect in Paleoanthropological Discussion, by Renato Bender, Phillip V. Tobias, Nicole Bender) which will be published in March 2012 (we will post this publication here).
I am looking forward to discuss with you all, best wishes,