Saturday, February 08, 2003

98 PERCENT

What's in a number?
What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes
By Jonathan Marks

It's all many of us know about genetics: Humans and chimpanzees share 98 percent of the same genetic material. I remember being impressed by this figure when I first heard it. But what does it really mean?

The 98-percent figure signifies nothing and everything, says molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks in his latest book, What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and their Genes. Our fascination with it likely reflects our familiarity with the apes, and our unfamiliarity with genetic comparisons, he adds....

Just listen to his first lines: "You know them. You've seen them, perhaps in the zoo, perhaps in the movies or on television. You've looked deep in into their dark, soulful eyes, pondered their hairy faces, and recognized a mind behind those eyes."

Despite the book's title (likely, a marketing decision), Marks lures the reader with the human-ape question for two chapters, then seamlessly moves on to race, religion, animal rights, and the role of science in society....