Scientific and Medical Publishing: Role and Definition of Authors

What do the editors of medical journals talk about when they get together?

So far today, it’s been a fascinating but rather grim mixture of research that can’t be replicated, dodgy authorship, plagiarism and duplicate papers, and the general rottenness of citations as a measure of scientific impact.

We’re getting to listen and join in the editors’ discussion  in Chicago in the year 2013 (7th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication). They assemble once every four years to chew over academic research on scientific publishing and debate ideas. This tradition was started by The Journal of American Medical Association, JAMA in Chicago in 1989. The name of the international congress still goes by its original pre-eminent concern, “peer review and biomedical publication.” But the academic basis for peer review is a small part of what’s discussed these days.

The style hasn’t changed in all these years, and that’s a good thing. As JAMA contributing deputy editor Drummond Rennie  said, most medical conferences go on and on, “clanking rustily forward like a Viking funeral.” Multiple concurrent sessions render a shared ongoing discussion impossible.

The congress hurtled off to an energetic start with John Ioannidis, epidemiologist and agent provocateur author of “Why most published research findings are false.” He pointed to the very low rate of successful replication of genome-wide association studies (not much over 1%) as an example of very deep-seated problems in discovery science.

Half or more of replication studies are done by the authors of the original research: “It’s just the same authors trying to promote their own work.” Industry, he says, is becoming more concerned with replicability of research than most scientists are. Ioannidis cited a venture capital firm that now hires contract research organizations to validate scientific research before committing serious funds to a project.

Why is there so much un-reproducible research? Ioannidis points to the many sources of bias in research. Chavalarias and he trawled through more than 17 million articles in PubMed and found discussion of 235 different kinds of bias. There is so much bias, he said, that it makes one of his dreams – an encyclopedia of bias – a supremely daunting task.

Authorship Issues & Postdocs - No it is my wifes turn to be first author on your paper.

What would help?

Ioannidis said we need to go back to considering what science is about: “If it is not just about having an interesting life or publishing papers, if it is about getting closer to the truth, then validation practices have to be at the core of what we do.” He suggested three ways forward:

  1. we have to get used to small genuine effects and not expect (and fall for) excessive claims.
  2. Secondly, we need to have – and use – research reporting standards.
  3. The third major strategy he advocates is registering research: protocols through to datasets.

Isuru Ranasinghe, in a team from Yale, looked at un-cited and poorly cited research in cardiovascular research. The proportion isn’t changing over time, but the overall quantity is rising rather dramatically as the biomedical literature grows: “1 in 4 journals have more than 90% of their content going un-cited or poorly cited five years down the track.” Altogether, about half of all articles don’t have an influence – if you judge it by citation.

Earlier, though, there was a lot of agreement from the group on the general lousiness of citation as a measure and influence on research. Tobias Opthof, presenting his work on journals pushing additional citation of their own papers, called citation impact factors “rotten” and “stupid”. Elizabeth Wager pulled no punches at the start of the day, reporting on analyses of overly prolific authors: surely research has to be about doing research, not just publishing a lot of articles. Someone who publishes too many papers, she argued, could be of even more concern than someone who does research, but publishes little. Incentives and expectations of authorship really no longer serve us well – if they ever did. [Bad research rising: The 7th Olympiad of research on biomedical publication]

One of the highlights of graduate school is publishing your very first papers in peer-reviewed journals. But what this novice scientist should not be fretting over is which colleagues should be included as authors and whether they are breaking any norms. The two things that should be avoided are including as authors, those that did not substantially contribute to the work, and excluding those that deserve authorship. There have been controversial instances where breaking these authorship rules caused uncomfortable situations. None of us would want someone writing a letter to a journal arguing that they deserved authorship. Nor is it comfortable to see someone squirming out of authorship, arguing they had minimal involvement when an accusation of fraud has been levelled against a paper. How to determine who should be an author can be difficult.

The cartoon above highlights the complexity and arbitrariness of authorship –and the perception that there are many instances of less than meritorious inclusion.

Journals do have their own guidelines, and many now require statements about contributions, but even these can be vague, still making it difficult to assess how much individuals actually contributed. We usually reiterate the criteria from Weltzin et al. (2006)[Weltzin, J. F., Belote, R. T., Williams, L. T., Keller, J. K. & Engel, E. C. (2006) Authorship in ecology: attribution, accountability, and responsibility. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4, 435-441]. There are four criteria to evaluate contribution:

  1. Origination of the idea for the study. This would include the motivation for the study, developing the hypotheses and coming up with a plan to test hypotheses.
  2. Running the experiment or data collection. This is where the blood, sweat and tears come in.
  3. Analysing the data. Basically moving from a database to results, including deciding on the best analyses, programming (or using software) and dealing with inevitable complexities, issues and problems.
  4. Writing the paper. Putting everything together can sometimes be the most difficult and external motivation can be important.

Basic requirements for authorship are that one of these steps was not possible without a key person, or else there was a person who significantly contributed to more than one of these. Such requirements mean that undergraduates assisting with data collection do not meet the threshold for authorship. Obviously these are idealized and different types of studies (e.g., theory or methodological papers) do not necessarily have all these activities. Regardless, authors must have contributed in a meaningful way to the production of this research and should be able to defend it. All authors need to sign off on the final product. [Navigating the complexities of authorship: Part 1 –inclusion]

While this system is idealized, there are still complexities making authorship decisions difficult or uncomfortable.

I recently came across an article “AUTHORSHIP: AN EVOLVING CONCEPT”.

It deals with the role and definition of authorship and the need to differentiate between an “author” and a “contributor”.

As most of us often write an article or a study to be published in a journal or a magazine, I thought it would be necessary to share it with everyone, as simply providing a link would have let it gone unnoticed.

Authorship confers credit and has important academic, social, and financial implications. Authorship also implies responsibility and accountability for published work.

Manuscript Rejection - where are those editors these days.

Authorship: An Evolving Concept

By Steph Fairbairn, Leanne Kelly, Selina Mahar, and Reinier Prosée, editorial coordinators, Health Learning, Research & Practice, Wolters Kluwer

The role and definition of authorship in scientific and medical publishing has become increasingly complicated in recent years.

In most other forms of publishing – social sciences, humanities, legal – we assume that three, perhaps four, authors collaborated in the writing of the work. However, the nature of scientific research and reporting means that “authorship” no longer fits into a neat category.

To elaborate, a researcher who didn’t write the text of a paper can still be considered an author if her or she contributed substantially to the conception of the work, or the analysis of the data. Access to the Internet has made sharing information and collaborating on projects far simpler, and many authors can now work closely with colleagues in different countries.

With such a proliferation of collaboration and co-authorship in academic writing, it becomes harder to differentiate between a “contributor” and an “author.” Moreover, the pressures of funding applications, securing tenure at an academic institution, and the requirement to meet publication quotas all play their part in pushing contributors to demand a co-authorship accreditation.

Plagiarism. With thanks to google images.

Plagiarism is the copying or paraphrasing of other people’s work or ideas into your own work without full acknowledgement.

ICMJE Guidelines

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) formulated a set of guidelines to define authorship. [The New ICMJE Recommendations (August 2013). The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.]

One of the most important changes in the document is the addition of a fourth criterion for authorship to emphasize each author’s responsibility to stand by the integrity of the entire work.

Authorship requires:

  • Substantial contributions to: the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. [Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.]

Authorship involves not only credit for the work but also accountability. The addition of a fourth criterion was motivated by situations in which individual authors have responded to inquiries regarding scientific misconduct involving some aspect of the study or paper by denying responsibility (“I didn’t participate in that part of the study or in writing that part of the paper; ask someone else”). Each author of a paper needs to understand the full scope of the work, know which co-authors are responsible for specific contributions, and have confidence in co-authors’ ability and integrity. When questions arise regarding any aspect of a study or paper, the onus is on all authors to investigate and ensure resolution of the issue.

By accepting authorship of a paper, an author accepts that any problem related to that paper is, by definition, his or her problem. Given the specialized and myriad tasks frequently involved in research, most authors cannot participate directly in every aspect of the work. Still, ICMJE holds that each author remains accountable for the work as a whole by knowing who did what, by refraining from collaborations with co-authors whose integrity or quality of work raises concerns, and by helping to resolve questions or concerns if they arise. For example, a clinician who merits authorship in part through design of a study and care of its participating patients should have full confidence in the work of co-authors with expertise in biostatistics, and must agree as a condition of authorship to ensure resolution of questions regarding the analysis should they arise. This new criterion better balances credit with responsibility, and establishes the expectation that editors may engage all authors in helping to determine the integrity of the work.

The authorship criteria are not intended for use as a means to disqualify colleagues from authorship who otherwise meet authorship criteria by denying them the opportunity to meet criterion #s 2 or 3. Therefore all individuals who meet the first criterion should have the opportunity to participate in the review, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript. As always the decision about who should be an author on a given article is the responsibility of the authors and not the editors of the journal to which the work has been submitted.

Non-Author Contributors

Contributors who meet fewer than all 4 of the above criteria for authorship should not be listed as authors, but they should be acknowledged. Examples of activities that alone (without other contributions) do not qualify a contributor for authorship are

  • acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support;
  • and writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading.

Those whose contributions do not justify authorship may be acknowledged individually or together as a group under a single heading (e.g. “Clinical Investigators” or “Participating Investigators”), and their contributions should be specified (e.g., “served as scientific advisors,” “critically reviewed the study proposal,” “collected data,” “provided and cared for study patients”, “participated in writing or technical editing of the manuscript”).

Coauthor List - You should spend the next week typing down names of all co-authors on your paper.Some researchers have argued that these guidelines are unfairly strict, but they were created to safeguard the idea of authorship to signify scientific integrity. Readers do not want a meaningless list of names – they want to know who is chiefly responsible.[Scott T. Changing authorship system might be counterproductive. BMJ 1997; p. 744]

 In this way, adhering to the ICMJE definition ensures that only those who are “chiefly responsible” are recognized and held accountable. Some authors, however, take issue with the ICMJE guidelines not just because they require authors to be involved in every stage of the manuscript’s production, but because they wish to acknowledge the important contribution of their colleagues. In their editorial “The Men Who Stare at Science,” Goetze and Reinfeld argue that senior scientists should “grab the pen (keyboard) more often” as writing “is essential to ones results and to harbour new ideas.” [Goetze, Jens P.; Rehfeld, Jens F. The men who stare at science. Cardiovascular Endocrinology 2015; p. Published ahead of print.]

Postdoc Workload - Just work till midnight you need to relax too.

Historical overview

Taking a broad look at the history of authorship, even going back to the classical period, you can see how ideas of authorship have only recently become intertwined with ideas of ownership and uniqueness (see The origins of our current understanding of authorship). In Laws, Plato argues that we should “eliminate everything we mean by the word ownership,” which includes intellectual property.Plato rejected the notion of uniqueness and believed that new knowledge is something that we relearn. [Hamilton E, and Cairns H (Translators). Plato. The Collected Dialogues: Including the Letters.   Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 1961.]

Not every Classical author shared this belief, however, and some took more credit for their work. Herodotus, for example, starts his famous Histories by mentioning that “Herodotus, from Halicarnassus, here displays his enquiries.” [Holland T (Translator). Herodotus: The Histories. London: Penguin Classics; 2013.]

Herodotus is keen to outline clear rules regarding the correct citation of sources, but in the Classical period plagiarism was common as authors and orators shared the same sources and borrowed from one another.

[Anderson J. Plagiarism, Copyright Violation and Other Thefts of Intellectual Property: An Annotated Bibliography with a Lengthy Introduction. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers; 1998.]

Current Understanding of Authorship

During the Renaissance, the idea of an author’s ownership of a text came into being, particularly with the Statute of Anne (1710), which conferred ownership to authors rather than publishers; it is no surprise that this development coincided with the rise of the printing press. This early form of copyright did not apply to content, [Velagic Z, Hasenay D. Understanding textual authorship in the digital environment: lessons from historical perspectives. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark; 2013]

but it was an important step toward the idea of intellectual property developed in the Romantic period. The Romantic Movement emphasized the importance of the individual, which led to intellectual and creative copyright laws being consolidated during the 19th century.

[Velagic Z, Hasenay D. Understanding textual authorship in the digital environment: lessons from historical perspectives. Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, Denmark; 2013]

It wasn’t until postmodernist critiques of literary theory, in the middle of the 20th century, that ideas of individualism were challenged. In particular, Roland Barthes rejected the Romantic idea of individualism and ownership. In Barthes’ now infamous essay “The Death of the Author” (1967), he argued that authorial intention should be separated from the text. Barthes decentred the author, going against the traditional theory that an author’s history and experience could be used to enrich our understanding of his or her work.

Current author trends

The debate over authorship and contributorship was reignited in March 2015, when G3: Genes|Genomics|Genetics published a paper on the genomics of the fruit fly with over 1,000 listed authors.

[Leung, W. et al. Drosophila Muller F Elements Maintain a Distinct Set of Genomic Properties Over 40 Million Years of Evolution. G3: Genes|Genomics|Genetics. 2015.]

According to Barthes’ theory, if the “author” is simply representative of his or her institution, or academic background, why not include all those directly involved in its creation? 

[Woolston, C. Fruit-fly paper has 1,000 authors. Nature. 2015.]

Each undergraduate student contributed to the analysis of data, which is one of the major tenants of authorship according to the ICMJE. If we understand the author as the progenitor of this article, then logic follows that each person listed as a co-author contributed to the authorship of the paper, however small. To take this one step further, the identity of each co-author eventually becomes subsumed into the first author when a paper is cited as W. Leung et al, and the number of contributors is incidental because of how papers are traditionally cited with the use of et al.”

Throughout history, writing has commonly been regarded as an individual act. People like to associate one paper, or idea, with one name. Examples of this include Edward Jenner and the production of the first vaccines, Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, and Marie Curie and the development of radiotherapy. In recent years, however, as scientific papers are increasingly authored through collaborative efforts rather than individuals, this has opened up the dilemma of first authorship. In 1996 it was suggested that the tradition of citing authors should be restructured to parallel film credits and create a hierarchy of authorship, contributors, and acknowledgements.

[Godlee F; Definition of “authorship” may be changed; BMJ. 1996 Jun 15;312(7045):1501-2.]

This concept would not redefine authorship but instead recognize important contributions in another way. While this idea is attractive, it doesn’t solve the problem of who to list as an author and who to list as a contributor.



Let’s Build a Culture of Integrity Instead!


One potential solution was recently proposed by BioMed Central to implement

“Author Contributorship Badges”

as a method of showing the exact contribution each author made to a paper. [BioMed Central first publisher to implement Author Contributorship Badges, a new system which improves how publishers credit scientists. BioMed Central. 2015]

BioMed Central chose to roll this scheme out in their open-access, open-data journal, GigaScience. All papers published from October 1, 2015, will include the badge system (see First paper published by BioMed Science with Author Contributorship Badges). While authors are still listed in the traditional format, a link to the “Open Badges” appears on the website, and ten potential roles in the creation of an article are represented by ten badges, such as “Data Curation,” “Methodology,” and “Writing Review.”

ScreenHunter_67 Oct. 09 08.58ScreenHunter_66 Oct. 09 08.56ScreenHunter_64 Oct. 09 08.55ScreenHunter_63 Oct. 09 08.54

BioMed Central Implements Author Contributorship Badges


Each badge has a list of authors who contributed to that specific role, and an author can be listed under more than one role. Amye Kenall, associate publisher at BioMed Central, states: “Author Contributorship Badges enable people and organisations to capture the types of skills, knowledge and behaviours that we value, but often find difficult to recognise with traditional credentials.”

The badge system embraces the ICMJE definition of authorship in a refreshing format. Each point in the ICMJE definition has at least one badge. Should it prove successful, the badge system could be a significant turning point in how authors and publishers define authorship.

Badges Biomed Central.png

GWATCH: a web platform for automated gene association discovery analysis 

Svitin, A., Malov, S., Cherkasov, N., Geerts, P., Rotkevich, M., Dobrynin, P., & … O’Brien, S. J. (2014). GWATCH: a web platform for automated gene association discovery analysis.Gigascience, 318. doi:10.1186/2047-217X-3-18

The future of authorship

One of the most significant changes in the publishing industry has been the shift toward digital media and the steady decline of print. Authors are no longer being asked to write a finite article for a journal. For example, when an author contributes an article to a journal, the article will be published in the print and digital versions, shared on social media, and potentially used in promotional material.

This notion of multiple destinations is even more evident when considering blogs. When an author writes a blog, he or she is writing with the knowledge that the work can be shared, critiqued, and linked in numerous ways, making it not just a blog post or a text but part of a huge textual network.

A text is no longer a finished article;

it is an

“ongoing conversation,”

a fluid movement with a number of versions and stages.

[Fitzpatrick, K; The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality; Culture Machine; 2011, Vol 12,]

It lives under the assumption that any text, online-only or complimentary to a print component, should constantly be changing. When putting a text on the Internet, particularly in blog form, the text is immediately visible for public consumption and critique. A blog creates a forum for all views, and the result combines numerous views on one topic, while adding commentary to create a new text.

The fluid nature of blogs and other online formats has introduced the idea of “versioning.”

This is traditionally defined as “the creation and management of multiple releases of a product, all of which have the same general function but are improved, upgraded, or customized.”

[Versioning Definition. 2007.

The same, or an alternate, author takes an article and makes changes. He or she adds to it, improving it and creating a timelier and more informative piece; more authors can also be added to the text.

Versioning allows readers to see a scientific process not just through the words of a text, but through the progression of the text itself. With this change of process, the act of writing becomes less about the act itself, or the completion of a piece of work, and more about development and discovery. This, in turn, could mean that authors will no longer be defined by specific works, but by one work as a whole.

However, the prospect of a more fluid style of writing and authorship will inevitably lead to a number of potential problems, namely plagiarism. The traditional notion of plagiarism is that all those involved in the writing of a paper are named as authors, giving due credit for anything they may have borrowed or used in their text. With a more fluid, ever-evolving text, plagiarism (whether intentional or unintentional) is inevitable and perhaps unavoidable. The idea of a constantly reworked text also raises a number of questions about the validity of the work and the contributions of different authors –

are the authors involved sufficiently in the work to be considered as such?

Could they be considered as “curators” instead?

Is the work more about quantity than quality?

Who is chosen as the “first author” after so many changes to a paper?

How will original authors feel about their works being up for adaptation and public consumption?

Most importantly, with articles constantly changing, how will publishers and readers assure their legitimacy?

As we move further into the digital age, these questions require discussion in order to redefine the concept of authorship. In many ways, it seems as though we are trying to embrace the new freedoms that digital media allows while maintaining strong traditions in print and also trying to identify the most modern definition of authorship. Although the “Author Contributorship Badges” offer an appealing solution it is, after-all, online-only. What is certain is the need for the academic and publishing communities to continue their discussion on the definition of authorship, ensuring clarity and flexibility in an increasingly digital age. In the meantime, the ICMJE guidelines provide a definition of authorship that guarantees recognition, both by authors and for authors. In time, they will surely be modified to reflect digital trends, but for now, they clearly delineate what it means to be an author.

Reference: AUTHORSHIP: AN EVOLVING CONCEPT                             Authors
Steph Fairbairn, Leanne Kelly, Selina Mahar, and Reinier Prosée
Editorial coordinators, Health Learning, Research & Practice | Wolters Kluwer


What is Bahramdipity? How is it Analogous to Harassment During Research at Workplace?

“Autoritätsdusel ist der größte Feind der Wahrheit.” © Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

  1. “The stupor of authority is the greatest enemy  of truth.”
  2. “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” []

Source: Einstein, letters. On Jost Winteler from July 8, 1901

He said that before there was Biotech.Anonymous, 1997.

Bahramdipity is derived directly from Bahram Gur [] as characterised in the “The Three Princes of Serendip”. It describes the suppression of serendipitous discoveries or research results by powerful individuals. []


Egomania is also known as an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. (Wikipedia)


Smart Workplace: Managing Harassment & Discrimination

Managing Harassment & Discrimination

Bahramdipity the suppression of a discovery, sometimes a serendipitous discovery, by the often- egomaniacal act of a more powerful individual who does cruelly punish, not merely disdain, a person (or persons) of lesser power and little renown who demonstrates sagacity, perspicacity, and truthfulness (From Bahram of Persia, as characterized in the fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip.)

Crime and Punishment in Tudor and Stuart times

Crime and Punishments in the Times of Tudor

Tudor Crime and Punishment

The Three Princes of Serendip is based on the life of Bahram V Gur, King of Persia (ca. 420- 440 A.D.) as described in Firdausi’s epic Shahnamah (ca. 1010 A.D.) and derivative works.

Variously transliterated as Beramo, Behramo, Vahram and others, Behram was the name of several ancient Persian kings who, in their time, were each referred to as the “king of the kings”. Cammann reports that, according to the German scholar Theodor Benfey, Bahram “must surely be Bahram Gur, the Sasanian king Varhran V, who reigned from A.D 420 to 440”

[Suppression of scientific research: Bahramdipity and Nulltiple scientific discoveries.
Toby J. Sommer PhD Science and Engineering Ethics 2001, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 77-104]

Serendipity has been a popular theme in the literature of science. Many important scientific discoveries have been made serendipitously or, in the terminology of Roberts [Roberts, R. M. (1989) Serendipity; Accidental Discoveries in Science. John Wiley & Sons, New York], pseudoserendipitously. Serendip is the ancient name for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and was the homeland of the ‘Three Princes’ whose adventures are told in the fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip”. Horace Walpole came upon a translation of the tale and it inspired him to coin the term serendipity in a letter to Sir Horace Mann in 1754.

Several categories of abuse can arise from difficult research situations. Sociologists of science have examined numerous interesting cases. One particularly prominent form of abuse occurs when a graduate student or research associate cannot produce the desired results, makes an undesired serendipitous discovery, or unintentionally finds flaws in prior work. Many principal investigators  (PIs)/Gurus/Teachers/Consultants/Faculty are disappointed to receive such information and do not always treat the messenger kindly. Extreme pressure to obtain what is desired or expected insidiously degrades the scientific ethics and ideals of lower-ranking colleagues, sometimes to the breaking point.


A summary [T.G. Remer, Ed., Serendipity and the Three Princes of Serendip; From the Peregrinaggio of 1557, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.] of the first and most widely told adventure of the three princes characterises King Bahram, their “host.” While the princes are wandering in the desert, a merchant asks them if they have seen his missing camel. Although the princes insist that they have not, they describe the camel so precisely that the merchant suspects them of camel theft. When they arrive in Persia, he has them arrested. When they’re brought before the king, Bahram inquires if the merchant’s tale is true; they proudly acknowledge their cleverness in identifying the missing camel without ever having seen it. Without further inquiry, Bahram finds them guilty and sentences them to death.

Then Bahram explains, “Although I am inclined more toward clemency than severity, nevertheless I have decided to let you die shamefully if you are unable to produce the camel.” [T.G. Remer, Ed., Serendipity and the Three Princes of Serendip; From the Peregrinaggio of 1557, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, page 62.]

Many contemporary scientific “bahrams” are also generally given to such generous and forgiving self-characterization and to grant such dispensations if their associates are “unable to produce the [desired results].”

While the princes are marched through the streets to receive their unjust due, a citizen calls out to the camel merchant that he has seen the missing camel wandering lost in the desert. Suddenly aware of the innocence and truthfulness of the three princes, the merchant intercedes to prevent their execution and seek their pardon.

The princes find salvation by the chance appearance of the citizen who stepped forward, completely unaware of their plight. Later, they gain even greater rewards from the king, who is now enamoured of their sagacity.

Another incident in the court of Bahram further demonstrates his dogmatic, impatient, cruel, and egomaniacal manner. Bahram has fallen in love with Diliramma, a slave girl he purchased from a travelling merchant. One day while hunting, Bahram offers to demonstrate his skill and Diliramma asks him to do so by shooting a deer in the hoof and ear with but one arrow shot. He uses a slingshot to braise the deer’s ear and then shoots his arrow while the deer is scratching its ear with its hoof. Although his court of sycophants praises his cleverness and skill, Diliramma criticises Bahram for having resorted to trickery.

In his anger, the king has her bound and left in the woods as food for the wild animals (In a variation of the hunting story, Bahram Gur knocks the maiden Azada {in some accounts the maiden is called Fitna}) to the ground and tramples her to death with his camel). Ultimately, she is rescued and, after more adventures, is reunited with Bahram. She explains: “I challenged him to do what I was able to do, namely with a single shot to pierce both the foot and the ear of a deer. Because I was not considerate enough and dared to question his skill as a hunter, he decided that with my boldness I had insulted his honour.”

[T.G. Remer, Ed., Serendipity and the Three Princes of Serendip; From the Peregrinaggio of 1557, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, page 161]

Diliramma’s method is never disclosed and, presumably, is left as an exercise for the reader. (Consider, for example, shooting down at the deer from a tree. At the correct angle, an arrow might pass through the deer’s ear and then the hoof.)

As many associate scientists are aware, it can be dangerous to question the skill or knowledge of a PI Bahram/Guru/Faculty/Consultant, even when they have discovered alternative solutions to problems and have them at hand.

(In a variation of the hunting story, Bahram Gur knocks the maiden Azada to the ground and tramples her to death with his camel.)

[Ferdowsi, The Epic of the Kings: Shah-Nama: The National Epic of Persia, translated by Reuben Levy, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, page 300.]

The princes gain further rewards from the king when they help to reveal a plot against his life. A counsellor whose son had been put to death for “treason” (given Bahram’s whimsical use of his power, the actual crimes may have been as legitimate as the Princes’ camel theft) plots revenge. The plan to expose the counsellor involves the same sort of lies, infidelity, and deception that Bahram is trying to eliminate. In this and other matters, Bahram seems to enjoy great success in obtaining cooperation and confessions by the threat of death. “So [Bahram] warned him that if he would not be sincere he would be forced to die.”

[T.G. Remer, Ed., Serendipity and the Three Princes of Serendip; From the Peregrinaggio of 1557, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965, page 67]

Often, research associates feel that they must produce or report results that the principal investigator (PI)/Faculty is expecting. If the PI does not hear what s/he wants to hear, the consequence may be the end of the associate’s career. Some PIs are so feared that they are never challenged.  It is extremely rare that an established PI is even challenged about a possible impropriety in her or his laboratories. The counter examples are so extraordinary that those that are not silently crushed become front page news. [Kevles, D. J. (1998) The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character. Norton, New York

Other sources further confirm the character of Bahram. To acquire the throne of Persia, Bahram Gur, backed up by an army of fierce Arab warriors, threatens the Persian nobles that he “will pound the life out of [their] chosen king of kings and slice off [their] heads” if they do not agree to his method for selecting the new king of kings. They agree to this lopsided trial of courage and strength against the elderly nobleman Khosrau, and Bahram Gur wins in due course. [ Ferdowsi (1967) The Epic of the Kings: Shah-Nama: The National Epic of Persia, translated by Reuben Levy. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, page 303].

For a scientific analogy, consider the plight of junior faculty (nobles) whose fear of tenure review inhibits their free expression of a scientific opinion, or researchers who dare not express a contrary scientific viewpoint for fear of professional retribution.

[Hall, S. S. (1987) Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesise a Human Gene. Atlantic Monthly Press, New York: 23-28]

Wearied while hunting under the blazing sun, Bahram Gur is described as being in “ill-humour, being heated and desirous to rest himself in [a verdant hamlet].”

[ Ferdowsi (1967) The Epic of the Kings: Shah-Nama: The National Epic of Persia, translated by Reuben Levy. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, page 304-5.]

When the people there, perhaps not allowed by the king to be wearied in their labours under the blazing sun, failed to properly salute him, he “became enraged” and instructed his counsellor,

“Let this ill-starred place become the resort of wild beasts and may the water in its stream turn to pitch.”

The counsellor implemented a clever plan and within a very short time this “flourishing town” was turned into a desert. Passing by one year later, Bahram Gur felt sorrow and said to his counsellor,

“How sad that so pleasant a village should have become a desert. Quickly set about restoring it; spend money so that they shall no further suffer misery.”

The king of kings appears to be oblivious to the fates of the people that he caused to perish or to flee from the village.

According to other sources,[ Yarshater, E., Ed. (1968) The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3: The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.] the historical Bahram Gur continued the practice of his father, Yazdegerd the Sinner (also translated as “the Wicked” [Sykes, P. (1951) A History of Persia, 3rd Ed. with supplementary essays. Macmillan and Co., London: 429]) to persecute religious sects in his realm. Bahram Gur does have some leadership traits and redeeming accomplishments in matters of state as a despotic ruler of ancient Iran, but the personal character of the historical Bahram is certainly consistent with the definition of Bahramdipity.

The historical Bahram Gur is said to have gone through three stages in his life:

(1) rambunctious (noisy and lacking in restraint or discipline), carefree, spoiled youth.

(2) cruel despotic leadership

(3) “enlightened” leadership.

His enlightened leadership was still very cruel and despotic, but the scene is ancient Persia where it was the norm to trample a maiden to death if she spoke out of turn. This is to make the point that “once a Bahram, not always a Bahram”. It is also known from experiences that some may be Bahrams to some associates but angels of mercy to others.

“Part Bahram, but not 100% Bahram” may also be true.

We are all human; we all go through stages, and we all defy complete characterization by a single simple term.

bah·ram·dip·i·ty (bǎ′ rǒm dip′ ə tē) noun.

1. The suppression of a discovery, sometimes a serendipitous discovery, by a more powerful individual (Bahram) who does cruelly punish, not merely disdain, a person (or persons) of lesser power and little renown who demonstrates sagacity, perspicacity and truthfulness to the Bahram.

2. The self-serving promotion of an often unreliable discovery and its discoverer by a more powerful individual (Bahram). [From Bahram of Persia, as characterised in the fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip. cf., serendipity.]

It is hoped that by naming Bahram di pity, it will be easier to recognise and discuss this aberration of science.

The strength of the analogy between Bahram of Persia and some scientific Bahrams is lamentable.(bad, unfortunate)

Is it necessary for contemporary scientific PIs to be Bahrams in order to protect their realms today, or has our civilisation not advanced as much as we’d like to think?

Adapted from

‘Bahramdipity’ and Scientific Research (The Scientist, February 1, 1999)–and-Scientific-Research/


“Suppression of Scientific Research: Bahramdipity and Nulltiple Scientific Discoveries” (Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2001)


Toby J. Sommer ( is a chemist (S.B., MIT, Ph.D., Yale University) in Waltham, Mass.

What Evolutionary Forces Drove A Dramatic Increase In Brain Size? Bipedalism, Birth and Brain Evolution.

Hominid and hominin what’s the difference?

The terms ‘hominid’ and ‘hominin’ are frequently used in human evolution.

The most commonly used recent definitions are:

Hominid – the group consisting of all modern and extinct Great Apes (that is, modern humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans plus all their immediate ancestors).

Hominin – the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors (including members of the genera Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Ardipithecus).


‘Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny’

The theory of recapitulation, also called the biogenetic law or embryological parallelism— often expressed in Ernst Haeckel’s phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”—is a largely discredited biological hypothesis that in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors. Since embryos also evolve in different ways, within the field of developmental biology the theory of recapitulation is seen as a historical side-note rather than as dogma.
With different formulations, such ideas have been applied and extended to several fields and areas, including the origin of language, religion, biology, cognition and mental activities, anthropology, education theory and developmental psychology. Recapitulation theory is still considered plausible and is applied by some researchers in fields such as the study of the origin of language, cognitive development, and behavioural development in animal species.[Source: Wikipedia]

Though, I am a strong votary of the ‘Recapitulation Theory’

The human brain, though complicated, is also a well evolved organ of the body.

How the Brain Works How the Brain Works

One of the things that makes our species unique is our exceptionally large brain relative to body size. Brain size more than tripled during the course of human evolution, and this size increase was accompanied by a significant reorganization of the cerebral cortex, the prominent convoluted structure responsible for complex mental functions, which accounts for something like 85% of total brain volume.

What evolutionary forces drove this dramatic increase in brain size?

Many theories have been put forward over the years, a popular one being that our ancestors’ brains expanded to accommodate the faculty of language. A fossilized skull fragment belonging to a human ancestor that lived several million years ago provides yet more clues.

A new analysis of the skull suggests that human brain evolution may have been shaped by changes in the female reproductive system that occurred when our ancestors stood upright. What Drove the Evolution of the Human Brain?


Image Source  Image: Marcia Ponce de León and Christoph Zollikofer/University of Zürich

At some point in evolution, our ancestors switched from walking on all four limbs to just two, and this transition to bipedalism led to what is referred to as the obstetric dilemma. The switch involved a major reconfiguration of the birth canal, which became significantly narrower because of a change in the structure of the pelvis. At around the same time, however, the brain had begun to expand.

One adaptation that evolved to work around the problem was the emergence of openings in the skull called fontanelles. The anterior fontanelle enables the two frontal bones of the skull to slide past each other, much like the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. This compresses the head during birth, facilitating its passage through the birth canal.

In humans, the anterior fontanelle remains open for the first few years of life, allowing for the massive increase in brain size, which occurs largely during early life. The opening gets gradually smaller as new bone is laid down, and is completely closed by about two years of age, at which time the frontal bones have fused to form a structure called the metopic suture.

  • A fontanelle (or fontanel) (colloquially, soft spot) is an anatomical feature of the infant human skull comprising any of the soft membranous gaps (sutures) between the cranial bones that make up the calvaria of a fetus or an infant. Fontanelles allow for rapid stretching and deformation of the neurocranium as the brain expands faster than the surrounding bone can grow. Premature complete ossification of the sutures is called craniosynostosis. During infancy, the anterior fontanelle is known as the bregma.
  • Image Source:

In chimpanzees and bonobos, by contrast, brain growth occurs mostly in the womb, and the anterior fontanelle is closed at around the time of birth.

When this growth pattern appeared is one of the many unanswered questions about human brain evolution. The new study, led by Dean Falk of Florida State University, sought to address this. Working in collaboration with researchers from the Anthropological Institute and Museum at the University of Zürich, Falk compared the skulls of humans, chimps and bonobos of various ages to the fossilized skull of the so-called Taung Child.

Taung Child was found in 1924 in a limestone quarry near Taung, South Africa, and was the first Australopithecine specimen to be discovered. It belonged to an infant of three to four years of age, and is estimated to be approximately 2.5 million years old. The skull is incomplete, including the face, jaw and teeth, but it contains a complete cast of the brain case, which formed naturally from minerals that were deposited inside it and then solidified.

“Most of Taung child’s brain case is no longer present, but you see all kinds of interesting structures in the endocast, like the imprints of the cortical convolutions,” says study co-author Christoph Zollikofer. “We looked at the imprints of the sutures. These features are very well preserved, and have been known about for 50 years, but nobody paid attention to them.”

In 1990, researchers from Washington University Medical School published a three-dimensional CT scan of the Taung Child endocast, and Falk subsequently reconstructed it again using more advanced computer technology. Comparison of this more recent reconstruction with scans of other species now reveal that the skull of Taung Child has a small, triangle-shaped remnant of the anterior fontanelle.

This suggests that Taung Child had a partially fused metopic suture at the time of death and, therefore, that the pattern of brain development in this Australopithecine species was similar to that of anatomically modern humans. Delayed fusion of the metopic suture indicates that fast brain growth in the period following birth came before the emergence of Homo, the genus that evolved from Australopithecines and eventually gave rise to our own species, Homo sapiens.

“There’s a trade-off between walking bipedally in an optimal way, which narrows or constricts the birth canal, and evolving fat, big-brained babies which need a wide birth passage,” says Zollikofer. “Bipedalism and big brains are independent evolutionary processes. Hominins started walking bipedally long before the brain expanded, but these trends collided at birth, and we believe this happened much earlier than previously thought.”

Evolution is an opportunistic processspecies change over time, but only some of these changes prove to be advantageous to an organism’s survival. Some of them can prove advantageous in different and unrelated ways, and this seems to be the case for evolution of the human brain. Delayed fusion of the metopic suture apparently evolved to overcome the obstetric dilemma that arose when our ancestors stood upright, but had the added advantage of allowing for the pattern of modern human brain growth.

There are other ways in which bipedalism could have led to increased brain size. It would, for example, have freed up the forelimbs, and this would likely have led to the expansion and reorganization of the sensory and motor brain areas that process sensation and control movement. Similarly, standing upright would have led to big changes in what our ancestors saw, which may have led to an expansion of the visual areas at the back of the brain.

The new findings suggest that further brain expansion, as well as reorganization of the prefrontal cortex, could have occurred as an indirect result of the pelvic modifications that followed the transition to bipedalism.

All evolutionary changes are due to changes that occur at the genetic level, and the dramatic increase in brain size that occurred during human evolution is no exception. Numerous genes have been implicated in human brain evolution, but it is difficult to link any of them to specific changes in brain organization or structure.

Evan Eichler and colleagues reported that a gene known to be involved in development of the cerebral cortex was duplicated multiple times, and that this occurred exclusively in humans. They also estimate that these duplications took place between two and three million years ago, so it is tempting to speculate that they are somehow linked to the changes that may have occurred as a result of bipedalism.


A Discussion on the above findings (for individuals with a knowledge of medical sciences)


Among non-human primates, the rhesus macaque is the animal of choice for cognitive studies.
While there may be similarities between the brains of humans and non-human primates, the monkey brain is not a scaled down version of the human brain. Rather, each primate brain is the unique result of evolutionary biology, molded over millions of years in response to environmental, social, and genetic influences (Figure). With the human brain, the effects of cultural evolution are also considered.

There are numerous differences in the anatomy and physiology of the CNS in monkeys and humans, including differences in locations of specialized areas in the brain. The primary visual 1 area (blue) accounts for 10% of the total cortex in the monkey but only 3% in humans, and anatomically corresponding visual areas in monkeys and humans can perform very different functions.
The human brain’s architecture and physiology is far more complex than that of the monkey brain.

  1. One indication of this is the length of time it takes for the brain to develop in its major phase: 136 days for monkeys and 470 days for humans.
  2. Other significant differences include the number of synapses a human neuron makes (between 7000 and 10,000) compared with the number a rhesus monkey neuron makes (between 2000 and 6000) and
  3. The expression of at least 91 genes involved in a variety of neural mechanisms that differ between monkeys and humans.
  4. According to Kreiman and associates:  Even though the hippocampus appears to be one of the most conserved areas of the brain (most similar among mammals), there are still considerable differences.
  5. Neurotransmitter receptor distribution varies widely between species. For example, there is an additional small layer of high-density kainate receptors in the deepest part of the hippocampal molecular layer in the monkey, but not in humans.
  6. The inhibitory GABAA receptors are located with high density in the human CA 1 hippocampal region, but not in the same region in monkeys. These results demonstrate considerable changes of the regional and laminar distribution of important signaling molecules in an otherwise evolutionary conservative brain region.

Are Animal Models Relevant in Modern Psychiatry?: Page 3 of 5#sthash.cJJZ8Tz5.dpuf

  • Glutamate Receptors – Several types of ionotropic glutamate receptors have been identified. Three of these are ligand-gated ion channels called NMDA receptors, AMPA receptors, and kainate receptors. These glutamate receptors are named after the agonists that activate them: NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate), AMPA (α-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate), and kainic acid. All of the ionotropic glutamate receptors are nonselective cation channels, allowing the passage of Na+ and K+, and in some cases small amounts of Ca2+.
  • In addition to these ionotropic glutamate receptors, there are three types of metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluRs). These receptors, which modulate postsynaptic ion channels indirectly, differ in their coupling to intracellular messengers and in their sensitivity to pharmacological agents. Activation of many of these receptors leads to inhibition of postsynaptic Ca2+ and Na+ channels. Unlike the excitatory ionotropic glutamate receptors, mGluRs cause slower postsynaptic responses that can either increase or decrease the excitability of postsynaptic cells.


As per a recent paper

Metopic suture of Taung (Australopithecus africanus) and its implications for hominin brain evolution presented in the

Metopic suture of Taung (Australopithecus africanus) and its implications for hominin brain evolution

File:Australopithecus africanus - Cast of taung child.jpg

Australopithecus africanus – Cast of taung child 

Cast in three parts: endocranium face and mandible, of a 2.1 million year old Australopithecus africanus specimen so-called Taung child, discovered in South Africa.
Collection of the University of the Witwatersrand (Evolutionary Studies Institute), Johannesburg, South Africa. Sterkfontein cave, hominid fossil.  Source 

The infant’s skull consists of the metopic suture, coronal sutures, sagittal suture, and lambdoid sutures. The metopic suture is supposed to close between three to nine months of age. The lambdoid, sagittal and coronal sutures are supposed to close between 22 to 39 months of age. [ ]

The type specimen for Australopithecus africanus (Taung) includes a natural endocast ( that reproduces most of the external morphology of the right cerebral hemisphere and a fragment of fossilized face that articulates with the endocast. Despite the fact that Taung died between 3 and 4 yr of age, the endocast reproduces a small triangular-shaped remnant of the anterior fontanelle, from which a clear metopic suture (MS) courses rostrally along the midline [Hrdlička A (1925) Am J Phys Anthropol 8:379–392]. In this paper they describe and interpret this feature of Taung in light of comparative fossil and actualistic data on the timing of MS closure. In great apes, the MS normally fuses shortly after birth, such that unfused MS similar to Taung’s are rare. In humans, however, MS fuses well after birth, and partially or unfused MS are frequent. In gracile fossil adult hominins that lived between ∼3.0 and 1.5 million yr ago, MS are also relatively frequent, indicating that the modern human-like pattern of late MS fusion may have become adaptive during early hominin evolution.

Selective pressures favouring delayed fusion might have resulted from three aspects of perinatal ontogeny ( ):

(i) the difficulty of giving birth to large-headed neonates through birth canals that were reconfigured for bipedalism (the “obstetric dilemma”),

(ii) high early postnatal brain growth rates, and

(iii) reorganization and expansion of the frontal neocortex. Overall, their data indicates that hominin brain evolution occurred within a complex network of fetopelvic constraints, which required modification of frontal neurocranial ossification patterns.

Overall, their data indicate that hominin brain evolution occurred within a complex network of fetopelvic constraints, which required modification of frontal neurocranial ossification patterns.

The large body of modern genetic evidence indicates that a network of at least 10 key genes mediates neurocranial suture fusion, and that these genes act differently on different sutures. It is intriguing that the recent sequencing of the Neanderthal genome provides evidence for positive selection in the modern human variant of one of these key genes, RUNX2 ( RUNX2 is a key transcription factor associated with osteoblast differentiation ), which is known to affect MS fusion. RUNX2-related disorders, such as cleidocranial dysplasia

(Mutations in Cbfa1/Runx2 are associated with the disease Cleidocranial dysostosis ), result in delayed MS fusion and pathologies, such as extreme bulging of the forehead and hypertelorism. Premature closure of the metopic suture (metopic synostosis), on the other hand, typically results in trigonocephaly: that is, a narrow forehead with an external metopic ridge (keel) extending from glabella to the midforehead, relatively close-set orbits and no lateral browridge.

Coussens AK, et al. (2007) Unravelling the molecular control of calvarial suture fusion in children with craniosynostosis. BMC Genomics 8:458.

  • Craniosynostosis, the premature fusion of calvarial sutures, is a common craniofacial abnormality. Causative mutations in more than 10 genes have been identified, involving fibroblast growth factor, transforming growth factor beta, and Eph/ephrin signalling pathways. Mutations affect each human calvarial suture (coronal, sagittal, metopic, and lambdoid) differently, suggesting different gene expression patterns exist in each human suture. They have identified genes with increased expression in unfused sutures compared to fusing/fused sutures that may be pivotal to the maintenance of suture patency or in controlling early osteoblast differentiation (i.e. RBP4, GPC3, C1QTNF3, IL11RA, PTN, POSTN). In addition, they have identified genes with increased expression in fusing/fused suture tissue that they suggest could have a role in premature suture fusion (i.e. WIF1, ANXA3, CYFIP2). Proteins of two of these genes, glypican 3 and retinol binding protein 4, were investigated by immunohistochemistry and localised to the suture mesenchyme and osteogenic fronts of developing human calvaria, respectively, suggesting novel roles for these proteins in the maintenance of suture patency or in controlling early osteoblast differentiation. They showed that there is limited difference in whole genome expression between sutures isolated from patients with syndromic and non-syndromic craniosynostosis and confirmed this by quantitative RT-PCR. Furthermore, distinct expression profiles for each unfused suture type were noted, with the metopic suture being most disparate. Finally, although calvarial bones are generally thought to grow without a cartilage precursor, they showed histologically and by identification of cartilage-specific gene expression that cartilage may be involved in the morphogenesis of lambdoid and posterior sagittal sutures.
  • Craniosynostosis is amongst the most common cranial defects, second only to cleft palate. It occurs in 1 in 2500 live births and can be associated with significant morbidity, including mental retardation, deafness, and blindness, in addition to the significant social stigma associated with craniofacial deformation. The condition may be caused by various genetic mutations, exposure to teratogens such as retinoic acid, mechanical stress, or result from certain metabolic or haematologic disorders. Non-syndromic craniosynostosis refers to sporadic suture fusion in the absence of other developmental abnormalities and most commonly affects the sagittal suture. Syndromic craniosynostosis occurs as a result of simple genetic mutations and is accompanied by additional developmental abnormalities particularly involving the limbs. Syndromic forms of craniosynostosis commonly affect the coronal suture but other sutures may be affected depending on the underlying genetic mutation. FGFR2 mutations are the most common and most severe affecting the coronal, metopic, sagittal, and lambdoid sutures. FGFR3 mutations affect the coronal and/or metopic sutures. FGFR1, TWIST1 and EFNB1 mutations generally affect only the coronal suture. FNB1 and TGFBR1 mutations have been associated with synostosis of the sagittal and/or lambdoid sutures, while gain-of-function MSX2 mutations result in synostosis of the coronal and sagittal sutures.
  • Calvarial bones form by the proliferation and differentiation of multipotent mesenchymal cells into osteoblasts. This process, known as intramembranous ossification, is distinct from the development of the majority of other bones in the body which form by the ossification of a pre-existing cartilaginous matrix (endochondral ossification). Calvaria first form from a condensation of mesenchyme termed the primary centre of ossification. Mesenchymal cell proliferation and subsequent differentiation into osteoblasts occurs at the margins and the bone grows in a radial fashion until the osteogenic fronts of two calvaria approximate each other and structures called sutures form between the bones.These intervening fibrous sutures act as flexible joints between the developing bones allowing the skull to change shape and grow during development. Maintenance of growth at the osteogenic fronts at the edges of the sutures requires a fine balance between proliferation and differentiation. Additionally, apoptosis has a role ensuring that the two osteogenic fronts remain separated. Disruption of any of these processes can result in the premature fusion of calvarial sutures, known as craniosynostosis.

As per the paper, the MS normally becomes obliterated later in humans than in chimpanzees. Furthermore, unfused or partially fused MS in adults of Neolithic to contemporary human populations are relatively frequent, with a global average around 3–4%. Early MS fusion likely represents a primitive feature of haplorhine primates, or even of euprimates, and is a feature uniting crown anthropoid primates. Late MS fusion in humans thus appears as a derived state, and early fusion, as observed in the great apes, appears as the primitive state.

This paper hypothesizes that selective pressures favouring late fusion might have resulted from three different, but mutually nonexclusive, aspects of perinatal ontogeny:

first, the obstetric dilemma;

second, high early postnatal brain growth rates;

and third, reorganization of the frontal neocortex.

Proposed Timeline of Hominin Evolution

  • It is important to note that there is significant, continuous scientific debate regarding the timeline for human evolution
  • Models are continually being proposed, rejected and refined as more fossil evidence comes to light

Image Source

Image Source

  • Bipedalism developed in late Miocene to early Pliocene hominins (~6 – 4 m.y.a), possibly in response to more open habitats

Image Source 

Image Source 

A. Obstetric Dilemma 

Illustration of the female pelvic bones and babies of

Image Source 

Image Source 

  • In the evolution of the human pelvis, repositioning of the sacrum has created a complete bony ring through which the birth canal passes. The need to pass the large human brain through this opening has resulted in the human newborn having a brain less than 30% of it’s adult size. The brain of all the other animals are almost completely developed at birth.
  •  The bony pelvis lacks inherent anatomical structural stability, but is stabilized by a system of tightly woven muscles and ligaments that provide its support. Strong ligaments arranged transversely, oblique, and horizontally resist forces that can externally rotate the pelvis, thereby opening it. Among these are the short posterior SI ligament, the anterior SI ligament, the ilio-lumbar ligament, sacro-spinous ligaments and others. Their function is to counter opposing forces such as AP compression. These ligaments fail when forces exceed their ability causing compression type injury. Vertical stability is provided primarily by the short and long posterior SI ligaments. Other inter-osseous ligaments within the sacroiliac joints also provide additional vertical stability. ( Imaging The Sacrum and Coccyx; Pelvic Stability : )
  • These stabilizing ligaments help perform one of the main functions of the pelvis, to transmit weight from the trunk and lumbar vertebrae to the lower extremity. Weight bearing forces from the body are transmitted primarily along vectors to the posterior pelvis, then to the sacrum and sacroiliac joints. Weight-bearing forces are then transmitted to the acetabula for distribution to the femurs. During active weight bearing movements of the body, the anterior pelvic arch functions like a strut maintaining the shape of the pelvic ring. During passive weight bearing such as sitting weight force is transmitted down vectors to the ischial tuberosities. ( Imaging The Sacrum and Coccyx; Pelvic Stability : )

As bipedalism was refined in conjunction with an evolutionary increase in neonate and adult brain sizes, the morphology of the birth canal constrained the size and shape of the neonate. Although exactly when during hominin evolution the obstetric dilemma arose has been a subject of debate, this dilemma is especially severe in humans because of their large-headed (and relatively large-brained) neonates and relatively constricted birth canals. The anterior fontanelle and patent metopic suture of human neonates facilitate parturition. During delivery, contractions of the birth canal cause the edges of the neonate’s frontal and parietal bones to overlap and glide together in the region of the anterior fontanelle, which compresses the head and facilitates expulsion of the neonate from the birth canal. In early hominins, increased mobility of the neurocranial bones through delayed MS fusion might have represented an adaptive advantage facilitating birth.

B. High Early Postnatal Brain Growth Rates.

Compared with chimpanzees, human brains continue to grow at high fetal-like rates throughout the first postnatal year of life, which “may reflect the ontogeny of the ‘infrastructure’ required for rapid cognitive development”. They hypothesize that late MS closure in modern humans reflects an evolutionary adaptation of the growing frontal neurocranium to keep up with high brain growth rates. When sustained early brain growth appeared during hominin evolution is still a matter of debate. The large endocranial volume of the Mojokerto child ( at an age of < 2 yr provides evidence for high early brain growth rates in H. erectus. Direct evidence for australopith early postnatal cranial ontogeny is currently not available, but evidence for delayed MS fusion in australopiths indicates that early brain growth may already have been fast before the emergence of the genus Homo. If so, rapid early postnatal brain growth preceded the increase in brain size in Homo, which could be because of the obstetric dilemma shifting prenatal brain growth rates postnatally in association with pelvic modifications for bipedalism, or because of an increase in relative brain size (i.e., increased encephalization) in australopiths compared with their (unknown) ancestors.

C. Reorganization of the Frontal Cortex.

The association of unfused MS with increased interorbital and frontal bone widths in extant humans is intriguing when one considers brain shape and possible neurological reorganization in early hominins in conjunction with the frequencies of unfused MS in different taxa. As noted, a sample of Australopithecus and early Homo specimens that lived between ∼3.0 and 1.5 million yr ago shows an unfused MS, but no Paranthropus specimen does. In keeping with the tendency for an unfused MS in humans, A. africanus is characterized by increased interorbital and frontal bone widths compared with Paranthropus. Also consistent with findings for extant humans with unfused MS, endocasts of A. africanus have increased frontal widths in the region of the rostral prefrontal cortex (in addition to an expanded orbital frontal cortex) compared with endocasts of Paranthropus. It is therefore reasonable to hypothesize that, in addition to reflecting an adaptation to high postnatal brain growth rates, an unfused MS in Taung and other early gracile hominins may have been associated with the evolution of certain morphological and cytoarchitectural features of the prefrontal cortex, parts of which are differentially enlarged in humans and known to be crucial for their advanced cognitive capabilities. [As an aside, it is worth noting that humans also have a unique phase of shape change in their braincases before their deciduous teeth begin to erupt that results in a more general neurocranial globularization compared with chimpanzees.] If so, the evolution of increased rates of postnatal brain growth and neurological reorganization were probably entwined in (at least some) species of gracile early hominins.
Immature fossil hominins are currently playing a greater role in shaping the ways comparative data from living primates are interpreted, and it is within this context that the suture morphology of Taung and other fossil hominins that lived more recently than 3 million yr ago is interesting. Although it is beyond the scope of the present article, we hope that future researchers will test and extend the present findings by systematically collecting data on MS, anterior fontanelles, and endocranial size and shape in a wider sample of hominins, including those that lived before ∼3 million y ago (e.g., Australopithecus afarensis) as well as hominins that lived more recently than the fossils we have sampled. Such data are expected to contribute to a more detailed understanding of when, and in which hominin species, rates of postnatal brain growth first began to increase. This understanding, in turn, may contribute to a better grasp of the relationship between the evolutionary refinement of bipedalism and the evolution of brain size and shape.