New Year's predictions, 2007 edition

4 minute read

It's a hazardous business, making predictions -- all the moreso because New Year's predictions have a deadline. If they don't happen this year, well, that's too bad, because we'll be checking back a year from now to see how well you did.

Last year, I did pretty well. My 2006 predictions are listed below. I ordered them originally "from most certain to most speculative". As you can see, the first five (i.e., the more "certain" ones) all came true; the last five (i.e., the wild-arsed speculations) didn't. So let's check them out:

  • 10. We will see a name for the Flores pathology. OK, we got several names, and the issue is far from settled, but this was the year that the Homo floresiensis doubters struck with their papers on the remains.
  • 9. There will be two Neandertal genome-related announcements. I undercalled this, since there were three -- the initial announcement in June of the Neandertal Genome project, the announcement and publication in November of the initial sequence results, and the announcement about possible introgression of microcephalin.
  • 8. No Ardipithecus. Sometimes, predictions write themselves.
  • 7. "Population cluster" will become the new "race". This one is debatable, but enough papers on multi-ethnic SNPs have used the term this year, that I think it is emerging as the replacement for the race concept for a certain class of geneticists. I expect it will continue -- "cluster" has such a neutral computer-program-centric connotation, that people like to use it.
  • 6. There will be another paper (yes, besides the one last month) using genetics to estimate the time of the human-chimpanzee divergence. The date will be 5 million to 7 million years ago. Oh, my. There have been bigger messes than the Patterson et al. 2006 paper, but not many. Yes, it was yet another paper with a 5-million to 7-million-year-old divergence, but it had so much more!
  • 5. Evidence of recent selection will be found for several Y chromosome genes. Wishful thinking or prediction for the next year? You decide!
  • 4. Sahelanthropus postcrania will be published. This one didn't happen this year, but I'm carrying it over onto the 2007 list.
  • 3. There will be an ancient DNA announcement from China. Someday it will happen, but not this year or next.
  • 2. StW 573 will be proposed as a new species ancestral to all later hominids. Well, we got the opposite -- with a new younger date, StW 573 was proposed as the ancestor of...nobody! Which was by far the smaller of the redating stories this year.
  • 1. A Hawks weblog post will be cited in a peer-reviewed research paper. We can only hope this happens in the coming year, but carrying it over just seems desperate...
  • BONUS: A new Georgian hominid will be a robust australopithecine. I still think somebody will find an australopithecine outside Africa in the next decade, but it's not to be from Dmanisi -- the hominids are too localized in a single feature.

So that should give some indication of how to read the list for the next year. I'm listing from more certain to more speculative again, and again I'm excluding most of my own work. The main effect of this is just that I'm not including secrets that I know will be coming out this year. Once again, the predictions are Delphic -- if only I were cleverer, I could make them come out right no matter what!

  • 10. Sahelanthropus postcrania will be published.
  • 9. Two words: Holocene evolution.
  • 8. Despite (or because of) the success of the Neandertal genome project, there will be no genetics of any kind published on early modern skeletal material.
  • 7. The mitochondrial history of human dispersals will become more and more detailed, but no paper will test against other loci.
  • 6. Another (yes, another) paper about the chimpanzee-human divergence will peg it between 5 and 7 million years ago.
  • 5. Three papers with new Ethiopian fossils.
  • 4. Another early Upper Paleolithic specimen will emerge from a museum collection.
  • 3. A big year for Miocene apes, which will look increasingly important in the story of human brain evolution.
  • 2. Maturation rate in early Homo becomes a dead issue, because of the variation in dental and skeletal maturation in living people.
  • 1. The year will end without a single new hominid species having been named.
  • BONUS: A dramatic development in the problem of pre-2.0-million-year-old Homo.

I ended the year with just a shade fewer than 1 million visits since last January 1. The Neandertal women brought me over 10,000 readers in a single day -- the most ever. I know a few of the big stories from the coming year, but there will be many more that nobody can predict. There's no doubt in my mind that 2007 will be a big year!