Vol 9, Issue 2, May 2022

Cultural Confusion: Parsimony, Social Learning, and Humpback Whales


Lyn, H. (2022). Cultural confusion: Parsimony, social learning, and humpback whales. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 9(2), 207–212. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


In his viewpoint against the general zeitgeist of humpback whale song analyses, Mercado (2022) makes several problematic arguments Although minimized, his arguments are based in parsimony; Mercado is assuming that the most efficient answers are the most likely to be true – an argument not always supported by evolutionary data. Parsimony in Mercado’s arguments can be divided into parsimony of mechanism (which mechanism is “simplest”) and parsimony of explanation (one mechanism is better than two). Both of these arguments are flawed. The first because social learning is not as rare or complex as has been previously claimed and the second because complex systems, particularly vocal systems, frequently utilize more than one mechanism of change. Mercado’s data do provide interesting contrasts to the assumptions made by humpback whale researchers, but his use of rhetoric and straw man arguments undermine the potential impact of those data.