Richard J. Smith

Richard J. Smith

Professor Emeritus of Biological Anthropology
​Ralph E. Morrow Distinguished University Professor
PhD, Yale University
DMD, Tufts University

contact info:

office hours:

  • Tuesday & Thursday 10:00 - 11:30 am
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
    CB 1114
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

​Professor Smith is interested in examining the ways in which paleoanthropologists attempt to explain the origin of unique human traits, particularly the origin of bipedalism. From 2008-14, he served as dean of the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences.

Physical anthropology as a discipline seeks to place itself firmly within the boundaries of science, but in being concerned with “why” questions about unique historical events (such as why bipedalism arose in the human lineage), researchers move into areas not clearly subject to testing or to falsification, which therefore might be interpreted more as history than as science.

For over 150 years, a continuing series of explanations have been offered for the origin of bipedalism. This historical record is Smith's raw data. He is working to bring together insights from a number of disciplines, including but not limited to literature in the philosophy of science on explanation, evidence, contingency, theory replacement, and the problem of demarcating science from pseudoscience, from historians on the nature of explanation in their discipline, from the philosophy of biology on adaptation, from debates about “just-so stories” in evolutionary psychology, and from cognitive neuroscience and the sociology of science on how individual scientists and the scientific community come to accept narrative arguments and reach consensus. These issues are being used to interpret the history of changing explanations for the origin of human bipedalism. 

Selected Publications

Smith R.J.

2018  The continuing misuse of null hypothesis significance testing in biological anthropology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 166: 236-245.

2016  Explanations for adaptations, just-so stories, and limitations on evidence in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary Anthropology 25: 276-287.
2016 Darwin, Freud, and the continuing misrepresentation of the primal horde. Current Anthropology 57: 838-843.

2009 Use and misuse of the reduced major axis for line-fitting.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140:476-486.

2005 Species recognition in paleoanthropology: implications of small sample sizes. In: Interpreting the Past: Essays on Human, Primate, and Mammal Evolution in Honor of David Pilbeam (DE Lieberman, RJ Smith, and J Kelley, eds.). Boston, Brill Academic Publishers, pp. 207-219.

2005 Relative size versus controlling for size: interpretation of ratios in research on sexual dimorphism in the human corpus callosum. Current Anthropology 46: 249-273.

1999 Statistics of sexual size dimorphism. Journal of Human Evolution 36: 423-458.

1996 Biology and body size in human evolution. Current Anthropology 37:451-481.

Smith R.J. and Wood B.

2017  The principles and practice of human evolution research: are we asking questions that can be answered? Comptes Rendus Palevol 16: 670-679.

Smith R.J. and J.M. Cheverud

2002 Scaling of sexual dimorphism in body mass: a phylogenetic analysis of Rensch's Rule in primates. International Journal of Primatology 23:1095-1135.

Smith, R.J. and S.R. Leigh

1998 Sexual dimorphism in primate neonatal body mass. Journal of Human Evolution 34: 173-201.

Smith, R.J. and W.L. Jungers

1997 Body mass in comparative primatology. Journal of Human Evolution 32:523-559.