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Scientists Wonder What Fingerprints Are For

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the whorls-and-ridges dept.

Medicine 347

Hugh Pickens writes "The BBC reports that scientists say they have disproved the theory that fingerprints improve grip by increasing friction between people's fingers and the surface they are holding. Dr Roland Ennos designed a machine which enabled him to measure the amount of friction generated by a fingerprint when it was in contact with an acrylic glass at varying levels of pressure. The results showed that friction levels increased by a much smaller amount than had been anticipated, debunking the hypothesis that fingerprints provide an improved grip. Ennos believes that fingerprints may have evolved to grip onto rough surfaces, like tree bark; the ridges may allow our skin to stretch and deform more easily, protecting it from damage; or they may allow water trapped between our finger pads and the surface to drain away and improve surface contact in wet conditions. Other researchers have suggested that the ridges could increase our fingerpads' touch sensitivity."

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347 comments

Most contradictory summary EVER. (nt) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325845)

nt

FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325849)

Huh? First post? No no no, Finger Prints!

Pleidians (-1, Offtopic)

Sanat (702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325851)

To be there in the case of confusion of identity. They were placed there by our Pleidian Overlords.

This is a fairly true statement however very limiting.

Primates (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325855)

I noticed this at the zoo watching a bunch of monkeys swing from branch the branch in a cage. The tree branches they had been given had been worn smooth through long use and every time a monkey grabbed on to a smooth branch I felt a jab in my fingers in sympathy. There is something bad about grabbing a smooth object and relying on it to save your life.

So maybe finger prints improve grip with smooth timber surfaces. Testing against glass doesn't sound very realistic. We didn't evolve to grip glass. Or maybe (as the summary suggests) it is something to do with detecting the texture of a surface to find a place to grip.

Of course they don't ask why people have unique finger prints. Maybe it evolved to make murderers easier to catch.

Yup. (2, Insightful)

El Jynx (548908) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325885)

Sounds about right. Such micro-ridges, I think, WOULD increase grip on rougher surfaces, which is what we would run into in daily life. Also, if those ridges - generally the top layer of skin - would rip off or shred, the damage done to the hand would be less than were it smooth, I would guess. IOW, maybe a safety feature?

Picking your nose (4, Funny)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326461)

Picking your nose seems like a good enough reason.

Re:Primates (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325919)

There are probably multiple reasons for the fingerprints.

The skin has to be both flexible and durable at the same time, and gripping on moist surfaces should also be safe.

A flexible skin is also allowing for better dexterity and a finer resolution when sensing surfaces.

Ribbed for extra ...? (1, Funny)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326563)

Perhaps they helped attract mates?

Re:Primates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325947)

We didn't evolve to grip glass.

I DID A WET BEER BOTTLE

Different finger prints (1)

hansraj (458504) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326027)

Of course they don't ask why people have unique finger prints. Maybe it evolved to make murderers easier to catch.

I would guess that the only question is why at all do we have finger prints. The uniqueness would then be expected since it would be much more complicated for a system giving rise to same print for everyone to evolve. Start with a system that produces finger prints (for whatever reason), and the usual error while copying the genetic code would certainly make sure that people get unique finger prints.

Re:Primates (3, Interesting)

Threni (635302) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326035)

The fingerprints we have now may be little use for increasing friction, but perhaps at some point in the past before they'd evolved away they'd have been been more pronounced, and would have trapped sticky dirt within more efficiently than todays generally cleaner hands.

Re:Primates (3, Interesting)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326129)

Or maybe it didn't evolve that way for any particular reason.

These sort of studies assume we have now evolved to perfection. But that suggests there will be no further evolution, which I don't think is the case.

Re:Primates (2, Insightful)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326261)

Most mutations that get kept are somehow beneficial. Not all, but most.

Re:Primates (5, Insightful)

stonewallred (1465497) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326643)

most evolutionary features get kept that do not kill the person/animal having it, and which does not put it at a disadvantage in reproducing. There are many more evolved features that do nothing that have been kept than you think.

Re:Primates (2, Insightful)

bluesatin (1350681) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326275)

Well the main route for evolution to occur (survival of the fittest) is pretty much dead.

Re:Primates (1)

nautsch (1186995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326509)

That is so right. At least for the human race.

Re:Primates (3, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326567)

Not really. Survival of the fittest means survival of those most able to have lots of children, and that's as valid now as it has ever been.

Re:Primates (1)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326523)

for right now, some people are the pinnacle of human evolution, until human evolution evolves and leaves those without wisdom teeth in the dust.

You can look at individual mutations as alpha builds, communities with the same mutation as unstable beta builds, and traits shared by the entire (well, to like 5 nines) population as stable release. Simply because there will be a future build of debian doesn't mean I can't use lenny stable to satisfaction.

Re:Primates (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326399)

"Of course they don't ask why people have unique finger prints."

What are the other unique features? Vein patterns and eye color patterns are as unique as finger prints. The odds are the uniqueness is a function of growth unrelated to purpose.

Re:Primates (5, Funny)

houghi (78078) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326403)

We didn't evolve to grip glass.

Yes we did. The better you can hold your glass, the more alcohol you are able to drink. The more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to end up with some ugly girl who also was able to drink herself unconscious.

Now imagine that you would drop your glass before you are at that point. You would never be drunk enough to go with THAT girl and she won't go home with YOU.

Without fingerprints, we would be extinct by now.

Tree Rings (1)

PleaseFearMe (1549865) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326503)

For some reason, when I look at my fingerprints, I think of tree rings. When we were little fetuses still growing fingers, perhaps there was something about how the skin extends itself that causes an oscillation pattern. This would explain why all the ridges curve along the tip of the finger. There are a few major forms of fingerprints that are caused randomly, which may be explained by the environment the hand area was in when the fingers were formed. Maybe whorls are formed when a side of the developing finger was rubbing against something. Arches seem to be the most natural shape, just skin pushing itself out.

what do you think? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325861)

Just one more thing science can't answer. Of course the answer is obvious but no scientist would ever consider [i]that[/i].

Re:what do you think? (5, Insightful)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325909)

Throughout history, there have been lots of questions that science has not been able to answer. But science is not static. Over time, it has been able to answer more and more questions and close more and more of the 'gaps.'

For any theist, the 'God of the Gaps' defense is pretty weak. Just because we don't understand something doesn't require a God (or gods) to explain it.

This is not a rejection of theism, but simply a comment on science - just because we don't have an answer now doesn't mean we won't have an answer in the future. And not having an answer does not imply that there is a (or many) God(s).

Re:what do you think? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325993)

Don't confuse yourself, the only difference between you and religion is you don't call your faith in science religion.

Re:what do you think? (2, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326393)

The only difference between you and someone who doesn't understand logic is.. almost exactly nothing. Science doesn't require irrational belief, it is simply based upon more and more thorough observation and testable hypothesis', while religion is based upon shallow observation and wishful thinking.

The key difference to me between religion and science is that religious folks have to explain all new observations in such a way that it will fit into their current worldview, because they are terrified that conflicting ideas will mean their god doesn't exist. Most Christians in my family are terrified to look more into evolution, with the only time they view anything on it being when they read Christian articles to reassure themselves that it isn't true without doing any research. Scientists will simply say "oh well we were wrong about that, now we can record this new and more accurate understanding of things and keep working to understand even more". They do not let irrational fears restrict their thinking.

Re:what do you think? (1, Interesting)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326143)

My view is that the reason science and religion come up with different answers is because they ask different questions.

Science can tell you how to create a bomb that will kill lots of people. Religion can try to tell you whether or not creating such a bomb is a good idea.

Re:what do you think? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326225)

My view is that the reason science and religion come up with different answers is because they ask different questions.

Q: What makes a rainbow?

Science A:A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that causes a spectrum of light to appear in the sky when the Sun shines onto droplets of moisture in the Earth's atmosphere. They take the form of a multicoloured arc, with red on the outer part of the arch and violet on the inner section of the arch. The light is first refracted as it enters the surface of the raindrop, reflected off the back of the drop, and again refracted as it leaves the drop. The overall effect is that the incoming light is reflected back over a wide range of angles, with the most intense light at an angle of 40 - 42 degrees.
 

Religion A:It's a sign of God's promise to Noah to never again flood the earth. (Genesis 9.13-15)
 
 

Science, to me, is about observing the world, and hopefully learning something. Religion seems to be about accepting answers from thousands of years ago without questioning their merit.

Re:what do you think? (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326305)

Now god only flood small parts of the world at a time...

Re:what do you think? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326229)

My view is that the reason science and religion come up with different answers is because they ask different questions.

Science can tell you how to create a bomb that will kill lots of people. Religion can try to tell you whether or not creating such a bomb is a good idea.

Religion is the reason the bomb was created, if it were up to science we would have flying cars and teleporters and even those star trek style replicators.

but allas we had the religion ages....

Re:what do you think? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326619)

Juvenile bullshit. How old are you?

People are evil. Religion provides a convenient hate concept and rebellion outlet for teenagers, but it is in no way the cause.

Re:what do you think? (0, Troll)

the_bean42 (415720) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326239)

And religion will tell you that's it ok as long as you use it on people who believe in another God.

Re:what do you think? (0, Troll)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326411)

Religion can try to tell you whether or not creating such a bomb is a good idea.

Ah, so as an Atheist, I have license to blow shit up because I don't have a god to know any better?

- RG>

Re:what do you think? (2, Insightful)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326573)

Aetheism is a religion.

Re:what do you think? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326193)

"This is not a rejection of theism"

Wimp. Reject theism. The only thing it gets used for in society today is to justify prejudice.

Re:what do you think? (2, Interesting)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326617)

Right, or you can just ask someone with no fingerprints, like my uncle who went through a certain kind of auto-immune chemo treatment which caused his fingerprints to peel away permanently over the course of several months.

He says his fingertips are no longer nearly as sensitive to heat and cold, and his ability to identify different sorts of rough surfaces has diminished severely; he can't tell the difference between rubber and suede for example without looking now.

I'm sure he'd be willing to have a phone call with an inquisitive scientist, should there be any out there who also have a well developed sense of the obvious.

Re:what do you think? (5, Funny)

Mascot (120795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325917)

Just one more thing science can't answer. Of course the answer is obvious but no scientist would ever consider that.

Agreed. I'm not a scientist and to me the answer is as obvious as it is to you.

It is clearly a case of aliens genetically modifying the species to easily identify individuals; we do the same in tagging wildlife.

Re:what do you think? (4, Funny)

aplusjimages (939458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326011)

Hi 120795, I'm 939458. It's very nice to meet you.

Re:what do you think? (1)

dilvish_the_damned (167205) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325995)

Just one more thing science can't answer. Of course the answer is obvious but no scientist would ever consider [i]that[/i].

Obviously its so God can sort you out later.

Wanking (0, Offtopic)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326033)

Is not a city in China.

Re:what do you think? (1)

master5o1 (1068594) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326039)

I always thought it might be to give me more pleasure while I fap.

Intelligent design (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325869)

It's obvious fingerprints were designed by our creator to help the Police catch murderers.

Re:Intelligent design (1, Funny)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326119)

even God is hooked on watching CSI!

Re:Intelligent design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326295)

Fingerprints were "created" by the Creator (call it God, Yavhé, Void, etc. depending onto your religion and language) in the same maner as we place unique chips ("created" by ourselves) to laboratory rats: to study and test each one independently of others.

Re:Intelligent design (3, Funny)

mark-t (151149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326463)

Close... they were designed by our creators so that _they_ could tell us apart... because otherwise we all look too much alike to them. Like a field of daisies.

CSI may have an alternate hypothesis to their use. (5, Funny)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325871)

I also love how they never counterweight their centrifuges.

Re:CSI may have an alternate hypothesis to their u (4, Informative)

Joebert (946227) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325939)

They use auto-balancing centrifuges.

Putting half of your post in the subject (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326021)

Makes me want to stab you.

Re:Putting half of your post in the subject (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326121)

It was a short post. Honestly I had nothing to say in the body, and rather than leave it blank, or try to divide the subject between the subject and body, I included another item I found funny. How would you have done it?

Improper Use of Subject Line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326371)

By properly using the subject line to state the subject, and the body to state that which you wish to say.

Maybe they're for nothing? (3, Insightful)

Karganeth (1017580) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325881)

If it takes an equal amount of resources for the body to grow a finger without fingerprints then it makes sense that they not meant for anything. Not everything has to have a purpose.

Unlikely. (2, Insightful)

El Jynx (548908) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325891)

It's more likely for something used this much to have functional features than not. Fingers and claws have been around for quite a while. It's hard to imagine them not evolving useful properties. Of course, this can go too far. Try peeling a gecko from a wall, you need to call the Hulk to help.

Re:Unlikely. (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325975)

Do you mean Gecko, or "Gecko". One is the cute little guy that eats bugs and provides an easy thing to rescue girls from, the other is a 5 foot meat eating monitor lizard that tends to try and eat people trying to rescue girls from them.

Re:Unlikely. (2, Funny)

El Jynx (548908) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326125)

Depends. Do monitor lizards climb walls and get pulled off by Hulks? If so, probably both.

Re:Unlikely. (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326559)

I think he means the one that can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325979)

Not everything has to have a purpose.

False.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (5, Interesting)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326047)

Careful with "purpose" -- Evolution is non-teleological, and "purpose" has no place in evolutionary explanations. I think you mean that everything has to ba adaptive, but even then I wonder how you know -- surely evolution would allow characteristics that are not adaptive as long as they have no cost. In fact, evolution depends to some extent on things that are not necessary, as Stephen J Gould pointed out -- a part of an organism can only adapt to a new function if it's not needed for something else.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (2, Insightful)

koolfy (1213316) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325997)

If fingerprints had no value (to survive/reproduce) in any way, species with and without fingerprints would be equal in the natural selection.
That would imply that when a monkey would be born without those (genetic mutation somewhere), there would be no reason for him to be less likely to survive and reproduce than his peers having fingerprints, and when he would procreate, it would create a variation of those monkeys having no fingerprints.

If we have fingerprints, it's genetically possible to be born without, so it's very likely that that mutation existed in the history of evolution, and that one of those specimen procreated, creating that fingerprint-less type of monkey/man.

My point is : if it's likely to have happened that way, the only reason not to have any fingerprint-less man or monkey on earth, is that at one moment in evolution, fingerprints gave an advantage to increase the survival and reproduction rate over the other alternatives.

I may be wrong, but that's how I understood the Darwinian model in science class...

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (5, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326221)

Or a population of primates that happened to have fingerprints became dominant for some other reason.

It is often the case that an environmental shift makes an existing trait advantageous (that trait may have been meaningless in the previous environment), rather than an advantageous trait arising in a static environment.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326605)

I'll buy that, but the next question would be why did THEY evolve it. Back to square one.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (4, Insightful)

funkatron (912521) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326243)

If we have fingerprints, it's genetically possible to be born without, so it's very likely that that mutation existed in the history of evolution, and that one of those specimen procreated, creating that fingerprint-less type of monkey/man.

I would actually question to what extent this is a possibility. Human skin has all sorts of textures and patterns, most of which we don't treat with any significance. It may be that smooth skin is actually difficult to produce by biological processes. This is a possibility that should at least be considered.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (2, Funny)

aplusjimages (939458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326025)

Not everything has to have a purpose.

Sometimes parents can be mean.

Re:Maybe they're for nothing? (1)

Aldenissin (976329) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326097)

So they were "purposely" mean?

  Anything in a living organism almost undoubtedly has a purpose, otherwise why would it be there? Sure parts of the human body have shrunken away (hair only on the head in extreme abundence, appendix) as they are no longer as useful, but they were there for some purpose originally. Even if it is a genetic mutation, it either gives the species a chance to prevail where it hadn't before or it allows the other members of the species to know this one's ancestors got into something bad, and therefore should not be bred with.

What fingerprints are for (1, Redundant)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325897)

They're for US immigration to scan. Other than that they serve no other purpose, like wasps.

Seriously though, did you know that identical twins have different fingerprints? Not so identical after all.

Re:What fingerprints are for (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326387)

Twins are very frequently very similar (same Mom same Dad same err "dice roll")
"Identical" twins (the bet was "split") have some very minor things different due to those features having a nongenetic component (chaos theory get in the way)

I would bet that direct clones of a person would also have Biometric differences.

Re:What fingerprints are for (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326565)

Which may seem to imply that fingerprints are formed during development and are not determined by genetics.

Its for biometric authentication (1)

dogganos (901230) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325903)

you idiot!

Prevent excess masturbation (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325911)

Then we invented lube

Re:Prevent excess masturbation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326029)

Non mutilated men do not need lube.

Ridged for extra pleasure? (5, Funny)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325941)

Sorry.

I'll get my coat.

tactile sensation (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325949)

There is a fair amount of evidence that they increase tactile sensitivity. We have nerves that are sensitive to specific vibrational frequencies. As fingerprints run over edges, then generate vibrations at frequencies we have maximal sensitivity for.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5920/1503

it's hard... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28325961)

...to suppress the knowledge of a designer, particularly with such a stupid idea as evolution!

Someplace for the oil to go? (2, Insightful)

TREE (9562) | more than 5 years ago | (#28325971)

Maybe they work like treads on car tires... let there be someplace for liquids to move *away* from to improve grip. Or, maybe having "with oil" and "without oil" surfaces that can be selected by varying grip allows gripping different types of surfaces.

Also, grip isn't the only thing hands do. Wiping or scrubbing with your fingers requires some level of abrasiveness.

I suspect that there may be a connection between building calluses and having prints. Possibly, prints are just the way we make "tough" skin that is more resistant to injury.

ummm where did captain obvious go? (5, Interesting)

meow27 (1526173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326005)

"Other researchers have suggested that the ridges could increase our fingerpads' touch sensitivity."

from TFA (sorry i can figure out how to use the quote function :/)

how is this not obvious? where he have some sort of ridge like pattern (hands, feet) we have more sensitive nerves there. The ridges increase surface area of our skin which means we can feel more using up less volume

the star nosed mole is the perfect example of increased surface area for more touch sensitivity.

Re:ummm where did captain obvious go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326549)

how is this not obvious?

To a lot of people it is. Thing is, in science, "derr, it's obvious!" generally isn't an acceptable argument. What they probably meant was "yeah we're pretty confident that's what they do, we just haven't got around to proving it yet".

Re:ummm where did captain obvious go? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326585)

Correlation is not causation, we also use (or used to use) these parts to move. There could easily be something else that causes both.

National Public Radio's Science Friday (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326055)

The USA's National Public Radio show, "Science Friday" discussed this:

        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105310429&ft=1&f=5

The show talks about this result, and reveals that New world monkeys have similarly ridged
skin on the gripping side of their tails. Touch sensitivity, and resistance to blistering are
posited as potential answers.

Many things (4, Insightful)

bytesex (112972) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326063)

More grip, larger surface, which means more flexibility, more nerve-endings - more sensitivity, better warmth-exchange, 'folded-up-ness', which means more protection from wounds, easier to clean (like footprints, the mud just falls out), 'little bits that stick out' - meaning more sensitivity again.

Re:Many things (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326223)

Actually it's the bits that don't stick out that provide the sensitivity. It's kind of like a microserrated knife, they're shaped like so if you turn them edge-up: ___A____A____A____A___ The edges of the A's and the flats are sharpened, and the A's sticking out protect the other sharp parts. The raised parts of your fingers are worn off quickly and easily (it's happened to me dozens of times... but I never burned them off, so they still come back every time, even when I get cuts etc) but the grooves aren't so much... I've only worn them down far enough to challenge that part of my finger surface when doing a lot of fine, gritty wet sanding (e.g. on auto body.)

Bad science or bad journalism? (5, Insightful)

YourExperiment (1081089) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326075)

With articles such as this, it's hard to tell whether we're being subjected to bad science or bad journalism. Both the summary and TFA quite categorically state that the "myth" of fingerprints being used to improve grip has been disproven. They then go on to describe how this experiment tested whether fingerprints helped when grasping an extremely smooth surface, and found out that they didn't (well okay, actually they did, but not by very much).

Finally, some alternate hypotheses as to why fingerprints evolved are posited, the first of which is: they may improve grip on rough surfaces. Not acrylic glass or anything, but those other kind of surfaces - you know, the type that actually occur in nature.

I'm pretty sure I don't know much more now than I did before I read the article.

Re:Bad science or bad journalism? (1)

INT_QRK (1043164) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326311)

Bingo! Wonderful insight! The popular press (and /.) is a wonderful pool for fishing interesting topics for further reading, attention, or contemplation. Anyone I know who has lived life for any length of time and has experienced real world events only to have later read of them finds that almost all contemporary press accounts are either incomplete, misleading, or overly simplistic. That's not to indict the press. It's human nature. In the military one learns never to trust first reports. Criminologists say that eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. Casual attention results in vague awareness. C'est la vie.

Re:Bad science or bad journalism? (1)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326535)

Hmm, so TFA says that the myth of fingerprints improving grip is busted, and then begin to posit that fingerprints improve grip? I call bad journalism, probably because the paper states other things to test, doesn't mention the myth, and the journalist wanted to go with the science busting myth meme that has been so popular since mythbusters premiered.

The real question is: (3, Informative)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326079)

Why do they have to be for something?
Evolution does not forbid random things, that are neither bad nor good for something.

Sometimes, humans try too much, to fit things into the artificial set of meta-rules that they did create, to describe the complex results of more basic and emergent rules. But those meta-rules have their own artifacts, that are not present in the basic rules and therefore are not present in the world. Like there having to be a "reason" for everything. A human concept that should describe causality, but adds something more to it, which does not exist in reality.

Other than that, it is obvious, that they enhance the grip, even in situations with liquids.

It's obvious why (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326093)

Book 'im Dano.

Dr. Ennos actually prefers another theory (1)

Cryp2Nite (67224) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326103)

"My preferred theory is that they allow the skin to deform and thus stop blistering. That is why we get blisters on the smooth parts of our hands and feet and not the ridged areas: our fingerpads, palms and soles."

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=4715 [manchester.ac.uk]

Finally an answer! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326105)

I can't tell you how many times I've been out back, trying to climb up my giant sheet of plexiglass, wondering why I just can't seem to get a good grip.

Now I know! Thank you, "scientists"!

fingerprints don't provide an improved grip? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326163)

So what? Who is to say they aren't slowly evolving away and they were much more pronounced in the past when we needed it living out in the wild?

Much like an appendix, its most likely something once useful that is on the way out. Evolution doesn't happen overnight.

Re:fingerprints don't provide an improved grip? (2, Interesting)

Nirvelli (851945) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326265)

But the appendix isn't on its way out, it's there for after you've had diarrhea. [wikipedia.org]

Re:fingerprints don't provide an improved grip? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326451)

Such a function is expected to be useful in a culture lacking modern sanitation and healthcare practice, where diarrhea may be prevalent.

Assuming they are correct ( its still just a theory ), as the human race continues to advance the need would be reduced and eventually eliminated, so ya, it should be 'evolved out' of the species.

my guess (2, Interesting)

purpleque (948533) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326173)

I am going to go with...They are for increasing touch sensations on the fingertips to increase detection of differences and variations in textures of objects.

It seems pretty apparent... (2, Funny)

gbickford (652870) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326207)

Celestial barcodes. The gods are thinking of moving towards an RFID based solution but for now it works.

It's really quite obvious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326233)

Humans are the only species who regularly consume large amounts of ice-cold beer. Fingerprints enhance the displacement of water, providing a firmer grip and thus increased consumption and less spillage. I for one am exceedingly thankful and have left my prints on cans and bottles throughout this world.

Acrylic? Really? (1)

Forthan Red (820542) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326293)

I'm guessing that there probably wasn't a whole lot of acrylic around during the evolutionary period when fingerprints developed.

five fingers (1)

eric-x (1348097) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326309)

Isn't this the same question as why we have 5 fingers on each hand instead of 4 or 6?
Evolution won't remove/change features if it isn't a disadvantage for the survival.
So perhaps you have to look at species way before humans and monkeys.

evolution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28326339)

that's the problem i have with evolution. i find it hard to believe that people born with a few extra ridges in their fingertips were so improved that they dominated the species so we all have them. And troll me if you want, but when did a birds body get the intelligence to start growing feathers even though for hundreds of generations the feathers must have been completely useless?

And whats up with the big bang?! Who made that shit up?!

Simple really (1)

xednieht (1117791) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326409)

Fingerprints are for creating jobs for law enforcement, all part of the master plan.

Sexy (2, Interesting)

Demonantis (1340557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326507)

Fingerprints might not have any use. There could be a multitude of reasons why people have them. People could find them sexy or fear anyone that doesn't have them. They could simple be a by product of another mutation that benefited humans. Evolution is a fun random thing without any real directional purpose. Some times yes mutations are beneficial other times not. People have a lot of trouble understanding that.

Scientists are Stupid Sometimes (1)

rxan (1424721) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326513)

Roland Ennos designed a machine which enabled him to measure the amount of friction generated by a fingerprint when it was in contact with an acrylic glass at varying levels of pressure.

Acrylic glass. Now that sounds like something primates would be gripping thousands of years ago!

The results showed that friction levels increased by a much smaller amount than had been anticipated, debunking the hypothesis that fingerprints provide an improved grip. Ennos believes that fingerprints may have evolved to grip onto rough surfaces...

This proves that fingerprints do not improve grip... instead we hypothesize that they might be evolved to improve grip. Really? *shakes head*

Say what? (1)

Akita24 (1080779) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326591)

So was this a test to determine if we've developed a characteristic through millions of years of evolution that allows us to grip acrylic glass better? Last time I checked, how well something grips depends considerably on what is being gripped. I doubt there was much natural selection for the ability to grip "acrylic glass." Now, if they'd tested for grip on tree bark while swinging they might be on to something ...

Um... (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 5 years ago | (#28326601)

I lose my fingerprints from time to time due to a skin condition, and I drop things a lot more when they're not there. While that's anecdotal and lacks a lot of scientific rigor, I'm not inclined to discard the idea that they're there to improve grip.
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