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John McCain: Meet the Real Hobbits

A Homo floresiensis skeleton cast was displayed April 21, 2009, at Stony Brook University, next to modern human skull and bones for comparison. (Image credit: Stony Brook University)

Nobody really thinks the Tea Partiers are hobbits, of course, presumably not even John McCain, who said he would not apologize for calling the conservative group "hobbits."

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, McCain strongly urged support for the GOP get-out-of-debt plan, writing, "The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor."

When asked for an apology this week at a town hall meeting, McCain reportedly said, "I am sorry if I was misunderstood. But I am not sorry for what I said. Why should I if it was a fact?"

While these small, big-footed people were alive and well in J.R.R. Tolkien's universe , they never stepped foot on the real Earth. … Or did they?

In 2003, scientists unearthed the remains of a 3-foot-tall adult female hominid at the Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. Ever since the 18,000-year-old remains were discovered, debate has continued as it represents a new diminutive hominid species (named Homo floresiensis), or is simply a modern human dwarfed by some medical condition (her brain was about one-third the size of modern adult humans). These hobbits also appeared to have oversized feet.

Another similarity: While in the "Lord of the Rings" books, hobbits were rescued by giant eagles, real-life hobbits may have been hunted by giant storks, according to researchers who found the remains of a giant stork, standing at 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, inside a cave where H. floresiensis was found.

But while McCain was referring to the mythical hobbits who come off as a bit dim-witted — possibly as a way to poke fun at a debt plan he said was "crack political thinking" — there's no reason to believe the real-life hobbits were such dim-wits. Yes, they apparently had diminutive brains, but scientists are now learning that brain size doesn't equate with intelligence or stupidity. Recent research suggests that rather than size, an Einstein-like noggin may come from how efficiently our neural networks are connected. [Why Aren't We Smarter?]

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Jeanna Bryner
Before becoming managing editor, Jeanna served as a reporter for Live Science and for about three years. Previously she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a Master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a science journalism degree from New York University. Follow Jeanna on Google+.