Ida: Very Cool Fossil, Yes. Missing Link, No.

So yeah, it’s a really, really cool fossil, this 47-million-year-old proto primate named “Ida”:


But no, breathless media hype to the contrary notwithstanding, it’s not “the missing link! omg!” Even Google climbs aboard the hype train, courtesy of today’s doodle, linked to search?q=missing+link+found:


Um, no.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that the hypemeisters pushing this meme aren’t just lazy reporters, or bored geeks; it seems that the actual scientists behind the recent Ida paper are part of the problem, with one of them defending their approach thusly, as quoted in the New York Times:

“Any pop band is doing the same thing,” said Jorn H. Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo who acquired the fossil and assembled the team of scientists that studied it. “Any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.”

No, you don’t. That’s what makes it science.

Interesting discussion of what’s actually interesting about Ida:

Thanks to Ed Yong for the links, which I shamelessly stole from Darwinius changes everything.

One Response to “Ida: Very Cool Fossil, Yes. Missing Link, No.”

  1. Smith Says:

    I think the science community should take care to consider the negative consequences that can stem from over-hyping an idea, movie, CD, etc. Eventually, creationists are going to begin writing articles that show that this fossil is not the so called “missing link”. When these articles get picked up, they will serve to propagate the common creationist meme that “scientists don’t really know what they are talking about and are lying about the evidence for evolution”. Deliberately misconstruing findings only serves to reinforce this damaging meme. Those who are advocating presenting this finding as the “missing link” should examine the fallout of films that were overhyped. The Star Wars prequels, for instance, did not live up to the unrealistic expectations of their fanbase. As a result, there has been a great increase in criticism directed at George Lucas. While the hype associated with these films guaranteed they would gain large exposure, it came at the cost of Lucas’ credibility.

    Scientists cannot afford to discredit themselves, especially in light of the constant campaign that religious adherents are waging against quality science education. Science should not be reduced to the level of mass produced pop albums. Science should maintain a certain level of dignity. Relying on hype to “sell” a new discovery or theory reduces it to the level of a summer blockbuster and makes it easier for those who seek to undermine scientific progress to dismiss it as worthless dreck.

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