Friday, May 29, 2009

Told You So

A few days ago I blogged on the recent fossil find, dubbed 'Ida', sensationalized in the media as our earliest fossil ancestor. I urged caution about this fossil, stating that it was still very contentious amongst experts as to whether Adapids (the primate group to which Ida belongs) are ancestral to anthropoid (humanlike) monkeys.

Wouldn't you know it? A recent letter to Nature confirmed my suspicions:

[I]n the paper the authors explicitly state that Darwinius
masillae “could represent a stem group from which later anthropoid
primates evolved, but we are not advocating this here, nor do we consider
either Darwinius or adapoids to be anthropoids”. The authors
also refrain from claiming that the fossil changes our understanding
of primate evolution.

But the circumstances surrounding the paper’s publication were
anything but normal. Before the paper had even been submitted to
the journal, Atlantic, a production company based in New York, had
commissioned a television documentary and an accompanying book
about the find. Just a week after the paper appeared, the book has been
published and the documentary has been aired on the History Channel
in the United States, as well as Britain’s BBC and Norway’s NRK.
Both book and documentary include the the suggestive words ‘The
Link’ in their titles. A press release associated with the New York press
conference at which the fossil was first officially described claimed
that the fossil represents revolutionary changes in understanding.
The History Channel website calls the find a “human ancestor”, and
the BBC website describes it as “our earliest ancestor”.

To be fair, the authors’ claims at the press conference were appropriately
measured. Nonetheless, the researchers were fully involved
in the documentaries and the media campaign, which associate them
with a drastic misrepresentation of their research.

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