Media Hype About “Darwinius Masillae”

WE don’t know what to make of this yet, but the news is breaking out all over so we’ll mention it. The BBC reports: Scientists hail stunning fossil. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old, lemur-like creature have been unveiled in the US.

The preservation is so good, it is possible to see the outline of its fur and even traces of its last meal.

The fossil, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a “missing link” between today’s higher primates – monkeys, apes and humans – and more distant relatives.

But some independent experts, awaiting an opportunity to see the new fossil, are sceptical of the claim.

And they have been critical of the hype surrounding the presentation of Ida.

Let’s read on:

The investigation of the fossil’s significance was led by Jorn Hurum of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway.

He said the fossil creature was “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor” and described the discovery as “a dream come true”.

We continue:

The team concluded that she was not simply another lemur, but a new species. They have called her Darwinius masillae, to celebrate her place of origin and the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

Here’s more:

Independent experts are keen to see the new fossil but somewhat sceptical of any claim that it could be “a missing link”.

Dr Henry Gee, a senior editor at the journal Nature, said the term itself was misleading and that the scientific community would need to evaluate its significance.

“It’s extremely nice to have a new find and it will be well-studied,” he said. But he added that it was not likely to be in the same league as major discoveries such as “Flores man” or feathered dinosaurs.

There’s more, so click over to the BBC and check it out. And if you want to see how the media can wildly hype things, check out this breathless report from Sky News: Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution . That “news” article is formatted almost as crazily as The Time Cube.

There appears to be a serious publication about this fossil in PLoS ONE: Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology.

Make of it what you will. We prefer to withhold judgment for a while.

Addendum: The Discovery Institute’s first reaction is pretty much what one would expect. They refer to those hyping the fossil as “atheists,” and then they nonchalantly dismiss the fossil as being meaningless, like Tiktaalik Archaeopteryx.

Follow-up post here: Creationist Reactions to “Darwinius Masillae”.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Media Hype About “Darwinius Masillae”

  1. This is a valid, peer-reviewed finding in which speculations (which happen to some degree when writing the conclusions of a scientific paper) are apparently being hyped as fact. It will be interesting to see what comments and discussions appear at PLoS ONE.

  2. At the moment, it’s a screaming headline at the Drudge site.

  3. I had to add a brief addendum to mention the Discoveroids’ first blog entry on this. Essentially, they just don’t care.

  4. Essentially, they just don’t care.

    Of course not, it’s actual scientific research!

  5. Pliny-the-in-Betwwen

    I have wondered for a long time how much of the public’s general mistrust of science (if any) comes from unfulfilled media hype .

  6. Ida is so cute; she’s the size of a pussy cat, they say. I’m proud as punch to be her descendant (or cousin), if that’s what the evidence points to. And, since the announcement evidently took two years to organize in the wake of the original unearthing, I suspect our savy science guys have their fossils all in a row for the inevitable ID pushback. And, by a major conicidence, my actual (maternal) gradmother’s first name is — Ida!
    Cheerio — Nan Erwin — The English Major

  7. Mr Colon says: “Ida is so cute; she’s the size of a pussy cat, they say. I’m proud as punch to be her descendant …”

    Oh yeah? Well I ain’t no kin to no lemur!

  8. Eric Strickland

    “Well I ain’t no kin to no lemur!”

    But you’ve got a monkey for an uncle!

  9. On the ABC news Charley Gibson flatly stated that the 47 million year old fossil was the oldest ever found. I kept waiting for him to make some kind of correction but never heard one. These people must have a science editor there somewhere. WTF?

  10. Curtis, you didn’t really think those TV news people know anything, did you?

  11. Carolina_Guitarman

    Some of the reporting on this find has been atrocious. Skynews, in their article said,

    “The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years – but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.”

    WTF? There never was evidence for a connection before this?

    “Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the then radical, outlandish ideas he came up with during his time aboard the Beagle.”

    Again, WTF? There was no confirmation of evolution before now? And does this idiot not know that Darwin never speculated about evolution while on board the Beagle?

    The best was this,

    “But no doubt there would have been one person happy for the missing link to have remained hidden.
    When Darwin famously told the Bishop of Worcester’s wife about his theory of evolution, she remarked: “Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.”
    Now, it certainly is. ”

    Another “WTF?!” moment. This find was not needed to show our relationship to apes; in fact, it doesn’t directly do that at all. This find is about the early branching of *primitive* primates and later *advanced* ones like monkeys and apes. It’s about which line of prosimians we are related to. That we share a common ancestor with apes would be true whether simians evolved from a lemur or a tarsier.

    I hate seeing such crappy, sensationalistic science reporting. It reads like the science reporter was on vacation and the sports reporter took over this assignment.

  12. Carolina_Guitarman says: “I hate seeing such crappy, sensationalistic science reporting.”

    Agreed. It’s bad.