May 21st, 2009 by M. French

Smithsonian Magazine’s Brian Switek had the following to say with regard to the Ida fossil being described as “the missing link” by many:

Is Darwinius important to understanding primate evolution? Of course! It is an exceptionally preserved specimen that could do much to aid our understanding of adapid evolution and paleobiology. The grand claims about it being our ancestor, though, can not be upheld as true. The researchers simply did not do the work to support their case, and even if their language was more reserved in the technical paper they have gone hand-in-hand with the History Channel to create an aura of sensationalism around the fossil. I hardly think this is a responsible way to conduct or communicate science, flooding the media with poorly supported claims, but as reported in the New York Times some of this paper’s authors care more about marketing than about good science;

“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.”

This is a shame. I would have hoped that this fossil would receive the care and attention it deserves, but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel. Indeed, this association may not have only presented overblown claims to the public, but hindered good science, as well. As Karen James has suggested, the overall poor quality of the paper and the disproportionate hyping of the find make me wonder if this research was rushed into publication so that the media splash would occur on time. The paper tried to cover so much, so quickly, and contained so many shortfalls that I honestly have to wonder why it was allowed to be published in such a state. Perhaps we will never know, but I am sickened by the way in which a cable network has bastardized a legitimately fascinating scientific discovery, with the scientists themselves going along with it every step of the way. I can only hope that Darwinius will eventually receive the careful analysis it deserves.

We are clearly blessed to have such a well-preserved fossil to aid in our understanding of biology and human origins, but let’s be patient in our search for truth. When someone like Switek, who it should be noted makes evolution a focus in his writings for the Smithsonian, argues that “the grand claims about [Ida] being our ancestor […] can not be upheld as true,” and “the researchers simply did not do the work to support their case,” we should be careful not to extrapolate scientific truth from the fossil prematurely, particularly as it relates to any sort of “final verdict” on human origins.

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May 20th, 2009 by M. French

Researchers say they have found the “missing link” between humans and apes in a fossilized primate they have dated at 47 million years old. According to Daily News:

A team of researchers Tuesday unveiled an almost perfectly intact fossil of a 47 million-year-old primate they say represents the long-sought missing link between humans and apes.

Officially known as Darwinius masillae, the fossil of the lemur-like creature dubbed Ida shows it had opposable thumbs like humans and fingernails instead of claws.

Scientists say the cat-sized animal’s hind legs offer evidence of evolutionary changes that led to primates standing upright – a breakthrough that could finally confirm Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“This specimen is like finding the Lost Ark for archeologists,” lead scientist Jorn Hurum said at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History.

“It is the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail. This fossil will probably be the one that will be pictured in all textbooks for the next 100 years.”

The History Channel will air a film concerning the fossil next week, the promo is below: [Link to Video]

Interestingly, the announcement of this research comes just a few weeks after the launch of evangelical Christian Francis Collins’ pro-evolution BioLogos initiative (for perspective on how the BioLogos team believes God could have had a role in evolution, click here).

Robert Crowther at Evolution News & Views of the pro-intelligent-design Discovery Institute was not shaken by the news:

If they weren’t atheists, you’d think the scientists raising the ballyhoo over Ida were hailing the second coming.

Here is yet another icon of evolution. Every time one of these discoveries is made, there’s a huge PR snow job from the Darwin lobby to make it seem like it answers all the questions and objections. I thought Tiktaalik did that. Or maybe Archaeopteryx. It goes at least as far back as Proconsul. Each time the Darwinists seem to forget they already found the missing link — the one fossil to rule them all — and re-find it all over again.

At least CBS News was a bit more skeptical than Sky News when they reported it on Friday.

While the fossil doesn’t relate to the more heated debate over whether chimpanzees and humans share a common identity – the fossil is not the so-called “missing link” — the two factions will likely pounce on this new find with evolutionists claiming the skeleton adds to the limited fossil record.

Today’s Sky News article is amazing in its breathless excitement over this latest missing link. Naturally, this more nuanced and balanced piece is the one the media is jumping on and trumpeting today.

The discovery of the 95%-complete ‘lemur monkey’ – dubbed Ida – is described by experts as the “eighth wonder of the world”.

For perspective on another fossil that was proclaimed to have “illuminat[ed] our ancestors’ transition from sea to land,” only later to be dismissed as a fossil of “poor” quality with radials that “did not seem to match the way modern fingers and toes radiate from a joint, parallel to each other” by evolutionists, take a look at Evolution News & Views’ TikTaalik article.

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