Friday, October 23, 2009

Oh Ida, Where Have Thee Gone!

Note: This is an update to the Ida Controversy. See here for my first article about it.

From Wednesday's Guardian, 'Eighth of the World' Ida Is Not Related to Humans, Claim Scientists ...

Her arrival was announced with unrestrained razzmatazz. She was the "eighth wonder of the world", "our Mona Lisa" and an evolutionary "Rosetta Stone", according to the researchers who unveiled her.

The female in question was Ida, a 47 million-year-old primate, whose exquisitely preserved fossil was touted as the remains of our earliest human ancestor. She was, they said, the "link" between us and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Writing in the journal, Nature, a team of palaeontologists from New York claim that Ida is not related to humans at all. Instead, they conclude, the $1m fossil looks more like a small lemur or maybe a loris...

"Our analysis and results have convinced us that Ida was not an ancestor of monkeys, apes, or humans, and if anything has more relevance for our understanding of lemur and loris origins," said Erik Seiffert, a fossil hunter at Stony Brook University in New York who led the Nature study…

The Ida fossil, which was found in the Messel Pit on the outskirts of Frankfurt, was revealed to the public in what amounted to the greatest publicity coup in modern science. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, appeared alongside the fossil, wearing a T-shirt carrying the TV tie-in logo, "The link." A book about Ida was already coming off the presses.

Ida was an immediate media sensation. The fossil received blanket coverage around the world and newspapers hailed her as the "missing link" between humans and animals.
The Guardian even gave away free wallcharts of "humanity's long lost ancestor..."

The controversy erupted after Seiffert's team unearthed the fossilised remnants of a similar, but much younger primate in northern Egypt... According to their study, neither Ida nor Afradapis have any living descendants, meaning they became extinct at the end of a sidebranch of the evolutionary tree.

**UPDATE, OCT. 25, 2009**

Casey Luskin recalls some of the outlandish media hype in The Evolution of “Ida”...

Ida was given quite a ride by the mainstream media, while it lasted.

Originally: Famed BBC broadcaster Sir David Attenborough got involved, making a documentary titled Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor: The Link, to explain why Ida is “the link that connects us directly with the rest of the animal kingdom.” Co-sponsored by both the BBC and the History Channel, the program attracted a massive audience. …

  • Good Morning America and Nightline covered the fossil.
  • National Geographic called her the “critical ‘missing link’ species.”
  • ScienceDaily and a Discover magazine commentator praised Ida as our “47-million-year-old human ancestor.”
  • Skynews told the public that “proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

With Google’s eager assistance, Ida went viral: One of the leading search terms that day was “missing link found.” Even the Drudge Report was reeled in by the media frenzy, briefly featuring Ida as the headline story…

The good news is that it seems that cooler heads are now prevailing regarding Ida. Wired notes that the current reporting about disagreements over Ida are an improvement, “the sort of dialogue that was missing from Darwinius’ overhyped debut.”

No comments: