Is Great Grandma Ida Getting More Accolades Than She Deserves?
Just as it seemed the hullaballoo about Great Grandma Ida might go on forever, there is just the hint of some perspective on what the fossil find really means. That the hype around Ida is more selling then compelling is beginning to become clear. The New York Time's business page wrote about how it all seems nicely orchestrated to boost ratings of the History Channel's accompanying documentary. A tongue in cheek report from a London science writer also helped to highlight the fact that the welcome for Ida has been more than just a little over the top.
By the far the most insightful is this post from a science writer at the Smithsonian, offering some more tempered words than the Darwinian elders. In some ways this is a pretty stunning piece, even just appearing on his blog. As is known, the Smithsonian doesn't play nice with people who don't toe the line. Switek doesn't commit the sin of disavowing a strict Darwinian view, but he does chastise the establishment for overselling this latest "missing link."
He opens with this:
So the big day is finally here. "Ida", a 47-million-year-old primate skeleton from Messel, Germany has finally been unveiled on PLoS One and in a flurry of press releases, book announcements, and general media hubub. Under different circumstances I would be happy to see an exceptional fossil receiving such treatment, but I fear that Ida has become a victim of a sensationalistic media that values audience size over scientific substance.
And closes the same, after some very good writing in between.
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.Read it all here.