Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Through an elaborate media spectacle including a TV special and a book, scientists who worked for 2 years in secrecy are unveiling the complete fossil of a 47-million-year-old creature. "Ida" was a 10-month-old female... something that investigators claim will "change everything" about how we view human evolution. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have done much of a job explaining that to reporters:
About the size of a small cat, the animal has four legs and a long tail. It's not a direct ancestor of monkeys and humans, but it provides a good indication of what such an ancestor may have looked like, researchers said at a news conference.
This is very cool and all. But I do have a minor gripe. I'm not asking for sophisticated scientific analysis here or anything. In fact, if it were here, I probably wouldn't understand it. But, come on, throw us a little bit of a bone here (pardon the pun). If it's "not a direct ancestor", how does it help change the way we view human evolution, and how would it tell us "what such an ancestor may have looked like"? What about it so convinces the scientists who have worked on it that it's instructive at all about human ancestory? Would it be so hard to get just a mini-explanation that takes us a half-step beyond "Trust the scientists; they say this is huuuuge"? I don't doubt that there are excellent answers to these questions, just saying that's kind of the *news part*, right?

I had to rant about that to keep me from ranting about the idea that serious scientific discovery is now being treated like some kind of corporate product rollout.

The film, called The Link, will be shown on The History Channel Monday evening. You can see info on the book here.

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