19 May 2009

Roll the bones, continued

Darwinius reconstructionI really wasn’t expecting to post more on this new fossil today (and I have to admit, it’s lovely), but this clueless news story got me riled up.

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.

For crying out loud, you [censored], it’s total idiocy to say that this “confirms” evolutionary theory. Sorry to be so blunt, but the strength of evolutionary theory doesn’t rest on any one piece, and particularly not this fossil. It is the huge, massive body of research conducted over decades that all point in the same direction, that weave together like threads of Kevlar to make the science of evolution bulletproof.

The science of evolution has not been hanging by a thread for the past 150 years, waiting for one small German fossil to say, “Why yes, descent with modification is correct.”

This level of cluelessness and boneheadedness is one reason that professional researchers might shy away from talking to the media. They get it wrong. Badly.

And while I’m here and ranting, why, oh why, did people decide to start calling this “The missing link”? Like there is, and could only be, one transitional fossil in the lineage leading to humans? For that matter, Java Man was “The missing link” when it was found. Other fossils are much better candidates for links to humans than this new one is, like Lucy.

Image: Reconstruction from Franzen et al. 2009.

Additional: I'm disappointed that the TED blog falls into the same simplistic language, although they only use it in the headline.

More additional: Carl Zimmer’s take on the media hype:

No scientist, including the co-authors of the Darwinius paper, would ever pretend that they had found a single fossil that was “the” missing link. For some reason reporters (and apparently television producers) are obsessed with the idea, as I wrote about long ago when another primate fossil was touted in a similar fashion.

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