Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is the "Ida" Fossil (Darwinius Masillae) the New "Lucy"? The New Britney Spears?

Now that Lucy's "missing link" status has lost its lustre, the evolutionary world is looking for the next big hope. This article is breathless in its excitement over "Ida" (Darwinius masillae). This article makes it sound like Ida might be more like Britney Spears:

But the event, which will coincide with the publishing of a peer-reviewed article about the find, is the first stop in a coordinated, branded media event, orchestrated by the scientists and the History Channel, including a film detailing the secretive two-year study of the fossil, a book release, an exclusive arrangement with ABC News and an elaborate Web site.

“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.”

We do have to start thinking the same way in science. Science can only benefit by being more like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Branding and hype is what good science is all about.

At moments like these, we can use a little perspective. Some of my previous posts are, I think, quite relevant now.

In one post I discussed the overall pattern in the fossil record of sudden appearance and stasis.

In another post, I noted that the earlier discovery of "Tiktaalik" was arguably just one more species appearing suddenly in the fossil record. As Phillip Johnson put it:

Persons who come to the fossil evidence as convinced Darwinists will see a stunning confirmation, but skeptics will see only a lonely exception to a consistent pattern of fossil disconfirmation. If we are testing Darwinism rather than merely looking for a confirming example or two, then a single good candidate for ancestor status is not enough to save a theory that posits a worldwide history of continual evolutionary transformation.

In two other posts I discussed how our claimed "knowledge" of human evolution is constantly being revised, and yet scientists remain certain that it happened. You can read about it in Human Evolution Revisions and Human Evolution Revisions, Part 2.

Don't miss the satire on this revisionism at Scrappleface:

Paleontologists today said “dishonest fossils” misled them for years into thinking that humans evolved from one ape-like species to another, in a straight line, up to the today’s Homo sapiens — modern humans.

The accusation comes following the publication, in the journal Nature, of a new study of fossils found in a lake basin in Kenya in 2000 which seem to demonstrate that Homo habilis didn’t evolve into Homo erectus as experts believed for decades, but that the two species lived in the same east African region without interbreeding for about a half-million years.

. . . .

“Sadly, we have another integrity scandal in the scientific community,” the anonymous paleontologists said. “But this time, it’s not the living scientists who lie, but rather the dead specimens. If you can’t trust the fossils, who can you trust?”

Although the scientists seek compensatory damages from the fossils for years of misguided research, they unanimously agreed that the new discovery does not cast doubt on the theory of evolution by unguided natural selection, since “the wall of separation between science and faith can never be breached, and conflicting or contradictory evidence cannot shake our deeply held convictions.”

And we can also ask: Why doesn't the fossil Opabinia Regalis get this kind of attention? Could it be perhaps because Opabinia poses too much of a riddle of existence? For more on what this amazing animal, which was part of the Cambrian Explosion, means to us, read here or here or here or here.

So what do we learn? Scientists need to stop caring about exploring the interesting problems in evolutionary theory, and become more like Britney Spears.


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