Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ida - the Missing Link?

By Kristopher Hite

ResearchBlogging.orgThe fact that this bombshell of a fossil was unleashed in the pages of PLoS One says more than something about the future trends of scientific publication and the open access philosophy!

Dubbed Darwinius masillae this arboreal quadruped lived in the trees of an ancient rain forest now buried under present day Germany. Dr. Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo in Norway was integral in bringing the two halves of Ida back together after years of roving on the international fossil market. Jørn nicknamed the primate 'Ida', after his daughter. This is the most complete early primate fossil ever unearthed.

Bora has more on this wonderful specimen over at the Blog Around the Clock. and PZ runs down the phylogenetic "tech-specs" over at Pharyngula.

The Guardian has also done a nice job fleshing out the skinny on Ida. They even have a one minute clip from the upcoming documentary "The Link" hosted by Sir David Attenborough. This bit of infotainment will air later this month.

In this classic clip from Cosmos Carl Sagan explains the theory of man evolving with illustrated examples. At 6 minutes and 7 seconds into this video we could replace the drawing of the lemur-like creature with the fossil unveiled above.

I will continue to add links to this post as the regular media catches up to this story. As I go along one article that jumped out was FOX covering this. Right off the bat they use a saying I despise when speaking of science. "The jury is still out" on whether this is the missing link. That is such a simplistic way of looking at this. Science does not take place in a court of law because ideas and theories themselves evolve! When new evidence is observed new conclusions are made. No one will ever say with absolute certainty that this one fossil IS the missing link. But we can still try to use logic to tell where along human lineage she falls. It is not as simple as a yes or no answer!

Surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal, of all sources, does an elegant and scientifically admirable job covering Ida's unveiling.

My favorite quote from the FOX article is the most relevant to Tom Paine's Ghost...

When asked if the publicity surrounding the fossil was overdone (the History Channel touts the discovery as "the most important find in 47 million years"), Hurum said he didn't think so.

"That's part of getting science out to the public to get attention," he said. "I don't think that's so wrong."
I can hear the ghost of Carl Sagan echoing in those words.

Franzen, J., Gingerich, P., Habersetzer, J., Hurum, J., von Koenigswald, W., & Smith, B. (2009). Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology PLoS ONE, 4 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005723
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