Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Overwrought about Ida

The world had gone ga-ga over a recently revealed fossil named Ida, which, aside from the marketing around a book release and a documentary, is being touted as the bridge between man and apes, the "missing ink" in evolutionary science. Is it?

As a Creationist of course I remain amused and skeptical that a lemur skeleton looking much like today's lemur skeletons is a bridge to anywhere. As David DeWitt said in a Washington Times article, "Where did the genetic information come from that produced that skeleton in the first place? It's not random chance"... That is the basic question that science has never answered.

But back to the fossil. The fossil itself is not a recently uncovered specimen. It was discovered 26 years ago and promptly split into two pieces, one going to a museum in Wyoming and the other to a Museum in Oslo. Much wrangling ensued. In Law & Order evidence such as that would be tossed out due to a breakdown in the "chain of custody."

Just because scientists say this is the missing link of course does not mean that it is. Remember the Piltdown Man? The Cardiff Giant? Johann Beringer's fraudulent fossils? The Sokal Scientific Hoax? A single fossil does not "finally confirm" Darwin's theory, as there are too many branches in his theory to affix the entire ball of wax on one specimen.

No doubt Ida is likely a real fossil and not a hoax. It is a remarkable find on its own, interesting in natural history, but remember with the above examples and many others, that just like everything else, science is subject to fallibility and human quality of interpretation, much of which is done through the filter of preconceived notions, perception, and tradition. Theories precede facts, and the longer a theory has been in existence the firmer the scientist becomes attached to it, eventually (perhaps) fitting the facts to fit the theory, as the above examples demonstrate.

The process that includes merciless peer review of this specimen has not undergone anything like rigor yet, the hype is purely the scientifically illiterate media making pronouncements and sweeping generalities. Other scientists will now question the findings, debate it if is another already existing species, or the naming of a new genus, and so on. Anything gleaned in the arena of media and emotion at this juncture is suspect and likely hype.

As Ewen Callaway wrote today on the science news blog NewScientist, "Science bloggers put some needed cold water on the claims that the Darwinius masillae fossil conclusively determines which group of mammals gave rise to apes and monkeys, as well as the media blitz."

And also: "Brian Switek on Laelaps, an evolutionary biology blog, says: "I have yet to see the paper, but I am skeptical of this conclusion. First, one of the main authors of the paper is Philip Gingerich, who has been maintaining the evolution of anthropoid primates from adapids for years despite evidence to the contrary."

The evolutionary descent of man through the line of anthropoid primates from adapids is hotly debated among scientists. Did you know that there is a debate raging among scientists that is equally as controversial as the one between evolutionists and creationists? It is regarding the origin of the earliest primates and which branch therein man might have arisen: adapids vs. omomyids. They cannot come to any sort of verifiable conclusion.

And this nugget shows that scientists, longing perhaps to be in the same league as pop stars and athletes with the same level of marketing, media hype, and attention, have decided to roll out scientific news in the same way as they do when athletic managers complete coup of a signing deal or a when a rock group presses a new CD:
As 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.”
Hype anyone? ;)

1 comment:

Elizabeth Prata said...

Science is great and I love it. I love Fibonacci numbers as a way to explain the complexity of the world in its purposeful Design. However, as everyone knows, science is flawed and oftentimes wrong. God never is. In my life, there is room for both. Contrary to common belief, Christians do not walk around grinning dumbly in tiny Christian circles stumbling against padded walls. We are intelligent, curious, compassionate, realistic people. Just because I believe in God it does not mean that belief precludes science. However, as an intelligent thinking person I recognize science's limits in explaining the human condition. God has no limits, and though He is beyond understanding, He does reveal Himself to us, sometimes...through science.