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Meet the missing link.
May 19, 2009 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Meet Ida, the missing link. "Ida is the most complete early primate fossil ever found, and scientists believe that she could be one of our earliest ancestors. She is a remarkable link between the first primates and modern humans and despite having lived 47 million years ago, her features show striking similarities to our own."
posted by HumanComplex (51 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
But what's the link between Ida and humans? Clearly evolution is a bunch of baloney. Also if we evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys? Huh?
posted by I Foody at 12:03 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I know cougars are the in-thing now, but I'm not interested.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:06 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow, she does indeed looke very much like a hum...oh, that's David Attenborough.
posted by DU at 12:07 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


In just a fraction of that time, I've started to take the size and shape of Mr. Attenborough there. You may indeed be on to something.
posted by hal9k at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was reading about this earlier today.

Jørn Hurum (University of Oslo Natural History Museum) who lead the research team:
“This fossil will probably be pictures in all the textbooks for the next 100 years. This is the first link to all humans... truly a fossil that links world heritage. This fossil is so complete. Everything’s there. It’s unheard of in the primate record at all. You have to get to human burial to see something that’s this complete.”
More from the Times Online article:
Darwinius masillae, a small monkey-like creature that lived 47 million years ago, illuminates a critical chapter in the human story when the primate family tree split into two branches, one of which ultimately led to us. The fossil could even mark the point at which the evolutionary lineage that gave rise to humans, apes and monkeys diverged from the one that produced more distant primate cousins such as lemurs, lorises and bushbabies. Its anatomical features suggest it lies close to the origin of the human branch and that the creature, or something rather like it, could be an ancient ancestor of humans and their closest animal relatives.”
posted by ericb at 12:10 PM on May 19, 2009


She looks delicious.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:12 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm disturbed by all the hype and secretive History Channel marketing around this find -- I hope it doesn't detract from the importance of the discovery. If it is indeed an important discovery, and not another Piltdown Man.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:15 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's so creepy how the skin gets so leathery like that, and how distorted the features become. I'm fascinated that the remains of a human body can last so long, and what they look like when they are unearthed --

THAT'S RIGHT I AM ALSO TALKING ABOUT ATTENBOROUGH!
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:16 PM on May 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm disturbed by all the hype and secretive History Channel marketing around this find...

Not to mention the distracting and malinformative "missing link" terminology.
posted by DU at 12:16 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't doubt the missing link stuff. It was notoriously hard to create and run link checkers back then.
posted by srboisvert at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is that Hera?
posted by brain_drain at 12:37 PM on May 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm disturbed by all the hype and secretive History Channel marketing around this find...

Not to mention the distracting and malinformative "missing link" terminology.


We complain when scientists fail to connect with popular discourse, and now we complain that they do so by using popular terminology and sexing it up a little?

Science - real science - is often quite boring, even when the implications of it are astounding. Repackaging and reinterpretation is necessary, and needn't be violent to the truth. If it takes parading up and down bearing this fossil as a sacred icon, shouting 'Hail the missing link!' just to get it into everybody's head that, yes, there is no doubt whatsoever about the outlines of primate evolution, then why not?

Of course, they're not doing that, they're just doing the 'gosh!' 'wow!' bit so we all turn and look. And calling the genus 'Darwinius'? Classic! Eat that Creationist No-Knothings!
posted by Sova at 12:38 PM on May 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


In that picture of the skeleton (NOT ATTENBOROUGH NO IT'S MUCH WORSE) does it look to anyone else as if she has little feet on the ends of her fingers? Creepy little feet? As if her fingers are about to hop away? Hop away after you? Thanks but no thanks: I don't want an ancestor with tiny feet on the ends of her fingers.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:38 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


brain_drain - you so beat me to that!
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:49 PM on May 19, 2009


mygothlaundry: "I don't want an ancestor with tiny feet on the ends of her fingers."

Eukaryotes like us still haven't been multicellular for as long as we were unicellular.

So look on the bright side. It could be a lot worse.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:51 PM on May 19, 2009


It sounds like this is 'the link' between large apes, like Humans, Chimps, and Gorillas and smaller monkeys.

Who cares. The crazy-ass hyping of random scientific discoveries is irritating. PHd comics actually had a strip about this today.

We complain when scientists fail to connect with popular discourse, and now we complain that they do so by using popular terminology and sexing it up a little?

First of all, it's not clear that the same groups of people are the ones making the complaints. Secondly, you can make science interesting, just read Carl Zimmer's blog for an example. But the problem making individual minor steps seem interesting. You usually can't make those interesting unless they are real breakthroughs. So instead of producing quality documentaries about the current state of scientific understanding, we get bullshit where the latest discovery or insight is hyped as revolutionary, when it's not.
posted by delmoi at 12:53 PM on May 19, 2009


Haha, I like the quote from one of the researchers though "When our results are published, it will be like an asteroid hitting the earth!"

Which means, I guess, that the results haven't even been published yet. I suppose we can't blame lazy journalists for all of this.
posted by delmoi at 12:57 PM on May 19, 2009


Actually delmoi, it seems to be a more fundamental link in the primate family, between the simians and the branch of primates today represented by the lemurs.

Lemurs are awesome, by the way.
posted by Mister_A at 1:01 PM on May 19, 2009


I meant "family" in a general way. I know that primates are an order.
posted by Mister_A at 1:02 PM on May 19, 2009


Piltdown Man II.
posted by dawson at 1:07 PM on May 19, 2009


Quite exciting until you reach the part where it tells you it was dug up by an amateur, has been floating around in private collections for 20+ years and has zero provenance.
posted by fire&wings at 1:09 PM on May 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't help but wonder...was Ida a ho?
posted by dawson at 1:13 PM on May 19, 2009


Oh Jesus, why must you tempt me with your devilish deceptions!!
posted by billysumday at 1:18 PM on May 19, 2009


The link is not missing.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:23 PM on May 19, 2009


First of all, it's not clear that the same groups of people are the ones making the complaints. Secondly, you can make science interesting, just read Carl Zimmer's blog for an example. But the problem making individual minor steps seem interesting. You usually can't make those interesting unless they are real breakthroughs. So instead of producing quality documentaries about the current state of scientific understanding, we get bullshit where the latest discovery or insight is hyped as revolutionary, when it's not.

Even if it's not the same groups complaining about how scientists engage the public it hardly matters. The point is that however they choose to publicize their findings they may face criticism. Too sensational on one hand, too boring on the other, too complicated, too simplified, and so on. I do agree that it's the process of putting a discovery in context that gives it interest, but I'm not convinced that overplaying its importance in that context is misrepresentation - or at least on the same level as, say, altering the facts.

I'm comfortable with the idea that there are two discourses on most topics: the popular and the professional. That the former is a simplified and edited version of the latter is acceptable because they're fulfilling different roles. Because of this, it could even be argued that discoveries have different importances between the two. I doubt that many professionals in this area seriously consider anything but evolution to be workable in explaining the facts, and yet popular debates about creationism are still very much live. Therefore the 'missing link' phrasing is a perfect way of passing information from the professional sphere to the popular one.

I know it must be annoying to people who are much more in touch with 'actual science' to see in done in this way, but for the millions of people who get their only post-schooling science from television and newspapers, this is probably the easiest way of sticking stuff in their brains.
posted by Sova at 1:31 PM on May 19, 2009


We complain when scientists fail to connect with popular discourse, and now we complain that they do so by using popular terminology and sexing it up a little?

A little?!? I'd say that's maximum sexy for a 47 million year old prosimian.
posted by Crotalus at 1:46 PM on May 19, 2009


She looks delicious.

I think Stephen Baxter had the Time Traveller kill and eat one of those in his sequel to HG Wells' The Time Machine.
posted by Artw at 2:01 PM on May 19, 2009


Carl Zimmer has a blog? OMGOMGOMGOMG
posted by DU at 2:17 PM on May 19, 2009


That's a very nice lemur.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2009


Ida's world. Ida's world. Party time - Eocene!
posted by Smedleyman at 2:37 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the Times Online article:
The findings were announced today in a blitz of coordinated publicity. As well as Sir David’s film, a book will be published tomorrow and an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York will feature the research.

The PR operation has been criticised by some scientists, who believe it is wrong for a discovery to receive such heavy publicity before it has been published so that other researchers can evaluate it.

Dr Hurum defended the campaign. "Any pop band is doing the same thing, any athlete is doing the same," he told the New York Times. "We have to start thinking the same way in science."
Um...no.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:49 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


They can do the PR operation if they want. They will also have to endure the inevitable single shot pass or fail peer review of thousands rather than a more gentle peer review process with the three experts and an editor, revise and resubmit opportunities and a chance to quietly withdraw that they would have had if they had gone through a real journal.

Their mistakes, and there are always mistakes or compromises in research, will be broadcast for all their colleagues and pretty much everyone else to see.
posted by srboisvert at 3:47 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


PZ's thoughts on the matter.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:50 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The money involved in bringing this find to the public disturbs me.
posted by caddis at 4:25 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apropos the mention of Carl Zimmer upthread —
I watched this media event balloon as I tried to do other work, but I kept getting distracted. I kept waiting to see an article that sought out some opinions from experts who were not involved in the discovery and analysis of the fossil, which might corroborate that this was indeed the Holy Grail of paleontology, or perhaps something just a wee bit more Earthbound than that. I never found one.
— from his most recent blog entry.
posted by Sitegeist at 4:40 PM on May 19, 2009


For those of us who live in 1998, is there a decent non-video, non-flash image of the fossil anywhere on the Web?
posted by gubo at 5:02 PM on May 19, 2009


Aha, found one. Congratulations to you on the fossil, Atlantic Productions Ltd!
posted by gubo at 5:07 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, now I see the whole journal article complete with images is available online under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5, so I'm not so mad at all the Ida™ PR overdrive stuff.
posted by gubo at 5:17 PM on May 19, 2009


I know they are completely unrelated, but come on, who else didn't immediately think of this when they read the post?

"...along with her Cylon mother and Human father."
posted by zooropa at 5:24 PM on May 19, 2009


Obligatory joke about "missing link" hogging the Jell-o salad at the last family reunion.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:24 PM on May 19, 2009


Mommy?
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:36 PM on May 19, 2009


Homo sapians in the Flash timeline here ... man, if people would just pay me to proofread their websites ...
posted by WCityMike at 6:38 PM on May 19, 2009


Evolution isn't linear. There's no such thing as a missing link.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:55 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lemurs are awesome, by the way.

Indeed!
posted by homunculus at 8:43 PM on May 19, 2009


Interesting criticism, suggesting that as remarkable as this specimen clearly is, the analysis presented by the people involved is likely sub-par.

Also. there's a huge difference between trying to sell a science story, and printing things that simply aren't true. "Missing Link" my ass. We already knew that there must have been some lemur-looking things 45-50 million years ago from which current primate species evolved. It's great to have a nice fossil like this to study, but no, it's not even a little bit like the thing with the asteroid. There are no surprises here. It's a great fossil, and wonderful to see and think that we must have something similar in our ancestry, and it's great that people will get to see it. But it is not a paradigm shift for evolutionary biology, except the small group of people who specialize in early primate evolution.

Promoting the idea that this one fossil is "our earliest ancestor"** or that it "rewrites our our understanding of the evolution of primates" may be good for the History Channel's ratings, but for the betterment of the public understanding of science it would be preferable to use headlines rooted in truth rather than fantasy and bullshit. No, Professor G., this is NOT "really a kind of Rosetta Stone". Christ, where do they get these people from? This hype goes far beyond sexing the story up a little, to the point where it is misinforming people about evolution and printing lies. It might as well be labeled science-fiction, like that "documentary" about dinosaur behaviour that was all over the BBC a dozen years ago.

** seriously, WTF is that supposed to mean? God created this Ida thing who then evolved into us?

Also, this thing died before reaching sexual maturity, so she ain't nobody's ancestor.

I visited the Natural history Museum last time I was in Oslo. The ground floor was completely taken over by a huge exhibition about homosexuality, masturbation and recreational sex in the animal kingdom. Gay whales doing each other in the blowhole, monkey circle jerks, lesbian giraffes, that kind of thing. All with an occasionally explicitly-stated message that "hey kids! This stuff is so natural! It's fine to do it, and it makes no sense to be prejudiced against people on the basis of their sexual behaviour". It was fucking awesome. I tried to imagine something similar being allowed to happen at the Smithsonian or the Natural History museum in NYC or even London, and my head asplode.
posted by nowonmai at 9:21 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Heh. I was just about to mention Carl Zimmer's post about this. Here's another excerpt:

If the world goes crazy for a lovely fossil, that’s fine with me. But if that fossil releases some kind of mysterious brain ray that makes people say crazy things and write lazy articles, a serious swarm of flies ends up in my ointment.
posted by delmoi at 11:33 PM on May 19, 2009


I know it must be annoying to people who are much more in touch with 'actual science' to see in done in this way, but for the millions of people who get their only post-schooling science from television and newspapers, this is probably the easiest way of sticking stuff in their brains.

Whats the point in having stuff stick in people's brains if it's not even remotely accurate?
posted by delmoi at 11:40 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Haha Darwinius may not have been properly named.
posted by delmoi at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2009


My mistake, the hype is all justified after all.
posted by nowonmai at 11:41 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to mention the distracting and malinformative "missing link" terminology.

The term "missing link" was used in science classrooms for the last three generations as a soft form of anti-evolution. Religious posers have used it for just as long to advance a god-of-the-gaps theory (ie, there is god, because of a missing link, etc.) If these scientists think they have it, and they are willing to go out on a limb with it, then I'm right there with them, because it's about time they found it.
posted by Brian B. at 8:04 PM on May 20, 2009


Was the Ida paper rushed by an axe grinding proponent of a particular theory This guy says: Maybe!
posted by delmoi at 12:13 AM on May 21, 2009


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