Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Right on cue, the Worldnutdaily shows us why what the scientists, PR people and media outlets who overhyped the find of an early primate fossil did was detrimental to the public’s understanding of science. Such exaggerations and overblown statements are easily turned around and made to cast doubt on the validity of science and the theory of evolution.

They immediately seized on the absurd marketing campaign to make the scientists look like buffoons and further distort the reality of the evidence for evolution by quoting the ridiculous and inaccurate rhetoric of David Attenborough, who damn well ought to know better:

“This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of the mammals. This is the one that connects us directly with them,” trumpeted Britain’s nature television star Sir David Attenborough about the Darwinius masillae fossil, nicknamed “Ida.”

“Now people can say, ‘OK, we are primates, show us the link,'” Attenborough said. “The link they would have said up to now is missing – well, it’s no longer missing.”

Any talk about a missing link is nonsense and Attenborough ought to know it. And quite frankly, the notion that any fossil is going to prove that humans are primates to someone who doesn’t already know that is simply absurd. We are primates because we share those traits that are unique to primates; we hardly needed this fossil find to prove that.

Of course, the Worldnutdaily also has to add their own distortions to the list:

History is replete with discoveries initially proclaimed as some sort of missing link, but later proved to be hoaxes.

And then, of course, they can only name two – Archaeoraptor and Piltdown Man. The Archaeoraptor hoax was perpetrated by a Chinese farmer, not by a scientist, and the Piltdown Man hoax was nearly a century ago – and was discovered by scientists.

Ironically, the article also mentions Nebraska Man, which was another textbook example of the media overhyping a fossil find and building far too much out of a simple tooth. The scientist who actually reported the find, HF Osborn, authored a careful and tentative identification of the find; it was a popular British magazine that turned that into a picture of an ape man, complete with wife and child.

But in this case, the scientists themselves have been caught up in the hype and participating in the very thing that destroys their credibility. I hope this will serve as a warning to other scientists not to do the same thing, but I fear it won’t.