Last month an international team of paleontologists lifted the veil on one of the most spectacular fossils ever discovered; a 47-million-year-old primate they named Darwinius masillae. It was a major event, but not everything went as planned. This fossil, popularly known as “Ida”, immediately sparked a controversy about the relationship between science and the media, the ethics of buying fossils from private collectors, and what our distant primate ancestors were like.
Indeed, the media blitz promoting Ida was matched by widespread criticism in newspapers, on the radio, and around the science blogohedron. I have written quite a bit about Ida myself (see here, here, here, here, and here), but here I have attempted to collect just a small portion of what has been written about her to place this controversy in proper context.
Here are the submissions sent in over the last week. Many thanks to everyone who contributed:
- Is all this talk about Ida making you scratch your head? Check out BioData’s brief summary to get up to speed.
- Mark Henderson, science editor of the Times has written extensively about Ida and the various aspects of the entire kerfuffle. Of particular note, though, is his round up of tweets made in response to the BBC’s documentary “Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor.”
- Alison Campbell of BioBlog not only covers the hubbub over Ida, but she also reviews some of the really interesting science in the PLoS One paper.
- Nature Network blogger Barry Hudson provides a point-by-point explanation of some of the main points of contention surrounding Ida. This is another must-read for those who, as Barry says, have been “quite literally living under a sedimentary rock stratum” for the last few weeks.
- Martin Robbins, aka “The Lay Scientist”, reviews the BBC’s “Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor.” His verdict? A sense of sadness that “the normally excellent Sir David Attenborough and the Natural History Unit were sucked into the mythology of Ida.”
- One of the co-authors of the paper describing Ida, University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, sent in a link explaining his hypothesis about the importance of Darwinius to our ancestry. While the evolutionary relationships of Darwinius are controversial, Gingerich’s page is a good primer for the scientific debate over Ida that is just beginning and features pdf downloads of many of Gingerich’s papers about early primates.
- Mo Hassan celebrates his 100th blog post with a semi-technical piece covering the scientific debate over Ida and the environment Ida once lived in.
- Richard Carter, FCD presents a measured response to the BBC’s documentary on Darwinius. Was it really all that bad, or was the hype just so overblown that it just made us all irritable? Check the Red Notebook to see Richard’s answer.
- One of the major claims at the center of this controversy is that Darwinius is one of our direct ancestors. Karen James aptly shows why this just isn’t so. Still, Karen emphasizes how the hype is all the more irksome given that Ida really is a wonderful fossil, and you can even pick up some neat science apparel designed by Karen featuring Darwinius. (Proceeds go to help The Beagle Project.)
- Speaking of Darwinius-inspired products, Bora has cataloged a number of Ida’s appearances outside news reports and scientific papers. No doubt we’ll see a few more in the future.
- Why was Ida so exceptionally preserved? Cryology and Co provides an overview of exceptional fossil preservation.
- For anyone who can read Dutch, the blog Evolutiebiologie has two posts going over the technical details of Darwinius.
- Neurologica blog covers some of the over-the-top media coverage about Ida and the response of scientists to it. Despite the splash Ida made, the conversation over her place in the primate family tree has only just begun.
- Will the hype over Ida give ammunition to creationists? See this post at That Shallow Fellow.
- Two posts from A Primate of Modern Aspect allow us a look at thoughts about Ida before she made her public debut and after. If you really want to get at the science behind the controversy, these posts are a good place to start.
- The Ohio State University blog On Research… raises some important questions about the description of Darwinius and the influence of Atlantic Productions, the company responsible for the media circus. The scientists who described Ida declared no competing interests in their paper, but is this right?
- And finally, some of the most important posts written during this entire ordeal were authored by Carl Zimmer. His posts on the uncertainty over whether Darwinius can be regarded as a valid name for the fossil and how science was “held hostage” before Ida’s unveiling are required reading for anyone interested in this controversy.
Many thanks, again, to everyone who contributed. I have no doubt that we will be talking about Darwinius for some time to come, but for now the posts listed above provide plenty of food for thought.