Laelaps

Carnival: Uncovering “Ida”

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The exceptionally preserved skeleton of Darwinius, known popularly as “Ida.” From PLoS One.

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:

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A restoration of the extinct adapid Darwinius, known popularly as “Ida.” From PLoS One.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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Radiographs of the exceptionally preserved skeleton of Darwinius, known popularly as “Ida.” From PLoS One.

  • 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.

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A scan of Ida’s mouth showing milk teeth, permanent teeth, and developing permanent teeth. From the PLoS One paper.

  • 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.

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for including me, and many thanks for the comprehensive coverage you’ve produced on this topic recently – you really have put the news to shame.

  2. #2 BrianR
    June 2, 2009

    this is a great resource … having numerous articles/posts in one spot … now I just need to find time to read it all!

  3. #3 Mark Henderson
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for including me, Brian. Your coverage of this issue has been quite fantastic — and it was great having you in The Times!

  4. #4 Barry Hudson
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for the inclusion. Looking forward to reading more about Ida as the story unfolds.

  5. #5 seks
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for including me, and many thanks for the comprehensive coverage you’ve produced on this topic recently – you really.

  6. #6 Mo Hassan
    June 2, 2009

    Fantastic, and thanks for the nice little summary. This should all make for some good bedtime reading!

  7. #7 seks
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for including me, and many thanks for the comprehensive coverage you’ve produced on this topic recently – you really.

  8. #8 Mike Keesey
    June 2, 2009

    Nice round-up! May I suggest that you post a link to this post in the comments section of the online paper?

  9. #9 Mike Keesey
    June 2, 2009

    Nice round-up! May I suggest that you post a link to this post in the comments section of the online paper?

  10. #10 Coturnix
    June 2, 2009

    What Mike said. Heh, if everyone who blogged it just sent a trackback….

  11. #11 Susan Steinhardt
    June 2, 2009

    Thanks for including us in your Ida roundup. Your blog is really informative and enlightening – looking forward to reading more!

  12. #12 alison
    June 3, 2009

    Thanks for includng me :-) I’m looking forward to reading what others have written on the subject. (Reading your own posts got mine kick-started!)

  13. #13 Karen James
    June 5, 2009

    Brian, you’ve done a real service here putting this all together in one place – I’m sure I will be using this resource for years to come.

  14. #14 sikiƟ
    June 7, 2009

    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?

  15. #15 Coturnix
    June 7, 2009

    Perhaps you can use this as a special issue to jumpstart the continuation of The Boneyard carnival?

  16. #16 lig tv izle
    March 11, 2011

    I agree “Brian, you’ve done a real service here putting this all together in one place – I’m sure I will be using this resource for years to come.”

  17. #17 jacktee
    April 9, 2011

    We agree “Brian, you’ve done a real service here putting this all together in one place – I’m sure I will be using this resource for years to come.”

  18. #18 Beauty care
    May 10, 2011

    Greg, I agree with Brian and Blake on this one. The main issue I have, however, is not that it’s Pepsi. It could have been Whole Foods for all I cared. It’s just another case of SEED simply treating us like our opinions do not matter, in this case not even letting us know ahead of time, and showing us that we are merely content for them. I don’t feel respected here, and I haven’t for a long time.

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