Another super-cool day at PLoS (one of those days when I wish I was not telecommuting, but sharing in the excitement with the colleagues at the Mothership) - the publication of a very exciting article describing a rarely well-preserved fossil of a prehistoric primate in a lineage to which we all belong as well:
Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology by Jens L. Franzen, Philip D. Gingerich, JÃ¶rg Habersetzer, JÃ¸rn H. Hurum, Wighart von Koenigswald and B. Holly Smith
The fossil, named Ida (the scientific name is Darwinius masillae, a new genus), was discovered in Messel Pit, Germany and lived around 47 million years ago. The fossil is 95% complete - an incredibly complete fossil for an early primate - and along with the skeleton also contains the outline of the body and the contents of the gut. From such rich information, the scientists were able to deduce that Ida was a herbivorous female of about nine months of age.
[The image is Fig. S6 of the PLoS ONE article, published under the Creative Commons Attribution License; any reuse should cite the authors and journal.]
Unlike lemurs, Darwinius masillae does not have a "toothcomb" and a "grooming claw," but like primates in the lineage that also contains humans, Ida has opposable big toes, nail-bearing fingers and toes, and a foot bone called the talus bone.
As always, you should rate the article, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about this paper. You can also easily place this article on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook, Digg and Mendeley) with just one click. Bex and I will collect all the media and blog coverage and post the links to the best on everyONE blog later this week, and that will be linked from the PLoS ONE homepage as well.
I would like to use this opportunity to thank the PLoS ONE production team who did a tremendous job in getting the paper out in record time. Despite the paper being available for only minutes, the mainstream media has already run with the story. I expect that science bloggers, with their expertise, will provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the paper (and skip the silly "missing link" trope) once they digest the scientific information in the paper.
Here is a snapshot of media/blog coverage of this article:
NYTimes (Media & Advertising section): Seeking a Missing Link, and a Mass Audience
Science Insider: World's Most Overhyped Science Headline?
Science Insider: World's Most Overhyped Science Headline, Part 2
Evolving Thoughts: There is no missing link
Neuron Culture: Human Descent from Lemurs? Could be, sortalike
BBC News: Scientists hail stunning fossil
Framing Science: The Link? 'Going Broad' with Darwinius masillae
A Blog Around The Clock: Introducing Ida - the great-great-great-great-grandmother (or aunt)
Times Online: Fossil find provides 'missing link' in human evolution
BBC videos: 'Stunning' fossil find unveiled
Cryptozoology Online: Daily News: Scientists hail stunning fossil
Selling Tomorrows: 47-million-year-old fossil enters 24-hour news cycle
Quick Daily Hits -- Politics and Such: 'Missing Link': Scientists Plan to Use Hype to Sell Faith in Evolution
The Evilutionary Biologist: Missing Link Found?
-Towleroad News-: 'Missing Link' in Human Evolution Found, Say Scientists
The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Media Hype About "Darwinius Masillae"
Coffee and Sci(ence): Darwinius masillae
Terra incognita: Darwinius masillae
Providence Daily Dose: Kids, Say Hi to Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma
Starts With a Bang: A Missing Link Found!
Neurodojo: Roll the bones
Neurodojo: Roll the bones, continued
TimesOnline blogs: The Ida fossil: spectacular or hype?
World international news: Scientists unveil stunning fossil
Evolving Complexity: Darwinius masillae on PLOS 1
Beast ape & the bleeding heart baboons: Most complete fossil primate, Darwinius masillae
it is NOT junk: Unfortunate lack of links in the NY Times
The Intersection: Meet 'Ida': Our 47 Million Year Old Ancestor
Pro-science: Exciting new primate fossil discovery
RichardDawkins.net: Scientists hail stunning fossil
TED Blog: Darwin validated: Missing link found
Pharyngula: Darwinius masillae
The Daily Nightly: THE MISSING LINK: WORTH THE HYPE?
That Shallow Fellow: Introducing Ida: Major Primate Fossil Find For Evolution, Sketchy Salesmanship
The Observatory, CJR: The Mediacene Age
Framing Science: Darwinius masillae: Is The Hype a Bigger Story than the Science?
Gene Expression: 'Missing link' hype & science
The Science Pundit: Meet Ida!
Panda's Thumb: Darwinius masillae
Coyote Crossing: Darwinius masillae
The Open Source Paleontologist: About That Adapid. . .Or, Hype In the Digital Age
DailyKos: Sarah Palin meet Ida Paleo
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Darwinius changes everything
Evolving Thoughts: No, it's not an ancestor either (probably)
Tom Paine's Ghost: Ida - the Missing Link?
Migrations: Darwinius masillae
Why Evolution is True: Paleontology and the media
Who Does John Gregson Think He Is?: #precambrian Oh hai @rabbits
Lancelet: Nice fossil, shame about the name...
A simple prop: Darwninius masillae gets out of control
Woo University: Sweet Ida
Ecographica: Ida and the Jurassic Park Effect
The Loom: Does Darwinius Exist?
Why Evolution Is True: Has the name Darwinius masillae been published? And if so, by who?
Wikipedia: Darwinius masillae
That Shallow Fellow: Putting Ida Fossil in Perspective, Putting Creationists in their Place
The Red Notebook: No, no, no! I said, 'Let's SEX up this Darwinius press release!'
The Opinionator: Let's Not Go Ape Over Ida
Framing Science: Darwinius masillae Among Most Blogged Stories at NY Times
60-Second Science Blog: Hey, hey, we're the monkey-like primates! The missing link that ignited a media backlash
Ego sum Daniel: The ONE fossil
The Knowledge Emporium: Ida
Greg Laden: Ida the Fossil Primate
Erik Svensson Research Laboratory: 'Ida': a new triumph for PLoS ONE
Observations of a Nerd: Oh Ida!
Biology in Science Fiction: The Missing Link and other Science Fictions
Kevin Drum: Hiding Ida
Thoughts from Kansas: Secrecy in science
Pharyngula: Creationists freak out over Darwinius
Dispatches from the Culture Wars: The Hollywoodization of Science
NGM Blog Central: Darwinius and the Real Missing Link
The Scientist: Fossil Frenzy
Framing Science: Interview w/ The Scientist on Ida's Media Strategy
Doc Bushwell's Chimp Refuge: Creationists react to Darwinius masillae
Hominin Dental Anthropology: Good Old Ida, or Darwinius masillae
Sandwalk: The Darwinius Affair
On Research...: Darwinius exaggeratus . . .
I, Editor: Missing Links
The Primate Diaries: Breaking the Chain
Savage Minds: Ida, Sweet as Apple Cidah, and 47 Million times as old
microecos: Monophyly FAIL
A Developing Passion: Genealogical links from early primates to Moors to you
DinoGoss: The Up Side of Hype
Chinleana: Here we go again: redux
A Primate of Modern Aspect: Is a new adapid a 'Missing Link'?
Cryptomundo: Missing Link Ida: Media Darling
Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: Ida, our only Darwinius masillae: Are we a lemur's nephews and neices?
Fish matters: Today's buzz
Fish matters: Darwinius masillae available
The Loom: Science Held Hostage
The Loom: Darwinius: Named at Last!
Laelaps: Good news and bad news
Laelaps: Getting to know "Ida"
Despite the paper being available for only minutes, the mainstream media has already run with the story.
And this is a good thing how? What about a dead animal's bones is so time-critical that stories have to be shot onto the news wires with all the speed of children running to the ice-cream truck? Why do businesses who just want to make a buck off attracting eyeballs get access before trained experts who explain and discuss science because they love it?
Terrific illustration - glanced over the acknowledgements, that's by Anika Hebs?
(Sorry, it's my myopia - I always like to know the illustrator's names.)
Wonderful papers, just from a breeze-through. The photographs are excellent. Expect a post!
Good scoop for PLoS.
Looking forward to see the science blogs write something about this (people, remember to submit any posts explaining it for the laypeople you might have to Scientia Pro Publica which I host next time on June 1st)
Bora, as a PLoS guy, what do you make of Brian's criticisms at Laelaps:
This is a shame. I would have hoped that this fossil would receive the care and attention it deserves, but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel. Indeed, this association may not have only presented overblown claims to the public, but hindered good science, as well. As Karen James has suggested, the overall poor quality of the paper and the disproportionate hyping of the find make me wonder if this research was rushed into publication so that the media splash would occur on time. The paper tried to cover so much, so quickly, and contained so many shortfalls that I honestly have to wonder why it was allowed to be published in such a state. Perhaps we will never know, but I am sickened by the way in which a cable network has bastardized a legitimately fascinating scientific discovery, with the scientists themselves going along with it every step of the way. I can only hope that Darwinius will eventually receive the careful analysis it deserves.
As always, you should rate the article, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about this paper.
I'm probably not going to blog about this paper, but I have some of questions about comments at PLoS, and this seems the likeliest (least unlikely) place to ask them.
1. I'm at Blogger/Blogspot, and I've placed several trackback comments as best I could understand the instructions, they just seem to be sitting there, and I don't see the trackback. I'm sure there's something I haven't understood. Can you tell me what?
2. In a recent blog post I was a little critical, not of the research itself, but the paradigm and the language that went into the research. What I'm wondering is if I should try to summarize my arguments in the comment, mention them and refer to my blog post, or just post the trackback without saying anything?
SteveF: This paper was reviewed by several experts, and as a result of their input the academic editor felt that it met our editorial criteria (http://www.plosone.org/static/guidelines.action#criteria). If people feel the paper is deficient in some way they should leave comments on the paper for a public debate.
AK: Blogger/Blogspot does not support trackbacks. Either strategy is fine - drop the permalink into a comment with or without a brief blurb.
Thanks for the reply Bora. My issue is less that there is something specifically wrong with the paper, more the surrounding hype. There is an extraordinary amount of associated noise and whilst this is a good thing to some extent, raising the profile of evolutionary biology, it has the potential to backfire.
Brian has already pointed out some possible problems and other researchers have urged caution in the face of hyperbole from the media and (regrettably) some scientists themselves. Inevitably the fossil will fail to live up to its billing. And that will expose evolutionary biology to the anti-science advocates. For a taste of what to expect:
Now, I'm not sure the extent to which PLoS has contributed to this, but the overall picture is cause for concern as a number of people are already noting. Furthermore, away from the creationism issue, if the hype falls flat, do you not believe that this could cause issues for the reputation of PLoS One? As someone in favour of the journal, this worries me somewhat.
I've just posted on this over at the Open Source Paleontologist: http://openpaleo.blogspot.com/2009/05/about-that-adapid-or-hype-in-digital.html.
I agree with many of the criticisms I've seen for the paper--particularly regarding the rather shaky argument for adapoids as haplorhines--and hope that more knowledgeable folks will chime in by commenting on the paper at PLoS ONE.
Am trying to figure out how the branching of the
Strepsirrhini and the Haplorrhini is such a major story.
The missing link in human evolution? A 47 million year
old species which may be the ancestor of just about all
monkeys is the missing link?
A correction. This organisms may be a primate, it may be related to extant organisms, but no extant organism is descended from it. It is a female and died before giving birth. She had no descendents.
Hence the (aunt) in my title.
Of course, Ida is used a representative of a species, so saying the "ancestor" is a shorthand, implying 'ancestral species' not 'ancestral individual'.
The line I heard on MSNBC last night that had me screaming at my telly was "A breakthrough that could finally confirm Darwin's Theory of Evolution."
Sweet Suffering Spaghetti Monster, how many ways is that wrong?
2 Mar 2010 ... Science News. Share Blog Cite. Print Email Bookmark. 'Missing Link' Fossil Was Not Human Ancestor as Claimed, Anthropologists Say ...
Yeah, yeah, the opposing camp with their own pet fossil is on the counter-attack. Who cares.