Remember that adapid fossil from back in May? Turns out, all that breathless excitement over this “missing link” was premature and erroneous. Of course, most scientists would have told you the same thing in May, since the research was published on the Discovery Channel before it was peer-reviewed, the adapid line is actually not considered an ancestral family from humans, and a few other reasons too no doubt.
This is exactly why I dislike the automatic “missing link” verbiage that gets attached to any story about any prehistoric primate or ape. First of all, it’s ridiculously misleading to think of evolution as a series of links in some sort of chain. And, secondly, when your missing link turns out to have been on a different tree branch, the less-informed just use it as another bludgeon to hit the “ain’t no monkeys in my family tree” drum. Darwinius Masillae remains an interesting fossil and a remarkably well-preserved 45 million-year old find, but it’s not a human ancestor. Take that, premature publication!
On the other hand, this is a great example of why science needs to be better respected in this country. Unlike any other method of dealing with the world throughout history, science is willing (sometimes eager) to admit mistakes, and is always self-correcting. Every scientist wants to make a name for him or herself; proving your peers are wrong in a big way is a great way to do that. That it also advances human knowledge is a great thing for those of us not in the research world. Where would any of us be if previous generations had decided that any evidence contrary to “electricity is magic” was heretical and would be ignored? I’m rather glad to have this here electronic typewritery thingy.