01 Oct 2009 @ 12:20 PM 

I hate the breathless and somewhat hyperbole-laden reporting of every new fossil find. This month, it’s Ardipithecus Ramidus, which the press is calling the “oldest pre-human” fossil. Um, wouldn’t the oldest pre-human fossil be the oldest fossil? This obsession with a “missing link” between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom is a bit tiresome. There are jillions of links, and there are undoubtedly going to be jillions more found in the future. Every time someone finds something from the primate branch, the media goes into a veritable frenzy.

Of course, we find anything which casts any light on our own branch of the tree much more interesting than the spectacular specimens of pre-whale fossils back in February. But to claim that this Ardipithecus shows that we didn’t evolve from chimps is ridiculous. Nobody claims we did. Some biologists and anthropologists may use the shorthand of saying we evolved from something that looked something like a modern chimp, but nobody ever said that we evolved and chimps stopped. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Everything is just as “highly evolved” as everything else. Each species occupies a niche for which it has become adapted over eons. That doesn’t in any way mean that humans are the most evolved form of life – we’re just the only ones who write about it.

Oh, and scientists have been writing about Ardipithecus since at least 1999, and even pointed out that it was a hominid but not a common ancestor with modern chimps back in 2001.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 01 Oct 2009 @ 12:20 PM

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Categories: Education, Geek, News, Science


 

Responses to this post » (2 Total)

 
  1. Rosanne says:

    They started finding the first pieces in 1992, but it took until now for them to recover and restore this skeleton. They didn’t want to let the media in until they were pretty confident of what they had.

    http://tinyurl.com/yb6dtqa

    If you look at the front cover of Science magazine (pictured in the article), you can see that what they have still looks pretty skimpy to a layman. Of course, if you’ve watched enough episodes of CSI, you wonder why they don’t already know what she died of, her favorite songs, etc :o)

    I wouldn’t worry about the media frenzy, so long as it’s reasonably accurate. The publicity, overblown as it might be, helps generate funds. I enjoyed the bits and pieces of an NPR report I heard this afternoon.

    http://tinyurl.com/ybh7zuc

  2. Gary says:

    Oh, I think it’s a great piece of anthropology. I love that we continue to find more and more pieces supporting the most well-supported scientific theory in history. I just find it tedious that every time a new fossil that is more closely related to humans than to sponges shows up, the media goes insane with the “missing link” meme.

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