News Blog

Hey, hey, we're the monkeylike primates! The missing link that ignited a media backlash


On the day after the festivities at the American Museum of Natural History, the star of the show—a 47-million-year-old primate fossil named Ida—is intact, but science is still recuperating from the massive media hangover.  Jørn Hurum, the University of Oslo paleontologist who orchestrated the hubbub about the monkey–lemur intermediary, wasn’t coy about his intentions. “Any pop band is doing the same thing, ” he told The New York Times.

But the newspaper of record also coined the phrase the “Mediacene age,” and the response from the science blogosphere was harsher than the entertainment press’ response to Britney Spears’ last attempt at a comeback. Called by its publicists a “missing link” in human evolution, the Darwinius masillae fossil was displayed for the first time in advance of a television documentary called “The Link” and a book, also called the “The Link.”  (Please click on this hyperlink to read the actual paper published in PLoS One)

The Great Beyond
provided a roundup of the less-than-impressed responses from outside scientists who have reviewed the research. (But as you probably guessed, scientists have an ambivalent relationship with the media, particularly when it happens to shine brighter on one’s competitors than one’s colleagues).

So, what next? Will there be a backlash to the backlash, when the naysayers quiet down and realize that the fossil is still pretty neat? Will the pomp and circumstance get people thinking about evolution and visiting a museum that has lost a quarter of its $170 million endowment and $3.1 million in this year’s city budget?

And while it is a popular misconception to call Darwinius a “missing link,” the term is certainly more apropos than Fox News’ choice of metaphors: the Holy Grail.


Image of Darwinius fossil courtesy PLoS ONE


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Celebrate our 170th Anniversary with us!

Get 2 years of All Access for just $170

Save $28 now! >


Email this Article