by Kevin H. Wirth, ARN Director of Product Development and Media Relations
HYPE ALERT New York, NY [ARN]
In a stellar example of putting on the evolutionary Ritz, yesterday saw the unveiling in New York's Museum of Natural History of the latest and greatest "transitional" fossil (aren't they all?) said to be linked to humans. "IDA," an alleged 47 million year old primate fossil found in Germany, is being hailed as the most important link in human evolution ever discovered.
We'll have to check back in a few years to see if she draws more attention than LUCY did on her recent lackluster tour to Seattle (yawn). The King Tut exhibit, which opened last October in the Dallas Museum of Art did much better, profit-wise. 
Media and evolutionary experts the world over reportedly made monkeys of themselves (Guardian headline...) as they literally tripped all over one another with gushing expletives to convey the significance of this fossil find. Here are just a few:
ROSETTA STONE "It's really a kind of Rosetta Stone," commented study co-author Professor Philip Gingerich, of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. 
WORLD HERITAGE FOSSIL "This is the first link to all humans ... truly a fossil that links world heritage," world-renowned Norwegian fossil scientist Dr Jorn Hurum, University of Oslo Natural History Museum. Media reports relate that Horum continued to tick off the incomperables...
THE HOLY GRAIL and the LOST ARK Dr Jorn Hurum, the scientist at the heart of the project, made the most exotic parallels. He screened photographs of the Mona Lisa and the Rosetta Stone, without elucidation, though the implication was clear. He variously described the fossil as the Holy Grail of paleontology and the lost ark of archeology. 
THE FIRST LINK IN HUMAN EVOLUTION and OUR MONA LISA "This is the first link in human evolution. A find like this is something for all humankind. It tells a part of our evolution that's been hidden so far... This is our Mona Lisa and it will be ... for the next 100 years." - Paleontologist Jorn Hurum 
"THE" MISSING LINK (and how many times have we heard this one?) "This little creature is going to show us our connection with all the rest of the mammals. "The link they would have said until now is missing ... it is no longer missing." Renowned broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
THIS FOSSIL CHANGES EVERYTHING Nancy Dubuc of the History Channel said Ida "promised to change everything that we thought we understood about the origins of human life". The most sublime image was of Michael Bloomberg standing beside Ida's glass box, his arm around the shoulders of a school girl who was wearing a T-shirt with the TV tie-in logo: "The Link. This changes everything". The main thing Bloomberg was presumably hoping this would change was his prospects of winning an unprecedented third term as New York mayor in upcoming elections. 
Tora Aasland, minister for higher education in the Norwegian government... appeared to think Ida was a wonder of Norwegian science as opposed to a wonder of pre-historic evolution. 
And of course, there is also the obligatory (and very speculative) story of how IDA died and came to be preserved so we could see and examine her 47 million years later:
"The scientists believe she was overcome by carbon dioxide gas whilst from drinking from the Messel lake: the still waters of the lake were often covered by a low lying blanket of the gas as a result of the volcanic forces that formed the lake and which were still active. Hampered by her broken wrist, Ida slipped into unconsciousness, was washed into the lake, and sunk to the bottom, where the unique conditions preserved her for 47 million years." 
In the end, does IDA really live up to all the hype? Historically, the answer is a resounding "No." For all the hoopla and gushing over IDA, one very key fact remains elusive and unknown -- which would make IDA a truly spectacular evolutioanry find.
No known precursors or ancestors. As is true of most fossil finds, there are no known direct evolutionary precursors or ancestors for IDA. What critters led up to her species? We have no clue, just speculation. What kind of species did she evolve into? Again, the experts are silent - because we have no fossil evidence. However, it seems that her mere existence is sufficient to qualify as a "missing link" without any clear understanding of what critters she links from or to. This is one of the most consistently beguiling aspects of fossil evidence used to promote evolution. Every fossil is considered to be a missing piece of the evolutionary puzzle, drawing us ever more closer to a better understanding of our alleged evolutionary heritage, but never quite getting us there. But SOMEDAY we will finally start filling the holes, or so the experts tell us.
Meanwhile, and until then, IDA is just another example of a critter without a heritage, despite the media hype about her significance.
To qualify as a "transitional" fossil, there needs to be much more than one cousin species set beside another cousin. There needs to be a clear evolutionary connection demonstrating what IDA evolved from. But the evolutionary (ie, homologous) distance between Ida and her alleged "kin" is so great that you could put a number of examples before and after her and claim they're related. That's not compelling scientific "evidence" - it's just speculation and conjecture. An article in SLATE acknowledges this:
Most media reports use missing link more generically. Sometimes the phrase implies that a fossil is the direct ancestor of two or more extant species. Such discoveries are rarely made, however. Most fossils represent species that are morphologically similar to a predicted ancestor but not connected in a straight line to any modern species. Even if a fossil were a direct ancestor, a paleontologist couldn't be sure; all she could say is that it would be consistent with direct ancestry. (When a fossil record surrounding a species is unusually dense, as it is for humans, scientists can sometimes find predecessors with certainty.)
A missing link may also describe an intermediate anatomical form that suggests how modern organisms might have developed certain capabilities. For example, an ancient fish with proto-wrists, elbows, and shoulders might be called a missing link between sea creatures and land animals. In this sense, though, every fossil is a missing link. There's no single intermediate point between, say, opposable and nonopposable thumbs. Rather, a wide variety of fossils seem to resemble both hand structures. No one can say which version is directly related to the two. It is entirely possible that all, or none, of the fossils are steps along the way. 
It's time that evolutionists start owning up to just how much they really DON'T know instead of peddling critters like IDA as another great example of evolution. She isn't anything of the sort.
Aside from looking great in our kids' science books, frankly, there isn't any evidence that compels us to believe in her evolutionary lineage. As one of my colleagues has commented "Ida isn't the first fossil to be oversold, and it certainly won't be the last." In my view, this is just another opportunistic show of media publicity to give yet another fossil an undeserved pillar in the evolutionary pantheon of so-called "evolutionary transitional links." I predict we won't find Ida's closest ancestors or her evolutionary survivors. After all the hype dies down, she will remain just one more dotted branch in the conjectural evolutionary bush for the primates.
But hey, Warren Beatty looks a little bit like me. Since we're building evolutionary relationships based on looks, think he could pass as my long-lost cousin? Maybe if we held a press conference to showcase our resemblance we might get some good publicity...
 NY Times, March 13, 2009 - "They Didn't Love Lucy" - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/arts/artsspecial/19bust.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all
 Science Daily, May 19, 2009 - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519104643.htm
 The Guardian [UK] "To get a glimpse of the Ida fossil, the media make monkeys of themselves" - http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/may/19/ida-fossil-primate-media-us
 The Hindu, May 20, 2009 - "Backgrounder to Ida Fossil" http://www.hindu.com/holnus/008200905201041.htm
 SLATE, May 21, 2009 - How Many Times Will Paleontologists Find the "Missing Link"?
Seattle area writer and Darwin skeptic Kevin Wirth is a founding member of ARN (formerly Students for Origins Research). He is also the Senior editor, contributor, and publisher of the book "Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth About Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters" by Dr. Jerry Bergman (2008). This is the most comprehensive book published to date documenting the extent and types of discrimination against Darwin Dissidents. He is also the publisher of Caroline Crocker's upcoming book "Free to Think," (Leafcutter Press) which addresses her critics and relates her experience as an Expelled University professor. Her book is currently slated for release in June of 2009.
To read more essays by Kevin Wirth, click here.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Kevin H. Wirth, all rights reserved. Quotes and links are welcomed with attribution.
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