More Darwinian hype, from Wikipedia

(Note: this entry also links and discusses briefly the scientific paper on “Ida” by Jorn Hurum and colleagues.)

At least at Wikipedia we find actual information about the newly discovered Darwinius masellae, except that the article is deeply infected with the same outrageous hype that mars the news coverage—hype that is used to make people believe that this 47 million year old fossil has, as its promoters have put it, a “direct connection” to humans, and thus is our oldest “ancestor”—more than ten times older than our previous oldest ancestor, the four million year old Lucy, whom they apparently intend for “Ida” to replace in our affections. The key to the dishonesty is that the article repeatedly describes, as “human-like,” traits that Ida has in common with all primates And unfortunately, it’s not just Wikipedia that has done this. The lie began with the scientists on the team that atudied Ida, and was adopted by regular newspapers. But Wikipedia’s handling of the issue is the worst.

Here is the key section of the Wikipedia article, with my comments:

Ida lived in the early Middle Eocene during a period in evolutionary history after the extinction of the dinosaurs, when mammals first began to thrive on the planet. In primate evolution, the anthropoids (monkeys, apes and humans), split from the branch leading to modern prosimians (lemurs, lorises and tarsiers).

Scientists have worked to identify the fossil and place it within the primate family tree along with other fossil primates. Ida was originally thought to be a primitive lemur, but comparative tests revealed her to have anthropoid features. This indicates that she is a transitional fossil between primitive primates and the human lineage.

“A transitional fossil between primitive primates and the human lineage”? This creature had some features that resemble the anthropoids, which includes monkeys, apes, and humans. But Wikipedia doesn’t say that the fossil is transitional between primitive primates and the anthropoid lineages, which include apes and monkeys. No, Wikipedia says that it is transitional between primitive primates and the human lineage. It’s pure, lying hype.

The article continues:

Two of the key anatomical features found in lemurs, a grooming claw on the foot and a fused row of teeth, a toothcomb, in the bottom jaw, are not present on the fossil. Instead she has a short face with forward facing eyes, like humans, as opposed to the long face of a lemur, nails instead of claws, and teeth similar to those of monkeys.

“Forward facing eyes, like humans”? But all kinds of animals have forward facing eyes. Gorillas and chimpanzees have forward facing eyes, cows and dogs have forward facing eyes, lions and tigers have forward facing eyes. But what does Wikipedia say? That D. masellae has “forward facing eyes, like humans.”

The article continues:

The fossil’s hands have five fingers and exhibit human-like opposable thumbs.

“Human-like opposable thumbs”? I went to the linked article, and found out that the following species have opposable thumbs or some kind of opposable digit:

  • Most primates;

  • Apes, including the great apes (Bonobo, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Orangutan) and the gibbons;

  • Old World Monkeys;

  • New World primates of Central and South America;

  • Tarsiers (note that the Tarsiers belong to that more primitive lineage to which the lemurs also belong, unlike the anthropoid lineage);

  • Lemurs (there we go again), lorises, and the Aye-aye;

  • Giant Pandas;

  • Most phalangerid marsupials (a family of possums), and Opossums;

  • Troodon, a birdlike dinosaur;

  • Bambiraptor, a small, predatory dinosaur;

  • Phyllomedusa, a genus of frogs native to South America.

Quite a list! An entire menagerie of animals, and not just mammals, but even some reptiles and amphibians, have opposable thumbs or opposable digits. Yet what does Wikipedia say, in order to make us believe that that the 47 million year old, 18 inch-long Darwinius masellae is directly connected with human beings and is our ancestor? That it exhibits human-like opposable thumbs.

Hype. Hyper. Hypest.

* * *

UPDATE, May 20:

I didn’t say anything about the nails. Wikipedia, after speaking of Ida’s “short face with forward facing eyes, like humans, as opposed to the long face of a lemur,” adds that Ida has “nails instead of claws,” as though that also were among its human-like features, further pointing to her ancestral relationship with humans. In fact, all primates have nails instead of claws, as the article on primates at “Citizendium” reports:

All primates have a primitive dental plan, five fingers, nails instead of claws, a thumb and a generalized body plan. All primates share a similar eye orbit morphology and have a post-orbital bar. All primates have forward facing eyes.

For Wikipedia to suggest that Ida is an ancestor of humans, because she has nails and forward facing eyes, would be like finding the fossil of a very early fish, and saying that it is an ancestor of humans, because of its “human-like bilateral symmetry.” Yes, the fish has bilateral symmetry, like humans. But, of course, all vertebrates have bilateral symmetry.

Such is the blatant intellectual fraud infecting the announcement of Darwinius Masellae.

- end of initial entry -

LA writes:

Here is the paper on Darwinius masellae, written by Jorn Hurum and his colleagues and published online at Plos One, an online site for peer-reviewed articles. I’ve skimmed it. It’s an extremely detailed description of the fossil. But, unless I missed something, the authors do not explain, apart from emphasizing the fossil’s extraordinary completeness, why the fossil is so important, . Primate fossils go back to 55 million years ago, so the age of this fossil is not groundbreaking.

Thus, so far, not Sky News, not the New York Times, not Wikipedia, and not the scientific paper have said in plain language, or even in obscure language, why this fossil matters and how it changes our view of evolution. With Lucy, there was the discovery of a new species, with brain half way in size between that of a chimpanzee and Homo erectus, that walked upright. That was a big deal. Why—apart from the hype—is Ida a big deal? I still don’t know.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 19, 2009 11:50 PM | Send

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