Friday, May 22, 2009

The Hype that Broke Darwinius' Back

I've been following this story as it's been developing – considerably quickly – over the last couple of days, with a troubled heart. You may very (very) likely have heard of the recent discovery of the 47 million-year-old ancient primate named Darwinius Masillae (nicknamed "Ida"). It certainly is a spectacular and exciting find that does provide us with a wealth of new information about the very (very) distant roots of primates (including what would eventually segment into humanity), yet I didn't comment on it because frankly, I'm not exactly an expert in the field here. o_o

However, there's a large problem: the find has since been in the center of an ever-growing media frenzy, and the hype is unbelievable. It's being reported as "THE missing link", as "groundbreaking", that it answers all Darwin's questions regarding fossils, and overall that it's "a revolutionary scientific find that will change everything". However I may be pleased that an exciting paleontological find finally gets the recognition it deserves, it really isn't THAT big of a deal. Yes, it's a thrilling discovery, but fact is, it doesn't really stand out from all the other treasures and surprises regularly discovered all over the world, nearly every single day. I do have to wonder what is it about Darwinius that's attracted so much fame in such a short amount of time. She's a beautiful fossil, certainly ... but it's not like others don't have their charm, either.

While it's always fun to watch Creationists as they totally freak out at a new scientific discovery that further blasts apart the tenuous grasp on their beloved myth of how Gawd created the Heavens and the Earth, the issue here is that all this hype is undoubtedly going to damage Darwinius as well. This amount of overhype can simply not be good. Not only does it tell Creationists that there indeed never was any "proof" for evolution until now, which is certainly not gonna help matters in defeating the notion of Creationism altogether, but it cheapens the previous and following fossil discoveries, which are easily just as exciting, revealing and interesting as Darwinius is. And that's a damn shame.

For example: below is a History Channel ad for a "Global Event" on May 25th. Which, as the video cryptically allures to, is to be named ... Darwinius Day.

Jesus Christ.

Dear God. "The most important find in 47 million years"? "This changes everything"? You've got to be kidding me. It's just one fossil. Yes, Darwinius answers several questions that had been bugging scientists for a while, but it certainly is no groundbreaking, revolution-type discovery the likes of which it's being presented as.

Even better: the following is the actual trailer for the show.

Whoa ... Talk about blowing something out of proportion with a nuclear bomb.

PZ Myers also covers an interview with Jørn Hurum, the scientist who single-handedly has spawned all this incredible and harmful hype. Basically: he just wanted his moment in the limelight. A fair desire, I think, but problem is he conducted it all in a way that turned the whole thing into a media circus without any dignity or respect left for the find itself.

Overall, the lesson to be learned from this, assuming this hype will end soon (and hopefully it will), is that Darwinius Masillae is indeed a fantastic find. It is highly useful in the realms of developmental biology and the likes. It's just not the godsend, the miracle answer-all that it's being proclaimed as, and the man behind it all, Dr. Hurum, has driven the whole thing into an unabated media circus. The sloppy reporting surrounding the whole affair is shameful, to say the least, when reporters are more interested seeing their names on the front page rather than getting the facts straight – and viewed from an objective viewpoint.

But hopefully, one good thing can be drawn out from this debacle – this amount of press and publicity for Darwinian evolution, while not good in all its ways, can only further deteriorate Creationism and Creationists' reputation in the eyes of the general public, drawing us that much closer to a world lead by logic and knowledge rather than by silly superstitions and dogmatic beliefs systems.


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