On the Barnes and Noble website you can find my review of Colin Tudge’s new book, The Link — a book about the discovery and meaning of “Ida,” the fossil primate whose scientific name is Darwinius masillae. Ida was the subject of numerous blog commentaries after her unveiling in May, most of them taking issue with the authors’ and publicists’ claim that the fossil gave information critical in understanding human (or primate!) evolution. (See here, here, and here, for instance.)
The book is pretty lame, and I have it on good authority that Tudge wrote it in about two months to meet the May deadline for the big NYC unveiling, after other authors had refused the offer to write it. The rush job shows. In my opinion, The Link is neither worth buying nor reading, though the fossil is certainly worth seeing because it is so complete, preserving outlines of the fur and even the stomach contents. (You can see it for free on “The Link” website.)
From the review:
. . .The buzz around Ida may in fact mark a watershed moment in science reporting: the merging of science journalism and tabloid journalism. On the whole, there isn’t much difference between Ida’s press releases and the National Enquirer, with Ida playing the role of Paris Hilton: an attractive specimen that adds little to our culture. To a scientist, statements like this — made by one of Ida’s discoverers — grate like fingernails on a blackboard: “When we publish our results it will be like an asteroid hitting the Earth.” But in the end, it’s not so much the hype and the absence of scientific gravitas around Ida that bothers me, it’s the irresponsibility of trying to gull the public into accepting a scientific conclusion that wasn’t properly vetted by scientists. This end run around the scientific community is the kind of thing that creationists do. Fortunately, real science has won out — for now. When Chris Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, was asked to assess Ida, he remarked dryly, “This fossil has been hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. Frankly, I’ve got ten more in my basement.”
Fig. 1. Ida (Darwinius masillae). Photo courtesy of the PLoS paper describing her.