March 3, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Ida Not a Human Ancestor

If Ida known then what I know now: the media-frenzied presentation of Ida (Darwinius masillae) as a distant relative of human beings last year has been debunked.  “Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution,” said Chris Kirk (U of Texas) in an article on Science Daily.  Researchers publishing their analysis in the Journal of Human Evolution accused the presentation of ignoring decades of research and an enormous body of literature on the evolution of strepsirrhines, a primate group that includes lemurs and lorises.  Ida’s discoverer claimed it had characteristics suggesting a linkage to haplorhines “However, Kirk, Williams and their colleagues point out that short snouts and deep jaws are known to have evolved multiple times among primates, including several times within the lemur/loris lineage,” the article claimed.  “They further argue that Darwinius lacks most of the key anatomical features that could demonstrate a close evolutionary relationship with living haplorhines (apes, monkeys, humans, and tarsiers).”
    The announcement about Ida included a book, a History Channel documentary, and an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the specimen at a news conference in New York city.  The lead author of the new paper remarked, “Just because it’s a complete and well-preserved fossil doesn’t mean it’s going to overthrow all our ideas.”  For more on Ida, see the 05/19/2009 and 10/24/2009 entries.

It’s nice when scientists criticize overblown claims of other scientists, but does it help to have one lie displace another?  Ida has nothing at all to do with human evolution, but it also has nothing at all to do with evolution.  A well-designed mammal lived, and it died.  Some variations existed between existing kinds of primates.  That’s all a strict empiricist should say about it.  Did you notice the fudging the new team had to make about convergent evolution?  They said certain traits are “known to have evolved multiple times among primates, including several times within the lemur/loris lineage.”  Known?  Would they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  The truth may not get you a book or History Channel documentary, but it has one major benefit over the alternative: it’s true.

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