Some of you might have noticed the stories circulating about the announcement of a paper about a 47 Million year old primate fossil which is causing various kinds of controversy. The first, and most important is that it is colloquially named “Ida”–which is also my 4 year old daughter’s name. Why? Well, this relates to the second controversy. One of the researchers named the fossil after his 6 year old daughter, (a common name in scandanavia thanks to Ida (pronounced ‘eeda’) from Pippi Longstocking). This was only the first of a series of self-aggrandizing moves surrounding the announcement, including heavy promotion by the History channel (A program called “The Link”) , a party at the American Museum of Natural History convened by Mayor Bloomberg, a book and probably a line plush toys, god willing. Add to that there is already a minor storm brewing about the scientific legitimacy of the research, which is published in the open access journal PLoS One, and stands to be a test of open access as a quality publication outlet. One hopes that this is a good test. It is puzzling that the paper isn’t in a paleontology journal, or a science/nature/PNAS… and it would be interesting to know the motivations for this. There is already one critique, and probably other critiques of the paper circulating.
I have next to no opinion on the scientific claims, though I do have a senstivity to just how hard it is to make convincing hypostheses from the fossil record. This is an event worth watching for how massively hyped science affects the outcome of research and discussion in a field. My suspicion is that no one will touch this for a while, it will turn out to be an exceptionally well preserved fossil, but not one that “changes everything” as the History channel would have it. Or at least if it “changes everything” it will be that students and amateurs all over the world will talk about Ida instead of Lucy, and my daughter will have to deal with it for years to come. This is the way we world our knowledge today.