I’m sure many of you have heard about “Piltdown Man” and how “science can’t answer everything” from creationists (Chick Tracts, anyone?)
Who’s willing to bet that the creationists will parade this as another example of the failure of science and how evolution is “proven wrong”?
When I first heard about fossil Ida, it was from the science bloggers who complained about the amount of PR being generated for this particular fossil. The scientists who presented this were throwing words like “the scientific equivalent of the Holy Grail”, “missing link in human evolution”, “like finding the Lost Ark for archaeologists”, and “the Mona Lisa of paleontology” to describe this fossil. There was even a simultaneous book launch and TV premiere on BBC One and The History Channel.
I suppose this is why many scientists are not very open to the idea of popularizing science (many scientists did not like what Carl Sagan was doing during his time). because too often, facts and procedure are left by the wayside for flash and fanfare. For example, calling it a “missing link” is an obvious strategy to make it more digestible for laypeople to understand, because there term “missing link” has no scientific basis at all and has no use in evolutionary biology.
Take the case of Cold Fusion back in 1989, when Pons and Fleischmann went directly to the public to announce their “breakthrough”, instead of going through rigorous scientific peer-review first.
Of course, this is nowhere near the catastrophe that Cold Fusion was. Fossil Ida remains a very important discovery despite this screw up. If anything, this incident only illustrates the presence of the built-in self-correcting mechanism of the scientific process. If “Evolutionists” were as dogmatic as the anti-evolution crowd say they are, there would be ZERO opposition to fossil Ida being called a “missing link” for human evolution. The crazy PR campaign would have absolute support from the scientific community.
Unfortunately, to the majority of the public (thanks to the overhyped media blitz), this can only be seen as another screw up by science, and how the scientists can’t seem to make up their minds, therefore, they must not know what they’re talking about.
I’m sure Dr. Jorn Hurum had good intentions and only wanted to to bring science closer to the masses, but this has the potential to backfire enormously. There’s a reason why scientists don’t usually jump the gun, and this incident illustrates it very well.