Ida Google That!

Posted on May 21, 2009


Google’s home page made me laugh out loud!

2009-05-20 GOOGLE Ida Screen Shot

Screenshot, 2009-05-20

If you haven’t heard the news yet, check out THE LINK’s promotional website, National Geographic’s news page, the BBC report, and the book, The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor by Colin Tudge. The research article Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paelobiology is also available to the public.

— VIA —

Since I’ve had a day to peruse the material, there are just a few notes, and then some reflections.

First, the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer as “Ida” is pronounced “ee-da.” (When I first saw the name, I thought it was pronounced “eye-da”). In brief, Ida is suggested to be the most complete early primate fossil ever found, possibly one of our earliest ancestors. As one scientist was suggesting, she may not be a great-, great-, …grandmother, but she may be a great-, great-, …grandaunt. Her scientific name is Darwinius Masillae. In German, “Ida,” apparently means “a fortunate warrior.” In Old German with Greek origins, its meaning is “hardworking.”

Two, Ida is being billed as a “missing link,” however, not only are they dating Ida to 47 million years ago, (which dates much longer than the other specimens that are on the “From Ida to Us” time scale), others are suggesting that we already have similar (though not as beautifully preserved) specimens from that period of time. See National Geographic’s blog, Fox News’ report, which draws heavily from the Live Science article by Clara Moskowitz. Not surprisingly, Answers in Genesis has an article and a response, and the Wall Street Journal, and NY Times also have articles.


Unfortunately, much of this is overtly dramtized and sensationalized for the popular media. After having a few glimpses into the programmatic ethics of National Geographic (NG), the History Channel, and the Discovery Channels, my trust of their presentations are low. While it’s excellent to have the actual reports and the data points available for research, study, and consideration, the overall media blitz of the ordeal is over-sensationalized. I do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however, as I still consider the services and programming provided by NG and others to be of some benefit to the overall cultural conversation. However, this particular presentation, in my observations, play into the continued hype that the mass public is so conditioned to getting and giving. Few will take the time to consider both sides of the issue or critically consider the implications of a find/discovery such as Ida.

So what are the implications?

I’m in a reading blitz right now, plowing through several books on Darwin and biological evolution. I’m fascinated and actually quite captivated with the massive material that is available for consumption. I am mostly intrigued at the reasoning and thought processes that define science as a discipline, as well as the the way in which adherents and dissenters argue. The biases, the reasoning, the logic, the conclusions, the presuppositions…they all play a big part in this kind of discourse, and I am more and more captivated by the “mind,” and how it works, processes information, and ultimately concludes facts, truth, observations, etc.,  in the context of the real world.

With that as my approach, I see Ida, not so much as a fossil of history, but in someways as the newest “modern relic” (yes, I see the oxymoronic nature of that statement), of a centuries old conversation. Okay, so Ida may be 47 million years old. Ida may be a “missing link” from a lower primate to a more advanced primate (eventually leading up to humans). Or, Ida could be “much ado about nothing,” as some have suggested, positing that we’ve not really discovered anything “new.” Rather, we’ve found just another “fossil.” That is, Ida is one of millions of fossils along the trail, and she happens to be another discovery of the past, telling us little about the transitional forms of prehistoric times.

Interpretation is everything, and what which interpretation we adhere to at early stages, tells us less about the facts, and more about our biases.

So, regardless, my hope is that NG and others would quell their enthusiasm for stirring the hornet’s nest of cultural discourse for the sake of ratings, that scientists would continually strive for objectivity and admit their biases and interpretative lenses, and that people of faith would vigorously tame their continual lambasting of the science community. Now, I’m certain that Ida is only going to get more popular, and opinions will become more polarized. But I do still hold out hope that science and faith, religion and reason, can actually find common ground in a driving ethic that permeates both; the continual change that happens over time to redeem the past and adapt for a better future.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Posted in: Culture, Science