A hyped-up fossil find highlights the potential dangers of publicity machines.
Last week’s publication of paper describing a 47-million-year-old fossil primate with a remarkable degree of preservation (see http://tinyurl.com/oycvo8) prompted a trickle of news in The Daily Mail that quickly swelled to a flood of media coverage.
In normal circumstances, the interpretation of the specimen given in the paper (J. L. Franzen et al. PLoS ONE 4, e5723; 2009) would have been no more contentious than that of any other fossil primate, and a good deal less so than some.
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But the circumstances surrounding the paper’s publication were anything but normal. Before the paper had even been submitted to the journal, Atlantic, a production company based in New York, had commissioned a television documentary and an accompanying book about the find. Just a week after the paper appeared, the book has been published and the documentary has been aired on the History Channel in the United States, as well as Britain’s BBC and Norway’s NRK.
Uh, yeah. They may not have the science, but they sure have the spotlight.
Also, just up at The Post-Darwinist:
Darwinism and popular culture: “Brain glitches, not evidence, cause people to think there is design in life!”
Theistic evolution: New site challenges tenured Christian profs’ homage to atheism
Human evolution: Neanderthals as snacks?
Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy