From Lydia Pyne at Ars Technica:
Forty years after she was discovered, Lucy, the world’s most famous fossil australopithecine, just might have a cause of death. In August of this year, a team of paleoanthropologists led by John Kappelman argued in Nature that Lucy died 3.2 million years ago by falling out of a tree. Their conclusion has been met with skepticism among fellow researchers, and Lucy’s death-by-tree-fall hypothesis has generated no shortage of debate within the scientific community of paleoanthropology.
Doubts about whether ancient hominin Lucy fell to her death 3.18 million years ago
But there’s a takeaway here that’s more significant than the study’s conclusion—this study’s approach to sharing data with the scientific community and the public at large. In a move that is in keeping with the growing trend across paleoanthropology and other sciences to open up access to data, the study’s scientists have published CT scans of Lucy’s tibia, femur, humerus, and scapula—all bones they analyzed in their study. Now, they invite colleagues, detractors, educators, and ardent fossil enthusiasts to download and print Lucy’s scans, encouraging audiences to “evaluate the hypothesis for themselves.” More.
Curiously, Pyne worries,
There seems to be a growing sense that, yes, “open access” is “good” because it lets researchers accomplish and share so much science. This commitment is breaking down barriers within and beyond the scientific community by allowing more researchers to access fossil data in a timelier manner without having to have the “blessing” or “permission” of those who collected it. But just how the open access of fossils ought to be achieved is still very much a work in progress. Simply saying that scientists should “open everything up” as a standard practice remains disingenuous for now, because that line of thought dismisses the complexity of the social and cultural life of data this community continues to work through.
Okay, but how much of that complexity has been created by lack of transparency? It’s not “disingenuous” to want to just turn on the lights. Pyne agrees, however, that the change is largely for the good.
But one wonders whether the 3-D printing of Lucy’s skeleton will find its way into some really tacky interior decor. There has got to something unethical about that.
See also: Do newly discovered oldest footprints demonstrate that hominin “males” had several “‘wives’”?
Researcher: “Lucy” died falling from tree
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The search for our earliest ancestors: signals in the noise
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