Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I Knew Him When
Brian Switek of Laelaps and Dinosaur Tracking has hit the big(ger) time ... specifically, the London Times!
A little more than 55 million years ago there was a split in primate evolution. One branch contained the early relatives of lemurs and lorises, while the other was composed of the ancestors of tarsiers, monkeys, and apes (including us). Ida was an adapid, a group of primates placed on the lemur branch by many palaeontologists. But those who described her disagree; they claim that Ida brings the adapids closer to the ancestors of monkeys and apes.
But as my elementary school maths teachers drilled into my head, you cannot receive full credit for an answer unless you show your work. To resolve evolutionary relationships palaeontologists compare hundreds of traits across a wide array of related creatures and use computer analysis to create a hypothetical evolutionary tree. Ida's description, by contrast, compares only 30 traits (some of which cannot even be observed in Ida) with living primates. The evidence that Ida shares a closer kinship with us than with lemurs is simply not there. ...
If Ida does turn out be more closely related to lemurs than to humans, creationists may use the hype to paint evolutionary scientists as glory hounds who care more about publicity than accuracy. Ida would not be an "icon of evolution", as Dr Hurum hopes, but a public embarrassment that creationists would surely use to sow further doubt about evolution. Likening Ida to the Holy Grail and the Lost Ark only compounds the problem; creationists will undoubtedly argue that these metaphors reveal that evolution is a religion with its own holy relics.
Well done, Brian!