Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Famous Ida fossil cast to go on display at Natural History Museum

Ida’s life-size fossil cast is on display at the Natural History Museum from today: Ida at the Natural History Museum. The 47-million-year-old fossil caused a sensation last week when researchers from the University of Oslo suggested Darwinius masillae could be our earliest human ancestor. Museum palaeontologists are excited about the fact that the fossil is so complete - the fur impressions and remains of its last meal in its gut let scientists reconstruct its lifestyle as well as learn much more about a very early stage in primate evolution.

However, that the fossil has been the subject of much media attention has also raised eyebrows. The fossil was actually discovered two years ago and has been the subject of a high-profile media campaign that includes documentaries and a website to accompany the official celebrity 'unveiling' in New York. The Times this week published an article criticising the hype: The dangerous link between science and hype. And the Guardian similarly highlights the auspicious occasion: To get a glimpse of Ida fossil, the media make monkeys of themselves.

What are your thoughts? Has the science been eclipsed by the media machine? Or has it been great publicity for palaeontology and science research in general?

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