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Earth Science

Ancient Fossil Offers Clues To Primate Evolution 311

langelgjm sends in an update to a story we discussed over the weekend about an extremely well-preserved fossil of an ancient primate, Darwinius masillae, that sheds light on an important area of evolution. The 47 million-year-old specimen has now been officially unveiled, and while many media outlets are stumbling over themselves with phrases like "missing link" and "holy grail," it's clearly a very impressive find. "Discovered two years ago, the exquisitely preserved specimen is not a direct ancestor of monkeys and humans, but hints at what such an ancestor might have looked like. According to researchers, 'The specimen has an unusual history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the fossil record.' The scientific article describing the find was published yesterday in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PLoS ONE. Google's home page is also celebrating the find with a unique image." Science blogger Brian Switek offers some criticism of the academic paper and the media swarm, saying, "I would have hoped that this fossil would receive the care and attention it deserves, but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel. Indeed, this association may not have only presented overblown claims to the public, but hindered good science, as well."
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Ancient Fossil Offers Clues To Primate Evolution

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  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:39AM (#28024569)

    ... says it's a hoax. Any takers?

    Actually, even if not, the circumstances are now rather dubious. Hopefully it hasn't been damaged in the course of it being sold in two parts and shipped around in private hands.

  • Give it a rest (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Azghoul ( 25786 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:46AM (#28024631) Homepage

    Oh noes! People made money off it!! Science was "hindered"!

    Please. Any hindrance is temporary (47 million years old and it's been a couple more years! Avast!!) and the fossil getting this much attention can only help the cause - money pouring into the area isn't a bad thing either unless you really like staying a poor researcher.

  • by Poobar ( 1558627 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:10AM (#28024875)
    Interesting New Scientist blog: [] They seem to make two main points- firstly that the whole thing is degenerating into hype, but more interestingly that there wasn't a big debate here anyway. Yes, it's a missing link, but it's one that all rational people knew must have existed somewhere. It hasn't ignited debate between creationists and evolutionists, for the reason that they don't really debate each other anymore- at least not in scientific circles.
  • by TheHerk ( 1521205 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:13AM (#28024921)
    I'd say so. Saying you saw one, if you didn't would be just as asinine as saying god spoke to you. This is likely the case.
  • by someSnarkyBastard ( 1521235 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:32AM (#28025183)

    Which would you consider more noble, ethics that I follow because I have decided that it is genuinely the right and proper thing to do by my own reasoning, or ethics that I follow because I am afraid of being punished for my transgressions in either this or the next life? I'd argue the former; an ethical system that derives its power from fear of the whip is not an ethical system at all, its slavish servitude.

  • by DriedClexler ( 814907 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:49AM (#28025447)

    Honestly, the only reason anyone ought to care what a politician thinks about creationism is if they decide what's taught in public schools. This is almost always a state matter. Your U.S. Congressman has bunk to do with it.

    Ah, yes, thanks for reminding us about the theory of federalism [], on which our governing system is ostensibly based.

    Now I'm going to explain to you how it works in the real world.

    In the real world, the national government has become intimately involved in decisions at the state and local level, well beyond its enumerated powers. If nothing else, federal funding of local education has enabled it to threaten states with, "Don't want to do what we tell you? Then kiss your funding goodbye."

    Yes, the federal government does have significant control over what can be taught in public schools. Why do you think the Supreme Court ever rules on cirriculum issues? Why don't federal judges respond to all such lawsuits that make it to their level by saying, "Meh, state matter, go away"?

    So please don't act like Congressmen are powerless over what's taught in public schools.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:04AM (#28025691) Journal

    Really? It's likely that Dennis is lying about seeing a flying object he couldn't identify? Because that is all he said. Didn't say aliens, didn't say anything except that it was flying, it was an object, and he couldn't identify it. Only people looking for an excuse to dismiss Kucinich give that story any credence.

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:29PM (#28027069) Journal

    Just out of curiosity, would you say the same thing about physical attributes?

    ie, are Asians and Europeans just as capable of certain African peoples of sprinting or long distance running?

    have different levels of "intelligence" (a culturally defined and therefore biased concept)

    Ridiculously silly.

    For example, we saw the same abject poverty in Europe during the Middle Ages, for cultural reasons that are well known

    I think you need to learn your history a little better. You're discussing myths and falsehoods, which makes whatever your beliefs about some "cultural" reasons utterly irrelevant.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @01:15PM (#28027843) Journal

    You are quoting a story from an 'Extraterrestrial Politics' site? Seriously? Don't you think they might be a little biased?

    Shirley McClain is a left wing loon. I would take anything she says with a huge grain of salt. Here's a transcript of the question Russert asked:

    RUSSERT: Shirley MacLaine writes in her new book that you sighted a UFO over her home in Washington state, that you found the encounter extremely moving, that it was a triangular craft, silent and hovering, that you felt a connection to your heart and heard directions in your mind. Now, did you see a UFO?

    KUCINICH: Uh, I did. And the rest of the account. It was an unidentified flying object, OK? It's like, it's unidentified. I saw something. Now, to answer your question. I'm moving my, and I'm also going to move my campaign office to Roswell, New Mexico, and another one in Exeter, New Hampshire, OK? And also, you have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO, and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush's presidency.

    I stand by my position that this is being blown out of proportion by people who don't agree with Kucinich's politics.

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @01:15PM (#28027845) Journal

    I don't mean to make morality simple but to simply illustrate that to base ones moral compass solely on the threat of a supreme being is ludicrous at best.

    Yes, and as I said, I don't think anybody in the world has a moral compass that is 100% from religious belief and 0% from their own personal thoughts. Again, if you can give me some examples of people who have no moral compass separate from religion, I'd be interested in seeing/reading about that...I just don't believe they exist.

    In fact, the point you make in your first para--for instance, looking at morality of actions in Christian society's in the past offers a perfect example of this. SOME morality may derive from Christianity, but other does not. Other parts change.

    I think any theologian today (and most in the past) would argue that the bible is not a book of rules. That's why christians don't keep kosher (and this was an "innovation" in morality VERY early on in the history of Christianity). The new testament is largely a group of moral teachings and lessons. Leave out the mystical crap like revelations (as Thomas Jefferson did in his red letter bible) and you have moral teachings that are standalone if you will. Actually, the Red Letter bible might be interesting to you (I mean interesting in the sense that it exists, not that you should read it and be enlightened :-P) -- Jefferson went through and got rid of the mystical junk, the miracles, even God, and what was left was the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus as a man.

    Despite what many people in these comments have claimed, morality is NOT simple and it is NOT full of black and white simple decisions. We need all the help we can get...this, IMHO, is why we have philosophers and religions.

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:43PM (#28034051) Journal

    Nice straw man. I never claimed the brain is exempt from these.

    Ok, if you didn't, then cool--that makes up a lot of what I disagreed with. Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant when you claimed that culture causes intelligence--I took that as meaning intelligence has no heritability. Glad we agree on that point after all.

    p.s. I still don't understand:

    For example, we saw the same abject poverty in Europe during the Middle Ages, for cultural reasons that are well known.

    That makes race a purely cultural concept.

    Yes, race IS a cultural concept. I would not argue that point. I think I've been pretty clear in the last couple points about mentioning "certain African peoples" etc rather than saying "Blacks." As an example, using the example of Kenyan marathoners, most of the marathoners come from a small area of Kenya, and many are of same tribes. Tribes due to inbreeding are probably as closely as you can be related and not striclty be talking about families. "African" may not mean much, but when you look at the performance of sprinters and marathoners, it's hard to argue that many people of direct African descent dominate the scene.

    I think you might be implying that brainpower is purely genetically or "racially" determined.

    No, not at all. Let me put it this way--I don't believe people are getting smarter..well, maybe in some ways, but that's slow evolutionary change. I don't believe that we are in anyways smarter than people 2000 years ago, 4000 years ago, etc. 20,000 years ago? We might be smarter than them, hard to say. We're most definitely smarter than our ancestors of 100,000 years ago, etc.

    Is intelligence genetically determined? IMHO (as far as I know, the science is still largely up the air), yes--with a but. The but is of course your genes give you a potential, doesn't mean you have to fulfill it. How many people with Michael Phelps' body would train hard enough to do what he did? How many people with Einstein's brain would do what he did? Difficult to say. I definitely believe genetics play a large part.

    The point is, IQ, SAT, all these tests you keep talking about, they measure something, but it's open to interpretation as to what they measure. That's why I said you maybe have a point about SAT. Beyond that, when I said "brainpower is brainpower" what I meant is there are smart people, smarter people, and stupid people (and millions of variants in between). I believe in something called intelligence that is perhaps not universally quantifiable in a test, but that exists nonetheless.

    Is "race" a genetically insignificant factor? Perhaps. The issue is that "race" and "skin color" are all most people think about. In reality there are basically clusters of somewhat related people. Is there a "Black" race or an "Asian" or a "White" race? -- absolutely not. The difference between your average East African and your average West African or South African can be huge. Ditto East European and North European, etc.

    The modern world with all the movement and intermingle will completely undermine the concept of race in no time.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde