The news media has been awash this week in hype over an alleged missing link fossil nicknamed Ida. As it turns out, the fossil wasn’t fraudulent, but the hype definitely was.
For only the second time that we can remember, the same science story has headlined News to Note more than one week in a row (the other time was the hullabaloo over the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth earlier this year).
Last week we reported on the lemur-like Darwinius masillae fossil—at that time, essentially just a rumor. Then, on Tuesday of this week, the purported “missing link” fossil was unveiled to the public by the New York City mayor, of all people.
The unveiling was set to coincide with the publication of a paper on the fossil in the journal PLoS One. But that was just the start. A well-coordinated effort simultaneously flooded media outlets, promoting not so much the fossil (nicknamed “Ida”) and the paper, but the major book and television documentary that had been produced for public consumption.
In effect, many of the early reports (Sky News carried one) were little more than advertisements for the documentary using the pre-fabricated quotes provided by the documentary backers at revealingthelink.com and offering no critical commentary. The Answers in Genesis librarian reported that as of Wednesday morning, more than 630 online news sites had covered the fossil. Search engine Google even became swept up in the hype, changing their search page banner image to show Ida. The fossil was also showcased on ABC–TV’s Good Morning America Wednesday morning.
Other journalists weren’t so credulous, however, and soon reports appeared quoting scientists who challenged both the ostentatious conclusions of the Ida researchers and the scientific procedure behind the paper.
As for Answers in Genesis, we posted a preliminary report on Ida on Tuesday, amid the media hubbub. In Ida (Darwinius masillae): the Missing Link at Last? we reviewed the fossil as a whole, including what supposedly made it a “missing link.” We also reminded readers of how fossils do not show evolution; rather, the presupposition of evolution is used to interpret fossils. AiG cofounder Ken Ham was quoted by a number of media sources, from OneNewsNow to the Washington Times.
Our paleontological conclusion now is the same as our conclusion then, which in turn was the same we had posited in last week’s News to Note: “it was a small, tailed, probably tree-climbing, and now extinct primate—from a kind created on Day 6 of Creation Week.” Perhaps not a lemur per se, but clearly from the same created kind of Genesis 1.
The bigger story now is how so much of the media was irresponsibly caught up in the hype—and why there was a coordinated media effort in the first place. While the fossil is definitely not a fraud, it appears the hype was: the dramatic “missing link” conclusions presented to the public were not present in the scientific paper, having been removed during the peer review process. Our guess is that after paying an undisclosed but presumably significant sum for the fossil, the financial backers are demanding a high return on the documentary and book—hence the hype, such as comments like, “When our results are published, it will be just like an asteroid hitting the earth” (from study coauthor Jens Franzen, via the promotional website).
The Institute for Creation Research agrees: “[One of the scientists] purchased the fossil for an undisclosed sum from the dealer based on seeing only three photographs and not the actual fossil, a ‘huge gamble’ that suggests pressure to make some kind of return on the university’s investment.” The original asking price for the fossil was $1 million, though it was found by amateurs back in 1983.
Even one of the paper coauthors admitted, “There was a TV company involved and time pressure. We’ve been pushed to finish the study. It's not how I like to do science.” That same author noted that the team would have preferred to publish in a more rigorous journal than PLoS One.
Instead, the better journalists and more skeptical scientists responded in just the opposite way, accusing the study authors of “cherry picking” which facts to highlight. “It’s not a missing link, it’s not even a terribly close relative to monkeys, apes and humans, which is the point they’re trying to make,” said Chris Beard, a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He added, “I would be absolutely dumbfounded if it turns out to be a potential ancestor to humans.”
That’s just one of the sharp rebuttals to the supposed “missing link”—we published a list of many such responses in Ida (Darwinius masillae): the Real Story of this “Scientific Breakthrough”. Given the criticism evolutionists have already offered of this missing link claim, there’s little more we need to add. The fossil is real (and remarkably well preserved, as we pointed out in our initial article), but the hype of this being a missing link is a hoax.
Is this “super rat” an example of evolution in action, or the result of an information-reducing mutation?
English rat-catchers have reported that their poisons have stopped working on some rats. The “super rats,” as they have been called, are said to have a new strand of DNA that allows them to resist anti-rat pesticides.
The Telegraph reports that there may now be some 80 million rats in Britain, more than triple the number in 2007. “New” (or, more accurately, more “traditional”) measures have been taken to fight the rats, such as animal traps, dogs, and even air rifles. The British Pest Control Association has requested the government approve more powerful pesticides for outdoor use as well.
“Natural selection means that when you have a rat population in your town, poison will kill the ones that aren’t resistant, the ones that survive may have the gene, they then have babies who can receive the gene themselves,” said the University of Huddersfield’s Robert Smith. His explanation of the workings of natural selection is accurate; he goes on to say, “There are mutations and changes in their DNA that alter the ability of rats to deal with these poisons.”
So is this really a case of evolution adding genetic information to an organism, thus allowing the rats to be resistant? Paul Taylor of AiG–U.K. responded to the claim with a web article earlier this week: Super Rats “Evolving” in Britain.
For the first time in Gallup polling history, more Americans identify themselves as “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”
The poll, based on a survey of 1,015 U.S. adults, indicated that 51 percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-life compared to 42 percent identifying as pro-choice. This is a dramatic change from 1995, the first year the question was asked, in which 56 percent identified as pro-choice compared to only 33 percent identifying as pro-life.
The results even mark a shift from 2008, when 50 percent of respondents identified as pro-choice, compared to 44 percent identifying as pro-life. Until this year’s poll, the highest tide of pro-life numbers was when the two camps were split evenly, with 46 percent apiece (in 2001).
Gallup also reported that extremists views at the two ends of the abortion rights spectrum have roughly equal numbers. Those who believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances stand at 22 percent, while those who believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances stand at 23 percent of respondents.
Other points of interest:
Interestingly, the pollsters conclude that the hard-line pro-choice stance of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has given no indication of compromise on the controversial issue, may be to blame for the increase in pro-life identification in the past year. Gallup’s Lydia Saad writes:
With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation’s policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans—and, in particular, Republicans—seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position. However, the retreat is evident among political moderates as well as conservatives.
It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public’s understanding of what it means to be “pro-choice” slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.
While the poll results are somewhat encouraging, it’s important to remember that opinions on the issue sway significantly from year to year based largely on variations among political moderates. Also, the poll clearly shows that abortion remains a controversial topic, with nearly a quarter of respondents still holding to the unconscionable view that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
It’s what Charles Darwin called an “abominable mystery” and what ScienceDaily says “scientists have yet to solve”: the origin of flowering plants.
Scientists from the University of Florida have been exploring the origin of the flower: that incredible, beautiful collection of organs in some plants that is used for reproduction. The university’s Andre Chanderbali, lead author on a new study about the origin of flowers, states: “There was nothing like them before and nothing like them since.” The press release adds, “The flower is one of the key innovations of evolution.”
Looking at the genetic structures of two “vastly different” flowering plants, Arabidopsis thaliana, an advanced angiosperm (with four organ types in its flower), and Persea americana, a basal angiosperm (having only three organ types and considered to be from an “older lineage”), the researchers discovered that the unique parts of the Persea flowers have “significant [genetic] overlap.” To the researchers, that’s evidence that flower of Persea is “a genetic fossil.”
Evolution-believing scientists believe angiosperms developed from gymnosperms (mostly coniferous plants), with the uniqueness and complexity of the unique flower parts increasing over time. Eventually, hypothesizes Stanford University biologist Virginia Walbot, natural selection resulted in a “narrow solution in terms of four discrete organs but with fantastic diversity of organ numbers, shapes and colors that provide the defining phenotypes of each flowering plant species.”
Is this evidence for evolution? The connection between gymnosperms and angiosperms (flowering plants) is entirely an interpretation. Chanderbali vaguely states, “Although the organs are developing to ultimately become different things, from a genetic developmental perspective, they share much more than you would expect. As you go back in time, the borders fade to a blur.” This generalization does not tell us how mutations could have increased the genetic information to turn cones into the specific anatomies and functions of flowers. This is like saying that a supposedly “ancient” bird with overlapping genetic information in its different types of feathers proves that dinosaurs evolved into birds—a non sequitur. Instead, the “ancient” flower could be akin to the first created canines, from whom descended all the diversity of dogs we see today. The diversity is a result of natural selection reducing the information in individual dogs (or flowers), exactly the opposite of what organisms would need to evolve.
An astronaut testifies to the dramatic beauty of our planet—and, indirectly, to the unique habitability our planet offers.
Spacewalking astronaut Michael Massimino has been on board Space Shuttle Atlantis during its latest space flight (a mission to the Hubble Space Telescope). Massimino had these remarks on the beauty of earth:
I felt like I was almost looking at a secret . . . that humans weren’t supposed to see this. This is not anything you’re supposed to see. It’s too beautiful. There’re no words to describe how beautiful things are out there. So I like to describe what was going through my mind at the time.
Speaking of his first-ever look to earth on a spacewalk (back in 2002), the astronaut described:
It was a day pass and I could view the Earth very clearly. It was right there. And my first reaction was to look away from it. That it was so beautiful, people weren’t supposed to see it. I actually turned my head. I thought, I’m not supposed to be looking at this. This was too much to see. It was like looking into absolute paradise.
For we masses who have not had the opportunity to view our planet from above (or below, since directions become somewhat meaningless in orbit!), Massimino’s words give us a small glimpse at the emotional power of seeing the beauty of earth amid the desolation of space. While earth certainly is not paradise (any longer), its habitability is an important evidence for the Creator’s design. Perhaps Massimino, knowingly or not, caught the tiniest fraction of a fraction of a glimpse of what God saw in Genesis 1:12 after He had created..
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, New York Times or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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