“Missing link” or media stink?

A newly discovered fossil is more of a case of media malfeasance than an actual missing link. Hyped as the “missing link in human evolution,” the monkey-like Darwinias received a blizzard of media coverage. It was even the Google logo the other day. However, when Carl Zimmer could not find commentary on the fossil from experts not involved in the research*, he made some old-fashioned phone calls and discovered that experts considered most of the evidence in the paper to be “old news.” Today, Zimmer posted a timeline of terribly bungled science hype.

So, to recap: it appears that both PLOS and Atlantic Productions did not give journalists any time to consult with outside experts before launching a major press conference with a huge blitz of media attention. In other words, science writers who were trying to do their job well and responsibly were actively hindered. Those who declared ridiculous things, such as claiming that human origins were now solved once and for all, were not.

I have a hard time even imagining how this behavior could be justified. I’ve sent emails to the contacts listed in the PLOS press release on Darwinius both at PLOS and Atlantic Productions to ask why they took this course of action.

It’s disappointing that such big science news has turned out to be mostly hot air. We don’t get the limelight all that often, and it’s a pity that PLoS squandered it.

Of course, Piled Higher and Deeper said it best.

* Corrected re: Carl’s comment below. Original sentance said that Carl was “unable to get a copy of the peer-reviewed research.”

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6 Responses to “Missing link” or media stink?

  1. Carl Zimmer says:

    Thanks for the post. Just a quick clarification–it was Ann Gibbons of Science who had trouble getting the paper. I got the paper after PLOS sent out a press release with a pdf link. My frustration was with the lack of outside comments on the fossil. That’s when I picked up the phone.

  2. Sorry about that, Carl – it’s fixed now. And thanks for the great coverage of this story!

  3. Greg says:

    what’s PLOS?

  4. Public Library of Science, the open-access journal in which the fossil description was published.

  5. dart news says:

    I could have ever understood why someone has dealt so qualifierly with this effect. Now give up to me full circle. Genuinely interesting your thesis. Although my English language is not so skillful, your post I can understand. Keep up the Sun.

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