Yes, my darlings, that’s right: Brian Switek his own self. He’s been doing some incredible work on Ida, putting her in proper perspective and exploring her true significance, and it’s awesome to see him get a prestigious venue from which to dial back the hype and teach folks a little something about how evolution really works:
There is some irony in calling Ida the missing link. She was named Darwinius in honour of Charles Darwin, but the phrase “missing link” harkens back to a pre-evolutionary idea of nature. Called the Great Chain of Being, this interpreted all life as forming an immutable hierarchy, ordained by God, from “lower” to “higher”. Scholars believed that God favoured a full creation and each rank connected to the next, but “missing links” presented a problem. The link between humans and lower animals was the most elusive of all.
Our understanding of evolution could scarcely be more different. There is no evolutionary end point or fore-ordained hierarchy of beasts. Life is better understood from Darwin’s perspective – as a wildly branching bush constantly being pruned and sending out new shoots through evolution. Calling Ida a missing link may grab attention, but it is incongruous with what Darwin proposed.
(Tip o’ the shot glass to John Pieret, who knew Brian when.)