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May 28 2009

Look Who Made the London Times

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.

It’s a great article, and it’s wonderful to see him get the recognition he deserves. Pop on over and give Brian some love, then stay tuned for his upcoming Ida Carnival (contributions welcome).

Congratulations, Brian!


(Tip o’ the shot glass to John Pieret, who knew Brian when.)

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Laelaps

    Thanks! I am glad you have enjoyed all the posts. I have to admit I am a little tired of Ida, but I’ll work something else up for Monday (probably about the documentaries, which I will soon watch). Hopefully I will have some more big news to share in the not-too-distant future.

  2. 2
    Cujo359

    The term “missing link” is so common that there was a time when I actually thought this a particularly meaningful sort of find. As more than one biologist has observed, just about any fossil is a “missing link” of some sort. I wish journalists would catch on to this.

  3. 3
    Efrique

    Cujo – yes, in the sense that all fossils are transitional, because everything is evolving, yeah. But the term missing link is still misleading, leads to the notion of evolution having a goal and such; I’d rather it was never used.For the major finds like Tiktalik I think it would be better to say something along the lines of “a fish closely related to the last common ancestor between fish and amphibians”, since being close to a major branching point is a big deal – it helps flesh out what order changes came in, for example.

  4. 4
    Efrique

    Damn typo. Tiktaalik

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