As I’ve mentioned before, Lucy is going to be in Houston at the end of this week for an extended stay. This is not entirely a joyous occasion in the scientific community: many people, including Richard Leakey, are not happy that such a precious specimen has been subjected to the risks of travel. I sympathize. The bones of Lucy must be treated with the utmost care and regard, and any loss or damage would be an awful tragedy. However, there’s more to it than preserving an important fossil: Lucy is a touchstone to our past and is a symbol of the importance of our long history. We need to bring the ancient world to life for our citizens, and for not entirely rational reasons, people will want to see the real thing. I see that someone else shares my sentiment:
There is a wanton arrogance alive and kicking within the general scientific community. An arrogance that clings stubbornly to fact while at the same time stridently denying reality. And it pisses me the hell off. The facts in this case are clear: Lucy is one of the oldest hominid fossils ever discovered, and is very valuable for researchers. The reality of the situation is equally clear-cut, if a bit harder for the critics to swallow: Nobody gives a shit about replicas. Does it look the same? Sure. Can 99.9 percent of the population not tell the difference? You betcha. Does that matter? Not one iota. You see, for all the cranial capacity human beings have developed since little Lucy made do with a glob of gray matter the size of a key lime, we are not rational thinkers. Homo sapiens are, first and foremost, irrational and emotional.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it arrogance, but there is a little selfishness to it, and most importantly, there’s a deep appreciation of the importance of that long-dead individual and a greater fear of its loss. What balances that fear, though, should be the recognition that other people could also stand to learn to love that tiny scrap of our long-past ancestry — the Lucy exhibit is an opportunity to teach.
Shouldn’t that be part of our mission? In addition to our own intimate learning of science, the task of sharing it with everyone else?