By Jeremy Manier
One of the best chroniclers of last week’s hyping of the 47 million-year-old Darwinius masillae fossil has been Carl Zimmer, the talented science writer and New York Times contributor, who detailed the overheated publicity campaign here, here and here. (Our own Jerry Coyne’s blog has also been on the case.) Carl found that the scientific paper had been withheld from most science journalists until the start of the press conference unveiling the find – an awful strategy if the goal was to get informed and nuanced coverage, but not so bad as a way of generating buzz for the uncannily timed book and History Channel special. Carl concluded:
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.
That astute analysis made it all the more jarring today when I checked out the print edition of the Science Times, where Carl’s fine work often appears, and found a prominent, section-front ad for the Darwinius book, titled “The Link.” The ad claims breathlessly, “The History of Evolution Has Just Been Rewritten,” calling Darwinius “our earliest ancestor,” and predicting, “she’s about to change everything we know about the origins of humanity.”
To be clear, reporters like Carl Zimmer bear no responsibility for the ads that a publication like The New York Times chooses to run. Yet the irony here is pretty thick. Carl painstakingly traces and helps debunk the overblown claims being made for this nice fossil, only to see his employer provide a prominent forum for those very claims on the front of the Science Times.
The least they could do is give Carl equal space to rebut his own paper’s ad.