Ida the Missing Link: The Link to What?

Question: Is “Ida” a “missing link”we have all been waiting for? Good to hear Mr Attenborough make statements like “we are no longer missing the “missing link” finally there is open and frank admission only noted when supposed link was discovered. Makes you wander what made them come to their conclusions they had previously without this evidence, was it strong physical evidence or their faith in abstract pre supposition?


Taken from: Answers in Genesis at

For all the headlines and proclamations, this “missing link” story includes an amazing amount of hot air.

A story we first previewed on May 16 has since rocketed to the heights of media hype as a team of scientists reveals “Ida,” the latest and greatest supposed missing link. But does Ida actually support “the evolution of early primates, and, ultimately, modern human beings,” as one news outlet reported?1

Another reporter raved, “The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years—but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.”2

Formally identified as Darwinius masillae (in honor of Charles Darwin), the fossil originated in Germany and is purportedly 47 million years old. One scientist gave the find the nickname Ida (after his daughter).

Darwinius masillae fossil

Atlantic Productions /

Despite the hype, Ida looks nothing like a transitional “apeman,” instead looking quite like a modern lemur.

As for a more level-headed explanation of the evolutionary excitement, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Anthropologists have long believed that humans evolved from ancient ape-like ancestors. Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today’s lemurs in Madagascar.

Based on previously limited fossil evidence, one big debate had been whether the tarsidae or adapidae group gave rise to monkeys, apes, and humans. The latest discovery bolsters the less common position that our ancient ape-like ancestor was an adapid, the believed precursor of lemurs.

Thus, rather than an apeman-like missing link that some media sources have irresponsibly implied, the real story is quite underwhelming and should in no way faze creationists. Let’s first review the facts:

  • The well-preserved fossil (95 percent complete, including fossilized fur and more) is about the size of a raccoon and includes a long tail. It resembles the skeleton of a lemur (a small, tailed, tree-climbing primate). The fossil does not resemble a human skeleton.
  • The fossil was found in two parts by amateur fossil hunters in 1983. It eventually made its way through fossil dealers to the research team.
  • Ida has opposable thumbs, which the ABC News article states are “similar to humans’ and unlike those found on other modern mammals” (i.e., implying that opposable thumbs are evidence of evolution). Yet lemurs today have opposable thumbs (like all primates). Likewise, Ida has nails, as do other primates. And the talus bone is described as “the same shape as in humans,” despite the fact that there are other differences in the ankle structure.3
  • Unlike today’s lemurs (as far as scientists know), Ida lacks the “grooming claw” and a “toothcomb” (a fused row of teeth) In fact, its teeth are more similar to a monkey’s. These are minor differences easily explained by variation within a kind.

Haven’t heard the real story of this supposed scientific breakthrough? Read the criticisms other evolutionists have made of the “missing link” claims and the science behind them.

Given these facts, it may seem incredible that anyone would hail this find as a “missing link.” Yet British naturalist David Attenborough claims:

“Now people can say, ‘Okay, you say we’re primates . . . show us the link.’ The link, they would have said until now, is missing. Well, it is no longer missing.”

Unbelievably, Attenborough claims his interpretation is “not a question of imagination.”


So-called “missing link” Ida hit the media in a major way on Tuesday of this week, with even search engine Google falling prey to the hype and modifying its search page banner to show Ida. We quickly responded with a full article, Ida: the Missing Link at Last?

Yet within a few hours of the unveiling of the fossil—coordinated to coincide with the publication of the scientific paper on Ida—some better media outlets began to report some worrying things about the research. It seems as though the scientific process had been rushed and the claims exaggerated in a bid to promote a new documentary and book on the fossil. Sadly, media pressures sometimes trump full research integrity (something we’ve seen before), and careless media sources reprint explosive (and unjustified) quotations without consulting as many scientists as they should. Thankfully, though, many in the scientific community are questioning the research and beginning to become more vocal about their concerns regarding how good science and media aren’t the best mix.

But don’t just take our word for it—read these amazing excerpts that reveal the Ida hype for what it truly is.

Jørn Hurum, at the University of Oslo, the scientist who assembled the international team of researchers to study Ida is relaxed about using the phrase [“missing link” to describe Ida]. “Why not? I think we could use that phrase for this kind of specimen,” he said. “[People] have a feeling that if something is important it is a missing link.”

[I]n the paper published in PLoS ONE from the Public Library of Science on the fossil [the author] is more circumspect. “Darwinius masillae is important in being exceptionally well-preserved and providing a much more complete understanding of the paleobiology of an Eocene primate than was available in the past,” the authors wrote.

“[The species] could represent a stem group from which later anthropoid primates evolved [the line leading to humans], but we are not advocating this here.”

The paper’s scientific reviewers asked that they tone down their original claims that the fossil was on the human evolutionary line.

One of those reviewers, Professor John Fleagle at Stony Brook University in New York state said that would be a judgment for the scientific community. “That will be sorted out or at least debated extensively in the coming years once the paper is published,” he said.

“Is Fossil Ida a Missing Link in Evolution?”
James Randerson, The Guardian, May 19, 2009

[D]espite a television teaser campaign with the slogan “This changes everything” and comparisons to the moon landing and the Kennedy assassination, the significance of this discovery may not be known for years. An article to be published on Tuesday in PLoS ONE, a scientific journal, will report more prosaically that the scientists involved said the fossil could be a “stem group” that was a precursor to higher primates, with the caveat, “but we are not advocating this.”

All of this seems a departure from the normal turn of events, where researchers study their subject and publish their findings, and let the media chips fall where they may.

“Seeking a Missing Link, and a Mass Audience”
Tim Arango, The New York Times, May 19, 2009

University of New England paleoanthropologist Peter Brown remains skeptical. He pointed to a story in the Weekend Australian in which one of [coauthor Jørn] Hurum’s coauthors, University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, said the team would have preferred to publish in a more rigorous journal such as Science or Nature.

Dr. Gingerich told the Wall Street Journal: “There was a TV company involved and time pressure. We’ve been pushed to finish the study. It’s not how I like to do science.”

“That rings all sorts of warning bells,” Professor Brown cautioned. He said that however it was prepared, the paper did not provide sufficient proof that Ida was the ancestral anthropoid.

“It’s nice it has fingernails, something we have, as do most primates . . . but they’ve cherry-picked particular character[istics] and they’ve been criticized (by other scientists) for doing that.”

“Scientists Divided on Ida as the Missing Link”
Leigh Dayton, The Australian, May 21, 2009

“On the whole I think the evidence is less than convincing,” said Chris Gilbert, a paleoanthropologist at Yale University. “They make an intriguing argument but I would definitely say that the consensus is not in favor of the hypothesis they’re proposing.” . . .

“The PR campaign on this fossil is I think more of a story than the fossil itself,” said anthropologist Matt Cartmill of Duke University in North Carolina. “It’s a very beautiful fossil, but I didn’t see anything in this paper that told me anything decisive that was new.”

Most experts agree that the find is significant, if only for its impressive degree of completeness, but some were put off by the bells and whistles that went along with the publicity campaign around Ida. . . .

“It’s not a missing link, it’s not even a terribly close relative to monkeys, apes and humans, which is the point they’re trying to make,” [Carnegie Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology Chris] Beard said.

“Amid Media Circus, Scientists Doubt ‘Ida’ Is Your Ancestor
Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience, May 20, 2009

Many paleontologists are unconvinced. They point out that Hurum and Gingerich’s analysis compared 30 traits in the new fossil with primitive and higher primates when standard practice is to analyze 200 to 400 traits and to include anthropoids from Egypt and the newer fossils of Eosimias from Asia, both of which were missing from the analysis in the paper. “There is no phylogenetic analysis to support the claims, and the data is cherry-picked,” says paleontologist Richard Kay . . . of Duke University. Callum Ross, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois agrees: “Their claim that this specimen should be classified as haplorhine is unsupportable in light of modern methods of classification.”

Other researchers grumble that by describing the history of anthropoids as “somewhat speculatively identified lineages of isolated teeth,” the PLoS paper dismisses years of new fossils. “It’s like going back to 1994,” says paleontologist K. Christopher Beard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who has published jaw, teeth, and limb bones of Eosimias. “They’ve ignored 15 years of literature.”

“‘Revolutionary’ Fossil Fails to Dazzle Paleontologists”
Ann Gibbons, ScienceNOW, May 19, 2009

Science is supposed to be methodical, and usually it is, sometimes to the point of being dull. But there are times when a little hoopla is called for. Major discoveries that rewrite the textbooks deserve big headlines and ubiquitous media coverage and lots of scientific slaps on the back and all that.

The discovery of the “Ida” fossil, announced this week as though the 47-million-year-old lemur-like female were a rock star, seemed at first like one to celebrate.

Today we know better. . . . [T]here are doubts about whether [humans are] really descended from Ida. Problem is, most of the coverage is done, and the public could be left with the impression that Ida is a rock-solid missing link in the human evolutionary chain. . . .

“It’s not a missing link, it’s not even a terribly close relative to monkeys, apes and humans, which is the point they’re trying to make,” said Chris Beard, a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. . . .

The debacle started to unfold when the finding, cloaked in secrecy while a media engine was being primed, leaked out in The Wall Street Journal, and then in London’s Daily Mail. Then The New York Times wrote about the media circus that was to ensue. All this was published before anyone but the research team (and its tightly controlled media team) knew the details of the finding. . . .

Ida’s unveiling was highly scripted (with some “Barnum and Bailey aspects,” said paleontologist Richard Kay of Duke University). More important, it can now be said the findings may well have been significantly overstated. We won’t know for sure until further research is done. But if this event causes the public to distrust science and media, that distrust is well placed.

“Ida Fossil Hype Went Too Far”
Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience, May 20, 2009

Dr Chris Beard, curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and author of The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey, said he was “awestruck” by the publicity machine surrounding the new fossil. . . .

But he added: “I would be absolutely dumbfounded if it turns out to be a potential ancestor to humans.”

“Scientists Hail Stunning Fossil”
Christine McGourty, BBC News, May 19, 2009


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