I almost told you so…

by webmaster on October 22, 2009

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but I did think at the time that there was something unsettling about the way in which Ida was launched on an unsuspecting world five months ago as the ‘missing link’.
In fact when I first saw the images of the fossil lying prone in the ground I was reminded of the Simpsons episode where the fossilised skeleton of an angel is found – only to be eventually revealed as a marketing ploy for a new store. Now, before Mr Hurum’s lawyers get busy, let me state that I never thought that this had been planted for fradulent purposes: I believed as all others did where it had come from; was astonished as others were at how Mr Hurum had come by it (for those of you that don’t remember, he bought it for $1m in a vodka bar – it must have been an even more expensive bar than those you find in parts of Dublin city if he was carrying such cash around with him); and was slightly uncomfortable at the way in which it was covered, particularly by TV – I won’t go into that again (see earlier post Sexy Science & Ida on the BBC).
I am beginning to wonder though about the validity of either of the claims about Ida. I mean the original one that she was the missing link, and the new one that says if she is a missing link then it’s to a lemur or loris rather than to us. Isn’t that what we have peer reviewed research for?
The original story had two years of research behind it and was published in PLoS ONE, the open access online only scientific journal, which is peer reviewed. The new research is published in Nature, again peer reviewed. Does peer in this case simply mean someone who agrees with your findings?
I’m not the first one to question how good peer review is of course, but while we will all enjoy the inevitable fight between the two groups of palaeontologists that will ensue, we should look more closely at how two peer reviewed publications could provide such diverse opinions on the same material.

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