Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Missing Link" puzzle solved!

By now most of the televised and wired world knows about "Ida," the cat-sized, lemur-like, 47 million year-old primate fossil that had its grand unveiling on Tuesday. Google celebrated the event on Wednesday with a special logo, and then the story behind the hyped headline unfolded:

Found 25 years ago in a volcanic crater outside Frankfurt, Germany, the little fossil was at first thought to be... a little fossil. No big deal. But after being bought and sold a few times, it was then "studied in secret" by the University of Oslo. Finally, the "scientific community" was ready to make its grand pronouncement.

But even at TEDblog, where science-minded eggheads hang out after watching highbrow lectures to discuss them in intelligent detail, the story's been met as a lot of hype and possible hooey. Why? Because the details are skimpy. The fossil indicates that the critter had opposable thumbs and forward-facing eyes, and that it walked upright. But if it walks like a lemur and talks like a lemur... well, WB has never met any human being who looks like a lemur, with the possible exception of actor John Malkovich.

And frankly, when we first saw the photo of little fossilized Ida, we thought we detected something familiar about the posture, the curved spine, the long fingers, the outstretched hands. Launching our own "study in secret," we quickly came to a conclusion. Ida the fossilized lemur isn't the mother of the whole human race, but she is the grandmother of Nosferatu, the vampire.

(We were going to say Sylvester the cat from the cartoons, or Wile E. Coyote, but everyone knows that those are make-believe characters, and this is science we're talking about, to be treated with respect.)

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