Science Held Hostage

By Carl Zimmer | May 21, 2009 1:55 pm

darwinius220.jpgSometimes big movie production companies decide that they’d be better off not showing a movie in advance to the critics. They know that the reviews would probably do more harm than good. Looking back on the the Darwinius affair, I’m starting to wonder if the unveiling of this fossil was stage-managed in the same way.

I only started looking into the story after observing all the bizarre publicity around it. And as I’ve probed this strange media event, I’ve gotten some interesting information from reporters who were on the Darwinius beat. It makes for a disturbing timeline:

May 10: The Daily Mail gets wind of the fossil and the show that will be broadcast about it.

Ann Gibbons, a Science correspondent, wants to get her hands on the paper.  “I struggled in vain all last week to get a copy of the article,” she emailed me this morning. PLOS will not give her the paper, which will not be published until May 19, the same day as a major press conference on the fossil.

May 15: The Wall Street Journal gets a fairly long interview with one of the co-authors of the Darwinius paper (who apparently thought the conversation was off the record)

May 16: Gibbons, having failed to get the paper from PLOS, convinces the producers of the the documentary on  Darwinius, Atlantic Productions, to give it to her. In order to get it, she signs a non-disclosure form agreeing not to show it to anyone until 10:30 am on May 19, the day of the press conference. But she does not get the paper until Monday.

May 18: Gibbons finally gets the paper Monday afternoon, the day before the press conference. But she cannot show it to any experts due to her non-disclosure agreement.

May 19: At 10:40 am, I (and many other reporters) get a press release from PLOS about Darwinius. The press release has a link that lets us download the paper, and there is no embargo on it. In other words, we can start writing about it right away. But the email arrives right before the press conference at the American Museum of Natural History where Darwinius is unveiled to a swarm of reporters. The web is almost immediately flooded with reports on Darwinius, based only on the press conference.

As the day progresses, I am puzzled by the lack of outside commentary in articles on Darwinius. The articles I encounter only have quotes from the co-authors of the paper saying how important it is, and television producers telling us how this is going to change everything. (On a related note, the sky is still blue today.)

Not realizing the kind of constraints reporters like Gibbons were under, I decide to get in touch with experts myself and see what they think. Short answer: cool fossil, not a “missing link,” and a paper with some shortcomings.

In the comments section of my own post, AP science reporter Malcolm Ritter had this to say today:

As the reporter who covered this story for The Associated Press, I’d like to point out two things: 1. Major journals generally make upcoming papers available to reporters a few days ahead of publication so we can get independent comment for our stories. But PLoS ONE withheld the Darwinius paper until 10 minutes after the Hurum press conference began (judging by the time stamp on the PLoS email to me). So reporters had nothing to show outside experts to solicit some perspective before Hurum et al. started talking. 2. Carl, you said you never found a news story that had comments from independent experts. I’m not sure when you checked, but my story quoting both Beard and Fleagle went out at 4:40 p.m. (It replaced a preliminary version that I’d written off the press conference. I’d contacted both men beforehand an arranged to speak after we’d all seen the paper).

Indeed, by the time Malcolm updated his article, I had given up hope of finding comments from indepentent experts and was doing my own blogging. I apologize for implicitly kicking dirt on the work of Ritter and other diligent journalists.

So, to recap: it appears that both PLOS and Atlantic Productions did not give journalists any time to consult with outside experts before launching a major press conference with a huge blitz of media attention. In other words, 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.

I have a hard time even imagining how this behavior could be justified. I’ve sent emails to the contacts listed in the PLOS press release on Darwinius both at PLOS and Atlantic Productions to ask why they took this course of action.

I’ve yet to get a response.

Update #1: This article in the Australian was brought to my attention after I published this post, with quite a quote from co-author Phil Gingerich:

“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.”

Update #2: Peter Binfield from PLOS has responded:

I am the Managing Editor of PLoS ONE. This paper was originally submitted to us on March 19th 2009 and underwent appropriate scrutiny by an Academic Editor (named on the published article) and three expert peer reviewers. Peer review comments were returned to the authors who revised their paper accordingly and the paper was ultimately accepted on May 12th 2009. These dates are available on the paper itself.

Once the paper was accepted we made a strenuous effort to publish the article in time for the Press Conference which was happening on May 19th – only a week later. We were not involved in the Press Conference, but felt it was clearly in the public interest to have the article publicly available in time for that conference. Our production team managed to get the article published more than two weeks quicker than normal, so that it would be ready for the 19th. However, it was only on the afternoon of the 18th May that we knew the paper would definitely be available in time and until that point, no final copy of the paper was available.

We do regularly help PLoS ONE authors with the distribution of press releases under an embargo, as do many other journals, but when we do this we only ever issue that information on a date that is acceptable to the authors. The authors of this paper requested that we did not issue a press release, or reveal any other information about this paper, until 10.30 EST on the 19th May (the time of the press conference). We respected their wishes, and at the time of publication also issued our own press release about this article.

We are delighted to have published this work, which has clearly captured the imagination and attention of researchers, the media and the public. The paper has been discussed, scrutinized, praised and criticized, and is a terrific example of why open access to research is so beneficial.

I’m curious what scientists, journal editors, reporters, and other readers think of Binfield’s response. Other prominent journals don’t leave these matters up to the scientists (or their television producer pals). They inform the scientists of which issue a paper is scheduled for, and they put the paper on a press list a few days earlier.

Now, I know that PLoS ONE is unusual in a lot of ways. For one thing, they don’t reject papers for not being of sufficient importance. They state, “Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership (who are the most qualified to determine what is of interest to them).” But does that mean they should also go along with an embargo from their authors that hinders good reporting on the papers?

In any case, I have yet to hear from the television producers. Given PLoS One’s response, I’m more curious than ever to hear from them.

Update #3 (Friday morning):

Still no word from Atlantic Productions. But, as a consolation prize, here’s quite a tale from journalist Mark Henderson of the Times of London (Note: Atlantic Productions is based in Britain):

…the PLoS paper WAS made available under embargo to the press — but only to selected individuals and under very unusual restrictions. I was invited to read it by Atlantic Productions on Tuesday morning (I’m Science Editor of The Times in London), but I had to go to their offices to read it and wasn’t allowed to take a copy away. I also had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which meant I wasn’t able to approach anyone else for comment until the embargo lifted. The Guardian also had advance access (they got to see more in advance than we did, and earlier). So — obviously because they bought the film rights — did the BBC. But other UK papers (Independent, Telegraph etc) got nothing. This is a very weird (and in my experience unprecedented) way to manage the release of published science.

Update #4: Ann Gibbons sent in this point of clarification as a comment, but for some reason comments have stopped being posted. (I’m on it…)

In response to Hank Campbell, no. 6, PLOS and Atlantic didn’t withhold the paper from me as a backlash to AAAS, which publishes Science. They withheld it from all reporters, and in fact, Atlantic Productions did me a small favor–they called me at home on Saturday night, 5/16 to respond to my request for the paper and after signing a non-disclosure agreement, I was given a copy the evening before the embargo lifted, which helped me a bit. In the meantime, like Carl, I called the authors and other leading paleontologists to find out what they knew. But I was prevented by the embargo from printing details that I gleaned about the paper, and no self-respecting researcher will comment about a paper without reading it. We wrote two blogs about the hype last week, but could not post a story with independent scientists’ reactions until Tuesday afternoon and the 29 May issue of Science (see: http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2009/519/1)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Darwinius, Evolution, Meta

Comments (47)

Links to this Post

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  2. Darwinius: Named at Last! | The Loom | Discover Magazine | May 21, 2009
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  14. Setting the Fossil Record Straight « Science Life Blog « University of Chicago Medical Center | March 5, 2010
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  1. Wow… that’s really enlightening, and explains A LOT about why the media acted the way they did. It just kind of makes the publishers/authors look a little sketchy – like they didn’t want any scientific scrutiny when presenting their amazing find. I hope you hear back from PLoS and Atlantic Productions… I’d be curious to hear their responses.

  2. Another fantastic post on this Carl. I posted something similar (not quite as detailed or specific as yours) at my Animal Planet news blog about the ancient primate fossil – “Holy Grail or Hype” http://blogs.discovery.com/animal_news/2009/05/ancient-primate-ancestor-holy-grail-or-hype.html

  3. I knew something was fishy when I saw the original release announcing the press conference: “World Renowned Scientists Reveal A Revolutionary Find That Will Change Everything.” It’s great when science can find such cross-platform appeal, but it’s also incredibly irresponsible as a scientist to overhype a discovery to this level.

  4. Darwinius: the palaeontological equivalent of the Pons/Fleishmann cold fusion fiasco two decades ago.

  5. Some of this may be infighting among competitors. AAAS has developed a bad habit of refusing to send embargoed material to sites that have any mix of journalists and researchers contributing material – so having it done back to an AAAS employee should be no real surprise.

    Without question Hurum is also a media hungry guy as well – and it worked for him this time also.

  6. Can anyone think of a good example of a fossil debut’s media PR assault that has gone particularly well? Perhaps it’s just the disappointments that spring to mind like Archaeoraptor, dinomummies etc, but I can’t think of any offhand. (Except maybe the “hobbit” stuff but I didn’t follow the media coverage closely for that) The best recent paleo papers I can think of were rather modest PR affairs, and only later grew naturally into Big Deal status with documentaries, books, etc.

    I’ve had one brush with a coordinated media affair before –just a 1-page part of a Nat Geo article whose timing happened to precede an elephant paper we published, but luckily didn’t scoop it. It was still stressful enough that I foreswore such things. Issuing a press release to explain the story and help the right one get told is sound practice, but letting the rest of the media coverage develop naturally is too. Good things will happen for the right reasons if the science is good.

  7. J Pardo

    Quoting Phil Gingerich:

    “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.”

    And this is precisely why rapid online publication can be an extremely bad idea.

  8. Has this paper been peer reviewed at any point? I thought that was supposed to be done before they call the press conference.

    [Carl: Yes. From the PLOS One site: “PLoS ONE will rigorously peer-review your submissions and publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound. Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership (who are the most qualified to determine what is of interest to them).”]

  9. I am the Managing Editor of PLoS ONE. This paper was originally submitted to us on March 19th 2009 and underwent appropriate scrutiny by an Academic Editor (named on the published article) and three expert peer reviewers. Peer review comments were returned to the authors who revised their paper accordingly and the paper was ultimately accepted on May 12th 2009. These dates are available on the paper itself.

    Once the paper was accepted we made a strenuous effort to publish the article in time for the Press Conference which was happening on May 19th – only a week later. We were not involved in the Press Conference, but felt it was clearly in the public interest to have the article publicly available in time for that conference. Our production team managed to get the article published more than two weeks quicker than normal, so that it would be ready for the 19th. However, it was only on the afternoon of the 18th May that we knew the paper would definitely be available in time and until that point, no final copy of the paper was available.

    We do regularly help PLoS ONE authors with the distribution of press releases under an embargo, as do many other journals, but when we do this we only ever issue that information on a date that is acceptable to the authors. The authors of this paper requested that we did not issue a press release, or reveal any other information about this paper, until 10.30 EST on the 19th May (the time of the press conference). We respected their wishes, and at the time of publication also issued our own press release about this article.

    We are delighted to have published this work, which has clearly captured the imagination and attention of researchers, the media and the public. The paper has been discussed, scrutinized, praised and criticized, and is a terrific example of why open access to research is so beneficial.

    Peter Binfield

  10. DS

    And Verdi demanded absolute secrecy on “La Dona e mobile” – he knew he had a hit. Sometimes a big opening, with no preview, is just that. This important find is a big deal – get over your’ disturbing timeline’.

    No one, and I mean no one, plays closer to the vest than Philip Gingerich. He is a man of honor and a man of his word. He was tricked by the WSJ reporter and believed his comments were off the record. It is not likely he’ll ever speak to another journalist any time soon.

    How would the brilliant Dr. Gingerich like to do science? At his own pace, whatever that may be, without outside deadlines, fear of plagiarism or threats by militant creationists. He delights being in the lab and more so out in the field.

    Really, Mr Zimmer, you’re reading way too much into this ‘strange media event’. It’s a big deal and is being treated as such. Thanks to Mr Binfield for clearing up the PlLoS protocol and silencing that silliness.

    And, ‘actively hindering’ science writers? Pluuhez! Ignoring, maybe, but not actively hindering. What makes them/you think they are ‘owed’ of preview of this material? After being mistreated by the WSJ, why would/should he throw them a bone?

    Of yeah – the sky is still blue here, too.

  11. Andy Fell

    This is a huge black eye for PLoS in my opinion. They allowed their publication schedule to be driven by the PR requirements of the researchers. It looks very much like the media tail wagging the science dog…which is going to leave a lot of people with a bad taste about media coverage of science.

    “We were not involved in the Press Conference, but felt it was clearly in the public interest to have the article publicly available in time for that conference.”… the press conference should have waited on publication of the paper, not the other way round.

    Encouraging more and better stories about science in the media is something I care about very much. This kind of thing does not help.

  12. Why do you say this is a black eye for PLoS? Nobody has suggested that the reviews of the paper were rushed (indeed – the paper was in review for around 40 days – which is a relatively long time for PLoS One), only that every effort was made to accelerate the the final published version of the paper once it was accepted for publication. This is something that PLoS – and most other publishers – do when authors request it and the situation warrants. You might not like the way the media coverage of the paper was handled, but don’t, as a consequence, suggest that the paper was mishandled.

  13. I think Michael Eisen is correct in that I see no malfeasance by PLoS, assuming that the hyperbole promogulated by the authors and seemingly by the History Channel and the book release was unknown to PLoS. If all the hoopla was known to PLoS in advance then the editorial board should have anticipated the blow-back from the community of scientists. PLoS is clearly aware of the current difficulty associated with invalid online-only taxon names. I presume that PLoS noted this issue in dealing with the authors. Whether or not PLoS might consider enforcing the Code depends in part on whether PLoS wants to avoid the scathing critique and potential for embarrassment that this one brought, but balanced against its own interests in moving on-line-only publication into the realm of validity for taxon names. Much to be said for both perspectives.
    As for the black-out… well, that’s obviously double edged. Reporters, even Carl, who I consider a friend, do not “deserve” advance copy (though I trust Carl enough I would give it to him were it me, which it never will be cuz I work on leeches that don’t leave fossils).
    Re. the errors and gross oversimplifications of phylogenetic character arguments and so on… well, so far the paper has high ratings on PLosONE. The very sensible critiques I see here need to show up there.
    In any event, PLoS is not to blame. PLoS did not engage in any orchestrating so far as I can see. I only hope the same can be said for the AMNH. I am out of the loop.
    Was this stage managed? It seems so.
    Did PloS stage manage it? Not likely.
    Was Philip Gingerich duped? I dunno. I know Phil from my time at UMich. We didn’t always agree but he’s nobody’s fool. Whether he was duped (I doubt), or just felt like he’d be the sensible scientist he is and relate what he knows (I trust), doesn’t matter. I applaud his sense of free speech.

    Oddly enough, I would say the real error here is in Gibbons agreeing to a non-disclosure clause with Atlantic Productions that totally hamstrang her ability to go get the story. She’d have done better by demanding it, and after refusal, writign a story about how a highly secretive Atlantic Productions got egg on its face.

    Ultimately Carl’s analysis is bang-on. “cool fossil, not a ‘missing link’ and a paper with some SERIOUS shortcomings THAT COULD HAVE AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED” (“yelling” caps emphasis so-obviously added by me).

  14. Andy Fell

    Michael — I say it’s a black eye because of the appearance that the scientific publication was being arranged around the PR blitz, and not the other way round. To explain this, I work in university PR and spend much of my time encouraging scientists to engage with the media. A lot of scientists have a strong prejudice against the media, unfortunately in my view, because they think their work will be “dumbed down,” distorted, or overhyped and they will lose credibility as a result.

    So something like this, where it does look like a quite-interesting discovery has been hyped up as the Find of The Century, doesn’t help. And I can accept that PLoS were just trying to be helpful to the researchers, but they did get involved in building the hype.

    Would I like to get the kind of saturation coverage this fossil got for a story from my institution? Sure…for a day or two. But in the long run the credibility of my institution is the most important thing. I want people like Carl to see a press release from us in their inbox and think that this is something that’s at least worth a look and we won’t BS them or waste their time. (I hope we mostly achieve that…)

  15. Rob

    One thing that no-one’s pointed out is that PLOS one is not a journal where one would expect a really important discovery to be published. I know that some decent paleontology goes there but in my field it has the reputation of being a journal to send your papers when you can’t get them in anywhere else. You have to ask why this didn’t come out in Nature or Science, or even PLOS biology, which is a far better journal.

  16. I think sending it to PLoS One makes perfect sense actually. Nature, Science and PLoS Biology combine rigorous peer-review to ensure scientific quality of the works they publish with a subjective assessment of the impact of the work. PLoS One, on the other hand, only reviews papers to ensure their scientific quality – it leaves decisions about the significance of a work to the readers and community. The paper was reviewed by an academic editor and 3 reviewers who are experts in the field, who collectively judged it to be technically sound (I know some of you disagree, but I find this to be true of many papers describing new fossils – certainly there have been several heated debates over the quality of fossil descriptions published recently in Nature…).

    In this case, the authors had clearly come to their own decision about the significance of the work – and presumably didn’t feel like wrangling with editors about how the paper would be perfect for Nature if only they added this figure, and speculated a little more about its importance in the discussion… So they made a sensible decision that wasn’t – as some seem inclined to believe – driven by a desire for a less rigorous review process, which is not what PLoS One provides.

    [Full disclosure for those who don’t know me – I am a co-founder of PLoS]

  17. Sigmund

    Rob #19 said:
    “in my field it has the reputation of being a journal to send your papers when you can’t get them in anywhere else.”
    I highly doubt we are dealing with that situation here.
    I suspect it is the other advantage of PLOS One that is the critical point – the extremely rapid review time. Most papers submitted to research journals take months (or even years!) to get through the peer review process – with the vast majority of that time simply being administrative or waiting for months for a single reviewer to get an hour or so to go through the manuscript and write a few lines of comments. Its a huge deficiency in the standard peer review process that PLOS should be thanked for tackling. There really is no need whatsoever to have such a long review period and it is mostly down to bad administration of other journals that this is allowed to happen and to be considered the norm in scientific publication.
    In the current case I cannot see why Nature or Science would have rejected the publication of such a wonderful fossil. They would, however, have taken much longer to get the manuscript into print. As far as I know there is no competitive group seeking to publish another similar primate fossil at the moment (the usual reason to choose a lower impact but faster to press journal) so I suspect it is the tie in with the TV and book that necessitated the fast publication turn around. I suspect the shortage of available time may also explain the authors forgetting the requirements for the assignment of the correct scientific name to the find.

  18. Also, the PLoS paper WAS made available under embargo to the press — but only to selected individuals and under very unusual restrictions. I was invited to read it by Atlantic Productions on Tuesday morning (I’m Science Editor of The Times in London), but I had to go to their offices to read it and wasn’t allowed to take a copy away. I also had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which meant I wasn’t able to approach anyone else for comment until the embargo lifted. The Guardian also had advance access (they got to see more in advance than we did, and earlier). So — obviously because they bought the film rights — did the BBC. But other UK papers (Independent, Telegraph etc) got nothing. This is a very weird (and in my experience unprecedented) way to manage the release of published science.

  19. Ceph

    With all due respect for the authors of the Darwinius paper, the parallels back to the Czerkas’ and Nat. Geo’s Archaeoraptor-gate are disturbing.

    A rare specimen is sold by shady dealers at a mineral show for a huge sum of money.
    The buyers are compelled to make a huge promotion campaign for the new acquisition – obviously both specimens were scientifically invaluable and beautifully preserved (disregarding that Achaeoraptor turned out to be a chimeric fabrication) but the chosen degree of publicity and hype cannot in my opinion be fully separated from the need to justify the generous price and the opportunity to propagate pet theories within the specific area of palaeontology (secondarily flightless maniraptors/anthropoid adapids).
    A pop-science venue (Nat.Geographic/Atlantic Productions) is chosen to help proliferate the news, a fast publication is pushed at the expense of thorough examination, and an unsubstantiated hype builds up at the time of the press release.

    The comparison is of course unfair. Darwinius was legally collected in 1982, it was published properly in a scientific journal (although ICZN recognition appears to be problematic), and there is certainly nothing to indicate that the authors have in any way suppressed unwanted, preliminary data, as the Czerkas’ did.
    But the similar choice of marketing has produced similar problems for the actual science involved and raised similar voices of concern in the scientific world.

  20. In regards to update 2, i’ve dealt with the scientific publishing system both as a scientist and as a journalist, and that sort of thing just never happened in my experience. The only reason that journals will accelerate the publication of a paper is if they get wind of an overlapping piece of work that will be published in a competing journal. Otherwise, press conferences operate within the embargo system run by journals – no press until the paper is released – and are typically coordinated in a way that ensures they occur within a 24-hour window near publication.

    Obviously, with no print edition, PLoS One has more flexibility than a traditional journal, but I’m not aware of them doing anything of the sort in the past, and I think it sets a very bad precedent.

  21. James Hathaway

    In my experience, this is not an unusual outcome for a piece of news that gets involved with a TV production. The Hollywood publicity and marketing people do things in a way that fundamentally conflicts with the processes of science journalism, which theoretically operates in the realm of serious news and not entertainment. Basically, you have one field of communication/marketing where hype is a desired quality in conflict with another where it is considered toxic. This story provides a great case study (showing some negative consequences) for scientists and PIOs to use in future situations where an announcement tries to meld a serious science finding with major media marketing.

  22. Steve Marley

    As an amateur fossil collector who’s well aware of the “ownership controversy” that continues to plague the science of paleontology, I’m frequently disappointed by those publicity-seeking academics who seem to have forgotten the pleasures of doing pure research and who have abandoned their critical role in public education.
    It seems as though many professional paleontologists (mostly those studying vertebrates) are obsessively trying to prevent amateurs from having access to any fossil site on public lands. Some paleontologists have alienated private land owners of fossil rich sites with less than generous deals and the implied threat of legislative proposals to “nationalize” all specimens. A few scientists seem determined to limit the general publics exposure to the wealth of fossils that are under their care. Where, for example, can a family go to see a well-curated display of trilobites, paleozoic fish or echinoderms? Of course, the natural history museums usually have plenty of dinosaur displays and mountains of rubber T-Rex’s for sale in the gift shop. The public is being poorly served in this regard.
    Public relations disasters, like the Darwinius affair are a huge boon to the creationist/ anti-science community. Their sermons, lectures, blogs and web sites are having a field day with this story and the validity of the geological record and biological evolution will take a big hit with the public.
    Those of us who love paleontology and wish that our nation’s citizens had a better understanding about earth sciences, better start working together in a more honest and transparent manner. The secrecy, self promotion and overall attitude of “exclusion” in the paleontology community has done great damage to our overall credibility.

  23. J Pardo

    Quoting Steve Marley:

    Where, for example, can a family go to see a well-curated display of trilobites, paleozoic fish or echinoderms?

    Trilobites:

    Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

    Paleozoic Fish:

    Cleveland Museum of Natural History, University of Nebraska State Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard

    Echinoderms:

    Cleveland Museum of Natural History, possibly the Indiana State Museum

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  24. Steve Marley

    Hi J. Pardo,
    Yes, you can see wonderful specimens in the handful of museums you mentioned, but Ohio is a long weekend trip from California or Oregon . My point was that there are enough fossil specimens already collected to present a decent “life through time” exhibit at a museum in every major and minor metropolitan area in the USA. As I suggested before, the public is not well served by the paleontological community, and it often feels like we’re pandering to pure entertainment with all the “robotic” dinosaur exhibits making the rounds.
    Paleontologists need to do a much better job of communicating with the public. People need to be able to see more fossils in local museums and have more fossils to pass around the elementary and secondary school classroom. There needs to be less hype, spin and acrimony between academic, amateur fossil hunters and the press – otherwise the anti-evolution/creationist camp will continue to gain even more support.

  25. This is not a good and balanced story, there is no god given right for journalists to be given information not available to the rest of the world just to keep them happy.
    At the most it could of been released a day or two earlier.
    How about blaming the press for the hype, the press for the bad science appearing before the paper was subject to outside review and the press for acting like a bunch of spoilt, moaning and unprofessional kids.

    The facts are it was released at a press conference and the material made available for reporters too do there job, I fail to see how journalists can possibly justify the disgraceful attitude that if people will not give (or have time to give) them pre-information they will simply make things up then blame others for there lies and hype because they did not give them the real information.

  26. J Pardo

    Quoting Steve Marley:

    My point was that there are enough fossil specimens already collected to present a decent “life through time” exhibit at a museum in every major and minor metropolitan area in the USA.

    Why do you think that scientists collect those specimens? Why do you think that museums dedicate huge amounts of money to maintaining facilities to store and preserve those specimens?

  27. Philip Camp

    Since the “missing link” was the link between species of 3-6 million years ago, and not 60 million, it proves very little besides the fact that biologists want creationists to shut up & that the media agree. So Darwinus has fingernails instead of claws, great; Devonian mollusks have compound eyes, which proves we came from mollusks instead of fish…

  28. Steve Marley

    J Pardo asks,

    Q: Why do you think that scientists collect those specimens?

    A: Primarily for their personal research and not for the benefit of museums and public education.

    Q: Why do you think that museums dedicate huge amounts of money to maintaining facilities to store and preserve those specimens?

    A: Most natural history museums don’t have large permanent collections comprised of hundreds of tons of available fossils, and more importantly, fewer still create permanent displays with those specimens to inform the public. Increasingly, science museums are replacing “cabinet displays” with interactive computers, animated characters, IMAX
    theaters and larger gift shops. Collections based presentations are considered too static to generate high volume ticket sales,
    because many curators believe that they are required to dazzle the public and must “compete” for family entertainment dollars against theme parks and sporting events. I think this is a competition they can’t win, as museum ticket prices spiral higher and higher. Isn’t the over-hyping of science the core issue of this forum?

    Frankly, my personal collection of paleozoic fauna is more extensive and better documented than any of the museums in our area, except for the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology – which is a research facility and closed to the public.
    When I’ve inquired about developing a temporary display using these private specimens, at my expense – I’ve been told by museum directors that they have no interest, no space available and they question the marketing value of undertaking such a project. A few times, I’ve often been told that personal ownership of fossils isn’t in the public interest – and that my collection belongs in a museum! OK , where?
    I’ve offered to bring specimens to public schools or to set up small displays in libraries (again, for free) but I’m told by teachers and those in charge that presentations about fossils sometimes lead to complaints from Christian conservative parents (and church groups) concerning forcing belief in evolution on students… more often than not, there are concerns about not making “waves” and few have been willing to take the risk. Over and over again, in the public eye, we downplay the paleontological and geological evidence for evolution and an ancient earth… or we undermine it through reckless public relations and infighting.

    My Question: Can we both agree that much more could be done to inform the public about paleontological discoveries, considering the vast quantity of fossils unearthed every year?

    Best Regards
    Steve

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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