IDA and the media


Big big fuzz about IDA, today. See here for a rather sensationalistic article on SkyNews or here for one slightly more critical on BBC. I cannot really judge on the importance of the discovery itself; sure enough I can say that the words “missing link” mean nothing at all and I am glad that at least have been left out of the paper. No doubt, though, that IDA is being sold as “the missing link that is proving Darwin was right” — even the name, Darwiniun Masillae, seems to have been chosen for the very same reason.

Now, what really strikes me is the mediatic event that was created around this discovery. Big fanfare presentation in NYC, with opening words of  the city Major; a book, scheduled to appear on amazon on the same day; BBC documentary; a website dedicated with videos, interviews and everything else. Is this appropriate? Not sure.

This is what the authors say about the mediatic event:

The scientific publication of Ida has been carefully timed so that the film, book and website can be launched at the same time. The scientists see this as a new way of presenting science for the 21st century, where a major scientific find becomes available to everyone, wherever they are in the world at the same time. Ida connects to us all, and we can all share in understanding her.

As Jørn Hurum explains, ‘I really like the idea that it’s now possible for people to look at the website or to see the film or read the book at the same time as the scientists read the scientific paper. You can get many different levels of understanding, but you get out the important messages in different ways at the same time. Humans are not special – we’re related deep in time to more primitive mammals. And the best way to tell this story is Ida, and this, I hope, will be the message that will come out.’

The explanation is plausible after all: times are changing and why not use new means for communicating Science? At least authors are pretty coherent: kudos to them, for instance for having picked PLoS ONE for publishing their paper and for advocating OA. From the PLoS Blog:

We asked Dr Hurum about the factors that influenced his decision to publish the article in PLoS ONE.
“Choosing PLoS ONE as the venue for publication was easy,” he explained. “First of all the journal is Open Access. I am paid by the taxpayers of Norway to do research and outreach from The Natural History Museum in Oslo. Why should a large publishing group then own my research and sell it in pay per view or expensive subscriptions to interested people around the world? I feel this is not moral when they have not supported my research at all but wants to make money on my several years of work without any compensation.”
“Secondly PLoS ONE’s lack of restrictions on the length of manuscripts and the number of figures attracted us; we wanted to publish a full anatomical description with lots of illustrations. In other journals this would have been impossible or the page charges would have been enormous.”
“Thirdly, PLoS ONE is the quickest way to publish a large work in the world!”

I still have to decide on whether this was a bit too much. We all know regular media tend to shoot pretty high every time but seems this time is a bit different.

Edit: when the news hits the google doodle you know it is a big deal.