The news began bubbling out over the weekend: “Missing link between man and apes found,” declared an April 3 story in the London Telegraph. When I saw that headline, I thought to myself, “Please, please, not again.” Whenever scientists make a major discovery about human evolution, we get treated to a lot of misconceptions. The most popular of them all is the myth of the missing link—the idea that paleontologists are on an eternal quest for ancestors linking us directly back to earlier forms of life. Last May, for example, scientists reported the discovery of a 47-million-year-old fossil of a primate called Darwinius. “Fossil is evolution’s ‘missing link,’ ” blared a headline in the Sun.”The beautifully preserved remains—dubbed Ida—is believed to be a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom,” the article said—a sentence that makes no sense the first time you read it and then somehow manages to make even less sense the longer you look at it. The Sun was not alone in its delivery of nonsensical hype. Shortly after Darwinius was unveiled, the History Channel aired a show about its discovery, called The Link. The show itself may be long gone, but its elaborate Web site lives on, still “uncovering our earliest ancestor.” To all our wormlike ancestors and primordial bacterial forerunners: You have my deepest sympathy for that slight.
more from Carl Zimmer at Slate here.