Drawing connections for an audience

It’s usually the protocol of the creationists to draw erroneous conection in order to grab their audience. It comes as a bit of a surprise that a science article would do something similar.

Ptomacanthus anglicus was a very early jawed fish that lived in the Devonian period some 410 million years ago. It represents a type of fossil fish known as an “acanthodian” which is characterized by a somewhat shark-like appearance and sharp spines along the leading edges of all fins (except for the tail fin). This group of early jawed fishes may reveal a great deal about the origin of jawed vertebrates (a story that ultimately includes our own origins). However, their relationships to modern jawed vertebrates (and thus their evolutionary significance) are poorly understood, owing partly to the fact that we know very little about their internal head skeleton.

“To date, we have detailed data from one genus Acanthodes, which occurred very late in acanthodian history”, Martin Brazeau says.

“I present details on the morphology of the braincase of Ptomacanthus, which is more than 100 million years older than Acanthodes. It is a radically different morphology from Acanthodes, which has several important implications for the relationships of acanthodians. The braincase of Acanthodes appears to most closely resemble that of early bony vertebrates, the lineage that ultimately includes humans and other land-living vertebrates). For this reason, the acanthodians were thought to share a closer ancestor with bony vertebrates than with sharks. However, the braincase of Ptomacanthus more closely resembles that of early shark-like fishes, and shares very few features in common with Acanthodes and the bony vertebrates.”

“As a consequence, the results indicate that Ptomacanthus was either a very early relative of sharks, or close to the common ancestry of all modern jawed vertebrates.”

This isn’t quite the same as what creationists do, but it’s about as unnecessary. Whereas creationists draw connections between Darwin and Hitler and other patently silly things, this article is drawing a connection between a 410 million year old fossil and a species which has existed, at least anatomically, for about 100,000 years. Of course, as the article says, discovering the lineage of jawed vertebrates will inform us of our own specific history, and that’s true. But this is a fact that should be mentioned in passing (it doesn’t hurt to at least inform the reader of where this fossil stands on the evolutionary tree). So while reading the above quote would make you think this is what happened, clicking the above link will show you that the article title is “New Piece in the Jigsaw Puzzle of Human Origins”. That’s a bit misleading, no? Most articles concerning human evolution focus within the past 100,000 years. It is exceptionally rare for one to go beyond 5-7 million years ago, the period when we last shared ancestors with the other great apes.

It would appear this article is wrangling for attention rather than meaning. It reflects an overly human-centric view of life – if not in the writers, then certainly in the casual reader who prefers knowing his own history and his own history alone over the more grand history of life of Earth.

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2 Responses

  1. Agree!

  2. This does not surprise me. A scientist friend of mine told me that a vast majority of research has ad hoc silly agendas mainly to woo an audience, what of not getting any funding if there isn’t any. The truth is, he said, that the only reason scientists do research is because it interests them and them alone, and they wouldn’t give a fart in a high wind on what it might or might not divulge about human history or it being practical in any way.

    Frankly, I don’t mind misleading a large population of disinterested rich people if it means I’ll get to score some addition to the human body of knowledge.
    It’s not like I would be lying to anyone, but frankly, without letting passionate nerds have their expensive curiosity accommodated, science would simply never happen.

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