In what PC Advisor called an honourable exception, the homepage of the most used search engine on the planet was the place where most of us learned of a historic scientific discovery.
FOXNews.com called it "hype", directing viewers and readers to its (now try to stretch your imagination this far) "Evolution and Paleontology Centre". On MSNBC, Ed from American Fork Utah, called it "rediculous" and his fellow poster, Ricky from Salem, Wisconsin, offered pity to those of us who believe in the "evolution fairytale", particularly "come judgment day". National Geographic offered a fairly balanced article and The Times Online Science Editor said "no such thing".
What's fascinating in the commentary by those in the "not buyin' it for a second" column, is the notion that paleontologist Jorn Hurum, and a host of notable international scientists and science journalists (Sir David Attenborough among them), have broken some sort of scientific code -- that being, "thou shalt not hype". "Over the top" condemned Berkley's Dr. Tim White of Lucy discovery fame.
In what could be a page out of Purple Cow, the group offers a remarkable story via a book, documentary and website. The website skin, site structure and media-rich design rival much of the best out there right now. They unveiled their discovery to Hollywood-esque fanfare at the American Museum of Natural History, presided over by NY's pseudo-celeb Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
What's remarkable here -- aside from the nearly completely intact 47-million year old fossil with forward facing eyes and opposable thumbs -- is the brilliant marketing approach. (Weren't we just talking the other day about how scientists are killing their own discoveries with a complete lack of understanding of their audiences and the marketing necessary to engage them?)
Regardless of the true scientific merit of the discovery (and we have to assume that any fossil that provides more insight into mammalian evolution is an important one), what can we learn from the approach? A few thoughts:
1) Their story is, undeniably, remarkable (they got Google's attention);
2) Their story is supported by credible AND accessible, interesting experts (did we mention Attenborough?);
3) They unveiled their story in a strategic and thoughtful way -- simultaneously in every conceivable media -- news conference, book, documentary and (an impressive, media-rich) website;
4) They shared their message in the most accessible, simple, plain language possible <snip> Ida is the most complete early primate fossil ever found, and scientists believe that she could be one of our earliest ancestors. </snip>
If we want science to have access to enough capital and the best equipment and facilities to bring us these kinds of revolutionary discoveries (assuming the opinions of Ed and Ricky are not the majority), we have to demand more rich story-telling and marketing sensibility in our science communities.
The alternative, which has been the norm to date (with apologies to Dr. White) is more of, "Late Miocene Teeth from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, and Early Hominid Dental Evolution".
Irony check: This post demands more simple, accessible story-telling by our scientists and yet is presented in a manner seemingly academic in length and language, and entirely unbefitting a blog.
More apologies, Ida.