I liked it.
Overall, I think the Discovery Channel did a good job of capturing the painstaking work that goes into scientific research, in this case spanning more than 15 years from discovery to publication. Some other quick thoughts:
- This was not hype. If anything, it was pretty modest, given the amount and significance of the work involved. I didn’t see the Darwinius special, but even the previews had me wincing.
- Mike Rowe is an excellent narrator. I have enjoyed his work when I have watched Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs, but I would also like to see (er, hear) him on more specials like this in the future. Mike, if you happen to read this, nicely done.
- The special did a fine job of emphasizing over and over what needs to be emphasized over and over: we are not descended from chimps, we share a common ancestor with chimps.
- This isn’t so significant as evidence for the fact of human evolution — we had plenty of that before. This is an important find that illustrates more about the path of human evolution.
- I am not sure I entirely see why Ardi necessarily shows that the common ancestor was not chimp-like (knuckle-walking and large canine teeth could have been lost after the split), but I will see if this is made more clear in the actual papers. Nonetheless, no one should have assumed the common ancestor must have been very similar to a chimp — that assumption is based on a poor grasp of phylogenetics, basically.
- The show could probably have been about 1/2 hour shorter. I enjoy seeing reconstructions, and I appreciate that they showed how this is done (I go through this briefly in one of my lectures as well, and I also liken it to forensic reconstruction). However, this did seem to imply a little more than I would have liked that coming up with a digital animation was the culmination of the work rather than an interesting aside.
- They could have done without the just-so story about pair bonding and carrying food. I guess viewers would prefer some idea, and they did mention that there were many previous hypotheses, but if I had one significant complaint about the special it’s that this part was really speculative and not up to the standard of the rest of the meticulous research depicted otherwise.