One reporter in a campus Press Relations office shouldn’t be able to influence the world’s view of science.

Look at this over-the-top headline from Cambridge University: “Bag-like sea creature was humans’ oldest known ancestor.” I mean, really. Come on. This is your daddy?

You’re not looking at a medieval helmet, but an artist’s impression of a “microscopic, bag-like sea creature, which lived about 540 million years ago,” according to some anonymous reporter in the Cambridge press office with a hyperactive imagination. The tiny fossil, about 1 millimeter in diameter, was found in China by sifting through sand. Exaggerations that this represents a ‘human ancestor’ should be subject to swift reproach by reasonable scientists. But they weren’t. Instead, all the world’s media immediately jumped to promote this new ‘finding of science,’ differing only in the creativity of their own over-the-top headlines and how much they enlarged the original artwork.

  • Scientists find ‘oldest human ancestor’ (Pallab Ghosh at the BBC News)
  • Tiny, 540-Million-Year-Old Human Ancestor Didn’t Have an Anus (Laura Geggel at Live Science)
  • Ancestor of all vertebrates was a big mouth with no anus (New Scientist staff and press association). This report claims that the conical structures are precursors of fish gills.
  • This bag-like thing is your ancestor (Fox News Science)

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