Mythical Attenborough Fail
New David Attenborough series on BBC2 has arrived (“Rise of Animals ep.1. Triumph of the Vertebrates“) with all the usual flashes and bangs, plus some colossal mistake of zoological proportions.
There starts another complaint to the BBC then….
Complaint Summary: ‘Tree of Life’ false, misleading and non-scientific
Full Complaint: The programme makes extensive use of a ‘Tree of Life’ pictorial device depicting species as branches on a tree, with the vertical dimension showing time. All thousands of branches are continuous and ultimately end up together in the present time. This is false, because we all know most species died out long ago (so the vast majority of branches shouldn’t reach the present). It is also misleading, as the viewer will think the present time is much richer in species than the past. It is finally non-scientific, using an antiquated metaphor long ago disproven by the likes of Stephen Jay Gould. Please insert a correction/disclaimer at the beginning of future broadcasts and for the rest of the first showing of the series.
I screen-shot three examples for future memory.
- First image comes from 56’50” in the episode. As you can see all the branches above a certain line continue unbroken to the present
- I went back to see wherever else the multicolored tree of life was popping up. Interesting, at 20’41” some branches give at least an impression that those species went extinct (look under the first L of “250 MILLION”)
- No worries though, five seconds later those very same dead branches spruced forward again
- To see what they could and should have done, look no further than a 1994 Scientific American piece by Stephen Jay Gould, when Scientific American was still very much scientific, that is:
One can finally visualize how entrenches is the idea that there is something special in our present time.