Does the history of human evolution have to be rewritten?

Over the last few days I’ve been getting regular emails alerting me to trending stories about an astounding archaeological discovery.

According to reports, German scientists had found teeth that belonged to a human-like species dating back almost 10 million years – much older than any similar remains found elsewhere in the world. Today’s example of such a story from a dubious viral site is below:

Extremely Unexpected Find Means We May Have To Rewrite The Human Evolution Textbook Again

As a reporter who covers Germany and regularly writes about archaeology, I obviously had to check this out.

Last week, when the first reports surfaced in German media (and were quickly picked up by international outlets thanks to an English-language piece by Deutsche Welle – http://bit.ly/2xbjXcI ) I reached out to a couple of paleontologists to find out what they made of this.

Their answer: it’s nonsense.

As an expert from Germany’s Max Planck Institute _ one of the world’s top academic institutions _ explained, these teeth likely belong to a great ape (homin-ID). They were fairly common across Europe even 12 million years ago and finding evidence of their presence in southwest Germany isn’t unexpected.

There’s no evidence to back up the Mainz Museum of Natural History’s claim that they’ve discovered sensational new homin-IN fossils, the expert said. One of the big giveaways is the fact that there’s been no peer-reviewed paper on this find so far, he added.

I expect to see a few more trending stories about this ‘discovery’ in the next few weeks. But I’m not expecting to write any more than this post about it.

How viral sites work

Recently I was checking what news from Germany is going viral (it’s part of my job) and I noticed that one of the top ten stories involved an elderly man who had found his long-lost wedding ring wrapped around a carrot grown in his garden.

The story appeared on a site called Buzz Flare.

Buzz Flare credits another viral site, UNILAD Tech for the story and the photos.

In fact, UNILAD Tech posted a photo seven months ago on its Facebook site, with only a short text.

It credited the photo to a Reddit user.

Was he the source of all this? No.

What actually happened is that the Reddit user and the viral sites stole an AP story from early November, removed any attribution to AP (because they don’t pay for our service) and tried to pass the image and information off as their own or some third party’s.

Here’s the original story: http://metro.co.uk/2016/11/10/man-finds-his-lost-wedding-ring-growing-on-a-carrot-6249094/

Yes, it’s just a story about a ring on a carrot. But this kind of sneaky lifting of stories earns ripoff viral sites like Buzz Flare a few dollars that deserve to go to journalists who actually wrote the story in the first place.

The Chancellor speaks

Ten years ago Angela Merkel discovered podcasts. Not ‘In our Time’ or ‘This American Life.’ No, no, not the joy of listening to podcasts. She discovered podcasts as a means of communicating to the public. You might say, broadcasting.

Now the German government isn’t meant to broadcast. There are independent private and publicly-funded radio and TV stations for that. But video podcasts and YouTube clips are a grey area. Do they technically constitute broadcasting?

Every week Merkel records a short question-and-answer session with a young person. They’re usually likable, often students, who pose fairly soft-ball questions to the chancellor. She is obviously prepared, because she’s never flustered and always provides a neat 20-30 second answer.

I asked her office a few questions about these podcasts recently and I’d like to share the answers:

Q: How many viewers did the podcasts get in 2016?

A: The 42 video podcasts in 2016 was accessed 13.5 million. On average, each episode was accessed about 320,000 times. In addition, previous years’ podcasts were accessed 2.3 million times last year.

Q: How many hours work went into each podcasts.

A: The production of the podcasts is tendered anew each year and the amount of work hours doesn’t influence the price. As such, they aren’t recorded.

Q: How much did Merkel’s weekly podcasts cost in 2016?

A: The costs for each episode were €2,350.25 (incl. VAT)