The debate over the classification of Homo floresiensis as a new species was settled four years ago.....or so we thought.
Although The Guardian article I highlighted at the time (March 4, 2005) declared the "hobbit saga ended" and suggested that the small hominid was indeed a new species, today's Guardian announces that "new evidence has emerged to show that [the] extinct, diminutive people known as 'hobbits' from the Indonesian island of Flores belonged to a new species of primitive humans."
So the "new species" classification is official.....again? Did The Guardian and, along with it, most of the popular press jump the gun in 2005?
In all fairness, the recent headline's claim of finality is more true than that asserted by The Guardian in 2005. The new evidence is both anatomical and cerebral, prompting many previously skeptical scientists to accept Homo floresiensis as a distinct species. Still, some respected anthropological researchers remain unconvinced. Their skepticism is given fair due in leading scientific journals like Nature, but it doesn't receive much (if any) attention in the popular press.
In recent months, Bioephemera has been covering the often frustrating divide between scientific research and science reporting. Her posts are excellent; I encourage interested readers to check them out. (Here, here, and here.)