Coverage, however, has been fairly limited so far (relative to stories without the benefit of a massive promo campaign, at least), casting some doubt the emergence of a “mediacene age,” as the Times put it. [Update, May 22: This post was published shortly after the kick-off event at the Museum of Natural History. Coverage swelled to a fairly impressive level in the hours and days since then, culminating, as Zimmer put it, in “the ultimate triumph of pop-culture consciousness, having become for the moment the background image on the main Google search page.” Still, I can’t help but notice that the number of Google News returns for this story isn’t that much higher than it was other for science sensations such as Mars Rover’s discovery of ice or the opening (and crash) of the Large Hadron Collider – but I could be mistaken.]
In the end, the more interesting and important question may not be whether the publicity blitz lead to hype, but rather if it led to the kind of traction promoters expected. [Update, May 22: I wrote to soon. In retrospect, the most important question does, in fact, seem to be the extent to which publicity campaigns lead to overstatement and/or inhibit science journalists’ ability to be critical and do their work effectively.] While it is imperative to engage the “hard to reach” audiences that Nisbet writes about, stories get “big” because they have meat, not because they are accompanied by flashy advertising campaigns. Ida may be the most complete fossil primate ever, but at this point, scientists are still picking over the bones.