Homo naledi, the newly discovered species of early hominin announced last month, is drawing a lot of fire from paleoanthropologists.
For one thing, there’s still debate over whether Homo naledi is actually a new species at all. Some anthropologists, like Jeffrey Schwarz, say the specimens look more like an early human ancestor from a whole other genus, Australopithecus. Others, like Tim White, say the fossils discovered near Johannesburg, South Africa, probably belong to Homo erectus. White says that Homo naledi discoverer Lee Berger made some basic mistakes.
Meanwhile, some in the field have criticised Berger’s inability to date his find, while others are challenging Berger’s claims that the remains in Rising Star Cave had been buried deliberately.
But that debate is possible in the first place only because Berger published his work much more quickly than is normal, in an open access journal, and made digital scans of his specimens immediately available for download or 3D printing.
The whole point of scientific publication is that, when you publish, you’re putting your data and your methods out there for other scientists to see and comment on – and to judge. In theory, scientists are supposed to read these papers and basically check each other’s work.
The storm of controversy around Berger’s actual conclusions is what’s supposed to happen in the scientific community.