In 1983, a cranial fragment attributed to Homo sp. was found in Venta Micena, Orce (Granada, south Spain) by Josep Gibert, Salvador Moyá-Solá and Jordi Agustí, paleontologists from the Institut de Paleontologia de Sabadell in Catalunya. The bone was named “the Orce Man” by Spanish mass-media where it had a great impact. One year later, the same cranial fragment was attributed to a donkey, genre Equus, by the French scientist Marie Antoinette de Lumley, as reported by the newspaper El País. A very harsh controversy began. Only Josep Gibert continued to claim that the Orce fragment was human. The mass-media, especially newspapers were the scenario for the scientific debate. Opinion of journalists, politicians and other scientists on the issue appeared in the press. Three years later, Agustí and Moyá-Solá announced in Spanish newspapers the forthcoming publication of the first scientific paper following de Lumley’s attribution. Agustí then stated in El País that “the scientific debate should have been limited to scientific publications, but the media treatment of the issue has given it a different dimension”. Due to the controversy making headlines, public institutions denied Gibert excavation permits and funding and he was marginalized by his colleagues.

The early scientific popularization and the later controversy in the press changed the status of the debate from a scientific to a public debate. Through a profound study of the main Spanish newspapers of that period this paper attempts to analyze the role of science communication in the shaping of scientific research around the Orce Man during that twenty-four years of controversy, from 1983 to 2007, when Josep Gibert, the main defender of the Orce Man, died.

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Getting a different dimension
The orce man controversy in spanish newspapers

Miquel Carandell   Autonoma University of Barcelona

In 1983, a cranial fragment attributed to Homo sp. was found in Venta Micena, Orce (Granada, south Spain) by Josep Gibert, Salvador Moyá-Solá and Jordi Agustí, paleontologists from the Institut de Paleontologia de Sabadell in Catalunya. The bone was named “the Orce Man” by Spanish mass-media where it had a great impact. One year later, the same cranial fragment was attributed to a donkey, genre Equus, by the French scientist Marie Antoinette de Lumley, as reported by the newspaper El País. A very harsh controversy began. Only Josep Gibert continued to claim that the Orce fragment was human. The mass-media, especially newspapers were the scenario for the scientific debate. Opinion of journalists, politicians and other scientists on the issue appeared in the press. Three years later, Agustí and Moyá-Solá announced in Spanish newspapers the forthcoming publication of the first scientific paper following de Lumley’s attribution. Agustí then stated in El País that “the scientific debate should have been limited to scientific publications, but the media treatment of the issue has given it a different dimension”. Due to the controversy making headlines, public institutions denied Gibert excavation permits and funding and he was marginalized by his colleagues.

The early scientific popularization and the later controversy in the press changed the status of the debate from a scientific to a public debate. Through a profound study of the main Spanish newspapers of that period this paper attempts to analyze the role of science communication in the shaping of scientific research around the Orce Man during that twenty-four years of controversy, from 1983 to 2007, when Josep Gibert, the main defender of the Orce Man, died.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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