OK, the whole time machine thing is over (for now), but along the way, I unaccountably neglected to link to a lovely explanation by Carl Pyrdum at Got Medieval of why Mark Pagel's choice of historical examples was unwise, and why the BBC's elaboration and illustration raised unwisdom to levels of hilarious incongruity rarely seen outside of The Onion: "Tips for Time Traveling William the Conqueror Fanboys". Carl discusses the rest of the British media's response in a later post, "Further Thoughts on Time Traveling".
Meanwhile, I've learned from a reliable source that my first instinct was correct: there is actually a new paper in the pipeline from Pagel. I'm not sure whether it presents relevant new results beyond the material in Mark Pagel, Quentin D. Atkinson, and Andrew Meade, "Frequency of word-use predicts rates of lexical evolution throughout Indo-European history", Nature 2007; but at least it would have provided a scientific focus for the PR circus, if the timing had been a bit different. In any case, whenever this paper becomes available, we'll discuss it.