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Saturday, July 25, 2009

David Tyler: Used to be horse feathers, but now it's dinosaur feathers?

In "Feathered dinosaurs - speculation and controversy", British physicist David Tyler tells you what the pop science tabs don't, about feathered dinosaurs.
Popular science magazines, television programmes and many educational resources convey the message that birds are descendants of the dinosaurs. Every year brings new evidence from the Jehol Biota of northeastern China that is claimed to strengthen the scientific case. Feathered dinosaurs have started to adorn the pages of National Geographic and elsewhere. A lavishly illustrated book with the title Feathered Dinosaurs has been published recently by Oxford University Press. For many the issue is settled: any dissent is regarded as inexcusable. So it is noteworthy that a leading dissenter, Alan Feduccia (from the Department of Biology, University of North Carolina), has reviewed the book in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.
It's always what they don't tell you that you need to watch out for. And Feduccia promptly points out,
... that the selective reading of evidence, together with ignoring of counter evidence, has led to an imaginary world masquerading as science. "Although Long and Schouten promote the orthodoxy of 'feathered dinosaurs', compelling evidence for any proto-feathers in these fossils has always been lacking, and new evidence shows that the filamentous fibers on the small 'feathered dinosaur' Sinosauropteryx represented a complex mesh work of supportive skin collagen fibers; and the body outline on the specimens encloses the fibers. Furthermore, new evidence suggests that feathered microraptors and other groups of plumed maniraptorans are derivatives of the early avian radiation that produced an aviary at all stages of flight and flightlessness." "The small theropod Compsognathus, 'compys' of Jurassic Park, is depicted with a covering of down-like proto-feathers, and modeled after the roadrunner; it is given an expanded throat sac 'critical for temperature regulation' and a pattern of small spots and bars for camouflage. Yet, there is no evidence for any type of feathers in the 'compys' (and, in fact, evidence to the contrary) or for endothermy; unfortunately, no references are provided in the text to papers marshalling evidence contrary to the dogma of feathered dinosaurs, part of an alarming trend in paleontology towards censorship by lack of citation."

Go here for more.

See also: Tyler, D.J. Dino skin shows no trace of protofeathers, ARN literature Blog (11 January 2008)


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