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Getting a major chapter on birds – ALL birds – into a major book on dinosaurs

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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After the long gestation period that’s typical of big, multi-authored volumes, the second edition of The Complete Dinosaur (Brett-Surman et al. 2012) has finally hit the bookstores and I’m now in happy possession of my own copy. The Complete Dinosaur first appeared in 1997 as a compendium of all things dinosaur. Edited by Jim Farlow and Mike Brett-Surman, and including the work of 47 contributing authors, it became well known as a good, non-technical guide to Mesozoic dinosaurs and their world (Farlow & Brett-Surmam 1997). But much has changed in those intervening 15-ish years and, over the past several years, a second, substantially updated edition has been put together.

As you can (hopefully) appreciate from the photos here, The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition is huge: it’s bigger overall than the first edition at 1112 pp (vs a pathetic 752 pp) and is also larger-format, with a cover size of 288 x 220 mm, vs 175 x 250 mm for the first edition. It’s about 60 mm thick, whereas the first edition is about 30 mm thick. Thomas Holtz is part of the editorial team, meaning that two of the world’s best non-technical volumes on Mesozoic dinosaurs are now associated with his name (the other is his 2007 Dinosaurs: the Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages, discussed here on Tet Zoo ver 2).

Some chapters in The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition are much the same as those in the first edition, but others – especially those on the different dinosaur groups – have been substantially modified, or are totally new (examples: the first edition included a prosauropod chapter by Jacques VanHeerden and a theropod chapter by Phil Currie; the second edition’s chapters on these groups are by Adam Yates and Tom Holtz, respectively). Furthermore, there are new chapters on dinosaur musculature (Dilkes et al.), palaeoneurology (Buchholtz), human history and the fate of dinosaur remains (Chure), and the relevance of  dinosaurs for evolutionary theory in general (Padian and Burton). And then there’s the bird chapter. That’s why we’re here.

Picture to text ratio in the bird chapter (Naish 2012). Nice.

Yeah, the bird chapter is written by that Naish guy. The article is broken into the following 21 sections; Introduction; Gerhard Heilmann’s The Origin of Birds; John Ostrom and the Theropod Hypothesis; The “Birds Are Not Dinosaurs” Movement; The Origins of Avialian* Flight; Avialian Anatomy; The Mesozoic Avialian Radiation; The Enantiornithes; Basal Ornithurines; The Rise of Modern Birds, the Neornithines; Assembling the Neornithine Tree; Palaeognaths: Ratites, Tinamous, and Lithornithids; Waterfowl and Gamebirds: the Galloanserae; Neoaves: the Waterbird Assemblage; Shorebirds and Kin, and Grebes and Flamingos; Birds of Prey; Strisores: Swifts, Hummingbirds, and Nightbirds; Pigeons, Cuckoos and Mousebirds; Higher Landbirds: Coraciiformes, Piciforms, Falcons, and Parrots; The Passerine Radiation; and The Future of Neornithine Diversity. That last section is depressing.

* I’ve bowed to peer-pressure since writing Naish (2012), and now use ‘avialan’ instead of ‘avialian’.

The fossil record gives us continuity between birds and other dinosaurs. Diagrams (corvid skull above, ratite and gamebird pelves below) by Darren Naish, from Naish (2012).

I consider it a minor achievement in the world of dinosaur-bird relations that – unlike most articles that deal with birds and appear in the Mesozoic-themed literature – it covers Cenozoic birds as well as Mesozoic ones (Naish 2012). In fact, about 25 of its 44 pages are devoted to Cenozoic birds, arguably making this the longest contribution on post-Cretaceous dinosaurs to appear in the Mesozoic-themed dinosaur literature.

Why do this? I mean: why bring Cenozoic animals into a book about Mesozoic animals and their world? One argument could be that the continuity between Mesozoic dinosaurs and their post-Cretaceous kin has become an increasingly important theme the more we’ve learnt: remember, ‘dinosaurs’ and birds are not distinct entities – they grade smoothly into one another. So an argument can be made that those interested in Mesozoic dinosaurs will benefit from greater exposure to post-Cretaceous dinosaur biology, diversity and evolution. Conversely, it’s increasingly recognised that our understanding of bird evolution and biology has the potential to be greatly informed by consideration of whatever happened in the non-birds that went before (Prum 2002, Kaiser 2007).

Another argument is that a review of Cenozoic bird diversity and history is not only interesting but also needed, given that few existing works do this already. If you want a review on Cenozoic bird history, what is there? There’s Feduccia’s (1996) book; I’m not a fan, since I think that his take on bird history and evolution is idiosyncratic and frequently misleading, and I don’t just mean his take on Mesozoic bird history and bird origins (read on). Then there’s Storrs Olson’s now very dated (but generally very useful) 1985 book chapter (Olson 1985) and Jiří Mlíkovský’s catalogue of European fossil birds (Mlíkovský 2002). The latter is so quirky (example: hornbills are the sister-group of loons) and contains so many unsubstantiated taxonomic revisions that some ornithologists would prefer it to be ignored (Mourer-Chauviré 2004). More recently, Gerald Mayr has produced an invaluable, wonderfully illustrated technical review of Paleogene birds (Mayr 2009), but (1) it’s only on Paleogene birds, and (2) it’s crazy expensive.

A selection of modern and recently extinct paleognaths. A, Double-wattled or Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius). B, Single-wattled cassowary (C. unappendiculatus). C, Brown kiwi Apteryx (the species-level taxonomy of Apteryx is currently unresolved). D, Little spotted kiwi (A. owenii). E, The robust-legged moa Pachyornis elephantopus. F, Head of moa Euryapteryx geranoides. G, Elephant bird Aepyornis maximus. Images by Darren Naish, from Naish (2012).

What I would do differently

My final, finished chapter looks great. In general, I’m happy with it, and I’m certainly very pleased to see it included in such a noteworthy tome. But there are some things that I wish were different. While I put more than enough time into the preparation of the many illustrations (there are 46 different figures, many combining several individual components), I really wish I’d produced even more – when I was writing the text, I didn’t realise it would be published with huge, 70-mm-wide white margins down the outer sides of each page. I could have filled more, most or even all of that margin space with additional diagrams, and it’s annoying now to see several bird groups (including penguins, cranes, trogons, pigeons, kingfishers and kin, woodpeckers, falcons and parrots) lacking illustrated representatives. Oh well, 46 figures seemed plenty enough at the time of submission.

In order, I presume, to save space, some of my illustrations have been published at tiny size. I’m not complaining – I absolutely understand why this had to be done. For those interested in seeing larger versions, they’re included here, and higher-resolution versions will be put on my deviantART page when time allows.

1, Galliformes (gamebirds or fowl); 2, Anseriformes (waterfowl or wildfowl); 3, Strisores (nightbirds, swifts and hummingbirds); 4, Eurypygae (kagus and sunbittern); 5, Columbiformes (pigeons); 6, Phaethontidae (tropicbirds); 7, Phoenicopteriformes (flamingos); 8, Podicipediformes (grebes); 9, Musophagidae (turacos); 10, Otididae (bustards); 11, Cuculiformes (cuckoos); 12, Rallidae (rails); 13, Gruidae (cranes); 14, Gaviiformes (loons or divers); 15, Sphenisciformes (penguins); 16, Procellariiformes (tube-nosed seabirds); 17, Ciconiidae (storks); 18, Pelecanidae (pelicans); 19, Ardeidae (herons); 20, Threskiornithidae (ibises and spoonbills); 21, Fregatidae (frigatebirds); 22, Suloidea (gannets, cormorants, and anhingas); 23, Scolopaci (sandpipers and kin); 24, Turnicidae (buttonquails or hemipodes); 25, Lari (auks, gulls, and kin); 26, Accipitriformes (vultures, eagles and kin); 27, Strigiformes (owls); 28, Coliiformes (mousebirds); 29, Coracii (rollers and kin); 30, Piciformes (woodpeckers and kin); 31, Cariamidae (seriemas); 32, Falconidae (falcons); 33, Psittaciformes (parrots); 34, Suboscines (pittas, broadbills, ovenbirds, and kin); 35, Passerida (finches, thrushes, warblers, and kin); 36, Corvoidea (crows and kin).

One of my diagrams (Fig. 20.19, Naish 2012) depicts a simplified ‘consensus’ tree of affinities within neognath neornithines. Based in part on the topology recovered by Ericson et al. (2006) and Hackett et al. (2008), the tree shows an early split between Galloanserae and Neoaves, and a divergence in Neoaves between a gruiform + Aequornithes clade, and a Charadriiformes + Mirandornithes + ‘landbird’ clade. That last big clade (Charadriiformes + Mirandornithes + ‘landbirds’) corresponds approximately to Terrestrornithes Livezey & Zusi, 2007 (and I’ll use that name from hereon, purely for convenience). ‘Landbirds’ might best be termed Dendrornithes, also as per Livezey & Zusi (2007). The ambiguity about the terms Terrestrornithes and Dendrornithes, incidentally, comes from the fact that they weren’t given specific definitions when named, so it isn’t at all clear (given the marked differences between Livezey & Zusi’s cladograms and those published in other studies) which lineages they have to include before evaporating. Anyway, in the ‘landbird’ (= Dendrornithes?) clade, I showed eagles, owls, mousebirds, rollers and woodpeckers on one branch, and pigeons, Strisores (‘nightbirds’, swifts and hummingbirds), parrots and passerines on another. I didn’t (Naish 2012) show seriemas or Eurypygae (sunbittern and kagu) at all.

Not a muppet, a Large owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles insignis). Image by Darren Naish, from Naish (2012).

As I said in the caption to the tree, showing pigeons and apodiforms as being ‘landbirds’ close to parrots and passerines is very likely not correct. I mostly went for this position because it’s been supported in some morphological analyses (Mayr & Clarke 2003) (I should note here that the hummingbird is meant to be standing in for the whole of Strisores, the neornithine clade that includes ‘nightbirds’ (that is, nightjars, potoos, frogmouths, owlet-nightjars and oilbirds) and swifts as well as hummingbirds). However, Hackett et al. (2008) found Columbiformes, Eurypygae and Strisores to be outside the huge Aequornithes + Terrestrornithes clade. This result – with the inclusion of Columbiformes, Eurypygae and Strisores within Metaves – is also seen in Ericson et al. (2006) and Ericson (2012). If Metaves is identified, I suppose Coronaves must be too (Fain & Houde 2004).

Seeing as I can modify my diagram as and when I choose, the version above is an updated one that accounts for those corrections; it’s somewhat different from the version in Naish (2012). It’s still not meant to show all neognath lineages, but here is what I’ve changed: (1) Columbiformes, Eurypygae and Strisores are now outside of the Aequornithes + Terrestrornithes clade, in a clade that mostly matches Metaves; (2) tropicbirds (Phaethontidae) are shown in Metaves as well; (3) Mirandornithes – the flamingo + grebe clade – is shown in two possible positions, one in Metaves, and one close to Charadriiformes; (4) I added turacos (Musophagidae), since molecular datasets seem to agree in showing this group to be close to Aequornithes and/or Gruiformes; finally, (5) seriemas and falcons are now included and shown as close to parrots and passerines. Proposed names have been added where appropriate.

Hugely simplified Metaves section, from diagram shown above. Mirandornithes: is that node-based, or branch-based? In this case, it really is node-based. From Naish (2012).

One problem with my diagram is that the use of big obvious markers for clade names makes it look as if the respective names are specifically node-based or branch-based. That’s not deliberate – I used the markers merely to show as clearly as possible which groups the names applied to, and in most (but not all) cases there are not, in fact, formalised phylogenetic definitions. A specific, node-based definition does exist for Mirandornithes (Sangster 2005), but things aren’t so clear for the other names.

All that new stuff

As usual, many new discoveries have been published since I submitted the final version of the chapter, and I would have referred to them if only I could. Here are some of them.

I included a longish section on the ‘Birds Are Not Dinosaurs’ movement (Naish 2012, pp. 382-383). In part I agree with those who think that the criticisms of Alan Feduccia and colleagues are irrelevant and should be ignored, but I also think that we should take the time to point out that what Feduccia says as goes bird origins is naïve, misleading and erroneous. For those who need a refresher, Feduccia argues that birds are not theropod dinosaurs – they simply can’t be, because (he argues) non-bird dinosaurs are too cursorial, too big, too short-armed etc. – but instead descend from an unidentified cloud of pre-dinosaurian archosauromorphs, ostensibly including Longisquama, Megalancosaurus and anything else small and pointy-snouted (Feduccia 1996, 2012). Unambiguously feathered deinonychosaurs and oviraptorosaurs? They’re not unarguable theropods, absolutely irrelevant to bird origins and only convergently similar to them, as he has long argued (Feduccia 1996), but are actually flightless birds, closer to modern birds than is Archaeopteryx, and any similarity they have with other theropods is the result of the sort of hypothesised convergence (or parallelism) otherwise popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Since I wrote the text, Feduccia’s new book – Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China – has appeared (Feduccia 2012). I don’t dislike it because I dislike non-standard phylogenetic hypotheses. I dislike it because many of its arguments are erroneous (e.g., yet again we see the claim that theropods were on some sort of trend toward shortening their forelimbs, as if this is (a) true, and (b) relevant), and also because it involves deliberate attempts at obfuscation (e.g., there’s a lengthy section explaining why Mark Norell and colleagues ended up using the nickname ‘Dave’ for the feathered dromaeosaurid NGMC 91; another lengthy section is a biography of Thomas Huxley that points repeatedly to Huxley’s errors as goes the interpretation of such things as amphioxus. So far as I can tell, these sections are irrelevant to bird origins and dinosaur phylogeny, and only seem included such that they might weaken the authority of the people concerned) (Feduccia 2012). The book is unimpressive in production terms, with highly pixelated diagrams and an over-packed look to the text.

Anyway, my point here is that I would have included some criticism of this book were it out in time. By the way, I’m tired of seeing people defend Feduccia because he’s a decorated and highly respected senior professor. I’m sure that his work and achievements deserve accolade, and there’s no doubt that he’s a brilliant scientist overall, but it doesn’t change the fact that his published arguments on bird and dinosaur evolution fail to account for the data we have, and rely on erroneous arguments.

Enantiornithine nesting colony; image by Julio Laceda.

Various noteworthy contributions or discoveries have been published on Mesozoic birds since my chapter’s text was finalised. Toothless Zhongjianornis – said in my text to be close in the phylogeny to Jeholornis and the omnivoropterygids – has more recently been interpreted as a stem-ornithuromorph, similar in ‘grade’ to Patagopteryx and Vorona (O’Connor & Zhou 2012). Meanwhile, long-tailed, short-armed Dalianraptor – mooted in my text as a possibly flightless relative of Jeholornis – turns out to be “tampered” with, and hence might be a composite. The discovery of an enantiornithine nesting colony (Dyke et al. 2012) would definitely warrant mention, since in a way it makes the biology of these Cretaceous birds more like that of modern ones [adjacent reconstruction of the nesting colony by Julio Laceda: previously covered here on Tet Zoo].

When we come to Cenozoic birds, the remarkable bony-toothed birds, pseudotoothed birds or pelagornithids have been the focus of a fair bit of research interest since the text was written. New records of the group have been described from Africa and Australia; perhaps most importantly, Mayr (2011) has argued that character evidence supposed to link pelagornithids with waterfowl is erroneous (I was fairly kind to this hypothesis), and he argues instead that they might be the sister-group to the whole of Galloanserae (aka Galloanseres). In other Cenozoic news, hoatzins are seemingly now known from Africa (Mayr et al. 2011), and Kurochkin & Dyke (2011) have reviewed the fossil record of owls (they name the new ‘family’ Heterostrigidae for Oligocene owls from Mongolia).

When I was preparing the manuscript, the fluvioviridavids of Eocene Europe and North America were considered possible members of Strisores (the ‘caprimulgiform’ + apodiform clade). Since then, Nesbitt et al. (2011) have argued that Fluvioviridavis is in fact a stem-member of the frogmouth lineage, and hence well nested within Strisores, while Eurofluvioviridavis is not a member of Strisores and remains enigmatic.

A selection of modern anseriforms. A, Northern or Black-necked screamer (Chauna chavaria). B, Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus). C, Common merganser or Goosander (Mergus merganser). D, Southern or Red shoveler (Anas platalea). E, Tundra bean goose (Anser serrirostris). Images by Darren Naish, from Naish (2012).

While I referred to the idea of a close affinity between falcons, parrots and passerines – I was basing this on Hackett et al. (2008) – this hypothesis has since been bolstered by Suh et al. (2011). Thanks to their study of retroposons – ‘jumping’ genetic sequences that seem to insert themselves randomly in the genome – they were able to provide strong additional evidence for a sister-group relationship between parrots and passerines, with falcons being the next closest relatives of this clade. They termed the parrot + passerine clade Psittacopasserae, and the falcon + (parrot + passerine) clade Eufalconimorphae (Suh et al. 2011). Ericson (2012) also proposed some new names for certain recently recovered clades. Afroaves was suggested for the clade that includes accipitriforms, Leptosomus (the Madagascan cuckoo-roller or Courol), owls, trogons and Picocoraciae, and Australavis for the cariamid + Eufalconimorphae clade. Ericson (2012) also suggested Cantiomimus for the clade named Eufalconimorphae Psittacopasserae by Suh et al. (2011).

A selection of suboscine and oscine passerines. Images by Darren Naish, from Naish (2012).

I’m sure there are other things in the chapter that are now inaccurate in view of new discoveries and new analyses, and I’m sure there’s also stuff that’s simply wrong and will be shown to be so in time. Of course, it really is incredibly difficult – perhaps impossible – to make material destined for the printed literature to be up-to-the-minute, especially in such a vibrant and fast-moving field as palaeornithology. I tried my best.

So, I’m interested to know what people think of having a lengthy, mostly Cenozoic-themed bird chapter in what is definitely a Mesozoic-themed book. The claim that ‘dinosaur people’ “just don’t know birds” (guess who said this) is wholly unfair and untrue, and the general idea that people either work on animals from the Mesozoic or on animals from the Cenozoic is obsolete and becoming ever more so with time. And, I’ll say it again, reviews of Cenozoic bird diversity and evolution are few and far between. I hope the chapter is considered worthy and interesting, and I even hope that those more interested in Cenozoic animals than Mesozoic ones get something out of it.

I must finish by saying thanks to the editors and everyone else on the editorial and in-house publishing team for steering this enormous project and for getting me on board in the first place. Thanks also to all the colleagues and artists who allowed use of their images: John Conway, Gareth Dyke, Denver Fowler, Bent Lindow, Gerald Mayr, Hanneke Meijer, Greg Paul, Corwin Sullivan, Inge van Noortwijk and Mark Witton. The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition… another of those ‘must have’ volumes! It’s here on amazon, and here on amazon.co.uk.

And – PS – weren’t not yet done on big new dinosaur books…

For other Tet Zoo articles relevant to some of the topics discussed here, please see…

Refs – -

Brett-Surman, M. K., Holtz, T. R., Farlow, J. O. 2012. The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.

Dyke, G., Vremir, M., Kaiser, G. & Naish, D. 2012. A drowned Mesozoic bird breeding colony from the Late Cretaceous of Transylvania. Naturwissenschaften 99, 435-442.

Ericson, P. G. P. 2012. Evolution of terrestrial birds in three continents: biogeography and parallel radiations. Journal of Biogeography 39, 813-824.

Fain, M. G. & Houde, P. 2004. Parallel radiations in the primary clades of birds. Evolution 58, 2558-2573.

- ., Anderson, C., Britton, T., Elzanowski, A., Johansson, U., Kallersjo, M., Ohlson, J., Parsons, T., Zuccon, D., & Mayr, G. 2006. Diversification of Neoaves: integration of molecular sequence data and fossils. Biology Letters 2, 543-547.

Farlow, J. O. & Brett-Surman, M. K. 1997. The Complete Dinosaur. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.

Feduccia, A. 1996. The Origin and Evolution of Birds. Yale University Press, New Haven & London.

- . 2012. Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China. Yale University Press (New Haven & London).

Hackett, S. J., Kimball, R. T., Reddy, S., Bowie, R. C. K., Braun, E. L., Braun, M. J., Cjojnowski, J. L., Cox, W. A., Han, K.-L., Harshman, J., Huddleston, C. J., Marks, B., Miglia, K. J., Moore, W. S., Sheldon, F. H., Steadman, D. W., Witt, C. C. & Yuri, T. 2008. A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science 320, 1763-1768.

Kaiser, G. W. 2007. The Inner Bird: Anatomy and Evolution. UBC Press, Vancouver.

Kurochkin, E. N. & Dyke, G. J. 2011. The first fossil owls (Aves: Strigiformes) from the Paleogene of Asia and a review of the fossil record of Strigiformes. Paleontological Journal 45, 445-458.

Livezey, B. C. & Zusi, R. L. 2007. Higher-order phylogeny of modern birds (Theropoda, Aves: Neornithes) based on comparative anatomy. II. Analysis and discussion. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 149, 1-95.

Mayr, G. 2009. Paleogene Fossil Birds. Berlin: Springer.

- . 2011. Cenozoic mystery birds – on the phylogenetic affinities of bony-toothed birds (Pelagornithidae). Zoologica Scripta 40, 448-467.

- ., Alvarenga, H. & Mourer-Chauviré, C. 2011. Out of Africa: fossils shed light on the origin of the hoatzin, an iconic Neotropic bird. Naturwissenschaften 98, 961-966.

- . & Clarke, J. 2003. The deep divergences of neornithine birds: a phylogenetic analysis of morphological characters. Cladistics 19, 527-553.

Mlíkovský, J. 2002. Cenozoic Birds of the World. Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Praha.

Mourer-Chauviré, C. 2004. Review of Cenozoic Birds of the World. Part 1: Europe. Auk 121, 623-627.

Naish, D. 2012. Birds. In Brett-Surman, M. K., Holtz, T. R. & Farlow, J. O. (eds) The Complete Dinosaur (Second Edition). Indiana University Press (Bloomington & Indianapolis), pp. 379-423.

Nesbitt, S. J., Ksepka, D. T. & Clarke, J. A. 2011. Podargiform affinities of the enigmatic Fluvioviridavis platyrhamphus and the early diversification of Strisores (“Caprimulgiformes” + Apodiformes). PLoS ONE 6(11): e26350. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026350

O’Connor, J. K. & Zhou, Z. 2012. A redescription of Chaoyangia beishanensis (Aves) and a comprehensive phylogeny of Mesozoic birds. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology DOI:10.1080/14772019.2012.690455

Olson, S. L. 1985. The fossil record of birds. In Avian Biology, Volume III, pp. 79-238.

Prum, R. O. 2002. Why ornithologists should care about the theropod origin of birds. Auk 119, 1-17.

Sangster, G. 2005. A name for the flamingo-grebe clade. Ibis 147, 612-615.

Suh, A., Paus, M., Kiefmann, M., Churakov, G., Franke, F. A., Brosius, J., Kriegs, J. O. & Schmitz, J. 2011. Mesozoic retroposons reveal parrots as the closest living relatives of passerine birds. Nature Communications Aug 23;2:443. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1448.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Tayo Bethel 10:56 pm 08/9/2012

    Dr. Naish, your bird chapter has become my new obsession. I simply must read it before the year is up–my mid-year resolution.
    P.S. Has this book been published in braille by any chance?

    Link to this
  2. 2. TimWil 1:15 am 08/10/2012

    “Meanwhile, long-tailed, short-armed Dalianraptor – mooted in my text as a possibly flightless relative of Jeholornis – turns out to be “tampered” with, and hence might be a composite”

    Wow, news to me! When and how was the composite nature of Dalianraptor determined? Is it now just Jeholornis with the wings replaced with non-avialan forelimbs?

    Link to this
  3. 3. naishd 4:26 am 08/10/2012

    Thanks for comments. Braille version: I must confess to knowing nothing of how and when companies put out versions in braille – does anyone else? So far as I know, the volume only exists so far in standard, hard-copy, hardback version (I suppose a softcover will appear in a while), and in digital form for the kindle.

    Dalianraptor: Jingmai O’Connor has mentioned the composite nature of the specimen in talks, and it’s certainly alluded to in the Jeholornis palmapenis [snigger] paper – I think elsewhere, too.

    Darren

    Link to this
  4. 4. Perisoreus 5:40 am 08/10/2012

    I think it is always risky to include chapters on modern groups in a book that mainly deals with fossil ones. We have all grown up seeing them as distinct entities and it’s definitely most striking with regards to birds and dinosaurs. It always bears the dangers of making mesozoic dinosaurs out of today’s birds or vice versa. Very often, either the extinct or the recent groups end up with more space than they should with respect to a comprehensive view of the group that includes both.

    The reason is, I think, that the respective sections are often written by different people or at least by people with very different backgrounds. There are/were experts on extinct birds (Olson, Mayr, Wetmore, Brodkorb etc.) and then there are experts on dinosaurs and other archosaurs who are often scattered over the various subgroups. Maybe that’s also due to the fact that we stick to the old systematics where possible. Noone would place a neogene species of bird under “reptilia” if he or she does not need to.

    However, I am nevertheless strongly in favour of including both recent and fossil taxa into such works. The Handbook of the Birds of the World for example is a bad book when it comes to insular pacific families. A somewhat better solution can be found in the excellent book on Nightjars by Holyoak, who dedicated a whole chapter to the fossil record and the evolution of the group – however, it remains a retrospect because it does not deal with fossil species/groups on the same level as recent ones but (as is so often the case) as footnotes.

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  5. 5. Dartian 6:59 am 08/10/2012

    Darren:
    hornbills are the sister-group of loons

    Perhaps there’s not much point in asking, but… how the heck did he arrive at that conclusion?!

    I suppose a softcover will appear in a while

    Considering that the book has 1,112 pages, I rather hope not; such a big tome will need all the physical support it can get.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Perisoreus 7:09 am 08/10/2012

    Dartian:
    ”how the heck did he arrive at that conclusion?!”

    Mlikovsky (2002):

    “Hence, the birds are arranged here according to a modified version of my classification of
    birds (Mlíkovský 1982, 1985). Only European taxa are considered here, although all taxa of
    birds were taken into account during the preparation of this classification (Mlíkovský, in prep.).
    In constructing the classification, all types of data were used, ranging from morphological over
    molecular to behavioral and ecological ones. The structure of the telencephalon is considered
    especially important, because it separates the Cenozoic birds into four distinct groups
    (Stingelin 1958a,b, 1960, Mlíkovský 1977, and unpublished data), which do not follow the
    ecomorphological classification in the Wetmorean orders, but seem to excellently indicate
    groups, within which adaptive radiation took place (Mlíkovský, in prep.). This arrangement is
    supported by an enormous amount of further data, which will be presented elsewhere
    (Mlíkovský, in prep.).”

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  7. 7. Andreas Johansson 7:33 am 08/10/2012

    there’s no doubt that he [sc. Alan Feduccia]’s a brilliant scientist overall

    As someone who pretty much only hears of Feduccia in the context of bird origins, I confess to curiosity as to how this brilliance manifests.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Dartian 7:34 am 08/10/2012

    Perisoreus: Whoa!

    Judging by that excerpt, it would seem that Mourer-Chauviré’s advice on how to deal with Mlíkovský’s classifcations is pretty sound…

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  9. 9. Perisoreus 8:03 am 08/10/2012

    Dartian:

    I had that impression, too. Her review is not available for free, but maybe you have access to it here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1642/0004-8038(2004)1210623:CBOTWP2.0.CO;2

    I use Mlikovsky as a source for taxonomy and previous reviews (for which he provides a very good overview), but apart from that, I prefer to follow Mourer-Chauvire.

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  10. 10. Dartian 9:18 am 08/10/2012

    Perisoreus:
    Her review is not available for free, but maybe you have access to it

    I do, and I just read it. Blimey, that review is brutal (though apparently fully justifiably so)!

    Choice bits:
    [O]ne has the impression that the guiding principle of Mlíkovsky’s work is that everybody before him has been wrong.” (p. 624);
    I have the impression that, when Mlíkovsky looks at a bone, his perception of it is totally different from that of anyone else.” (ibid.);
    In conclusion, this book is very dangerous.” (p. 626).

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  11. 11. David Marjanović 9:41 am 08/10/2012

    As you can (hopefully) appreciate from the photos here, The Complete Dinosaur, Second Edition is huge:

    I particularly appreciate the elephant for scale. :-)

    Jeri Mlíkovský

    It’s great that you got the last name right, but the first name is Jiří, and it’s not pronounced “Jerry” – not even close.

    Jeholornis palmapenis [snigger]

    palmapennis, surely? (If not palmipennis.)

    Considering that the book has 1,112 pages, I rather hope not; such a big tome will need all the physical support it can get.

    Seconded. The paperback editions of The Dinosauria are rather bad jokes this way.

    “[...] The structure of the telencephalon is considered
    especially important, because it separates the Cenozoic birds into four distinct groups
    (Stingelin 1958a,b, 1960, Mlíkovský 1977, and unpublished data), which do not follow the
    ecomorphological classification in the Wetmorean orders, but seem to excellently indicate
    groups, within which adaptive radiation took place (Mlíkovský, in prep.). [...]

    Translation: I likes me some brain anatomy. I like it so much that I’m willing to trust it blindly.

    Haven’t read Mourer-Chauviré’s review yet.

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  12. 12. Heteromeles 11:06 am 08/10/2012

    Now that I’ve picked my jaw off the floor. Strisores and Eurypygae? Hummingbirds and kagus? I’ve got a hummingbird sitting about four meters from me (he owns the feeder outside the window), nighthawks flying overhead, and kagus and sunbitterns in a nearby zoo, and I just don’t get it. That relationship is just *so* shown by shared morphological traits. This really is the avian equivalent of the Malpighiales, or where they put Euphorbiaceae and the core Rafflesiaceae together.

    I love evolution.

    Otherwise, great news on the chapter Darren, and thanks for sharing that diagram.

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  13. 13. John Harshman 11:37 am 08/10/2012

    Darren,

    It looks like a fine effort. I have always been disappointed when so-called analyses of avian relationships put Neornithes as a terminal taxon.

    Am I to suppose that you have folded mesites and sandgrouse into Columbiformes, thus accounting for their absence? The evidence for this is starting to look fairly decent. And you forgot entirely to place the hoatzin. Coward!

    But the evidence for Metaves and Coronaves still stands at beta-fibrinogen: aye, all other genes: no comment.

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  14. 14. David Černý 3:44 pm 08/10/2012

    Ericson (2012) also suggested Cantiomimus for the clade named Eufalconimorphae by Suh et al. (2011).

    Actually, he suggested the name for Psittacopasserae — its etymology was intended to refer to vocal learning ability. Ericson (2012) didn’t recover Eufalconimorphae at all; his tree had Psittacopasserae as sister to a falcon/seriema clade.

    BTW, Australavis? That hurts. Couldn’t we just ignore the original spelling, like so many people do with Galloanserae these days? It’s funny when one group gets a plural name and its much more diverse sister taxon a singular name.

    This arrangement is supported by an enormous amount of further data, which will be presented elsewhere (Mlíkovský, in prep.).

    I hope that “an enormous amount” means more than 32,000 discrete characters, otherwise I’m not going to dismiss Hackett et al. (2008) in favor of neuroanatomy so easily…

    But the evidence for Metaves and Coronaves still stands at beta-fibrinogen: aye, all other genes: no comment.

    Isn’t there some additional evidence from rhodopsin sequences? I hope I didn’t misinterpret Hackett et al.’s gene-jackknifing table, but it seems to suggest that beta-fibrinogen data alone are not enough to keep Metaves and Coronaves on the tree when rhodopsin is omitted from the data matrix.

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  15. 15. Bill_Crofut 4:41 pm 08/10/2012

    Re: “…[R]emember, ‘dinosaurs’ and birds are not distinct entities – they grade imperceptibly into one another.”

    Imperceptible could mean, “impossible or difficult to perceive”

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/imperceptible

    Does that indicate that the alleged dinosaur-to-bird transition is not obvious from fossil evidence?

    How many morphological changes is required to transform a reptile into a bird?

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  16. 16. John Harshman 10:56 pm 08/10/2012

    Isn’t there some additional evidence from rhodopsin sequences? I hope I didn’t misinterpret Hackett et al.’s gene-jackknifing table, but it seems to suggest that beta-fibrinogen data alone are not enough to keep Metaves and Coronaves on the tree when rhodopsin is omitted from the data matrix.

    You are correct, and I’ve always found that puzzling, because rhodopsin by itself finds nothing at all resembling either Metaves or Coronaves. Perhaps it conflicts with some other conflicting signal so as to cancel them both out. But if so, each signal is independently quite weak. It’s a mystery. And of course these aren’t really Metaves or Coronaves either, as hoatzin goes in the “wrong” place.

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  17. 17. naishd 3:40 am 08/11/2012

    Thanks for all the great comments, don’t have time to produce adequate responses. But…

    In comment 4, Perisoreus writes…

    “I think it is always risky to include chapters on modern groups in a book that mainly deals with fossil ones. We have all grown up seeing them as distinct entities and it’s definitely most striking with regards to birds and dinosaurs. It always bears the dangers of making mesozoic dinosaurs out of today’s birds or vice versa. Very often, either the extinct or the recent groups end up with more space than they should with respect to a comprehensive view of the group that includes both.”

    We’ve grown up seeing birds and dinosaurs as distinct entities because that’s the tradition that people have always followed. But, as I argue in the article above, it’s misleading, and it’s time to leave it behind. Most people interested in Mesozoic birds and other dinosaurs are happy to discuss the origin and early evolution of neornithines, since this occurred in the Cretaceous and there are Cretaceous members of this group. If we’re interested in groups because we’re… interested in groups, it makes little sense to me to say “I’m only interested in the Cretaceous ones – after the end of the Cretaceous they are irrelevant”. In short, I think it’s misleading and even damaging to promote or endorse the idea that Mesozoic dinosaurs and Cenozoic birds should be imagined as “distinct entities”. There is now continuity in the fossil record, and the persistent idea that birds are special compared to other dinosaurs appears less well supported every year. Of course, this doesn’t mean that tyrannosaurs are like hummingbirds.

    Comment 15: if there’s a problem with the interpretation of the word ‘imperceptibly’, I will change the wording. What I mean is that a series of taxa blur any obvious distinction between early birds and bird-like dinosaurs. The dinosaur-bird ‘transition’ is a continuum, with the big morphological changes occurring as you approach neornithines, not birds as a whole.

    Darren

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  18. 18. AndreaCau 4:14 am 08/11/2012

    Please, reformulate the question: “How many morphological changes is required to transform a reptile into a bird?” because it’s like asking the bizarre question “How many morphological changes is required to transform an animal into a vertebrate?”. The “reptile” and “bird” are not the extremities of a segment.

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  19. 19. vdinets 4:21 am 08/11/2012

    Dartian: for us top-level bird experts, the close similarity between loons and hornbills has always been obvious. In fact, I mentioned it to a friend of mine over 30 years ago, but he was drunk and doesn’t remember the conversation. Both groups have loud calls, and both are popular choices for cover photos in Nature-themed magazines from respective geographical regions. In addition, both groups are particularly common in ecolodge logos and other paraphrenalia. But the idea that sandgrouse might be related to pigeons comes as a complete surprise, of course.

    Darren: I always thought that one of the main flaws with large-size taxa overviews (I mean books like HBW, various Mammals of the World, Dinosauria, etc., etc.) is that they are always devoted to either extinct or extant taxa and don’t cover the other part of the story adequately, so you can never get a complete, consistent picture. So in response to your question about including the bird chapter – yes, it’s a great idea, and I wish it was the standard approach.

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  20. 20. Bill_Crofut 11:20 am 08/11/2012

    Naishd (comment 17),

    Re: “The dinosaur-bird ‘transition’ is a continuum, with the big morphological changes occurring as you approach neornithines, not birds as a whole.”

    Are the big (or any) morphological changes evident in the fossil record as a graded sequence? The reason for asking is the statement by one of the ranking biologists of his day:

    “Evolution, if it has occurred, can in a rather loose sense be called a historical process; and therefore to show that it has occurred historical evidence is required…. The only evidence available is that provided by the fossils.”
    [Prof. W. R. Thompson. 1956. Introduction. In: Charles Darwin. Origin of Species. Everyman Library No. 811. London: J. M. Dent and Sons. Reprinted with permission. Evolution Protest Movement. 1967. NEW CHALLENGING ‘INTRODUCTION' TO THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Selsey, Sussex: Selsey Press Ltd., p. 14]

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  21. 21. Bill_Crofut 11:21 am 08/11/2012

    AndreaCau (comment 18),

    Please help me reformulate my question so it will be made answerable.

    Link to this
  22. 22. Tayo Bethel 3:22 pm 08/11/2012

    Sandgrouse being related to pigeons seems to make far more sense than hornbills being related to loons. Hard to think of two more different groups than hornbills and loons.

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  23. 23. vdinets 3:27 pm 08/11/2012

    Tayo: that was a joke :-)

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  24. 24. David Marjanović 3:27 pm 08/11/2012

    I have always been disappointed when so-called analyses of avian relationships put Neornithes as a terminal taxon.

    One reason for why this keeps happening is that the monophyly of Neornithes is pretty obvious – it hasn’t been challenged for a long time.

    (…Never mind the few analyses that found Neornithes and Lithornithidae as sister-groups, instead of the latter as part of the former.)

    [...] I’ve always found that puzzling, because rhodopsin by itself finds nothing at all resembling either Metaves or Coronaves. Perhaps it conflicts with some other conflicting signal so as to cancel them both out. But if so, each signal is independently quite weak. It’s a mystery.

    Oh, this happens a lot. Have you read the “forty-five wrongs make a right” paper?

    It also happens between molecular and morphological data. There’s a recent paper on the origin of snakes: molecular data can’t resolve the trichotomy between Iguania, Anguimorpha and Serpentes, but strongly support those three clades; morphology puts Serpentes inside Anguimorpha (and puts Iguania far, far away); both together find Anguimorpha and Serpentes (or rather its total group Pythonomorpha, which contains the mosasaurs among others) as sister-groups, with both together forming the sister-group of Iguania.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that tyrannosaurs are like hummingbirds.

    They do have surprisingly similar forelimbs, though. :-)

    Are the big (or any) morphological changes evident in the fossil record as a graded sequence?

    Better yet: they’re evident as a branched graded sequence – a tree, exactly as expected.

    The reason for asking is the statement by one of the ranking biologists of his day:

    Oh, dude. That statement, as you helpfully mention, is from 1956. It’s ancient.

    In those days, the fossil record was a lot less well known than today; for instance, the record of Mesozoic birds was limited to Archaeopteryx, Hesperornis, Baptornis (I think), Ichthyornis and Apatornis! Today we have a whole tree – two words for you: Confuciusornis, Enantiornithes.

    In those days, furthermore, it wasn’t yet possible to use molecular data for phylogenetics. Thompson’s claim that “[t]he only evidence available is that provided by the fossils” is simply no longer true, by a very wide margin.

    In fact, it was already wrong in 1956. The similarity between living beings is arranged in a tree shape – not a line, a tape, a circle, a cross, a star or whatever, but a tree. That’s exactly what the theory of evolution by mutation, selection and drift predicts.

    Evolution Protest Movement.

    *sigh* I’m not surprised.

    Please help me reformulate my question so it will be made answerable.

    Well, first you need to explain what you mean by it. It’s not obvious what you mean.

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  25. 25. AndreaCau 3:28 pm 08/11/2012

    I suspect it’s better to stop thinking the macroevolution in that linear way.
    What could be determined (in a rough way) is the number of synapomorphies evolved along the bird lineage. But… where the “bird lineage” begins? From Archaeopteryx? No significant differences exist between Archaeopteryx or any other maniraptoran that would allow us to call the first “a bird” and the second “a reptile”. And the same conclusion will happen in every point of the lineage from ancestral archosaurs to modern birds you chose to use as boundary between “reptiles” and “birds”. From a macroevolutionary perspective, the “reptile-bird” distinction is merely arbitrary, the boundary exists only in our Linnean-plagued minds, not in the evidence, so we must stop thinking in that linear, topological (Platonic?) way. Perhaps, one could count the difference between a modern reptile and a modern bird, but in every detail, a lizard, a snake, a turtle or a croc are not more “primitive” than a parrot or an ostrich, because every species is the result of its particular evolutionary story and has its own huge amount of derived features.

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  26. 26. David Marjanović 4:15 pm 08/11/2012

    Evolution Protest Movement

    Reality Protest Movement.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Bill_Crofut 7:00 pm 08/11/2012

    David Marjanović (comments 24 and 26),

    Re: “Oh, dude. That statement, as you helpfully mention, is from 1956. It’s ancient.”

    It’s also a reprint of the Introduction to one of the 1956 editions of “…Origin of Species…”

    Re: “Evolution Protest Movement. *sigh* I’m not surprised.”

    The only contribution from the Evolution Protest Movement was to obtain permission to reprint the Introduction to one of the 1956 editions of “…Origin of Species…” in booklet form. *sigh* It’s tediously boring to have to repeat myself.

    Re: “In those days, the fossil record was a lot less well known than today…”

    Where, in the fossil record today, is the alleged transitional series from dinosaur to bird?

    Re: “Well, first you need to explain what you mean by it. It’s not obvious what you mean.”

    AndreaCau and you has each indicated my original question should be reformulated. Yet, neither of you has offered me any help in reformulating that question. It seems to me the ball is out of my court.

    Re: “Reality Protest Movement.”

    Reality is, the fossil record provides none of the transitional forms required for the pipe dream of evolution to become a reality.

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  28. 28. Bill_Crofut 7:01 pm 08/11/2012

    AndreaCau (comment 25),

    It’s my understanding “…derived features…” is an interpretation of the fossil record based on a belief (faith commitment) that evolution has happened. The fossil record does not display the necessary number (how many?) of morphological changes necessary to transform a dinosaur into a bird. Incidentally, since no one in my experience has done so, please quantify that number.

    Incidentally, the “boundary between reptiles and birds” is not my invention; for me, it’s an untenable evolutionist invention.

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  29. 29. JoseD 8:54 pm 08/11/2012

    @Darren Naish

    “Another argument is that a review of Cenozoic bird diversity and history is not only interesting but also needed, given that few existing works do this already. If you want a review on Cenozoic bird history, what is there?”

    What about “The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds” & “Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds”? In reference to the latter, I’ve only read certain chapters, so I don’t know for sure.

    “* I’ve bowed to peer-pressure since writing Naish (2012), and now use ‘avialan’ instead of ‘avialian’.”

    Why the change at all among scientists?

    BTW, in your previous blog post mentioning Naish 2012, I forgot to thank both you & Holtz for getting back to me. While I get the “historical inertia”, I think there’s a problem w/the “opposing view”: Unlike the physiology chapters, there’s only 1 chapter about reproduction, which means there’s no good info about it in the book (E.g. As usual, the BANDits repeated their debunked claims).

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  30. 30. JoseD 9:00 pm 08/11/2012

    @Darren Naish

    Sorry for the double-post, but I forgot the following.

    “And – PS – weren’t not yet done on big new dinosaur books…”

    Can’t wait to see what you have to say about Dinosaur Art, given how much I’m looking forward to the book itself. Specifically, I’m wondering how much it covers in terms of “how we know what we know” about dino lives/evolution.

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  31. 31. Squiddhartha 1:52 am 08/12/2012

    Bill Crofut, to cite a “boundary between reptiles and birds” as an “untenable evolutionist invention” when you were just told that there is no boundary between birds and dinosaurs, it’s a continuum, suggests that you are either not paying attention or not engaged in a good-faith discussion.

    But inasmuch as you are also calling evolution a “pipe dream”, I am being redundant. Do not be surprised when the participants here waste little additional time on you.

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  32. 32. AndreaCau 1:58 am 08/12/2012

    Bill,

    using the fossil record as a proxy of time Gauthier (1986), Holtz (1994), Sereno (1999), Rauhut (2003), Xu et al. (2009) and many others showed in detail how many transitional forms are present between more “reptile-like” dinosaurs and more “bird-like” dinosaurs that are indistinguishable from Archaeopteryx.
    If you don’t believe this is EVIDENCE of transitional evolution, it’s probably biased by your way to look at the fossil record.
    A very simple list of the transitional forms from Triassic archosaurs to birds is below.

    I’ve quantified the number of osteological changes from Triassic dinosaurs to primitive birds in at least 100-150 steps: the data matrix of Naish et al. (2012) lists 1025 characters that map in details the morphological transition from Triassic dinosaurs like Herrerasaurus to modern birds (including not only dinosaurs along the reptile-bird transition, but also the most important representative of the whole theropod group). The distribution of these features shows an evolutionary trend along the lineage leading to birds, with older forms that are less bird-like and more recent forms that are more bird-like. This is evidence based on the rational study of the fossil record, not a belief. A belief is something not supported by evidence, nor in the detailed analysis of the evidence.
    You can download the character list and the data matrix describing the distribution of the changes, and check by yourself here.

    I summarise only some of these features:

    -Late Triassic (Carnian) fossils like Herrerasaurus SHARE with birds (1) a bipedal posture, (2) mesotarsal digitigrade feet.
    -Late Triassic (Rhetian) theropods like Coelophysis SHARE with birds (3) pneumatised presacral vertebrae and (4) a reduced pedal digit 1, (5) the absence of a fifth pedal digit (they also show the features 1 to 3).
    -Middle Jurassic theropods like Sinraptor SHARE with birds (6) maxillary fenestrae perforating the antorbital fossa, (7) a functionally tridactyl hand, (8) the absence of dentition below the orbit, (9) stiffened distal end of tail (they also show the features 1 to 5).
    -Late Jurassic theropods like Anchiornis SHARE with birds (9) feathers, (10) humeri longer and more robust than femora, (11) reduced number of caudal vertebrae, (12) elongate hands with semilunate carpal, (13) large (for reptile standard) braincases (they also show features 1 to 8).
    -Early Cretaceous theropods like Confuciusornis SHARE with birds (14) a large sternum, (15) reduced or lost dentition, (16) reduced grasping adaptation in hands, (17) a pygostyle in the end of tail, (18) a reverted hallux (they also show features 1 to 13).

    Note that every step in the sequence retains the evolutionary features evolved in the previous step and is stratigraphically closer in both age and morphology to birds and less “reptile-like” in general features.
    I consider this a very robust evidence of evolution.
    Can you explain these evidence in a rational way not involving evolution? Please, not use supernatural belief or Iron Age mythology as an explanation of the fossil evidence, their morphological diversity and stratigraphic distribution.

    Sorry for eventual typos in my words: my English is a bit rough since it’s not my mother language.

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  33. 33. Therizinosaurus 4:46 am 08/12/2012

    Hilarious you got a creationist commenter here. I’ll reply in a different way than Cau to his question (I’m a sucker for punishment, Squiddhartha). Assuming you accept Tyrannosaurus as a dinosaur and an ostrich as a bird, we get the following transition between dinosaur and bird-

    Tyrannosauroidea
    Coeluridae/Compsognathidae
    Ornitholestes
    Ornithomimosauria
    Therizinosauria
    Yixianosaurus
    Oviraptorosauria
    Deinonychosauria
    Archaeopteryx
    Shenzhouraptor
    Jixiangornis
    Sapeornis
    Confuciusornis
    Enantiornithes
    Archaeorhynchus
    Patagopteryx
    Songlingornithidae
    Gansus
    Ichthyornis
    Hesperornithes
    Aves

    So that’s the transitional series. Where does the division between birds and non-birds lie? Good question, since we can’t even agree when some taxa are birds or not. Archaeopteryx might actually be a deinonychosaur like Velociraptor, for instance. The same is true of others like Rahonavis, Anchiornis, Unenlagia and Xiaotingia. Or they might be birds. There’s just that little difference. Or if you’re like Feduccia and Martin and see deinonychosaurs and oviraptorosaurs as birds since they have wings, we have taxa like alvarezsaurs and therizinosaurs. Are therizinosaurs close to oviraptorosaurs and thus also birds, or are they outside the oviraptorosaur-deinonychosaur-avialan group? Are alvarezsaurs outside that group or close to ornithomimosaurs? Or going further out, are taxa like Guanlong and Dilong tyrannosauroids or part of the coelurid/compsognathid area? We have SO MANY intermediates, we can’t tell where one group begins and another ends.

    Assuming you actually want to engage and learn, what would you expect to see in the dinosaur-bird fossil record if evolution were true that you don’t see rigtht now?

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  34. 34. naishd 6:20 am 08/12/2012

    Ahh, how I so love creationists. All the excitement happened while I was offline (and mostly sleeping); thanks for the great response – Andrea and Mickey especially.

    Creationist arguments of course come from a deliberate effort to obfuscate and dismiss evidence, but there is also a consistent ignorance. Worth mentioning here is that some so-called ‘scientific creationists’ have tried to argue in print that there is some sort of anatomical gulf between birds and other dinosaurs, such that they are separate ‘baramins’ (or kinds). Senter (2010) tested this, using the same distance-based analytical method as that proposed by the creationists. The conclusion: early birds do indeed form a continuum with bird-like theropods, and those bird-like theropods do indeed form a continuum with other theropods. And, remember, this is using the technique that ‘scientific creationists’ have themselves devised and championed. Senter’s (2010) paper includes a huge amount of detail, but here’s one of the key conclusions:

    “Tyrannosauroidea, Compsognathidae and Ornitholestes form a morphologically continuous group. Basal birds (Archaeopteryx, Confuciusornis, Sapeornis) are part of a morphologically continuous group that also includes Dromaeosauridae, Troodontidae, Epidendrosaurus + Epidexipteryx, Protarchaeopteryx + Incisivosaurus and Falcarius.

    Therefore, baraminologists must consider the members of each group to be genetically related. The distance between the two groups is also small enough that within the baraminological paradigm both groups are arguably genetically related to each other.

    There has been a progressive filling of gaps in the coelurosaurian fossil record over the years, but most gaps were still unfilled even as late as 2000. Most of the filling of gaps in the coelurosaur fossil record with specimens complete enough for inclusion in a BDSITMDS analysis* has taken place since 2000.” (Senter 2010, pp. 1737-1738).

    * BDSITMDS is a programme used in the analysis of multidimensional scaling.

    Creationists have responded to Senter’s paper (see this 2010 article by Gordon Wilson), but the arguments are along the lines of “Notwithstanding Senter’s conclusions using baraminological tools, they’re not phylogenetically related, based on biblical and fossil evidence”. The biblical “evidence” is, of course, nothing more than faith-based interpretation of an ancient text, and I have no idea what the “fossil evidence” is (huh, was expecting to see a citation of Feduccia).

    2012, and the world still has creationists. Spending time responding to creationists does mostly seem like a waste of time, but we always need to counter these claims in the hope that they help inform people who haven’t made up their minds, and who otherwise can be duped by creationist lies. I know that many religious people are not about to denounce the perceived value of the Bible, Qur’an or other religious texts, but, given the vague and allegorical nature of creation stories in religious texts, there is no inherent contradiction between religious belief and an acceptance of evolution. Indeed, many working scientists and other intelligent people are religious (religious belief is, however, in decline in the developed world as people better understand the nature and structure of the universe). Given the vast amount of evidence supporting the reality of evolution, creationists just look like ill-informed literalists, more interested in dismissing this massive body of evidence than doing what’s good for their faith. Takehome point: creationists are bad for their religion, not just for science and the dissemination and development of knowledge.

    Darren

    Ref – -

    Senter, P. 2010. Using creation science to demonstrate evolution: application of a creationist method for visualizing gaps in the fossil record to a phylogenetic study of coelurosaurian dinosaurs. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23, 1732–1743.

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  35. 35. BilBy 8:27 am 08/12/2012

    Lovely and measured responses; thank you. I have given Senter’s paper out to students: causes furrowed brows, some of which clear into delighted smiles once the paper has been read through.

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  36. 36. THoltz 2:44 pm 08/12/2012

    Here is another aspect to the mix:

    Dear Creationist, please identify which of the following transitions represents a gap too extreme to explain by mechanistic naturalistic selection?
    Aves (crown-group birds, aka Neornithes) and something like Ichthyornis?
    Ichthyornis and something like Yanornis?
    Yanornis and something like Protopteryx?
    Protopteryx and something like Confuciusornis?
    Confuciusornis and something like Jeholornis?
    Jeholornis and something like Archaeopteryx?
    Archaeopteryx and something like Anchiornis?
    Anchiornis and something like Incisivosaurus?
    Incisiviosaurus and something like Falcarius?
    Falcarius and something like Pelecanimimus?
    Pelecanimius and something like Ornitholestes?
    Ornitholestes and something like Guanlong?
    Guanlong and something like Sinraptor?
    Sinraptor and something like Piatnitzkysaurus?
    Piatnitzkysaurus and something like Cryolophosaurus?
    Cryolophosaurus and something like Dilophosaurus?
    Dilophosaurus and something like Coelophysis?
    Coelophysis and something like Tawa?
    Tawa and something like Eodromaeus?
    Eodromaeus and something like Panphagia?
    Panphagia and something like Asilisaurus?
    Asilisaurus and something like Marasuchus?

    Okay, now having identified which one of these is an insurmountable morphological gap, demonstrate why that one, and not the others, represents an impossible leap.

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  37. 37. naishd 3:12 pm 08/12/2012

    Has anyone seen the episode of Futurama that features a very similar exposition? (in that case, it’s the human lineage that’s being discussed).

    Darren

    Link to this
  38. 38. David Marjanović 3:32 pm 08/12/2012

    Darren, about your tweet about old English names for the blackbird (Turdus merula – note the noun in apposition): Amsel is exactly the German word; merle is the French one, no doubt straight from Latin merula.

    It’s also a reprint of the Introduction to one of the 1956 editions of “…Origin of Species…”

    …yes, an introduction written by the good Prof. Thompson. But if it actually dated from 1859 instead of 1956, guess what, it would still be outdated and wrong.

    Are you surprised that I say that? You shouldn’t be. Darwin has been wrong before. Have you ever heard of Darwin’s theory of heredity? No? Neither has almost anybody else. That’s because it quickly turned out to be completely wrong and was therefore abandoned about 100 years ago.

    The only contribution from the Evolution Protest Movement was to obtain permission to reprint the Introduction to one of the 1956 editions of “…Origin of Species…” in booklet form.

    You don’t need permission to quote a book.

    *sigh* It’s tediously boring to have to repeat myself.

    …I don’t understand what you mean. You didn’t mention any permissions before.

    I summarise only some of these features:

    Specifically, Bill, Andrea mentioned only those features that he thinks you’re going to understand without having to spend hours in Google. He has left off lots of features that read more like “presence of obscure little prong on certain vertebrae”.

    Hilarious you got a creationist commenter here.

    Mind-blowing you didn’t get any creationist commenters here in six years till Bill showed up. If I’ve forgotten any, there can only be about one or two. How is this possible for such a popular blog that’s written in English?

    Tyrannosauroidea
    Coeluridae/Compsognathidae
    Ornitholestes
    Ornithomimosauria
    Therizinosauria
    Yixianosaurus
    Oviraptorosauria
    Deinonychosauria
    Archaeopteryx
    Shenzhouraptor
    Jixiangornis
    Sapeornis
    Confuciusornis
    Enantiornithes
    Archaeorhynchus
    Patagopteryx
    Songlingornithidae
    Gansus
    Ichthyornis
    Hesperornithes
    Aves

    Now let’s see which ones of these were known in 1956…
    Warning: I’m working from my memory. I haven’t actually looked up now what was described when.

    Tyrannosauroidea
    Coeluridae/Compsognathidae
    Ornitholestes
    Ornithomimosauria
    XXXXXXXXX (Therizinosaurus itself was known from a few crumbs, but thought to be an extremely weird turtle…)
    XXXXXXXXX
    Oviraptorosauria (pretty much only Oviraptor and jaw remains that were thought to belong to what Mickey calls Aves)
    Deinonychosauria (pretty much only parts of Velociraptor)
    Archaeopteryx (less than half as many specimens as now)
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    Ichthyornis
    Hesperornithes
    Aves (I prefer calling it Neornithes, but never mind)

    And now, to demonstrate Senter’s point, let’s have a look at what this list looked like in 2000…

    Tyrannosauroidea
    Coeluridae/Compsognathidae
    Ornitholestes
    Ornithomimosauria
    Therizinosauria
    XXXXXXXXX
    Oviraptorosauria
    Deinonychosauria (but Microraptor was still unknown, and Sinornithosaurus was only known from one specimen)
    Archaeopteryx (about 3/4 of the specimens now known)
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    XXXXXXXXX
    Confuciusornis
    Enantiornithes (maybe half as many as today)
    XXXXXXXXX
    Patagopteryx
    XXXXXXXXX
    Gansus (only an isolated foot that was impossible to place with this much precision)
    Ichthyornis
    Hesperornithes
    Aves

    See? That’s how gaps in the fossil record close while you should have been watching.

    Link to this
  39. 39. naishd 3:53 pm 08/12/2012

    Side note: there have been a few creationist commenters at Tet Zoo vers 2 and 3; I remember one in particular who was guilty of sockpuppetry. Maybe a blog like Tet Zoo is too technical or too specialist for them?

    Darren

    Link to this
  40. 40. Therizinosaurus 4:42 pm 08/12/2012

    Of course I’ve seen that Futurama episode, Darren. That show rocks.

    Very good demonstration of how much we’ve learned since 1956, David. Chirostenotes, Macrophalangia and “Ornithomimus” elegans were also known, but not recognized as particularly related to Oviraptor. Ditto for the therizinosauroid supposed arms of Alectrosaurus and the referred Ornithomimus minutus enantiornithine pedal material of Gilmore (1920). For Deinonychosauria, we had Dromaeosaurus, Saurornithoides and Stenonychosaurus, among other fragments (Troodon, Polyodontosaurus, Ornithodesmus, etc.), but all were thought to be coelurids with no special affinity.

    For the 2000 list, Songlingornis was known and placed by Hou (1997) is basically the right spot.

    Link to this
  41. 41. Tayo Bethel 4:53 pm 08/12/2012

    Dr. Naish:

    I doubt that the blog is too technical for creationists. Perhaps they go to blogs whose commenters are more likely to spend time arguing with them an thus boosting their feelings of importance and righteousness.
    Or maybe there are fewer of them? One could always hope … LOL Had no idea there was such as an evolution protest movement … or that were such people as evolutionists.

    Link to this
  42. 42. JAHeadden 5:09 pm 08/12/2012

    Darren writes:

    Has anyone seen the episode of Futurama that features a very similar exposition? (in that case, it’s the human lineage that’s being discussed).

    “Ah, but there I have you!”

    There’s that whole problem about arbitrary rejection of Homo habilis and other “habilines” from the pre-”human” lineage, and the ignorance of more divergent species that develop afterward. It is, and always will be, arbitrary and without a substantive underpining of logic to support the determination of rejection. The same will be true for ANY series of species. There will always be an attempt to point to a “missing link,” and thus a claim that the “link” cannot be found, or simply qualifies yet another “missing” link.

    “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”

    One of Futurama‘s best episodes, in my opinion.

    Link to this
  43. 43. David Černý 5:15 pm 08/12/2012

    @John Harshman:

    Many thanks for the explanation.

    @Darren Naish:

    Creationists have responded to Senter’s paper (see this 2010 article by Gordon Wilson), but the arguments are along the lines of “Notwithstanding Senter’s conclusions using baraminological tools, they’re not phylogenetically related, based on biblical and fossil evidence”. The biblical “evidence” is, of course, nothing more than faith-based interpretation of an ancient text, and I have no idea what the “fossil evidence” is (huh, was expecting to see a citation of Feduccia).

    Another creationist who responded to Senter’s paper was Todd C. Wood, who (AFAIK) had developed the methods used by Senter to demonstrate continuity between birds and non-avian dinosaurs. His response was published in Journal of Evolutionary Biology (Wood 2011), not just some creationist newsletter, and it was hilarious — I don’t have access to the whole article, but large parts of it were freely available on the web the last time I checked. He didn’t exactly write “no matter what you do, I’ll continue to believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible and if baraminology contradicts it, I’ll simply stop using it”, but it was strongly implied — particularly when he discussed the expected “cultural” impact of Senter’s study. He also took issue with certain technical aspects of Senter’s original paper (most importantly, baraminologists use multidimensional scaling only as a visualization technique, the actual technique designed to divide taxa into baramins — “distance correlation” — is a clustering algorithm), which Senter addressed in a later paper (Senter 2011). PZ Myers wrote a great post about it on Panda’s Thumb.

    Has anyone seen the episode of Futurama that features a very similar exposition?

    A brilliant one. I especially like how Futurama can get down to the nuts and bolts of creationist logic: “Things don’t exist simply because you believe in them. Thus sayeth the almighty creature in the sky!”

    Refs:

    Senter P 2011 Using creation science to demonstrate evolution 2: morphological continuity within Dinosauria. J Evol Biol 24(10): 2197–216

    Wood TC 2011 Using creation science to demonstrate evolution? Senter’s strategy revisited. J Evol Biol 24(4): 914–8

    Link to this
  44. 44. AndreaCau 5:16 pm 08/12/2012

    David, in Italian _Turdus merula_ is “merlo” (masculine), while in Sardinian (my father’s native language) it’s “merula” (feminine), identical to the Latin name.

    Link to this
  45. 45. JAHeadden 5:23 pm 08/12/2012

    I would like to note that Maleyev never thought Therizinosaurus cheloniformis was an actual turtle. He presumed it must have been a turtle-like reptile, given the externally flat-faced ribs and huge, Trionyx-like claws. Hence, the species name: “turtle-shaped.” My translation of the original paper appears on the Polyglot Paleontologist site: http://www.paleoglot.org/files/Maleev%201954.pdf (just cut and paste).
    Relevant passage:
    “Comparison of the incomplete remains of the turtle-like reptile with early well-known reptiles expose close similarities with the giant sea turtle family of Protostega, especially with Archelon ischyros (Weiland, 1896) and Protostega gigas (Cope, 1872), with which it is united by general characters in the structure of the body and form of the ribs. Such similarities are able to generate a result in a general existence of relation.
    However, the absence of a coastal element of the rib, form and size of the manual claws, the great difference in the length is very distinct, which shows a complete basic appearance of the Mongolian form in a new family of turtlelike reptiles from Central Asia, Therizinosauridae, for the present with a single genus, Therizinosaurus (therizinosaur) and species, cheloniformis§. These reptiles are characterized by a broad, compressed body, nearly derived forelimbs, trenchant and huge claws, and barely developed or almost completely absent bony armor.” (pg. 108)
    While Maleyev thus draws close comparisons and even presumes some level of affinity, he never considers the animal a turtle (in this paper).

    Link to this
  46. 46. JoseD 6:01 pm 08/12/2012

    Just making sure my questions (See comments 29 & 30) don’t get forgotten about in all the creationist hubbub. Besides that, I have another question.

    “I know that many religious people are not about to denounce the perceived value of the Bible, Qur’an or other religious texts, but, given the vague and allegorical nature of creation stories in religious texts, there is no inherent contradiction between religious belief and an acceptance of evolution.”

    Would you elaborate on that? I thought it was b/c religion & science answered different questions (why & how, respectively).

    Link to this
  47. 47. naishd 6:33 pm 08/12/2012

    Comment 29, JoseD asks (with reference to reviews on the Cenozoic bird fossil record)…

    “What about “The Mistaken Extinction: Dinosaur Evolution and the Origin of Birds” & “Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds”? In reference to the latter, I’ve only read certain chapters, so I don’t know for sure.”

    I haven’t read The Mistaken Extinction (have only had a quick look, and it didn’t really capture my interest); as for Living Dinosaurs, this is a multi-author collection of technical papers, all on separate palaeornithological topics – it isn’t a review of the bird fossil record as a whole. I’m due to review it here some time soon.

    David’s comment # 38 reminds me of Weishampel’s 1996 paper in which he showed cladograms becoming bushier due to the discovery of more taxa. Maybe it’s a good time to do this for theropods.

    JoseD (comment 46): actually, I don’t want to elaborate (smiley). But religious scientists tell us all the time how their personal religious beliefs don’t impact on their ability to assess scientific evidence, and they must be telling the truth.. right?

    Ref – -

    Weishampel, D. B. 1996. Fossils, phylogeny, and discovery: a cladistic study of the history of tree topologies and ghost lineage durations. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16, 191-197.

    Link to this
  48. 48. JAHeadden 7:08 pm 08/12/2012

    In regards to the creationism argument, I’d like to point out to everyone here who isn’t a creationist that trying to talk in terms of development over time and the concept of shifting morphologies is a waste of your time: Creationists are historically unable to grasp concepts such as nested sets, algebraic expressions, etc., in large part owing to a perception that there are “kinds” and “baramins” and ne’er shall the twain meet. It is part in parcel of the reason that creationists are also so radically opposed to the concepts of unfixed definitions of sexual nature (men acting like women, women acting like men, complete rejection of the idea that homosexuality exists, the nature of intersexed or transgender individuals, the list goes on).

    When you talk about species, you are talking to them in a form they perceive as an absolute, meaning a set that excludes all other sets; and no set can “become” another set. They have a hard time even coming to terms with relation and phylogeny, much less determining that the sets “reptiles” and “birds” are not only not exclusive, but one contains the other in its entirety. The persistence in media today of “mammal-like reptile” also certainly doesn’t help.

    Link to this
  49. 49. naishd 7:11 pm 08/12/2012

    Jaime: good point. I’d never considered the sexual thing before – surely there are openly gay creationists?? (or are there, actually, not?).

    D

    Link to this
  50. 50. BilBy 7:18 pm 08/12/2012

    @JoseD “Would you elaborate on that? I thought it was b/c religion & science answered different questions (why & how, respectively)” – you are being too nice – religion doesn’t ANSWER any questions. But I don’t want to derail the refreshingly religion/science-debate-free TetZoo website – there are other places for that.

    Link to this
  51. 51. AndreaCau 8:11 pm 08/12/2012

    Jaime, I agree: indeed my first comment was against the use of topological/platonic/archetypal/idealistic concepts in biological sciences (so abused by many people).

    Link to this
  52. 52. THoltz 8:38 pm 08/12/2012

    Darren: with regards to openly gay creationists: in the US at least most creationists are from culturally conservative religious backgrounds (evangelical Protestant; conservative branches of Catholicism; orthodox Judaism; etc.), in which being gay is regarded as sinful. So they aren’t typically open about it. I’ve never actually thought about this in detail, but I can’t recall any of the big names in Creationism as being “out”.

    As for The Mistaken Extinction: not bad in its time (1998), but it is dated at present. The book is structured on “what happened to the dinosaurs?” Part of it looks at “what happened at the end of the Cretaceous”: alternative explanations of the K/T (as it was still called…) extinction. The rest of it looks at “what is a dinosaur?”: introduces phylogenetic systematics, and does a walkthrough of the cladogram with a focus on the way to modern birds.

    The issue here is that both fields have had major contributions in the last decade and change, so it is not a bad idea for a background of the subjects, but hardly gives the state-of-the-science.

    [A note on the art: the skeletal reconstructions (based by a number of artists) were by John Merck done on Adobe Illustrator. However, there were version incompatibilities between the artwork and the printing application, and some shadowing got rendered as series of inter-nested polygons.]

    Link to this
  53. 53. THoltz 8:49 pm 08/12/2012

    As for The Living Dinosaurs, I have a VERY short review of the book coming out in a certain quarterly review of biology. It is most definitely not intended as an overview of Cenozoic paleoornithology. Honestly, Darren’s chapter is the closest thing I know of to that subject currently available. (Although I would love to see a book-length treatment by Mayr, Dyke, and colleagues). LD has chapters on a number of various interesting topics, but is not a general textbook.

    Link to this
  54. 54. David Marjanović 7:23 am 08/13/2012

    or that were such people as evolutionists

    Creationists like to project: they have an ideology, so everybody else must have one, too – and if it doesn’t have a name, well, they just make one up!

    Of course, projection is all that’s left when there’s no knowledge to build one’s opinions on.

    David, in Italian _Turdus merula_ is “merlo” (masculine), while in Sardinian (my father’s native language) it’s “merula” (feminine), identical to the Latin name.

    Interesting!

    I would like to note that Maleyev never thought Therizinosaurus cheloniformis was an actual turtle. He presumed it must have been a turtle-like reptile, given the externally flat-faced ribs and huge, Trionyx-like claws. Hence, the species name: “turtle-shaped.”

    Oh, that makes sense. Thank you!

    Would you elaborate on that? I thought it was b/c religion & science answered different questions (why & how, respectively).

    It is manifestly not true that science only tries to answer “how” questions and doesn’t touch “why” questions.

    “Everything is the way it is because it got that way.” (J. B. S. Haldane)

    This answers all “why” questions. Yes, all of them. Or in other words, all “why” questions are in fact “how” questions – “how did it get that way”, “what causes/influences were at work in this process”, “what prevented it from becoming something else” and the like –, and these are in the purview of science.

    surely there are openly gay creationists??

    LOL!!!

    On second thought, I suppose it depends on your definition of “open”. I don’t think you’ll find more open ones than Ted “I am totally heterosexual” Haggard.

    (…And those people often don’t come out of the closet any further because they haven’t even noticed that they’re different from many or any other people. They often say blatantly wrong things like “we all have these urges, and I’m so important that Satan has worked on me especially hard – I have failed to resist this time; forgive me, for I have sinned *sob* *sob*”. Other than Haggard, Alan Keyes comes to mind. Like a few other prominent Republicans, he has said – explicitly – that if gay marriage is allowed, no men will marry women anymore, and the species will die out. *headdesk*)

    in the US at least most creationists are from culturally conservative religious backgrounds

    Elsewhere, they’re basically either Jehovah’s Witnesses or culturally conservative Muslims. Never mind the occasional Seventh-Day Adventist.

    The rest of it looks at “what is a dinosaur?”: introduces phylogenetic systematics, and does a walkthrough of the cladogram with a focus on the way to modern birds.

    This, incidentally, is what explained to me (with pictures!!!) how cladistics really works and what exactly a cladogram is supposed to represent.

    Link to this
  55. 55. Dartian 7:45 am 08/13/2012

    David:
    Mind-blowing you didn’t get any creationist commenters here in six years till Bill showed up. If I’ve forgotten any, there can only be about one or two. How is this possible for such a popular blog that’s written in English?

    As Darren said (and as my memory confirms), there have been a few over the years. But you’re essentially right; here on Tet Zoo, creationists are mostly conspicuous by their absence, and that is indeed something quite remarkable. I think that comes down to two reasons:

    1) Tayo above at #41 notwithstanding, I do suspect that this blog, and perhaps especially its comments section, is a more than usually creationist-unfriendly environment. Based on my (admittedly non-systematic) observations of creationists, many of them are deep down, in their heart of hearts, aware of the fact that in a serious discussion about evolution, they really ain’t got shit. And on this blog, the discussions typically get very serioius – or at least technical – indeed. I suspect that many not-so-fanatic creationists are simply deterred from participating.

    2) Perhaps more importantly, this blog mostly deals with subject matters that are really not that close to most creationists. Again, based on my own impressions of, and experience with, creationists, when it comes to evolution for them there seems to be one subject above all others: human evolution. Bird origins* and anything else are mere digressions; disproving that we humans have an evolutionary history is the ultimate hope and goal of, I’d say, the great majority of creationists. Tet Zoo only relatively rarely deals directly with the subject of human evolution; hence the rarity of creationists here.

    * Of course, as anyone who’s been following this blog for a non-trivial length of time knows only too well, topics such as (in particular) bird origins sometimes bring in crackpots of the non-creationist variety.

    As for how to deal with those bona fide creationists that do show up here; well, it’s of course Darren’s blog and his call, but I’d personally vote for applying an extremely low-tolerance policy to creationists (and certain other kinds of crackpots). They typically add absolutely nothing of value to the discussions (I’m not too keen on the ‘the regulars’ rebuttals are informative’-argument), and frequently derail genuinely interesting discussions. Keep them on a very short leash and, at the slightest show of impertinence, ban them with extreme prejudice – IMO.

    Link to this
  56. 56. Dartian 7:57 am 08/13/2012

    David:
    Creationists like to project: they have an ideology, so everybody else must have one, too

    Indeed. They have their holy scriptures so they assume that others must have theirs too. They act as if they’re not able to grasp the concept that biologists do not blindly rush to defend every single word ever written by Darwin (or any other authority).

    Link to this
  57. 57. naishd 9:51 am 08/13/2012

    Yes, my blog, my rules, and regular readers will know that the haters, cranks and unlikeables who’ve shown up here have generally gotten banned or are destined to be ignored. However, a dirty little secret of blogging is that you need to court at least a little controversy, since people flock to read a good argument. It’s for this reason that I’ve let certain cranks – creationists included – have fair say. They either go silent and disappear, or reveal themselves as the thoroughly unpleasant people they are. Anyway, it’s not as if such individuals are a problem. When time allows I’ll tot up the creationists who have appeared here. One on two appeared in the comments on the modern-day ‘pterosaur’ article at ver 2. One of them wrote about me on his blog, so I took to responding. He didn’t like this.

    Darren

    Link to this
  58. 58. Bill_Crofut 10:06 am 08/13/2012

    Squiddhartha (comment 31),

    Boundaries and continuums may constitute good-faith discussion.

    My preference is for you to provide a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.

    Link to this
  59. 59. Bill_Crofut 10:06 am 08/13/2012

    AndreaCau (comment 32),

    Clicking on your hyperlink (here) and full text provides the following:

    A gigantic bird from the Upper Cretaceous of Central Asia

    http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/8/1/97.full

    Abstract

    We describe an enormous Late Cretaceous fossil bird from Kazakhstan, known from a pair of edentulous mandibular rami (greater than 275 mm long), which adds significantly to our knowledge of Mesozoic avian morphological and ecological diversity. A suite of autapomorphies lead us to recognize the specimen as a new taxon. Phylogenetic analysis resolves this giant bird deep within Aves as a basal member of Ornithuromorpha. This Kazakh fossil demonstrates that large body size evolved at least once outside modern birds (Neornithes) and reveals hitherto unexpected trophic diversity within Cretaceous Aves.

    Unless my perceptive ability is nonexistent, the abstract is describing one fossil proposed as that of a new taxon of bird.

    Re: “I’ve quantified the number of osteological changes from Triassic dinosaurs to primitive birds in at least 100-150 steps: the data matrix of Naish et al. (2012) lists 1025 characters that map in details the morphological transition from Triassic dinosaurs like Herrerasaurus to modern birds…”

    Please accept my apology for having missed your quantification and the contribution of Naish et al. (2012). Please resend me the links.

    Link to this
  60. 60. Bill_Crofut 10:06 am 08/13/2012

    Therizinosaurus (comment 33),

    You’ve provided an impressive listing of Latin(?) names.

    Re: “Assuming you actually want to engage and learn, what would you expect to see in the dinosaur-bird fossil record if evolution were true that you don’t see rigtht now?”

    My preference is for you to provide a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.

    Link to this
  61. 61. Bill_Crofut 10:06 am 08/13/2012

    Dr. Naish (comment 34),

    It’s comforting to know you love us creationists. Christ commanded that we also love you evolutionists.

    As to the reference you provided,

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02039.x/full

    the most interesting statement for me is:

    “There has been a progressive filling of gaps in the coelurosaurian fossil record over the years, but most gaps were still unfilled even as late as 2000. Most of the filling of gaps in the coelurosaur fossil record with specimens complete enough for inclusion in a BDSITMDS analysis has taken place since 2000.”

    More interesting yet (for me) would be a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.

    Link to this
  62. 62. Bill_Crofut 10:07 am 08/13/2012

    THoltz (comment 34),

    You’ve also provided an impressive listing of Latin(?) names.

    My preference is for you to provide a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.

    Link to this
  63. 63. Bill_Crofut 10:07 am 08/13/2012

    JAHeadden (comment 48),

    “…nested sets, algebraic expressions…” may very well be beyond my grasp.

    What is within my grasp is a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.

    Link to this
  64. 64. naishd 10:10 am 08/13/2012

    Sigh.. I will permit responses to Bill Crofut’s latest comments, but – that’s it – no more deliberate creationist misunderstandings.

    Don’t have time to deal with this myself.

    Darren

    Link to this
  65. 65. naishd 10:16 am 08/13/2012

    Brief response: Bill, if you actually were really interested in finding the answer to your question (that is, about morphological changes to get from a dinosaur to a bird), you would bother to learn about the anatomy of those animals listed above (comment 36 and others). I suppose you don’t get the point that (non-bird) theropod dinosaurs are already extremely bird-like; that numerous taxa highlight all transitions from the less bird-like ones to the more bird-like ones; that various dinosaurs bridge the gap between theropods and other kinds of dinosaurs, etc. etc. Your position seems to come from deliberate ignorance.

    Darren

    Link to this
  66. 66. BilBy 11:05 am 08/13/2012

    Bill Crofut – “My preference is for you to provide a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.”
    What’s wrong with comment no. 32 then?

    Link to this
  67. 67. Heteromeles 11:56 am 08/13/2012

    “I know that many religious people are not about to denounce the perceived value of the Bible, Qur’an or other religious texts, but, given the vague and allegorical nature of creation stories in religious texts, there is no inherent contradiction between religious belief and an acceptance of evolution.”

    Would you elaborate on that? I thought it was b/c religion & science answered different questions (why & how, respectively).

    @JoseD: I’ll give a personal example, with names and affiliations left out because I’m trying to protect this pseudonym a little. I had a (really good) evolution teacher who was the son of missionaries. He was an elder in his church, and he and his wife were active foster parents (often with children who had special needs, such as premature infants born to addicted mothers), and one of his three biological children, last I heard, was following him into biology (he adopted several of his foster children, so he had a big family).

    Now he never mentioned his religion in class, but he lived the Christian values better than most creationists I’ve met.

    While I suspect he’s a bit extreme, he’s far from the only academic, even evolutionary biologist, who’s active in both church and science. I had another church elder on my thesis committee, although he wasn’t a biologist. Sadly, we hear more about those academics who insist on holding Bible studies in their labs, or who make asses of themselves promulgating creationism in public or in front of credulous legislators. It really is too bad.

    Link to this
  68. 68. AndreaCau 12:38 pm 08/13/2012

    “My preference is for you to provide a listing of the morphological changes necessary to transform a reptile into a bird and the fossil evidence to support the listing.”

    That’s what I wrote in the (brief) list in my Comment #32.
    I spent some of my time in replying your first question, and hope you was so kind to read my words.

    If you want something even more detailed, my following answer is among the most accurate possible (and is my last contribution to this discussion: I hope you’ll read it before asking again for something I already wrote):

    The link to Naish et al. (2012) that I provided in my first reply includes the supplementary material (freely available): a very large list of osteological features and a data matrix describing their distribution among 75 fossil dinosaurs and birds. That list is much more detailed than every list I could write now. Since I’m the one that compiled that list, you can consider that file as the best answer I can give you, being it the result of more than 8 years of study.
    If you are really interested to the scientific discussion of the morphological features supporting a transition from dinosaurs to birds, you only have to check the features listed in the character list provided there and map all the features according to the phylogenetic diagram derived from the same study (available here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/files/2012/01/Naish-et-al-2011-Samrukia-cladogram-Jan-2012-tiny.jpg). It’s not an impossible job, it’s huge, time-consuming, but not impossible. Since all the material I mentioned is freely available, and includes a long list of the relevant literature useful for checking the data, you have all the material necessary for dismissing it in a rational way.
    Doing it, you will appreciate how well both the stratigraphic and morphological series show a transition from older less bird-like fossils to more recent and more bird-like fossils. In other words, an evolutionary series from reptiles to birds. Otherwise, you’ll help us in correcting it and eventually in improving it.
    That’s how palaeontologists work: mapping the features among the fossils and determining how the combination of features in the fossils change along the stratigraphic series, then publishing their study and asking everyone interested to check the results, finding the errors, explaining the errors in details, and thus helping in improving future studies.

    If you’re not able to do what I’ve described above, then, please, stop asking details of something you probably cannot understand.

    Link to this
  69. 69. THoltz 1:10 pm 08/13/2012

    If you want an absolutely accurate but at the same time not helpful at all answer to the question “how many morphological changes does it take to change from a reptile to a bird”, the answer is only one. At most.

    That is, let us take for granted a (not appropriate to modern biology) idea that an animal is either a bird or a reptile (as opposed to the correct answer, where birds are a subset of reptiles). “Bird” is an arbitrary, human designated category. We specify some point on the family tree where “bird” (let’s use crown-group birds for this) begins.

    So, the population that is the concestor (most recent common ancestor) of all Aves is a single population. Its immediate ancestor is NOT a descendant of that concenstor, so is not a “bird”, and therefore a reptile. Since we are only dealing with one minor change of population to population, it is entirely reasonable that there is only a very minor morphological shift from one to the other. And indeed there need not actually be a complete morphological change: the descendant (concestor of Aves) species may simply have a slightly different distribution of alleles than the ancestral (immediate ancestor of the concestor of Aves) species had, with no actual new traits.

    It is by the slow accumulation of modification of trait and loss of intermediate morphologies from extinction that makes it look like there are distinct categories.

    There’s a good book on this subject, freely available on the web, written in (at the time) relatively non-technical English. On the Origin of Species. You may have heard of it.

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  70. 70. Squiddhartha 3:35 pm 08/13/2012

    The funny-yet-sad aspect of this is that Bill Crofut will no doubt come away from the exchange saying “I asked a blog full of evolutionists a simple question, and not one of them could answer it. Evolution fails again!” despite the fact that Andrea Cau’s comment #32 explicitly answers it.

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  71. 71. Bret Newton 3:47 pm 08/13/2012

    The original question our creationist friend asked was “How many morphological changes is required to transform a reptile into a bird?”

    To answer that question very simply without using any scientistic jargon is – none. A bird is, strictly speaking, a reptile.

    A similar question, with no answer would be to ask, “at what age are you an adult?” There is no answer. Evolution, like aging doesn’t work in steps.

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  72. 72. Therizinosaurus 5:04 pm 08/13/2012

    Well, that just goes to show Bill doesn’t care to actually learn, and/or Jaime’s right that he can’t grasp the idea of a nested, graded phylogeny. His response indicates he still thinks of birds and reptiles as two separate categories of animal, when actually a bird is a kind of reptile. Thus as Tom says, the number of changes from the non-bird reptile most closely related to birds (possibly like Anchiornis) to the first reptile defined by us to be a bird (like Archaeopteryx) is very low. In fact, it’s so low, that Andrea’s analysis he linked to couldn’t even be sure Archaeopteryx was closer to modern birds than Anchiornis.

    But Bill, if you want a simple answer look at the file Andrea linked to, where it says “Unnamed Node: (Jeholornis + Pygostylia)”. Jeholornis (which I listed as Shenzhouraptor; there’s a naming dispute) is basically universally agreed to be closer to modern birds than to taxa like Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis. Anchiornis and Archaeopteryx may be birds, or may be deinonychosaurs like Velociraptor, as I mentioned above. So going from Anchiornis/Archaeopteryx to Jeholornis took ten steps of the 1025 possible steps Andrea looked at (which is the highest number of steps looked at that’s been published).

    Ten. That’s your answer.

    What are those steps? A narrow radius shaft compared to the ulna, the radius is longer compared to the femur, the ulna is wider compared to the tibia, a narrow first bone in the thumb, a shelf on the edge of the first bone in the second finger, a shorter second bone in the second finger compared to the first bone of that finger, the projection on one pelvic bone (ilium) that articulates with another (pubis) is angled backward, the pubis bones meet each other on the midline over a shorter distance, the pubis itself points backward, and the base of the three major foot bones is fused together.

    And note even in these 10 characters, the actual difference between Jeholornis and Archaeopteryx is minor. Jeholornis has a radius ~65% as wide as its ulna, Archaeopteryx has a ratio of 67-83%. An Archaeopteryx specimen has the second bone of its second finger 16% longer than the first bone of that finger, while a Jeholornis specimen has a ratio of 8% longer. The midline contact between the pubis bones is 25% of their length in Jeholornis and 46% in Archaeopteryx. The pubis in Archaeopteryx is angled 3 degrees backward, while that of Jeholornis is 15 degrees. The projection of the ilium that articulates with the pubis is angled 11 degrees backward in an Archaeopteryx specimen and 25 degrees backward in a Jeholornis specimen. The absence of foot bone fusion in most Archaeopteryx may just be because those specimens are young, as two larger specimens have fusion.

    Ten changes, most of which are differences in proportion of 2-21 percent or differences in angle of 12-14%. But I doubt that answer will satisfy you.

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  73. 73. Tayo Bethel 6:20 pm 08/13/2012

    Clearly, Mr. Creationist is not reading what everyone here is trying so hard to hammer into his overly thick skull. All of this very useful information will simply roll off him. I stopped counting how many times his question was answered … reading his comments is tiresome.

    Sorry if I went overboard with this … but Mr. Creationist, please read the comments before commenting or else leave us all in peace.

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  74. 74. Halbred 6:39 pm 08/13/2012

    The best part is that our Creationist friend, partially on account of not understanding nested phylogenies (we’re all fish!), probably means “how many steps does it take to go from dinosaur X to arbitrarily-chosen modern bird, like a seagull.” Because I doubt he has any conception of pre-enantiornithine, enantiornithine, or basal crown-group birds. So how many steps does it take to get from Eoraptor to Gallus?

    And isn’t he just dancing around the central question? How many steps does it take to get from a rock to a human?

    Link to this
  75. 75. David Marjanović 7:12 am 08/14/2012

    Bill, this is a blog. You’re not writing private e-mails or something. When you write something here, everyone* can read it; you are not having private one-on-one conversations, you are speaking publicly.

    * Literally everyone who has an Internet connection and can read English. That’s something like a billion people, if not more.

    Therefore, when you write the exact same thing six times and slap different people’s names on it, you come across as spamming. I strongly recommend you stop that practice – unless you actually want to annoy everyone, in which case you’ll sooner or later be banned for trolling instead of spamming.

    On a less important note, the “Latin(?) names” you mention are the official names of a bunch of extinct animals (and not all of them are Latin or purely Latin; in particular, there’s a lot of Greek, followed by Chinese). You can google for each one of them, and I highly recommend you do. Better yet: search for them in Google Scholar.

    Most importantly, if you have any questions about comments 32 or 68, ask them here.

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  76. 76. Perisoreus 8:33 am 08/14/2012

    Halbred:

    I think most of the posters here are dancing around the central question, since it’s rather obvious that none of the participants is really seeing this debate as one about dinosaurs or birds. I wonder why neither the creationist nor the evolutionists (to put it that bluntly) come out of their defense and use birds and missing links as their proxies and mock their other instead.

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  77. 77. David Marjanović 10:47 am 08/14/2012

    No, Perisoreus, I don’t care about my own origins more than about those of the blackbird outside the window. They’re not somehow inherently more interesting to me. I’m sure they are to many, perhaps all, creationists; but that’s not why I’m here!

    I see this discussion as one about ways of thinking: tree-thinking; scientific thinking; good riddance to essentialism (“how many changes from reptile to bird” is an essentialist question that isn’t applicable to reality like that, because essentialism fails to describe reality); and finally about not talking about things one doesn’t know enough about to form an opinion about them in the first place.

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  78. 78. josimo70 10:22 pm 08/14/2012

    It sounds amazingly weird clades with singular names like Australavis and Cantiomimus. Why not Australaves and Cantiomimi. Cantiomimus sounds even more bizarre, because doesn’t make sense: there is no Greek or Latin prefix cantio-.

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  79. 79. David Marjanović 9:59 am 08/15/2012

    Well, there’s Cantium, which is today Kent… :-)

    Cantus is “song” (compare “chant”, the French derivative). I suppose “Cantomimus” would have made some sense.

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  80. 80. The Paleo King 12:45 am 08/16/2012

    The disturbing reality most Creationists try desperately not to get is that many non-avian theropods were already so birdlike that it’s a bigger stretch to get from non-dinosaurian archosaur to dinosaur than it is to go from non-avian theropod to bird. They love to throw dinosaurs in with crocodiles, lizards, and anything cold-blooded in one huger “reptile” grab-bag, but as for even implying that a dinosaur could be birdlike, forget about it!

    If you could go back in time and bring back St. Augustine or another early Christian thinker, I wonder what they would think of these self-proclaimed “religious” people who waste their entire day citing scripture in defense of denialist arguments about precise biological points that have not even the slightest connection relation to anything addressed in scripture. What would they have made of the precise position of metacarpals on paraves, and its bearing (or lack thereof) on the great metaphysical questions of mankind’s purpose?

    And as for there being “no transitional forms”…. Then what are we to do with:

    Tawa
    Lilisternus
    Sinraptor
    Acrocanthosaurus
    Albertosaurus arctinguis
    Saturnalia
    Aardonyx
    Ferganasaurus
    Datousaurus
    Zigongosaurus
    Volkheimeria
    Daanosaurus
    Cetiosauriscus
    Eobrontosaurus
    Venenosaurus
    Phuwiangosaurus
    Malawisaurus
    Rocasaurus
    Epachthosaurus
    “Titanosaurus” robustus
    Tapuiasaurus
    Hesperosaurus
    Dryosaurus
    Achelousaurus
    Ajugaceratops
    Eotriceratops

    The list is endless. The most basic rule of evolution is that there are not “metataxa” because EVERYTHING is a metataxon (aside from dead-end species that go extinct without evolving into something new first). Every fossil species that wasn’t a dead-end was by definition a metataxon, and the lines between clades are quite blurred in some places due to the huge number of intermediate stages. At what point are we to define when a transitional form is a primitive bird, and when it’s a non-avian theropod? On both sides of the line you find feathers, flexible necks, and some teeth.

    This may take a while to sink in for even some scientists out there… There is no difference between some exotic metataxon like Tiktaalik or Archaeopteryx and any other extinct animal that didn’t hit a dead-end. If you continue evolving, you’re a metataxon. Thus there are no “unique” missing links in a complete evolutionary sequence, and at the same time nearly EVERYTHING is a “missing link”.

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  81. 81. David Marjanović 5:06 am 08/16/2012

    it’s a bigger stretch to get from non-dinosaurian archosaur to dinosaur than it is to go from non-avian theropod to bird

    I disagree; witness the confusion about silesaurids and a bunch of others.

    not even the slightest connection relation to anything addressed in scripture

    I suppose that’s debatable.

    EVERYTHING is a metataxon (aside from dead-end species that go extinct without evolving into something new first)

    Yeah, but that’s most of them. The tree of life isn’t a pole, it’s a tree.

    And while I don’t know about Tiktaalik, Archaeopteryx is not a metataxon as far as we know today; it does have autapomorphies.

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  82. 82. David Černý 7:45 am 08/16/2012

    And while I don’t know about Tiktaalik, Archaeopteryx is not a metataxon as far as we know today; it does have autapomorphies.

    On the other hand, Archaeopteryx sensu lato (i.e., including Wellnhoferia) cannot be convincingly shown to be either monophyletic or paraphyletic, which fits the definition of a metataxon. In the analyses of Lee & Worthy (2011), Wellnhoferia grouped with jeholornithids and more derived birds instead of Archaeopteryx sensu stricto (although with a low posterior probability value), so the discussion on whether Archaeopteryx was “directly ancestral” to all later birds or just an “offshoot” from the “main” avian line might not be so meaningless after all.

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  83. 83. Heteromeles 12:44 pm 08/16/2012

    Actually, the kingdom of life isn’t a tree either. It’s more like a rhizomatous grove of bushes, where the eukaryotes are actually symbiotic colonies of bacteria, and the bacteria are the “rhizomes” underlying and linking all the separate animal, plant, fungi, etc. “trees.” Still, if you look at any one branch, most (not all–some are highly reticulated) appear dendritic. It’s really about what level you’re focusing on.

    The sad part of this, from the Christian perspective, is that Christianity (as I understand it) is about faith and works, and I don’t think arguing about Creationist ideology fits in either category. I’d sooner got out and volunteer at a homeless shelter than argue with a Creationist, and I’d recommend that Creationists do the same thing. Christ cared more about the poor than he did about fossils.

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  84. 84. Therizinosaurus 12:53 am 08/17/2012

    David Černý- That assumes Senter (2007), which Lee and Worthy’s matrix is basically based on, tried to include Archaeopteryx apomorphies. I should write about proposed Archaeopteryx apomorphies sometime for the Database, though I don’t find the proposals to divide it into multiple species convincing [go here].

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  85. 85. David Marjanović 8:46 am 08/17/2012

    I should write about proposed Archaeopteryx apomorphies sometime for the Database, though I don’t find the proposals to divide it into multiple species convincing [go here]

    Awesome. This is practically publishable.

    While I am at it, update the holotype, correct seimensii to siemensii (with ie, pronounced “ee”, not with ei, pronounced “eye”) and Maxburg (with “oo” as in “good”) to Maxberg (with “e” as in “bed”).

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  86. 86. JAHeadden 7:10 am 08/19/2012

    One more chime-in. On the subject of “gay creationsits”:

    They do exist. I’ve known more than one, and moreover, various grades. We’ll ignore for the moment folks like Ted Haggard, former Rep. Mike Foley, or former Sen. Larry Craig, here in the States.

    For example, there are the various “Log Cabin Republicans” (almost to a man all Christian) and even all the openly-gay clergy in both Protestant and Catholic sectors, and these last two groups are international.

    One of the few men in this world that I truly respect, and a former boss, was a dyed-in-the-wool, born-again Christian from Idaho, creationist to his core and literalist at that, who was nonetheless openly gay and married to a rather smart and funny woman. He also didn’t accept evidence for the fact or process of evolution. *shrug*

    But … they exist. It may be difficult to conceptualize the idea, but this has a lot to do with the distinction of Biblical fundamentalism versus mere creationist leanings. There are, for instance, theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller, or agnostics on either subject, or Buddhists (who are very plastic on the nature of “creation,” but as a whole tend to agree with Science), or good ol’ deists like Thomas Jefferson (whom you can ignore almost anything said by David Barton on, as that man is a lying quack).

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  87. 87. David Marjanović 11:16 am 08/20/2012

    For example, there are the various “Log Cabin Republicans” (almost to a man all Christian) and even all the openly-gay clergy in both Protestant and Catholic sectors, and these last two groups are international.

    Are those creationists? Catholic creationists are rare outside the USA, and AFAIK not particularly common even there. Indeed, the current pope and his predecessor have explicitly said they’re not creationists.

    openly gay and married to a rather smart and funny woman

    …uh. That sounds like he only came out to himself after he got married; and this sounds like his brain is in a precarious balance that may not last long.

    Link to this

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