Just back from a Dinosaur Society weekend at the Wetland Centre in Barnes. I had workshops and couldn’t go to all the talks, but I was surprised that Friday, sandwiched in between academic talks by Darren Naish and Mike Benton (Benton talk included very updated information and was especially compelling), I found myself witnessing an event that was not only a throwback, but an apology of creationism-like methods and a disgrace to science. Was it a comedy sketch? No it was -supposedly- dead serious.
You might be forgiven if you haven’t heard of the speaker (last he published something was in the era where Archaeopteryx was still the “first bird” and dinosaurs were stranded in swamps with their tails dragging on the ground)… and, unfortunately, he has never learned anything ever since. But that is not what troubles me… it is the fact that in his talk he picked and chose whatever suited his grand outdated ideas, ignoring any evidence that could contradict him. And that is what I call “the creationist method”. He considers himself a maverick… a rebel! A “provocateur”…!
I could say: leave that to me… I‘ve had enough troubles defending misinformed audiences from the likes of him for decades.
He started the talk well enough. An exercise in taphonomy trying to demonstrate that the famous Deinonychus-Tenontosaurus battle scene didn’t really take place, and it was mostly something akin to what happened in La Brea tar pits: an aggregation of hunters and victim that died together. Fair enough, it may well have been! Some may argue the contrary of course…http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/1/81.short
He added a very good summary of John Ostrom’s magnificent scientific methodology to find the relationship of dinosaurs and birds via the study of Archaeopteryx… surprisingly Ostrom was trying to find an evolutionary relationship of the peculiar tail of Archaeopteryx somewhere, including pterosaurs… he found a specimen in Germany labelled as a “pterosaur” which turned out a missing specimen of Archaeopteryx… he started studying it and he was to find much more than that…. the rest is history!
But the speaker is not particularly fond of the likes of John Ostrom and “unfounded” imagination exercises (except if they are his own) . His intention was not narrating the story of an ‘Eureka!’ moment of a great academic. That was just an excuse. His aim was to stress that dinosaurs: 1.-Could not have been pack hunters because “they were just not intelligent enough” 2.- Feathered dinosaurs is a conspiracy concocted by Ostrom and his allies. They never existed as they are unrelated to birds . Unfortunately, that was the departure point where things started to get ridiculous and turned into an exercise of junk science…
Adjusting and distorting facts at will, he first presented us with his interpretation of the theropod brain in a phantom Deinonychus braincase (he admitted he didn’t have the brain case of what he was “describing”!) with information that goes back to the first Ostrom paper describing Deinonychus from the 60’s! He dismissed any contemporary study,not just because he doesn’t know… he wilfully dismissed and ignored the last 40 years of Palaeontology because he thinks we are all involved in some sort of conspiracy against his own, very personal, “theories”
Another argument came to the fore: that the specialised sickle clawed foot of Deinonychus and Velociraptor has nothing to do with Archaeopteryx so they “could not have been feathered” because “Archaeopterygids” are the real birds and are obviously feathered…
So what did he show immediately after? A slide of the torso and head of “Dave”, the Sinornithosaurus… a little modernity after all! How could he argue that “Dave” was not feathered? Well he can’t of course, because he announced with great pomp that he considers “Dave” an “Archaeopterygid”(!), taking at the same time great care in not showing the lower part of the body! He is not interested in noting the pedal anatomy of “Dave” with its clearly dromaeosaurian sickle claw, that is so well preserved that even the keratin coverage is shown… and I have studied at close quarters the real fossil at Mark Norell’s office many years ago!
Neither he cared to show the sickle claw of Microraptor, Anchiornis and so many fully feathered maniraptorans, dromaeosaus,and NON maniraptorans or dromaeosaurs …
Was Caudipteryx with its clear arm and tail feathers, an Archaeopterygid too? So Oviraptor must have been too! I thought the problems with Sinosauropteryx were over… even the melanosomes contained in its keratinous protofeathers are successfully analysed for indication of colours these days! Maybe he is also marrying Sinosauropteryx (a compsognathid) with Archaeopteryx in what they really are: Dinosaurs? … No chance I’m afraid! This was all about fringe Palaeontology or better: Cryptozoology.
And why all this continuous nonsense? It just didn’t suit his theoretical conspiracy. A whole world of dinosaur palaeontology was dismissed in a single stroke! And all because the man has a grudge? He has not done his homework since the 70’s…
Indeed it suits the title of the talk(even included “abstract”!): “Trouble at YPM 66-75”… it never reached beyond 1975!
Of course at this point the whole of the audience was laughing… or in a fit, like yours truly. After all, MY artwork was used by him to illustrate the “fantasy” of a Deinonychus pack hunting… or of having wing feathers … Fantasy about sporting arm feathers? https://www.academia.edu/12552076/FURTHER_DESCRIPTIONS_OF_THE_OSTEOLOGY_OF_DEINONYCHUS_ANTIRRHOPUS_SAURISCHIA_THEROPODA_
When I enquired about it, he also obviously dismissed not just cladistics, but the hard evidence of the quill bumps along the arm bones of Velociraptor as an oddity of an obscure “single bone”… he was not naive about it: he knew what I was talking about, but gave no other argument…no other reason… no mention of the preservation bias of fossils… nothing…science reduced to simple twisted opinion or prejudice! A Troll with credentials… a bit like creationists dismissing the existence of dinosaurs because they are not in the Bible. A British “academic” in the podium actually questions the existence of actual fossil bones! Hallelujah!
One thing that Alan Feduccia said a long time ago was something like “Palaeontology is not a democracy”. You don’t have the right to talk “just because”. If you are going to speak,and specially talk in an academic context challenging ideas, you do it not disdaining or distorting facts to fit the theory. We need to abide by the facts and if we have to dismount our personal horses, so be it.
I have a deep respect for Palaeontology. I profoundly resent my artwork being used by ego-tripping individuals that pass for “academics” as much as I resent being used by any creationist. And worst under the limelight of the Dinosaur Society. No wonder dinosaurs in good part have not been able to overcome the toddler stage in this country!
Luis V Rey