Re: [asa] How paleontology works

From: Jack Haas <>
Date: Mon Sep 11 2006 - 10:57:27 EDT

As a follow-up to Iain's comments on Mary Schweitzer's research read the
interesting account of her research in the article:
"Dinosaur Shocker" By Helen Fields in
Jack Haas

Iain Strachan wrote:
> Actually, I think the example Rich gives, interesting though it is,
> falls for the same sort of mistake that YEC's also make.
> The problem is there is no easy way to rule out coincidence - they
> decided to look there by perfectly rational deduction, and then they
> got an observation that fitted the prediction. But unless there is a
> consistent trend of results like this ( e.g. consistently finding more
> transitional forms were "predicted" compared to looking in random
> places), then there is no proof that it wasn't coincidence.
> Unfortunately this kind of find then gets amplified by the popular
> press, and gets taken as validation of the theory.
> I think Creationists do much the same thing ... it appears that much
> of the hype they created over the T. Rex alleged "blood cells" was by
> taking a headline from a popular news item, and proclaiming it as the
> truth. They never bothered to check the detailed scientific
> references, which were much more cautious. A write up of the T. Rex
> red blood cell fiasco on Talk Origins shows how they systematically
> exaggerated the significance of the find, based purely on popular
> press descriptions of it. It was sickening to read how they had
> twisted Mary Schweitzer's research for their own ends, especially, as
> I have now read, that Schweitzer is in fact a devout Christian, who
> has a biblical text on her desk, and who is very upset about the way
> her work has been messed around with.
> To return to paleontology - the main point is that one example doesn't
> prove a theory.
> Iain
> On 9/11/06, *James Mahaffy* <
> <>> wrote:
> See below.
> --
> James Mahaffy (
> <>) Phone: 712 722-6279
> 498 4th Ave NE
> Biology Department FAX : 712
> 722-1198
> Dordt College, Sioux Center IA 51250-1697
> >>> On 9/11/2006 at 8:18 AM, in message
> <
> <>>,
> "Rich
> Blinne"
> < <>> wrote:
> > On 9/10/06, Bill Hamilton <
> <>> wrote:
> >>
> [snip]
> > You mean you want an HR diagram? That's in all undergrad Astronomy
> > texts. Actually the paleontologists do that one better than what you
> > are asking. They predict using evolutionary theory where say a
> > transitional form say a fish that can walk might exist. Here's how
> > they knew where to look for Tiktaalik according to Nature News:
> >
> > "Daeschler and Shubin set off to find this missing link in the
> > evolutionary chain back in 1999. The pair targeted Ellesmere Island
> > after noticing that it was listed in an undergraduate textbook as
> > exposed Devonian rock that had not previously been explored for
> > vertebrate fossils.
> >
> > The desolate area was reachable only by plane, and the weather was
> so
> > bad that field work could only be done for about two months each
> > summer. The team first walked around the rocky outcrops looking for
> > fossils of plant life that indicated stream or delta sediments, in
> > order to target areas that had once hosted shallow waters. 'That is
> > where the action is on the fish-to-tetrapod transition,' says
> > Daeschler."
> >
> > Sure enough they found the fossil there. This is how you make
> > so-called historical sciences experimental. Similar techniques are
> > used in astrophysics where colliding galaxies were recently used to
> > determine whether dark matter exists.
> This gives the wrong impression that most paleontology works by
> people
> knowing there should be a transition fossil and then looking in the
> appropriate age rock and finding it. Mostly that is NOT how new
> interesting fossils or "transitional" fossils are found. If it
> were we
> would have found the transition fossils to the angiosperms (flowering
> plants) and most invertebrate fossils. We know where they appear
> in the
> fossil record but most appear without obvious transitions and is
> not for
> paleontologists looking for them. Before Keith picks on me,I am not
> denying transitional fossils. Iit is easier to find transitions
> in the
> vertebrate record than invertebrate record. And I do know something
> about fossil (graduate work in paleobotany) and teach paleontology at
> Dordt.
> Let me share the other side of how paleontology sometimes works. Back
> in the late 70's I was working on paper on a fossil plant,
> Microspermopteris. It had been described as lacking leaves. That was
> wrong. It just had long internodes and the leaves weren't seen by the
> original describer of the genus. In any case, my original article did
> not draw any phylogenetic inferences to the status of this plants to
> other pteridosperms. I did see differences in the genus from
> different
> parts of the US (our lab had the biggest collection of coalballs
> (petrified coal-swamp peat) from the US. However, I was told by the
> person mentoring my first paper that I had to hypothesize what the
> phylogenetic relationship. Eventually, I had to confess I
> philosophically did not believe that everything had to be
> phylogenetically related. And alas another lab meanwhile
> published on
> the anatomy of the genus.
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Received on Mon Sep 11 10:58:29 2006

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