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Feduccia and friends (wordy)

I think there is some confusion over the consternation that comes out
towards Feduccia and Martin on the bird-dino issue. No one is arguing
that they should not be trying like hell to counter the bird-dino link - that
indeed is science and if I run across something more in my line of
expertise that questions it, you bet I'll shoot it out there fast. It's my job.

You see, it's real fun to be a gadfly and we all like to do it whenever we
can. However, my problem with Feduccia and Martin is that, with this
issue, they are not doing it very well. They are both very bright scientists
who undoubtedly have done some excellent work. I don't know Alan, but
I know and like Larry Martin a lot and may even do some work with him
over the next few years. I just don't find most of their counterarguments
on this topic  to be well-developed and, at times, they seem totally
slapped dashed together in what seems like an emotional need to fight
the dino-bird conclusion at all costs. I understand and have noted this
type of emotional involvement on both sides and don't enjoy it either way.
However, those developing the evidence have done their homework and
provided the scientific capital needed to support what they are saying.
With the exception of the developmental argument, which was a nice
one although it seems relatively easily countered (I will await additional
counter - arguments on both sides here), the arguments given over the
last year by Feduccia and Martin are seemingly desperate. For example,
the quotes on Rahonavis being a chimaera seemed on purpose to avoid
the fact that what those authors were saying did not rely on the two
parts being the same animal, even though evidence suggests that they
are. They also seemed amazing given Larry's full support of Sankar's
proto beast which is almost certainly a chimaera. Some of the quotes I've
read over the last few days about the Chinese stuff have been even
less logical to me.

Now, given the plethora of evidence for the bird-dino connection,
backed-up with phylogenetic analyses that are in full support of it, it is
time for Martin and feduccia to put up or shut up with their own
analyses, the only effective way to counter much of the evidence that is
piling up. Regarding secondary flightlessness, sorry but the same thing
applies - do the analyses, otherwise it will be stay a basically
unsupported idea only. I have lots and lots of ideas that I could throw out
on the list but without detailed development, they are just unsupported
ideas. George, Greg, or anyone else  is welcome to do the analyses that
would support this, but I suspect the evidence will not be close to being
there. However, if I come across an early theropod that was an obvious
flier and could show this aspect, you bet I'll write it up as fast as
possible. So we all will look for such evidence - would be a nice way to
become instantly high profile - but it isn't there so, consequently, the
flightlessness theory is justifiably not in favor by the vast majority of
VP'ers who have looked at it. The other area of possibility is developing
detailed functional analyses that demonstrate that the later theropod
anatomy must have been derived from a flier. Hasn't been done yet to my
satisfaction - not even close.

Now, I have a strong interest in pachycephalosaurs, am working on the
revision of the chapter for the revised Dinosauria. I have my own
theories as to what the dome was used for and very recently Ken
Carpenter and Mark Goodwin have come out with papers with
alternative views. Now If I'm called up by the press, which I don't expect,
to answer these papers I will say I don't agree with the conclusions but
that the ball is now in my court to develop specific ways to test their
work and statements to see which of the various models makes sense. I
will be working on this area for a while now and will give my real
statement with the resulting publications. Until I've completed these
things, I have no basis to strongly jump on these guys and need to make
moderate statements to reflect this. Besides, if at the end my current
opinion doesn't make sense, then I'm just going to have to change my
mind. Don't think it will come down to that, but I'm ready if it does.
Regardless, I'll happily have a beer with either one any time (ok a Diet
Coke for me). 

It is a shame that our press system is so structured as to push some
scientists into making statements that are stronger and more negative
than should be made. I am very happy to have those that disagree with
favored theories, a position I am often in as well, although some have
changed from that status.

I would like to see a more detailed phylogenetic analysis of the new data
with more dinos thrown in because I suspect the exact nature of the
connection still needs great amounts of work. The odds of this
happening are massive given that most theropod types are probably
running these analyses as I write. Wonderful. Meanwhile, I'll be playing
with pachys and other things and will always keep my eyes open for
some other archosaur flier that may throw a monkey wrench into the
whole idea. Don't think for a minute that Phil or Mark Norell or any of the
other proponents aren't doing the same. Most of us just want to know
the answer and don;t care all that much what it is.

Ralph Chapman