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Feathery Symposium (long)



Back from all the excitement (and with jetlag) of a memorable weekend I'll
try to write a quick report. It won't be as detailed or erudite as a Dick
Pierce... but I can't help to write about the fun things of the Florida
Symposium at a personal level.

Not only it was a well organized meeting and a chance to get together again
with so many friends... it also had great exhibits, Bambiraptor,Tinker, the
new gigantic Triebold's Chirostenotes skull and hand (an oviraptorosaur
three times the size!), Chinese feathered marvels (in the lab and in
microscopic DETAIL!) and a constant stream of assorted paleo-supremos and
superstars... it also gave us a peak of the Heavyweight Heavy Metal
Dinobird Opposition in drag!
Alan Feduccia (better known among friends as The Hammer Of The Gods) was
even trying on a panty girdle to do the 'pterosaur walk'. Unfortunately the
girdle was a bit too small. The scientific content of his speech was rather
outdated also, with a lot of 70's and 80's nostalgia. Nevertheless, his
performance was mystifingly spectacular, so in itself was unmissable. I've
always enjoyed the Blues... and oh dear... he delivered! This was the
Ornithologist Blues. Every corner of the speech was coupled by a thunderous
"Hypothesis Rejected!!" that will keep buzzing our ears for the rest of our
lives. He really put the fear of god inside us.
I recommend special effects and a light show on the next one.

Less spectacular but just as mystical was Ruben and his amazing display of
Archaeopteryx pelvises and 'retroverted' hypopubic cups that 'demonstrated'
his  'hepatic piston respiratory system theory' for dinosaurs. His approach
was: "they don't look retroverted, but they are...their verticality is just
an accident of preservation" (even if the pubis of his favorite example of
articulated specimen was fully vertical!) "what you are really seeing is
not what it IS".
By the time he showed an example of what "was >not< like Archaeopteryx":
the perfect articulated, genuinely retroverted pubis and ischium from the
new Mark Norell's Velociraptor, I thought I could hear:  "And he's buying a
Stairway To Heaven" (hey... this was really and clearly fully retroverted!
It looked to me as precisely what he was arguing for: A bird-like pelvis...
but no, wait a minute... it couldn't be! Velociraptor IS a dinosaur!). I
must have been hearing voices....he left us Dazed and Confused. A truly
Heavy Metal weekend!

Larry Martin was good though. If he is playing the devil's advocate and
just trying to be subversive (something like a challenging opposition to
dinosaurs as birds in a creative way to push boundaries as much as
possible): all the power to him! Science always needs to be tested and
re-tested. Unfortunately it seems that he is not about to be be convinced
at any cost, no matter if the evidence is overwhelming.

The part that I specially enjoyed from the whole symposium was the debates
(not enough in my opinion) and the sessions at the lab. In the last round
of questions and answers any illustrious member of the audience could have
taken the challenge (and win) any of these Titans of the >>"Birds Are Not
Dinosaurs"<< camp (brooches included, free if you wore them... of course I
wore one upside down so I could read it and repeat it like a Hare Krishna
mantra) but despite some tension, colossal jibes and the eloquence of  a
very serious Robert Bakker, the nervous prudence of a Greg Paul or the
coolness of Phil Currie or Kevin Padian, it was Jacques Gauthier the only
one that had the equanimity and presence of character to (in very low key
style) smash Feduccia and Martin's arguments to pieces. K.O. in a few
seconds!

I felt rather shy (after all I had the Fear Of God inside me) but I would
have liked to ask Storrs Olson and his stormy assertion that there was no
evidence whatsoever of feathers in dinosaurs (obviously he doesn't consider
Caudipteryx a dinosaur): What good is half a feather...? Or maybe a
quarter? Or a third? Were all those evidently insulatory traces that I
could even touch on the Sinornithosaurus fossil (and that anyone would have
interpreted as feathers if the specimen was Confuciusornis) something so
far from a feather that the animal could  be unquestionably not related
directly to birds?
Nah... those are feathers.

I must thank so many people but above all Steve Gatesy, William Garstka,
Ralph Chapman,Dan Chure and Xu Xing(and his new feathered missing link
between dromaeosaurs. troodontids and oviraptorosaurs) for their clear,
excellent presentations (Steve Gatesy's included animated flight studies
that were oh so clear!). Also thanks to the Czerkases and Xu Xing for
bringing Archaeoraptor for thorough scrutiny. Despite many reservations and
suspicions from a good number of paleontologists it is indeed two
recognizable bird-like dinosaurs:The main one (upper opart of the slab)is
outstandingly well preserved... it also demonstrates that the dromaeosaur
tail (that belongs to other animal that apparently has been well
recognized) was surrounded by feathers only visible in ultraviolet light...
too much for the undeserved press mistreatment.
Czerkas also let us scrutinize that new tiny mistery maniraptoran hatchling
wonder with a third extremely elongated digit (look forward for more
details about it in the future) with quite a few of us crowding their hotel
room! It has been acknowledge the first 'official' arboreal dinosaur (Greg
Paul compared it at first sight to a lemur) with a curious mixture of
primitive and dervived characters.
A special mention here to Sankar Chattarjee that is feeling very vindicated
lately... yes, fully recognizable arboreal theropods at last! Just as
vindicated as the absent George Olshevsky must be feeling now. Sankar must
be the only cool guy that seated as comfortably with the 'opposition' as
with the dino-bird partisans. Even Stephen Gatesy recognized the
possibility that the avian limb flapping motion could have originated as
dinosaurs climbed trees!

And obviously thanks to all the gang that made the experience so much more
enjoyable (Mary Kirkaldy, Tracy Ford, Ralph Miller, Linda Deck, Dick
Pierce, Brian Cooley & fam., Fernando Novas, Jordan Hand, Joanna Wright,
Andrew Lee, Bruce Shillinglaw, Jenny Herdman, Ashley and so many more). And
yes, Greg Paul was smiling.

In the end, a great experience... we can forgive the organizers for the
wrestling of alligators, the sub-ethnic music accompaniment and the kitsch
jungle decoration of the banquet...and other typically silly things for
tourists. After all, the awesome Florida landscape made for it and and the
food wasn't bad at all! A well organised event and a good support for the
Graves Museum.




Luis Rey

Visit my website on http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~luisrey