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RE: Feduccia's delusion



> From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
> ekaterina A
>
> I wonder if any of you all took a look at Feduccia's
> recent letter in the Nature tabloid. I am not a
> paleontologist yet I was amazed by how he managed to
> get something so subjective published as a piece of
> science.

Quite.  I've had a double-filling of Feduccia this week; this letter, and on
Wed. he gave a "Distinguished Scientist" lecture at the Smithsonian.  I
don't begrudge him the latter, as he was a very important figure in Tertiary
paleoornithology in the later 20th Century.  However, his talk was
(predictably) his displeasure with the dinosaurian origin of birds rather
than about his own important contribution.  Other than a new slide or two of
embryonic bird hands, everything he discussed was a rehash of his thoughts
on dinosaur physiology and cladistics that he has published on for the last
couple of decades.  (Okay, he said something that I don't think he realized
was kind of quaint.  He feels he has discovered a "new" synapomorphy:
reduction of manual digits IV and V!  Hey, someone better tell Bakker and
Galton!  Maybe they can go back in time to about, oh, 1974 and publish that
in the obscure British journal Nature. :-).

Generally a good scientific talk generates a lot of questions and
discussions afterwards; there were at first no hands raised for questions at
the end of his talk, and only after pleading from the host did someone raise
their hand (to ask about where Feduccia expected the debate to be in 10
years).

> HE goes onto say that there is no evidence for
> Apsaravis being related to modern birds so it is
> irrelevant to the question of origin of 'modern
> ornithurines'. What does this mean- he clearly does
> not seem to understand phylogenetic arguments to even
> be in a position to argue against them.

Correct.  Similarly, he continues to state that paleontologists argue for
dromaeosaurids as bird ancestors, while in truth the vast majority of
analyses place them as the sister taxon to birds (with troodontids somewhere
in the mix).

Julia Clarke & Mark Norell correctly point out Feduccia's double standard:
he cannot logically dismiss _Apsaravis_ from understanding the ecology of
the basalmost neornithines on the basis that it doesn't belong to a modern
"order" while SIMULTANEOUSLY using the marine nature of ichthyornithiforms
and hesperornithiforms (obviously not members of modern orders!) as evidence
for his own model.

Incidentally, another (somewhat humerous case) of double-standard from the
talk on Wed.  [Dave Unwin, if you are reading this, you'll appreciate it!!].
Feduccia pointed out that Kevin Padian's morphological and interpretation of
pterosaurs placed them as cursorial terrestrial bipedal ornithodirans.  He
then discussed how the trackway work of Lockely (and, to be fair, a LOT of
others), the soft-tissue work by Unwin, the (uncredited) work of Bennett,
and others have shown that the bipedal model is almost certainly wrong.

Fair enough.  However, he then said "So you can see how cladistics prevented
any serious work on pterosaurs for 20 years."

Uh, right...  From where I was sitting, it looked pretty much like he had
just documented some excellent serious work on pterosaurs that had been done
in the last 20 years.  But, I guess, as a cladist I'm just too biased... :-)

> In the original Apsaravis paper- did Clarke not show
> that it was one of the few exquisitely preserved birds
> from the late Cretaceous where otherwise very few well
> preserved birds have been discovered. From where does
> Feduccia get his special data for his hypothesis then?
> His is more a conjucture than even an hypothesis
>
> Or Am I missing something? Please enlighten me what is
> he trying to say here?

Sadly you are not missing something here.  You've hit the nail directly on
the head: he has a special cherished hypothesis, and data and/or
interpretations contrary to it seem to be ignored.

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
                College Park, MD  20742
http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/tholtz.htm
http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/eltsite
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796