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Storrs Olson and the Last Crusade (was Re: New bird refs)
Ben Creisler wrote:
Storrs Olson reviews New Perspectives on the Origin and
Early Evolution of Birds. Proceedings of the International
Symposium in Honor of John H. Ostrom. pp. 1202-1205
[[No real surprises in what they have to say I'm afraid.
Nevertheless, the level of shrilleness and vitriol contained in the review
is a little surprising. Below is a few choice excerpts. My comments are
brief, since I have to rush off to the local chapter of the Fundamental
Cladist Church of Birds as Latter Day Dinosaurs.
Here we go. Says Olson:
"One of the rituals of the Birds-Are-Dinosaurs-Movement (BADM) is to hold
periodic symposia to reaffirm the belief that birds really are dinosaurs,
much as Southern Baptists hold revival meetings." [Olson enjoys his
religious analogies. There's more coming up. You may want to clutch the
nearest crucifix before reading on.]
"The volume reviewed here is the metastasis of one of these symposia, which
honors Yale paleontologist John Ostrom..."
"Kevin Padian, the Elmer Gantry of the theropod crusade, is an author on no
fewer than four contributions, which does nothing to diminish the impression
of the whole volume as a dreary, sectarian tract from the Kingdom Hall of
"Having to suppress one's gag reflex as early as page 3, where we read about
?the considerably more lively varieties [of dinosaurs] flitting about our
backyards,? only generates queasiness for tackling what follows." [I hope
Storrs didn't read the volume with a full stomach.]
"The whole underpinning of the BADM is cladism, a systematic formulation
elevated to a religion years ago and with adherents as fervent as any
"Reconstructions of Mononykus, covered with imaginary feathers, of course,
appeared all through the print media and even made the cover of Time
magazine." [The 'parafeathers' of Longisquama are, of course, authentic.
"The study [showing that Caudipteryx and the Oviraptorosauria are
flightless birds] is seemingly unassailable from the standpoint of strict
cladistic orthodoxy, but is still likely to elicit criticism from someone in
the BADM because it eliminates the only example of a ?dinosaur? with real
feathers". [At the time of writing, Feduccia and Czerkas were marching
Cryptovolans at gunpoint from the dinosaur camp into the bird camp.]
"Unscientific noncladists could look at those taxa [Mononykus and
Caudipteryx] and see that the first was a dinosaur and the second was a
bird." [Wonder what those same 'unscientific noncladists' would do with
plesiosaurs and pterodactyls. Or Big Bird and Barney the Dinosaur.]
"None of this ?dino-fuzz? exhibits the structure of a pennaceous feather.
Furthermore, there reportedly are in the same deposits various other
organisms, unrelated to birds or theropods, that sport those same filaments.
If so, the information has been suppressed." [I knew it! There's a
cover-up! Mulder and Scully, stop whatever you're doing, and get to the
bottom of this conspiracy.]
"Furthermore, the only integument preserved with any of the preceding
dinosaurs is the skin of Carnotaurus (Bonaparte et al. 1990), which consists
of ?non-imbricating scales similar to those which are known from herbivorous
dinosaurs?" [I keep on forgetting, but kudos to Olson for remining me: all
theropods are the same. If one has scaly skin, they all had scaly skin; if
one has serrated teeth, they all had serrated teeth.]
"Prum's own essay is little more than naked proselytizing, designed to
cajole the heathen onto the path of enlightenment."
Well, that's enough from me. I'm off to Mass. Today we're going to
sacrifice an avian dinosaur and read its entrails, in order to divine
cladistic character states.
Go in peace.
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