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RE: The debate over bird origins (was Re: Steadman's review of Mesozoic Birds)






From: "Dino Guy Ralph" <ralph.miller@alumni.usc.edu>
Reply-To: ralph.miller@alumni.usc.edu
To: <dinosaur@usc.edu>
CC: <brucemohn@aol.com>, <kpadian@socrates.berkeley.edu>
Subject: The debate over bird origins (was Re: Steadman's review of Mesozoic Birds)
Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2004 10:59:40 -0800


Just a few points I'd like to make.

1. One mustn't assume that the entire ornithological community aligns itself
with Martin or Feduccia just because these two critics of the theropod bird
origin theory are themselves ornithologists. Some ornithologists may agree
with them; many ornithologists disagree with them; and some ornithologists
don't concern themselves with the origin of birds at all.


2. The theropod bird origin hypothesis is well supported by the available
evidence. Although there are aspects of the origin and early history of
birds that are poorly understood at this time, the preponderance of evidence
supporting the theropod bird origin hypothesis is overwhelming, elevating
the idea to the level of a scientific "theory." As scientists, we must be
open to the possibility that new evidence will some day overturn the theory,
but it would take a great deal of new evidence to do so.


3. While it is true that scientists are entitled to their respective
interpretations of the evidence, the value of vociferous opposition which
doesn't address the available evidence is questionable. Valid criticism
provides new insights and raises new questions, and this advances our
understanding of our world, but not all criticisms are valid. At this point
in time, the theory that birds are dinosaur descendants -- and hence, by
modern definition, dinosaurs -- is every bit as well supported as the theory
that _Homo sapiens_ belongs to the primate clade. Ask yourself this
question: if an accomplished mammalogist were to claim that humans aren't
primates at all, how much evidence would it take to convince you that he or
she is right?


4. There are still plenty of details to be worked out, and plenty of new
discoveries and methodologies to come.  The debate may have been won, but
there's still enough we don't know to keep evolutionary biologists busy for
eternity.

Have a nice weekend,
--------
"Dino Guy" Ralph W. Miller III
Docent at the California Academy of Sciences
proud member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

(P. S. to Bruce: Please forward this message).




I do not disagree with anything posted herein and will state now before somehow contrary rumor gets out, that I am not a proponent of the thecodont ancestry of birds. I would state that ornithologists seem to largely a) dispute a theropod/bird link, b) ignore the origin of birds, or c) support the theropod/bird link, with the number of individuals of each persuasion decreasing from a to c. That is my own observation, which is of course possibly wrong, but it is what I can determine at any rate. Ultimately it makes little difference either way.

JGK

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