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Science feather strength debate



As soon as I saw the Nudds and Dyke Science paper on the supposedly weak 
feathered Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis I knew it was fatally flawed â and 
was also irritated that N&D did not cite my work on the subject in Dinosaurs 
of the Air (when they cited another academic book). The notion that any 
bird with well developed wings would have feathers so weak they would buckle 
under such light loads is rather silly and requires solid evidence to verify 
it, yet a quick look at my nifty cast of the Berlin specimen made it clear 
that the primaries were as strong shafted as expected of powered fliers (I 
have since picked up some pigeon primaries off the sidewalks of Baltimore and 
the shaft diameters almost perfectly match that of the urvogel specimen whose 
body mass was about the same). As my rebuttal explains, N&D made a lot of 
basic errors including way overestimating the mass of the little juvenile 
Munich specimen (that I correctly estimated in DA and so much trouble could 
have been avoided by using it) by using the mass of the much bigger Berlin 
specimen, way undermeasuring the primary shafts of the Munich specimen, and way 
overestimating the mass of Confuciusornis which was not as heavy as a duck. 
Did I mention that it is not even possible to restore the flight of adult 
Archaeopteryx because the material is not available? That images showing the 
exact feather shaft measurements of the basal birds were not included in even 
the supplementary information was a basic methodology megamistake in 
scientific procedures. The N&D paper is entirely invalid, so letâs hear no more 
nonsense about weak winged early birds. 

As I noted in the technical comment, I did not attempt to recalculate the 
buckling strength of the feathers of Archaeopteryx because of the lack of an 
adult specimen, and the absence of feather shaft bases to measure. So the 
questionaing by N&D of my not attempting to do the calculations, and their 
second effort to calculate the flight performance, are both completely 
spurious, and this will not change until and unless a large speciment with the 
primary feather base shafts is found. (Also silly is their questionaing how I 
could conclude that Archaeopteryx had reasonably strong primaries when the much 
lower mass estimate and much thicker feather shafts leave the conclusion 
obvious.) It may eventually be possible to do the calculations with 
Confuciusornis, but only after the body mass of specific adult specimens with 
well 
preserved primary feather shaft bases are produced. In any case I suspect the 
method is flawed because the overlapping primary feathers help support one 
another. 

One reason I was so peeved by the N&D paper is because it is a classic 
example of being led down the errant path by focusing too much on one aspect of 
an organismâs biology. So look at the entire damned animal!!!! It is well 
known that Confuciusornis is found as mass kills in lake bottom deposits, 
which indicates it was flying over large bodies of water in flocks, which means 
it should have had significant powered flight capabilities. Had N&D 
considered that aspect they may have rechecked their figures and avoided the 
entire 
mess. Let that be a lesson for everyone. 

The other lesson is -- cite the blasted literature. Especially my studies, 
which lots of folks are not citing nearly as often as they should despite 
their specific pertinence and in some cases priority. 

And another problem revealed by the N&D paper is the dysfunctionally 
intense academic-professional pressure to publish in Science and Nature. It is 
causing folks to get ahead of the data and get themselves into trouble. And, as 
some complain, it is delaying publication of important items as many strive 
to get stuff into the elite journals rather than lower âimpact factorâ 
paleojournals. 

But hey, why should I complain about flawed articles in Science? The more 
the better for me, so far they have allowed me to get published twice in the 
journal this year (gloat, gloat). Once on the origin and nature of religion 
and the other on the origin and nature of dinoavian flight. So keep those 
defective papers coming! 

I see that the local crows are back to forming their fall mass urban flocks 
before roosting in the trees. They are lined up on the roof of the 
multistory apartment before they make their move as this goes out. 

GSPaul 

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