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Re: What is big, fluffy, and could tear you to shreds? Yutyrannus, the 9 m long feathered tyrannosauroid from China

Matthew Martyniuk <martyniuk@gmail.com> wrote:

> That's a problem with the poor scientists who make such assumptions
> rather than test hypotheses, not with the words that lead them to do
> so. If people historically assumed Archie had a reversed hallux
> because of it's name or classification, that's poor science, period.
> Making changes to the terminology to force people into doing good
> science is not the way to correct this problem. They'll simply find a
> different way to justify their evidence-free assumptions.

I agree that poor science will not be swayed by semantics alone.  This
is especially true of the BAND "hypothesis", which is buried within a
miasma of evidence-free assumptions.

Nevertheless, recent phylogenies have forced us to revisit the
vernacular terminology, including the word "bird".  If _Archaeopteryx_
 is actually closer to deinonychosaurs (such as _Troodon_ and
_Velociraptor_) than it is to modern birds, then is _Archaeopteryx_
still a "bird"?  This question actually influences good science (or at
least, genuinely well-intentioned science), for example:

Lee, M.S.Y. and Worthy, T.H. (2011) Likelihood reinstates
_Archaeopteryx_ as a primitive bird. Biology Letters.

Among other things, this study states that "The reinstatement of
_Archaeopteryx_ as a basal bird ... has important implications for the
evolution of flight."  Well no, it doesn't.  Again, _Archaeopteryx_'s
designation as a "bird" is here equated with certain assumptions about
how it *ought* to have behaved, because it was a bird.

The discussion goes on to say: "Powered, forewing-only flight typical
of modern birds has been generally inferred to be present only in
_Archaeopteryx_ and other birds ... The flight capabilities of some
deinonychosaurs remain contentious".  I'm comfortable with the flight
capabilities of _Archaeopteryx_ being contentious as well, rather than
it being assumed that it was capable of flight behavior "typical of
modern birds".

I don't mean to pick on Lee and Worthy here.  But _Archaeopteryx_'s
status as a "bird" is not doing good science any favors, never mind
the bad science.  It's importance for the origins of birds (and the
evolution of avian flight) may be no more or less important than, say,
_Anchiornis_ or _Jeholornis_.  But because of _Archaeopteryx_'s iconic
status, it gets special attention.  The terminology should follow the
phylogeny, not the other way round.