Maiacetus

| 32 Comments

Today’s most heavily blogged science story is probably the discovery of a new species of early whale. A team of researchers led by whale evolution expert Philip Gingerich discovered the remains - a largely complete adult male, and a female that was carrying a near-term fetus - during field work in Pakistan in 2000 and 2004. They’ve named the new species Maiacetus inuus.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating discovery and what it can tell us about the evolution of whales, here are a few links to check out:

The PLoS one paper that describes the species

Bora’s collection of blog links
The article about the new find at Laelaps - if you don’t read any others, read that one.

32 Comments

As always, it means nothing.

Since there are no such things as transitional animals, these these “Maiacitus” things are obviously just a another kind of bear. A huge, huge, ancient one with flippers and a tail that lived in the ocean.

Or maybe just another kind of whale. A really old one with with, um, feet.

Move along. nothing to see here.

Now I’m going to be poking around AiG and EN&V just to see if they say the entirely predictable thing. They won’t pass this one up. Sigh, I should know better than to bother … like I posted a little while back about hitting myself in the head with a hammer twice just to see if hurt the first time: “Did that hurt?” BASH! “I guess it did.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite

Naaaahhhhh. Paleontology is JUST speculation. Instead, today, AiG has a wonderful essay on how God created Eve from Adam’s rib, and isn’t that great because the rib can regenerate from the intact periosteum! Clever God! See how he used the regenerating rib instead of a skull bone! Gee, so an omnipotent and omnipresent creator, who just finished creating male and female of gosh near everything from scratch, needs to clone a female human for Adam from his rib ‘cause it didn’t occur to him to make a breeding pair the same as everything else in the first place (but, ummmm, why a breeding pair when there is no breeding and nothing dies?). Oh, but wait, he clones her (or something) from a rib for some reason, but has to alter the genetics to make her just like all the female mammals that he DIDN’T make from the ribs of the males (or maybe he did? at least in things with ribs?). See? Biblical accounts are MUCH better at explaining biology than those “scientific” interpretations. Same data, different worldview, that’s all. It all makes sense now.

mrg (iml8) said:

Now I’m going to be poking around AiG and EN&V just to see if they say the entirely predictable thing. They won’t pass this one up. Sigh, I should know better than to bother … like I posted a little while back about hitting myself in the head with a hammer twice just to see if hurt the first time: “Did that hurt?” BASH! “I guess it did.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite

There is something that has always bothered me about Basilisaurus reconstructions. What is up with the tail? They ALWAYS show a long serpent tail with small flukes at the end. This makes no sense at all. To be efficient, the tail should be flattened, like a beaver’s or sea snake’s. Has anyone actually found impressions of the flukes, or were they just a WAG? A long flattened tail would seem to be a fine intermediate between a terrestrial tail and flukes.

mplavcan said:

Naaaahhhhh. Paleontology is JUST speculation. Instead, today, AiG has a wonderful essay on how God created Eve from Adam’s rib,

Meanwhile over at UD, they are (as predicted) holding up the latest issue of New Scientist as an example of how Darwinism is failing.

Commenting on a BBC piece, they also call NS “The country’s [UK’s] leading scientific journal.” Heh. Did Nature go out of business when I wasn’t looking?

I went over to LIVESCIENCE.com to see what they had to say and they were running a straightforward writeup of the story.

http://www.livescience.com/animals/[…]-fossil.html

It had links to the U-Mi video.

Another PT-ite was telling me the other day that LIVESCIENCE.com was infested with teenage Darwin-bashers. I didn’t see them then but they’re out in force in the comments section of that article. And they are indeed the bargain-basement … the average Darwin-basher that crashes PT would be embarrassed to use the arguments they do.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Klaus Hellnick said:

There is something that has always bothered me about Basilisaurus reconstructions. What is up with the tail? They ALWAYS show a long serpent tail with small flukes at the end. This makes no sense at all. To be efficient, the tail should be flattened, like a beaver’s or sea snake’s. Has anyone actually found impressions of the flukes, or were they just a WAG? A long flattened tail would seem to be a fine intermediate between a terrestrial tail and flukes.

I have wondered about the tail, too. It is often shown as being sturdy. Why does it need to be so robust if it is not propelling the animal?

I thank Mike for a good post, these new fossils are fascinating. I thank stevaroni for a good chuckle.

Check Flickr – nice shots of the reconstructed whale skeletons discussed in the articles.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Wow. Not only a new species, and not only a transitional species, but a near-term fetus? Surely that’s considered winning the paleontology lottery.

I wish I could say more, but I’m still dealing with the coolness factor of the discovery.

Re: tail flukes on Basilosaurus…google reveals: http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/

Although no tail fluke has ever been found (since tail flukes contain no bones and are unlikely to fossilize), Gingerich and others (1990) noted that Basilosaurus’s vertebral column shares characteristics of whales that do have tail flukes. The tail and cervical vertebrae are shorter than those of the thoracic and lumbar regions, and Gingerich and others (1990) take these vertebral proportions as evidence that Basilosaurus probably also had a tail fluke.

mrg (iml8) said:

Another PT-ite was telling me the other day that LIVESCIENCE.com was infested with teenage Darwin-bashers. I didn’t see them then but they’re out in force in the comments section of that article. And they are indeed the bargain-basement … the average Darwin-basher that crashes PT would be embarrassed to use the arguments they do.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

I don’t know, I’ve seen worse. The comparison to random number generation and arguments from incredulity (“takes more faith to believe this than it does to believe religion”) are vapid, yes, but relatively benign, I think. They are far more easily handled than when someone like Jonathan Wells or Ann Coulter publishes a book full of misleading statements where each statement takes pages to refute with the mountain of evidence that’s out there.

Wow. Not only a new species, and not only a transitional species, but a near-term fetus? Surely that’s considered winning the paleontology lottery.

Hmm, I think if we do the math we would find that the chances of this happening fall outside Dembskis universal probability bound so we would have to conclude that God intervened to make this discovery possible… In fact God must have intervened to make sure this creature died whilst pregnant!

KP said:

They are far more easily handled than when someone like Jonathan Wells or Ann Coulter publishes a book full of misleading statements where each statement takes pages to refute with the mountain of evidence that’s out there.

That’s what I meant. The arguments were in the class that were so easily blown away that they’d obviously never been in an environment where they had to try to stand their ground on them.

Two classes of Darwin-basher arguments: those that anyone with two clues to rub together sees as bogus immediately, and those that require someone with a doctorate to demonstrate how bogus they are. (The best way to counter the second class is to come back with a clearly absurd variation on the same argument that also requires a doctorate to show why it is bogus: “Two can play this game.”)

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Not to knock PLoS One, well I guess to actually, but how was this not published in Nature or Science?!

Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry said:

Not to knock PLoS One, well I guess to actually, but how was this not published in Nature or Science?!

Bryan,

I had the same thought. Gingerich published his last fossil whale paper in Science in 2001, so it’s not due a lack of past high-profile work. If he had a strong desire for it to be open access, he could have gone with PLoS Biology or PNAS. Fear of getting scooped? Who else has a similar find? My guess is politics.

On the other hand, it’s a huge coup for PLoS ONE. I never, ever would have predicted that journal would do this well. And one of my papers ended up there, so if only for selfish reasons I’m happy to have guessed wrong.

mrg (iml8) said:

That’s what I meant. The arguments were in the class that were so easily blown away that they’d obviously never been in an environment where they had to try to stand their ground on them.

Two classes of Darwin-basher arguments: those that anyone with two clues to rub together sees as bogus immediately, and those that require someone with a doctorate to demonstrate how bogus they are. (The best way to counter the second class is to come back with a clearly absurd variation on the same argument that also requires a doctorate to show why it is bogus: “Two can play this game.”)

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Yeah, sorry I see your meaning now in the light of day. Requiring a doctorate to demonstrate the vacuity of creationist arguments unfortunately shows how insidious and clever some creationists can be.

Speaking of which, a trip to the mailbox revealed the latest mailer from the Discovery Institute. Asking for donations to support a variety of their causes including Academic Freedom Day (“promote academic freedom to question Darwinism”). Also advertised is Stephen Meyer’s new book _The Signature in the Cell: DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design_. Can’t wait.

KP said:

mrg (iml8) said:

That’s what I meant. The arguments were in the class that were so easily blown away that they’d obviously never been in an environment where they had to try to stand their ground on them.

Two classes of Darwin-basher arguments: those that anyone with two clues to rub together sees as bogus immediately, and those that require someone with a doctorate to demonstrate how bogus they are. (The best way to counter the second class is to come back with a clearly absurd variation on the same argument that also requires a doctorate to show why it is bogus: “Two can play this game.”)

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Yeah, sorry I see your meaning now in the light of day. Requiring a doctorate to demonstrate the vacuity of creationist arguments unfortunately shows how insidious and clever some creationists can be.

Speaking of which, a trip to the mailbox revealed the latest mailer from the Discovery Institute. Asking for donations to support a variety of their causes including Academic Freedom Day (“promote academic freedom to question Darwinism”). Also advertised is Stephen Meyer’s new book _The Signature in the Cell: DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design_. Can’t wait.

I’ve been following these characters since the early 1970s, and the one thing that has been consistent over the decades is that any characterizations of science or scientific concepts that they offer are dead wrong. When they are shown to be wrong, they simply turn around and reuse their crap in new venues, so I’m convinced they know somewhere down deep within their psyche that they are engaging in distortions.

As to needing a PhD, I suppose some of the misrepresentations are subtle for the layperson, but if one realizes that whenever an ID/Creationist is setting up any kind of argument with a description of a scientific concept, one can always safely assume the ID/Creationist’s description is a mischaracterization. What follows from that mischaracterization is therefore irrelevant.

I don’t believe there are any exceptions to this rule, and I think the reason there aren’t any exceptions is because the misrepresentations have to be consistent with ID/Creationist dogma no matter what brand; in other words, these people are lying as much to themselves as they are to everyone else.

And they have to borrow misrepresentations from each other. If any of them actually checked reality, they would be in terror of burning in their hell, so it’s highly probable that they are parroting without checking.

We are starting to see some new mischaracterizations of science in some of the letters to the editor of our local newspaper. Every time an ID/Creationism pusher thinks he has stumbled onto an argument not covered before, you can be 100% assured there is at least one mischaracterization of science that is crucial to the ID/Creationist’s argument; and sure enough, a little checking reveals what it is.

Mike Elzinga said:

As to needing a PhD, I suppose some of the misrepresentations are subtle for the layperson, but if one realizes that whenever an ID/Creationist is setting up any kind of argument with a description of a scientific concept, one can always safely assume the ID/Creationist’s description is a mischaracterization. What follows from that mischaracterization is therefore irrelevant.

I was thinking in particular of the information theory arguments. They sound very sophisticated but since the general public doesn’t know information theory from apples they have no way of realizing that the argument is gibberish. It takes Jeff Shallit or some other professional to wade through the noise and show why it’s broken. But alas the general public is also hard pressed to follow the pages and pages of materials explaining that fact. “We win.”

Of course it’s a pure snow job, and anyone with sense would suspect it was a con job from the simple fact that the people handing it out clearly know that the audience they’re talking to doesn’t have the background to honestly assess it. The arguments are basically at the level of the community of professionals … so why aren’t these folks writing up papers and submitting them to the appropriate journals?

Well DUH, it’s because they’re just trying to muddy the waters by bafflegabbing the troops. The claim of Darwin-bashers that they are ostracised by the scientific mainstream is also a con job since their only role in discussions of the science community is as hecklers shouting nonsense from the back rows.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

mrg (iml8) said:

I was thinking in particular of the information theory arguments. They sound very sophisticated but since the general public doesn’t know information theory from apples they have no way of realizing that the argument is gibberish. It takes Jeff Shallit or some other professional to wade through the noise and show why it’s broken. But alas the general public is also hard pressed to follow the pages and pages of materials explaining that fact. “We win.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

I have to admit that I find the information theory arguments a bit confusing at times; and I have enough background in signal and information processing to know what is going on.

I think the field of information theory suffers more from being relatively new compared with say physics, biology, and chemistry. In that regard, the concepts are more in flux, terms often have multiple uses in various subfields, and, in general, there has not been time enough for a long and sustained effort by people in the field to address the pedagogical aspects of getting ideas across. Thus, compared with older fields of study, the textbooks are not usually as well written, especially books for a lay audience.

I suspect it also has the appeal to the ID/Creationist pseudo-scientist of being just mathematical enough to be useful for bamboozling rubes, but seemingly within reach (although none of them actually reach it). Obviously, in spite of that, they manage to mangle it boldly anyway.

Another problem is that the application of information theory to living systems is not as straight forward as it might first appear. Getting a handle on “information” in a living system is extremely difficult. It is currently being done mostly for relatively simple models of living systems, but rapidly emergent properties of such complex systems often confounds a broader sweep.

Thus, a relatively new field or applied science is ripe for exploitation by charlatans like the ID/Creationists because they can fake the appearance of being at the front lines of research just by hijacking the publications of others and mangling them in front of rubes. It’s just a dirty trick.

Mike Elzinga said:

I suspect it also has the appeal to the ID/Creationist pseudo-scientist of being just mathematical enough to be useful for bamboozling rubes, but seemingly within reach (although none of them actually reach it).

I had to recall the “member of staff” at the OBJECTIVE: MINISTRIES mocksight who was the resident expert in information theory. However, on checking I had it wrong, the person or people behind OM figured out that they needed to do something slightly different:

“Diamond” Jack Holgroth is a Game Theoretician who currently teaches a course in Advanced Game Theory for Theologians at Fellowship University.

http://objectiveministries.org/gametheory/

The main page article (“SECULARISM ALERT: Obama Not Sworn In Using A Bible”) is also a gem:

http://objectiveministries.org/

You realize of course that there was a SINISTER AGENDA in President Obama’s deliberate fumbling of the oath of office.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

KP said:

Also advertised is Stephen Meyer’s new book _The Signature in the Cell: DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design_. Can’t wait.

I wonder if he’ll discuss the Cambrian Explosion at length.

Meyer defended his description of the Cambrian Explosion as a weakness of evolution. He castigated the idea that the increase in atmospheric oxygen content increased the biological information necessary for all the new phyla and other taxa to appear so quickly. He also said that Dr. Hillis’s statement that the Cambrian Explosion had tens of millions of years to occur is wrong. Instead, Meyer said, the most recent research says that the Cambrian Explosion took place in about five million years, and certainly no more than ten million. I am an evolutionary paleontologist and stratigrapher, and I can say without qualification that Stephen Meyer is totally and completely wrong. He really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he characterizes himself as an expert in paleontology and geology. His incompetence and lack of knowledge–or willingness to deceive–is simply spectacular.

-Steve Schafersman

He castigated the idea that the increase in atmospheric oxygen content increased the biological information necessary for all the new phyla and other taxa to appear so quickly.

Does that mean somebody thought the additional oxygen itself increased the information, or that it increased the need for information? Or something else, since (to me at least) neither of those interpretations makes sense.

Instead, Meyer said, the most recent research says that the Cambrian Explosion took place in about five million years, and certainly no more than ten million.

This might be a silly question, but does this person know how long five million years is?

Henry

mrg (iml8) said:

I had to recall the “member of staff” at the OBJECTIVE: MINISTRIES mocksight who was the resident expert in information theory. However, on checking I had it wrong, the person or people behind OM figured out that they needed to do something slightly different:

The main page article (“SECULARISM ALERT: Obama Not Sworn In Using A Bible”) is also a gem:

You realize of course that there was a SINISTER AGENDA in President Obama’s deliberate fumbling of the oath of office.

That whole site is just bonkers bizarre. It has to be a spoof.

Fortunately we just have to watch the crazies who actually interfere with school boards and state boards of education.

Henry J said:

This might be a silly question, but does this person know how long five million years is?

Henry

Yeah, I don’t understand why it matters. Whether the explosion took five, ten or 20 million years doesn’t change the fact that it occurred and that several new phyla arose at that time. I guess I haven’t read too much about the typical creationist handling of the CE. Is the usual line that the CE represents the “creation” where all the phyla (“kinds”) were made? Such that everything since is just “microevolution” within kinds? Meyer’s argument excludes YEC perspectives, doesn’t that matter for the “big tent?”

Perhaps FL or novparl could shed some light on this for me.

Henry

I guess I haven’t read too much about the typical creationist handling of the CE. Is the usual line that the CE represents the “creation” where all the phyla (“kinds”) were made? Such that everything since is just “microevolution” within kinds? Meyer’s argument excludes YEC perspectives, doesn’t that matter for the “big tent?”

Perhaps FL or novparl could shed some light on this for me.

Nah, nothing so straightforward. Reasoning from evidence is not what these guys do, and they’re not real hot on numbers either. They don’t need to do that stuff, because they already know the truth. What the CE is for, is to provide a sciency-sounding grab:

“Friends, them scientists know that life appeared suddenly, jes’ like the Bible says. Why, their fossils tell them so. They even admit it, when they’re talkin’ among themselves. They call it the Cambrian explosion, jus’ cause it happened so fast. Only they ain’t gonna tell the truth about it onna count of they’s ay-the-ists, rhymes with communist, libruls, and they hate ‘merica. Jes keep them dollahs rollin’ in for the ministry, Praise the Lord. Billy-Jo and the Gospel Choir is now gonna rend “Oh, the Cambrian Was the Best Bang Since the Big One.” Take it away, Billy-Jo. Yeehah!”

Or words to that effect.

Mike Elzinga said:

That whole site is just bonkers bizarre. It has to be a spoof.

Of course it is – “Dr. Richard Paley” of O:M pulled a gem of a “enough rope to hang” scam on Andy Schlafly of CONSERVAPEDIA not long ago. I also like the O:M accountant: “He gives a 5% discount for all Christians and 10% discount for non-Christians willing to convert on the spot.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Mr. Gee, got a link to that Conservapedia trick?

Also, Firefox keeps telling me that “Conservapedia” isn’t a word. I don’t have the heart to add it to the dictionary and tell FF otherwise.

Wheels said:

Mr. Gee, got a link to that Conservapedia trick?

The business went around in PT for a while … I was thinking it might be hard to find but no:

http://www.conservapedia.com/Conser[…]enski_dialog

Search for “Paley” in the correspondence. The comments attributed to “Dr. Paley” are a real howl if it’s realized that they are not quite on the level.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Wheels said: Firefox keeps telling me that “Conservapedia” isn’t a word. I don’t have the heart to add it to the dictionary and tell FF otherwise.

Conservapedia (noun): see blunder

Thanks for posting Schafersman’s terrific rebuttal to Meyer’s inane reasoning. The so-called “Cambrian Explosion” is a misnomer which many - including eminent evolutionary biologists like Jerry Coyne, for example, in his book “Why Evolution is True” - still regard as a fact. However, as distinguished vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero eloquently notes in his book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”, the “Cambrian Explosion” is really more a “slow fuse”, in which metazoan diversification occurred over the span of approximately 70 to 80 million years (Just for comparison, the present geologic era, the Cenozoic Era, is approximately 66.4 million years in length.) from latest Pre-Cambrian (usually referred to as the Vendian Period) to the earliest Ordovician Period of the Paleozoic Era:

James F said:

KP said:

Also advertised is Stephen Meyer’s new book _The Signature in the Cell: DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design_. Can’t wait.

I wonder if he’ll discuss the Cambrian Explosion at length.

Meyer defended his description of the Cambrian Explosion as a weakness of evolution. He castigated the idea that the increase in atmospheric oxygen content increased the biological information necessary for all the new phyla and other taxa to appear so quickly. He also said that Dr. Hillis’s statement that the Cambrian Explosion had tens of millions of years to occur is wrong. Instead, Meyer said, the most recent research says that the Cambrian Explosion took place in about five million years, and certainly no more than ten million. I am an evolutionary paleontologist and stratigrapher, and I can say without qualification that Stephen Meyer is totally and completely wrong. He really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he characterizes himself as an expert in paleontology and geology. His incompetence and lack of knowledge–or willingness to deceive–is simply spectacular.

-Steve Schafersman

Henry J said:

This might be a silly question, but does this person know how long five million years is?

Considering the type of critters involved, about 20 million generations.

Or, about 50,000 times the number of generations involved in man’s recent, intense, selective breeding of dogs, which produced animals as diverse as the chiuhaua and great dane from the same root stock.

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