Paul Nelson: Skepticism of the dino bird hypothesis explored

On UcD announces the Temple lectures by Marcus Ross speaking about the Cambrian explosion and Dr Peter Dodson who is speaking for evolution (I wonder for what or whom Ross was speaking?).

Paul Nelson wrote:

Also speaking (for evolution) will be dinosaur paleontologist Dr. Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania. Dodson has been a skeptic of the dino-to-bird hypothesis, and has interacted with Ross at professional meetings. Their exchange today should be fascinating. The lectures begin at 6 and run to 8:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public.

While in early 2000 Peter Dodson may have been a skeptic of the dino to bird hypothesis, I have found two problems with Nelson’s claims, unless all he meant to say that Peter Dodson used to doubt the dino to bird hypothesis a decade or so ago but has changed his mind based on the evidence.

The paper to which Paul Nelson links, talks about Dodson’s objections to relying on cladistics only to reach the conclusion about the dino to bird link.

While skepticism is common in science, one should not conflate true scientific skepticism with ‘teach the controversy’ which is nothing more than a weakened down version of the ID thesis, since ID itself lacks scientific relevance. To correct for this minor problem, ID proponents have embarked on ‘teach the controversy’ which is little more than pointing out unsolved problems with evolutionary theory (in particular Darwinian theory).

Dodson is also one of the authors of “The Dinosauria” which was published in 2004.

The authors explain that

For example while in 1990 we merely paid lip service to the proposition that birds are dinosaurs, in this edition we embrace fully as a logical sequela of phylogenetic systematics that birds are part of therapoda.

Seems that these former ‘skeptics’ have been convinced by the collected evidence of the likelihood that birds are dinosaurs. Rather than arguing that such skepticism indicates the possibility of something, let’s call it for simplicity reasons ‘intelligent design’, these researchers have been convinced by the evidence in support of this thesis. Not only will Intelligent Design never have the luxury to be scientifically involved in such hypotheses, but Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.

The result is that Science by skeptics leads to better science while science in the name of ‘teaching the controversy’ leaves gaps.

It seems that our friend Padian contributed the chapter Basal Avialae to this seminal work on dinosaurs.

Reviewers of Dinosaurus point out that

The most novel systematic chapters in this volume include the basal birds section, which succeeds at the difficult task of summarizing the exponential burst of new bird discoveries. Recall that little more than Archaeopteryx, a few enantiornithines, and Ornithurae were known at the last writing; now a six-page taxon list! The basal Saurischia chapter by Langer is an in depth analysis of various likely basal dinosaurs, most of which were very poorly known at the time of the last volume. The basal Tetanurae chapter by Holtz et al. is a comprehensive perspective that cleans up a lot of mess in this region of the theropod tree. The 75-page Sauropoda section is a huge leap forward from 14 years ago, thanks to a string of new discoveries around the world (and good phylogenetic analyses thereof; almost absent in the last edition) by the authors (Upchurch et al.) as well as Curry, Wilson, Sereno, and many others. Many of the Ornithischia chapters didn’t seem as novel to me. The Ankylosauria chapter (Vickaryous et al.) was more thorough (also the only section with computed tomography scan images). It is also clear that some needed stability of relationships within basal Iguanodontia (Norman) and Hadrosauridae (Horner et al.) has been attained.

In other words, it was ignorance which caused skepticism about phylogenetic relationships of birds and therapods, an issue which was resolved when more data were collected. Which also shows how relying on research from even half a decade ago, can lead to unfortunate impressions. The same applies to the Cambrian explosion which was considered to be quite a problem for Darwinian theory by Valentine in the middle/late 90’s. However, based on the vast amounts of new data, the author has recently concluded that there are no problems for the Darwinian theory to explain the Cambrian explosion. Sadly enough ID proponents and other creationists are still quoting Valentine’s earlier observations while failing to provide a more updated version of his claims and arguments.

And finally, what is a YEC’er doing talking about the Cambrian explosion? After all, how can someone who has blindly accepted that the event took place 5000-10,000 years ago, evaluate the evidence about the Cambrian explosion? Of course Darwinian theory will fail when given such little time (dogs for instance share a common ancestor just 10,000 years ago).

Since Marcus Ross and Stephen Meyer are the authors of the Cambrian Explosion study kit, does this mean that Ross agrees with the following blurb?

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

Or is the chicken language of ‘no more than 5 million years sufficient to include a much smaller period of time?

Or is it, as Krauze on TelicThoughts observes just a case of

Marcus Ross simply behaved like a good methodological naturalists, conducting his research as if the reptiles he studied were 65 million years old.


PS: Nelson and Ross still owe us a more in depth description of ontogenetic depth, which has missed its deadline by 3 years, which in most cases would be a record but for Paul Nelson it seems that it is just par for the course as his much touted thesis work is yet to be released.