May 30 2013

Yet Another Fossil Bird – Aurornis xui

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47 Responses to “Yet Another Fossil Bird – Aurornis xui”

  1. Yehouda Harpazon 30 May 2013 at 8:58 am

    That is all ignoring the possibility that all of the stuff from Tiaojishan Formation is fake.

    It is not that I have any doubt about evolution, but this article wouldn’t convince me
    if I did.

    It is the total breadth of the evidence that is convincing, and it is wrong to highlight any
    specific part of it.

  2. Steven Novellaon 30 May 2013 at 9:15 am

    Harpaz – I did put this one example into the context of all the evidence for evolution, so what are you talking about?
    Also, while there was, in fact, one fake fossil sold to paleontologists by a private collector, it was discovered upon close examination. There are far too many fossils coming out of the Tiaojishan formation, with direct involvement from paleontologists, with careful and transparent analysis (and full knowledge of the prior fake) to make a coherent argument that all these fossils are fake. Origins are confirmed by analysis of sediments, and many of the anatomical details are not revealed until later examination and preparation by scientists. You might as well argue that all fossils are fake.

  3. ccbowerson 30 May 2013 at 10:32 am

    “That is all ignoring the possibility that all of the stuff from Tiaojishan Formation is fake.”

    This amounts to a conpiracy theory argument, and this approach is consisent with denialism. So you are right, if a person has denied all the evidence thus far, then no amount of evidence is going to be convincing. But for those of us interested in reality, arguing that all of the fossils from that region are fake is absurd. The fact that a fake was identified is a good example of the how fakes will be identified as such by scientists.

  4. Yehouda Harpazon 30 May 2013 at 10:39 am

    You are talking about “This is all a stunning confirmation of evolutionary theory. “, about something something that is clearly not stunning. That what got me off.

    “Only common descent predicts that we must find fossils that connect birds to their closest living
    group, reptiles, in a proper temporal sequence. There is no rational argument against the obvious
    conclusion that this assemblage of fossil birds and feathered dinosaurs is the smoking gun of
    evolutionary change, specifically that of birds from theropod dinosaurs (although that does not stop
    creationists).”

    The claim that “there is no rational argument” is far far far too strong. You will have to at least try to consider other possible explanations for the assemblage of bones (not the results of the interpretation), including things like errors, fakes, bad luck and publication bias as potential factors, before you can make such claim. In the case of fossil, there is huge amount of interpretation between some assemblage of bones and actual species and chronology, and a lot of places where it can go wrong, for many reasons.

    You don’t have to convince that the fossils from Tiaojishan formation are real, but that is because I already believe in evolution. You need to convince people that don’t, and for them the question why we find so much in one place in China compare to other places is quite obvious question.

    “The specimen has been analyzed in detail, with 1,500 features described and
    compared to other paraves specimens”

    For a skeptic, that should mean 1,500 opportunities for misinterpretation. The assumption that the authors got these interpretations right is an appeal to authority, and you have to trust the authority of the authors before taking their statement as definitive. Anybody that don’t believe in evolution wouldn’t trust the authors either.

  5. ccbowerson 30 May 2013 at 11:16 am

    “For a skeptic, that should mean 1,500 opportunities for misinterpretation. The assumption that the authors got these interpretations right is an appeal to authority, and you have to trust the authority of the authors before taking their statement as definitive. Anybody that don’t believe in evolution wouldn’t trust the authors either.”

    You say skeptic when denialist is more accurate. This is not a reliance on just a few authors’ opinions, but this has been and will continue to be scrutinized by the entire scientific community. Nothing short of a conspiracy theory explanation would deny that alternative explanations and potential errors will be pointed out by scientists in the field. If so then what is your point again? That denialist won’t be convinced? Oh, OK thanks for that insight

  6. Steven Novellaon 30 May 2013 at 11:30 am

    Harpaz – I completely disagree with you.

    When I wrote “all of this” is stunning confirmation of evolutionary theory, I was clearly referring to all of the fossil evidence of bird evolution from dinosaurs. It is, all by itself, very stunning evidence. It is a powerful prediction of evolutionary theory. None of it had to exist were evolution not true. Period.

    Your alternate theories – fraud or error – are not viable. The process of examination of the fossils is transparent and involves the scientific community, which has already proven its ability to root out fraud and error. The magnitude of fraud and/or error that would be necessary for the entire assemblage of paraves and feathered dinosaur fossils to be suspect is staggering. You are now at the level of dismissing all of science. This is in the grand consipracy realm.

    Perhaps you are just not familiar with the amount of evidence we are talking about, and the amount of scrutiny they have undergone. These findings are no longer preliminary – they are well-established. I am not overselling anything.

    It’s also not an argument from authority. It’s not just the authors – it’s peer-reviewers, and editors, and then the entire relevant scientific community who will also review their analysis and claims. This is a new fossil, but for all the paraves fossils wwe have two decades of peer review from the community. Again – you are in the realm of denying the basic process of science.

  7. Bruce Woodwardon 30 May 2013 at 11:45 am

    “For a skeptic, that should mean 1,500 opportunities for misinterpretation.”

    So, you are claiming the fewer features described and compared, the less chance there is that there is an error?

    I don’t follow your logic here. You seem to be drawing to an unwinnable position in that the more evidence there is the easier it is to dismiss it.

    I think 1 author saying there is one marker is appeal to authority, and I think 1500 markers pretty much says that it is what they say it is.

  8. autumnmonkeyon 30 May 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Harpaz wrote: “Anybody that don’t believe in evolution wouldn’t trust the authors either.”

    So what? People that deny reality have removed themselves from any relevancy in discussions of scientific matters.

  9. Yehouda Harpazon 30 May 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Steven Novella
    “When I wrote “all of this” is stunning confirmation of evolutionary theory, I was
    clearly referring to all of the fossil evidence of bird evolution from dinosaurs.”

    First it is not clear at all from the text. And more importantly, all the evidence for bird
    development is not that stunning. Once you believe in evolution, there are many constraints
    that allow the researchers to deduce things which would not be obvious otherwise, and hence establish the lineage of birds. Without believing in evolution the evidence about the
    origins of bird on its own would not be enough to suggest evolution. There simply isn’t
    that much. That should absolutely clear from the fact that a single specimen changes the
    tree.

    “Your alternate theories – fraud or error – are not viable”

    “The process of examination of the fossils is transparent and involves the
    scientific community, which has already proven its ability to root out fraud and error. ….”

    That wasn’t in your original article. And moreover, you are now invoke authority (yours) in
    the claim that there enough tests to eliminate any other possible options. I happen to
    believe this claim myself, but you didn’t present any argument that would convince anybody.
    You cannot rely on the rigor of scientists when you present an argument for people that
    don’t people in it in the first place, and people that do believe in the rigor of scientists already
    believe in evolution anyway.
    —————————-
    Bruce Woodward

    ” “For a skeptic, that should mean 1,500 opportunities for misinterpretation.”

    So, you are claiming the fewer features described and compared, the less
    chance there is that there is an error?

    I don’t follow your logic here. You seem to be drawing to an unwinnable
    position in that the more evidence there is the easier it is to dismiss i

    No, I am saying that a big number own should not impress anybody.
    In this specific case, these are 1500 features that they identify in this single
    specimen (based on this article). To believe that this is meaningful, you must
    trust the authors that all of these features are useful ones, and that they can
    measure them reliably in their specimen.

    ———————————————————————————-
    autumnmonkeyon

    “Harpaz wrote: “Anybody that don’t believe in evolution wouldn’t trust the authors either.”

    So what? People that deny reality have removed themselves from any
    relevancy in discussions of scientific matters.”

    The “stunning confirmation of evolutionary theory” can apply, even in principle, only
    to people that have some doubts. For people that that already take evolution for granted,
    nothing is confirmation (because it doesn’t change how much we believe it).

  10. steve12on 30 May 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Yehouda, are you the author of this site?:

    http://human-brain.org/

  11. Steven Novellaon 30 May 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Harpaz – you are changing or ignoring the context of my statement.

    I did not say that the fossil evidence for bird evolution by itself would suggest evolution to someone who has never thought of it. But, now that you mention it, it might. There is sufficient evidence to show change over geological time. It’s similar in extent to the fossil evidence that did suggest evolution to scientists in the 18th and 19th century.

    What I wrote is that it is “stunning confirmation” of evolutionary theory. Confirmation.

    To summarize again – at the time Darwin published, birds were a separate group with no extant or fossil connection to their apparent closest relatives, reptiles. Common descent, however predicts that we should find specimens that connect these two groups. All the paraves and feathered dinosaur fossils we have found remarkably fills in this space, in a proper temporal sequence, showing incremental change over time, adaptive radiation, transitional forms, even transitional feathers. It’s all there. Yes – this is stunning confirmation of common descent. Without common descent, none of this would have to exist. Further, evolutionary theory predicted it should, and when a prediction comes true to this extent, that is stunning confirmation of the theory.

    Perhaps people take the evolutionary pattern of the fossil record so much for granted that they forget how much it is all confirmation of common descent.

  12. rezistnzisfutlon 30 May 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Dr. Novella is correct here. By itself, one fossil, or even one species within the fossil record, may not be enough to convince someone who does not accept evolution, though some of the evidence singularly is compelling (feathers, beaks, bone structures, and body mechanics all suggestive of birds, yet with dinosaur traits as well). Taken together, all of the collective fossil record is quite conclusive, enough so that it initiated a reconfiguration of the “evolutionary tree”.

    It seems to be suggested here that one must accept evolution first in order to accept that these fossilized remains fit an evolutionary pattern. This is incorrect – such a previous assumption is paramount to creationist thinking where one has already drawn a conclusion and is therefore attempting to find evidence to fit it (confirmation bias). In the case of the fossils, it so happens that the evidence for them leads to the conclusion that they fit, and confirm, evolution by common descent. If, for any reason, these fossils did not fit into the model of Theory of Evolution, or more to the point, ran contrary to it somehow, then the model of evolution would be thrown into question and examined. The fact of the matter is, the fossils happen to confirm evolution, and the fossil record by itself is enough to make conclusions about evolution.

    The problem with those who do not accept evolution is motivated reasoning, not evidence – they have religious commitments that prevent them from accepting it, not because of a dearth of evidence or evidence to the contrary, but because it runs contrary to their preconceived religious belief. In reality, it appears that physical evidence does not matter – they’ll believe what they’ll believe about their religion no matter what – this is dogma of the religious kind.

    Geologist Kurt Wise, a YEC, summed it up in his statement ,”As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.” It seems that nothing will shake or deter such implacable beliefs, but that is the nature of religious faith with its absolutes.

  13. Bruce Woodwardon 31 May 2013 at 4:45 am

    “To believe that this is meaningful, you must
    trust the authors that all of these features are useful ones, and that they can
    measure them reliably in their specimen. ”

    Where would you have me start then? Must I have investigated each and every feature personally? Must I then have measured the markers myself and understand the intricate taxonomy? Am I expected to actually dig it up myself in order to be able to trust the specimen is real? We have to put trust in the authors to some extent, but 1500 markers is to me, a very significant amount.

    I do understand why you say what you say. I agree that it is way too easy to get caught in an authority fallacy, but in this case, in a field I have very little knowledge myself when I look at the evidence and the numbers, unless there is one huge conspiracy, I have bow to what is presented to me.

    The argument from authority is quite a difficult one and something that has been spoken about before on this blog. I personally don’t think there is a line in the sand that can be drawn where skeptics or anyone can say “this is the requisite consensus to which something is trustworthy”. I think we have to make personal judgements and often our lines will differ… but this is actually a good thing and sparks debate which is healthy. I often play devil’s avocado myself in my day to day life, and think it is good to question those things we hold dear.

    (yes, yes, I know it is advocate… but avocados are much tastier)

  14. Bill Openthalton 31 May 2013 at 9:04 am

    Yehouda

    That is all ignoring the possibility that all of the stuff from Tiaojishan Formation is fake.

    Who would fake it, and why?

    I know the Chinese have a thriving fake goods industry (watches, handbags, wines, and, I’m told, even German washing machines). Is there enough money in the fake fossil business?

  15. autumnmonkeyon 31 May 2013 at 11:00 am

    rezistnzisfutl wrote: “The problem with those who do not accept evolution is motivated reasoning, not evidence – they have religious commitments that prevent them from accepting it, not because of a dearth of evidence or evidence to the contrary, but because it runs contrary to their preconceived religious belief. In reality, it appears that physical evidence does not matter – they’ll believe what they’ll believe about their religion no matter what – this is dogma of the religious kind.”

    Wait for the tu quoque response.

  16. Yehouda Harpazon 31 May 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Steven Novella
    “I did not say that the fossil evidence for bird evolution by itself would
    suggest evolution to someone who has never thought of it.”

    What you wrote which I objected to, was “This is all a stunning confirmation
    of evolutionary theory.” I think the vast majority of readers will interpret
    the word “stunning” as “very veryconvincing”, and my argument is based
    on that.
    And, no it will not convince anyone. For somebody that didn’t think about it,
    it will look like hyperbole, because there is nothing stunning here.

    “There is sufficient evidence to show change over geological time. It’s similar
    in extent to the fossil evidence that did suggest evolution to scientists in the
    18th and 19th century.”

    “Evolutionary theory” is much more than “change”. It is also “common descent” and
    “natural selection”. In the 18th and 19th the fossil evidence provided evidence for “change”,
    but not for “common descent” or “natural selection”. These were base on comparative
    anatomy and bio-geography and observations of selection by humans (and logic).

    Today the total fossil evidence can be argued to give evidence of common decent, though
    not convincingly. It is genetics and molecular biology, together with anatomy and bio-geography,
    that give the killer evidence. You don’t really need fossils, and they give relatively little extra
    strength to the argument.

    “That I wrote is that it is “stunning confirmation” of evolutionary theory. Confirmation. ”

    You seems to suggest that I misunderstand the word “confirmation”. I think it means
    “something that raises confidence”. Do you mean something? what?

    “To summarize again – at the time Darwin published, birds were a separate group with no extant
    or fossil connection to their apparent closest relatives, reptiles. Common descent, however predicts
    that we should find specimens that connect these two groups.”

    That is not an argument. Even random distribution of findings will give you some specimen that will
    fall in the middle. You will need quite a lot of evidence to prefer common descent to even random
    distribution, let along any more sophisticated model. It is bio-geogrpahy and anatomy that will kill
    these models, i.e. the fact that we don’t see random appearances of species. The fossil evidence
    does not give much.

    You may want to mention chronology, but establishing chronology requires additional tons of evidence,
    and even with chronology the fossil evidence is not that strong. To be explicit, if we find a bird that is
    200 million years too old, we are not going to stop believing in evolution. We are going to doubt
    the chronology. On the other hand, if we find a species with a radically different chemistry
    from anything we have seen, we will have to consider the possibility that our current evolutionary
    theory doesn’t apply to it.

    I will repeat again: I don’t doubt evolution. I I am object to the hyperbole of calling a very minor
    advance “stunning confirmation”.

    ” In the case of the fossils, it so happens that the evidence for them leads to the
    conclusion that they fit, and confirm, evolution by common descent.”

    But it is not stunning. And the evidence about birds is even less so, and is not strong enough to
    even be called “confirmation” without “stunning”. Confirmation require evidence that can eliminate
    other potential explanations, not only fitting to your own explanation, and the current evidence about
    origin of birds wouldn’t be enough to reject the random distribution model.

    =================================
    Bruce Woodward
    “I agree that it is way too easy to get caught in an authority fallacy, but in this case, in a field I
    have very little knowledge myself when I look at the evidence and the numbers, unless there is
    one huge conspiracy, I have bow to what is presented to me. ”

    Not necessarily. You can keep your mind open, and admit that you don’t really know the answer, until it
    become textbook knowledge.
    And anyway, this is irrelevant. The question is whether it is “stunning confirmation”,
    not whether you believe it.
    =====================================
    Bill Openthalton

    “I know the Chinese have a thriving fake goods industry (watches, handbags, wines, and, I’m told,
    even German washing machines). Is there enough money in the fake fossil business?”

    There is quite a lot of of money in it. Anyway, that is not the main argument, and I shouldn’t
    have written it

  17. BillyJoe7on 31 May 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Harpaz,

    ” I I am object to the hyperbole”

    Sorry if this sounds like hyperbole but…
    I I am object to the hyperbole in criticising the hyperbole in the use of a single word to discredit the whole article.
    (Not to mention the hyperbole of mentioning yourself twice)

    My wife looks stunning.
    You may think that’s hyperbole.
    Your may think your wife looks stunning.
    I may think that’s hyperbole.
    Neither of us should lose any sleep.

  18. Bill Openthalton 31 May 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Yehouda

    I shouldn’t have written it

    Well, it’s always heart-warming to see people who berate others for sloppy thinking being sloppy themselves. Or more succinctly: Pot. Kettle. Black.

    For somebody that didn’t think about it, it will look like hyperbole, because there is nothing stunning here.

    That reminds me of the petrographer’s description of the colour of rocks. What they call “bright red”, the rest of us call “dull brown”.

    Bill Openthalton

    Are you cannotsay2013? Shhe also includes the “on” in my name :) .

  19. ccbowerson 31 May 2013 at 7:11 pm

    “What you wrote which I objected to, was ‘This is all a stunning confirmation
    of evolutionary theory.’ I think the vast majority of readers will interpret
    the word “stunning” as ‘very veryconvincing’, and my argument is based
    on that.”

    Actually the vast majority of readers have not sided with you on this one. Actually it is not clear that you have made an important point at all… you are being nitpicky with no nits to be seen. Apparently, a blog post on a notable new fossil needs to be the equivalent of an entire book convincing evolution deniers that evolution is true.

    According to your own words, you have based your argument on converting the word “stunning” into another word “convincing.” I guess that’s one way to manufacture an argument, change a word to a completely different word. I’m not sure what thesaurus you are using, but I’d get a new one.

  20. autumnmonkeyon 01 Jun 2013 at 12:44 am

    Harpaz wrote: “‘You seems to suggest that I misunderstand the word ‘confirmation’. I think it means
    ‘something that raises confidence’.”

    Therein lies your problem. What you think the word means is incorrect. To confirm something is merely to affirm or provide further verification for a known fact. It has nothing to do with raising anyone’s (subjective) confidence. Seeing Jesus on a piece of burnt toast might raise the confidence of a deluded believer but it confirms nothing of a factual nature, other than that many people are suckers.

  21. Yehouda Harpazon 01 Jun 2013 at 3:47 am

    ccbowers
    “Actually the vast majority of readers have not sided with you on this one.”

    The question is what the word “stunning” mean. You didn’t bother to give
    your definition.

    —————————————————————————–
    autumnmonkey

    “To confirm something is merely to affirm or provide further verification for a known fact.”

    I was really asking for Steven Novella’s definition.
    This definition doesn’t fit with the spirit of the article, which suggest that Steven Novella believe
    that there is here something very convincing.
    ——————————————————

    Without agreeing what the words mean we are not actually discussing anything.

    I suggest that all posters will clarify:

    1) What they think confirmation means in the current context.
    2) What they think “stunning” means in the current context.

  22. steve12on 01 Jun 2013 at 10:45 am

    After reading some of the comments, I’m gonna to assume that Yehouda Harpaz s the author of human-brain.org, a site that was referred to me by a friend. I found it fascinating because he’s really read a lot of literature and put a lot of effort in, but gets hung up on facile/trite criticisms that disqualify all interpretations of data.

    He’s like a much better educated in the literature cannotsay. I would check out the site before getting in a protracted struggle that goes 300+ comments and gets nowhere (I mean, who is stubborn enough to do that?).

    I think the myths page is the best…

    http://human-brain.org/myths.html

    …becasue he literally says that the entire fields of experimental psychology, linguistics, cog neuro, neuroscience, etc are completely wrong, but only he really understands that.

    Good Luck.

  23. Yehouda Harpazon 01 Jun 2013 at 5:28 pm

    steve12
    “…becasue he literally says that the entire fields of experimental psychology,
    linguistics, cog neuro, neuroscience, etc are completely wrong, but only he
    really understands that.”

    This is a false statement.
    I have strong criticism of cognitive neuroscience, but almost nothing about
    experimental psychology, linguistics (except psycholinguistics), nothing
    about neuroscience except cognitive neuroscience, and nothing about etc.
    I also don’t “literally says ” that I thinks is completely wrong and nly I really
    understand that.

    There is no place for such plain lies in a serious discussion.

    It is also irrelevant to the subject.

  24. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Yehouda Harpaz,

    “I suggest that all posters will clarify:
    1) What they think confirmation means in the current context.
    2) What they think “stunning” means in the current context.”

    Here is the context:

    “Evolutionary theory demands that birds had to evolve from something, and the most likely candidate is a common ancestor with their most closely related cousins [reptiles]. Evolutionary theory therefore predicted that we would find fossils that fill the morphological space between birds and reptiles”

    So here we have a pretty glaring gap in the fossil record. No common ancestor between two major groups, birds and reptiles.

    “The first fossil to fulfill this prediction was Archaeopteryx. It remains a stunning example of a fossil species that is transitional between two major groups – birds and theropod dinosaurs. It not only provided the “missing link” between birds and reptiles, but fairly solid evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx has a pretty even mix of dinosaur and bird features, with some primitive bird features”

    Evolutionary theory predicts that modern birds must have an ancient ancestor. Then they find the “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds! Evolutionary theory predicts that there should be a common ancestor between modern birds and reptiles. Then they find that common ancestor! I don’t know about you but, like Steven Novella, I find that pretty stunning!

    “For decades, however, the few specimens of Archaeopteryx were seen by critics of evolution…as a fluke, a curious side branch or strange creature that does not provide definitive evidence for the evolution of birds from dinosaurs. Fair enough, if birds did evolve from dinosaurs then more evidence would likely resolve the dispute”

    Oh well, apparently, some people did not find the discovery of archeoptryx all that stunning!
    It seemed that archeoptryx was in the bush, not on the direct line to modern birds…

    “Within our current understanding of the pattern of evolutionary change over time we expect to see a complex bush of adaptive radiation of feathered dinosaurs and early birds, with only one branch out of many leading to modern birds”

    So SN says: “fair enough” perhaps we need even more evidence…

    “Over the last two decades many feathered dinosaurs and early birds have been discovered, filling in the morphological space between birds and theropods, and also demonstrating that theropods were even more bird-like than previously believed”

    And, finally….

    “Enter Aurormis xui…Aurornis xui…represents what is now the most basal species on the branch that diverted from other dinosaurs and ultimately led to modern birds…The authors summarize the implications of this new specimen:
    (1) it recovers it as the basal-most avialan; (2) it confirms the avialan status of Archaeopteryx; (3) it places Troodontidae as the sister-group to Avialae; (4) it supports a single origin of powered flight within Paraves; and (5) it implies that the early diversification of Paraves and Avialae took place in the Middle–Late Jurassic period.
    It simplifies the picture of bird evolution…flight only evolved once…it restored Archaeopteryx to the bird line”

    Wow! Not only do we now have the common ancestor between birds and reptiles, archaeopteryx is out of the bush and into the direct line to modern birds!

    “This is all a stunning confirmation of evolutionary theory. Only common descent predicts that we must find fossils that connect birds to their closest living group, reptiles, in a proper temporal sequence. There is no rational argument against the obvious conclusion that this assemblage of fossil birds and feathered dinosaurs is the smoking gun of evolutionary change, specifically that of birds from theropod dinosaurs”

    But beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
    A biblical literalist might find archaeopteryx and Aurornis xui “awkward” because it is disconfirming of his unquestioned beliefs. An evolutionary biologist might find them “interesting” because they merely confirm what a ton of evidence has already told him must be true. An intelligent and interested layman might find them “stunning” confirmation of what evolutionary biologists have been telling him all along.

    I would suggest that, as far as evolutionary biology is concerned, Steven Novella is an intelligent and interested layman speaking to intelligent and interested laymen.
    In this context, I think the phrase “stunning confirmation” seems apt.

  25. BillyJoe7on 01 Jun 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Wow, sorry for the long post.
    I have too much time on my hands today being unable to partake in my Sunday morning religious ritual of running through the Dandenong Ranges (because of an injury sustained during last Sundays sojourn).

  26. Yehouda Harpazon 02 Jun 2013 at 4:56 am

    BillyJoe7

    “In this context, I think the phrase “stunning confirmation” seems apt.”

    But you still haven’t defined what the phrase means.
    Do you agree that it means “very very convincing”, as I understand it?

  27. BillyJoe7on 02 Jun 2013 at 9:13 am

    Sometimes you have to leave the dictionary at home.

    I believe I’ve explained the meaning in context.
    If you don’t think so I don’t think another long post is not going to do it for you.
    Cheers.

  28. Yehouda Harpazon 02 Jun 2013 at 9:36 am

    BillyJoe

    ” Sometimes you have to leave the dictionary at home.
    I believe I’ve explained the meaning in context.
    If you don’t think so I don’t think another long post is not going to do it for you.”

    You cannot have a serious discussion if you cannot define what your words mean,
    specially the ones that are central to the discussion.
    Declining to give a definition is a declaration that you don’t want a serious discussion.

  29. steve12on 02 Jun 2013 at 9:41 am

    “There is no place for such plain lies in a serious discussion.”

    OK, maybe I should have said cognitive psychology instead of experimental psychology. This is the sort of pedantic hair-splitting that you employ in your criticisms to dismiss a lot of work and promote your model in their stead.

    to wit:
    http://human-brain.org/myths.html

    trashing nobel laureates et. al. in the field;
    http://human-brain.org/kandel.html
    http://human-brain.org/neuropages.html

    “It is also irrelevant to the subject.”

    It is, you’re right. But I think people should know when they’re dealing with a crank before they get into long-winded BS semantic arguments, which is where they’re headed.

  30. ccbowerson 02 Jun 2013 at 10:30 am

    “You cannot have a serious discussion if you cannot define what your words mean,
    specially the ones that are central to the discussion.
    Declining to give a definition is a declaration that you don’t want a serious discussion”

    Stunning simply means very impressive, and perhaps implies a positive aesthetic as well. I’m not sure why you are hung up on the definition of one particular adjective, which isn’t necessary to understanding the main point of the post. I assume you have the internet at your disposal, why do you need anyone to explain the definition of a word?
    It’s not an ambiguous word, and discussing the definitions of unambiguous words is more boring than clicking on someone’s wikipedia link. If the word was ambiguous in some way, then you might have a point. Your introduction of the word convincing just manufactures an argument. Convincing and stunning do not even overlap, in terms of their definition, except perhaps that both are generally positive adjectives

  31. Yehouda Harpazon 02 Jun 2013 at 12:12 pm

    ccbowers

    You skipped the definition of “confirmation”.

    “Your introduction of the word convincing just manufactures an argument.”

    Steven Novella’s answers make it pretty clear that he meant “very very convincing”.

    Can we have clarification on that from Steven Novella himself?

    ” I assume you have the internet at your disposal, why do you need anyone
    to explain the definition of a word?”

    Because on the internet “stunning confirmation” means “very very convincing evidence” ,
    but here people tell me that it doesn’t.

    “Stunning simply means very impressive, and perhaps implies a positive aesthetic as well.”

    Not obviously why that doesn’t fit with definition, because I don’t think you
    can have “very impressive confirmation” unless it is also very convincing. Do you really
    think that you can have “very impressive confirmation” without it being “very convincing”?

    The evidence about the origin is also not very impressive confirmation of evolutionary theory, from the same reasons that I gave above (not enough data to fix a tree), so if we adopt your definition it is not going to affect my argument.

  32. BillyJoe7on 02 Jun 2013 at 4:04 pm

    If you think Steven Novella is going to waste his time answering your petty questions then I’m afraid you have the wrong definition of Steven Novella in your head.

    Oh, by the way…

    “You cannot have a serious discussion if you cannot define what your words mean”

    Before I respond to that please define “serious discussion” for me.
    Because I’m pretty sure what’s happening here doesn’t fit the bill.
    Cheers.

  33. Yehouda Harpazon 02 Jun 2013 at 4:28 pm

    BillyJoe7

    “Before I respond to that please define “serious discussion” for me.”

    “Serious discussion” is a discussion where participants try to understand
    what other participant are writing. You need common definition of at least
    the central concepts for that.

  34. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2013 at 12:39 am

    Then I suggest you have a serious discussion.

  35. Yehouda Harpazon 03 Jun 2013 at 3:04 am

    BillyJoe

    “Then I suggest you have a serious discussion.”

    You seem to suggest that I don’t try to understand what other participants write.
    What the grounds for that?

  36. BillyJoe7on 03 Jun 2013 at 7:06 am

    Your failure to address my post where I carefully went through the article explaining the author’s justified use of the words with which you have expressed hyperbolic disagreement.

    Since then it is I who have not been having a serious discussion (;

  37. Steven Novellaon 03 Jun 2013 at 8:06 am

    So this discussion has degenerated into how many “verys” does “stunning confirmation” imply in terms of “very convincing.”

    Obviously, 1 stunning = 2.63 verys. Are you not familiar with the proper equations?

    Getting past all that – Harpaz continues to miss the key point here. Confirmation of a theory comes when the theory makes a prediction and the prediction comes true. The less likely it is that the prediction would be true independent of the theory, then the more stunning and convincing the confirmation is.

    Evolutionary theories predicts that birds must share a common ancestor with their most closely related group, almost certainly reptiles. The theory predicts, even requires, that we should find fossils of creatures that fill the morphological space between birds and reptiles (dinosaurs, it turns out, but not necessary for evolution to be true). Not only that, these specimens would have to exist in a proper temporal sequence.

    This prediction has been fulfilled in spades – we have found many primitive birds, some flying some not, some with primitive feathers, showing multiple lines of related groups. Further, the group we think birds evolved from were more birdlike than we previously knew – they had feathers.

    And it’s all in the proper temporal sequence.

    The probability of this being true without common descent is negligible. There is no other theory on the table that makes this prediction (contriving compatibility is not the same as predicting).

    Therefore – it is stunning, very very convincing evidence that common descent is true. Multiply that by a thousand, and that’s the fossil record in total.

  38. Yehouda Harpazon 03 Jun 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Steven Novella

    > Confirmation of a theory comes when the theory makes a prediction and the
    > prediction comes true.

    That is incomplete.
    You also have to have evidence that eliminates competing models.

    > The less likely it is that the prediction would be true independent of
    > the theory, then the
    > more stunning and convincing the confirmation is.

    That is true only if you consider what would competing models would predict,
    and conclude that the will predict other things.

    Concerning evolution, of course there are no realistic competing models,
    because we have enough anatomy, biogeography, genetics and molecular
    biology to eliminate them all. But if you take all this
    evidence into account, you already proved evolution anyway.

    The question is whether the fossil evidence concerning the origin of birds
    on its own is very convincing evidence. I say it isn’t.

    It should be obvious from the fact that a single specimen affects the tree.
    That means they don’t have an established tree yet, and that is among
    researchers who take evolution for granted. Without assuming
    evolution you are not going to see a tree at all around the origins of
    birds. Without an established tree, you are not not going to eliminate
    any competing model.

    Even when there is an established tree, it is not obvious how you eliminate
    competing models that assume some level of conservatism. I can think of
    several families of these models:
    1) Some god(s) which tend to do today what they did yesterday.
    2) Other superhuman creatures that have some reason, e.g. they do some
    experiments.
    3) A natural mechanism that produce new species and changes slowly in time.
    4) A natural mechanism that is constrained by the physical environment in
    some way.

    We have evidence to eliminate all of these (more or less, models that
    contain god(s) are in principle irrefutable), but not from the fossil record. The
    fossil record can show conservatism, but not common descent or natural selection.

    > This prediction has been fulfilled in spades – we have found many
    > primitive birds, some flying some not, some with primitive feathers, showing
    > multiple lines of related groups. Further, the group we think birds
    > evolved from were more birdlike than we previously knew – they had
    > feathers.

    If somebody objects to evolution on the grounds that birds could not evolve
    from other animal, than these fossils would be very very convincing
    refutation of this objection. Confirmation of evolution requires more.
    The fact above don’t contradict even a random-distribution-of-species model.

    > And it’s all in the proper temporal sequence.

    That would help in eliminating the random model, but not the more
    interesting ones.
    Also the problem with establishing a proper tree shows you that the
    chronology is not that well settled concerning the origins of birds.

    > The probability of this being true without common descent is negligible.

    Once you eliminate other models.

    > There is no other theory on the table that makes this prediction
    > (contriving compatibility is not the same as predicting).

    I agree with that, but this is because we already established evolution. The
    fossils about birds origins add almost nothing about evolution, because they don’t
    help to eliminate competing models.

    —–

    > So this discussion has degenerated into how many “verys” does “stunning
    > confirmation” imply in terms of “very convincing.”

    > Obviously, 1 stunning = 2.63 verys. Are you not familiar with the proper
    > equations?

    As you might have noticed, this degeneration happened because other
    commenters tried to convince me that you didn’t mean it is “very convincing”.
    You should direct your snarky comments to them, or even better, avoid
    such comments at all.

    ==========================================================
    BillyJoe

    > Your failure to address my post where I carefully went through the article
    > explaining the author’s
    > justified use of the words with which you have expressed hyperbolic
    > disagreement.

    > Since then it is I who have not been having a serious discussion (;

    At the time I was trying to sort out the various definitions of “stunning
    confirmation”. If the text above doesn’t answer any of your points, can you
    please raise it again.

  39. rezistnzisfutlon 03 Jun 2013 at 4:04 pm

    The chronological sequence of morphology for fossilized dinosaur/bird remains is quite compelling as it clearly delineates evolutionary common descent. While even ten years ago one could argue that the morphological chronology of dinosaurs to birds was still tenuous, the preponderance of evidence in the form of fossil finds since then is overwhelmingly supportive of evolution, and not just because Theory of Evolution is already in place, but because it’s supportive in its own right. I find it interesting that the implication is that one “has to believe” in evolution before fossilized dinosaur/bird remains becomes compelling evidence in support of evolution. Furthermore, there are no other “competing models” for the evidence to rule out. The fossil evidence fits perfectly within Theory of Evolution because it supports it in its own right – no other “competing theory” exists that comes anywhere close. I would go as far as saying that, even if Theory of Evolution did not exist in the first place, ultimately the best predictive model would be close to TOE just based on the fossil evidence alone.

  40. Steven Novellaon 04 Jun 2013 at 8:15 am

    Harpaz – you are not convincing me.

    Your first two alternate theories would not predict the pattern seen, which is only consistent with common descent. I’m not sure what you mean by 3 and 4 – specifically, how are these different than common descent?

    Further, you need to separate the different aspects of evolutionary theory – common descent, natural selection, and specific history.

    The fossil evidence for paraveans pretty much confirms common descent, and that birds evolved from dinosaurs. It does not establish natural selection, other lines of evidence are needed for that.

    The fact that the details of the particular paraves lines are still in flux does not in any way call into question or diminish the evidence for the larger patterns of common descent or birds from dinosaurs. That is a fallacy.

  41. Yehouda Harpazon 04 Jun 2013 at 3:36 pm

    > Your first two alternate theories would not predict the pattern seen,
    > which is only consistent with common descent.

    Which “predicting” and “being consistent with”.
    I don’t see how you make this statement, you didn’t give any argument.
    The only thing that you can really predict from common descent about fossils
    is conservatism, i.e. that forms at any time will be similar to forms at preceding
    time. So any conservative mechanism will predict the same as common descent.

    > I’m not sure what you mean by 3 and 4 – specifically, how are these
    > different than common descent?

    I mean mechanism that don’t work by descent, i.e. create living forms not
    by starting from other living forms. For example, the way that the cosmos
    create stars.

    > The fossil evidence for paraveans pretty much confirms common descent,

    Without some explanation how you reject other models, that is just a blind-faith
    declaration.
    To make clear again: there is no problem to reject the other models, but you
    need different evidence, and the difference evidence (anatomy, bio-geography,
    genetic, molecular biology) don’t need the fossils.

    > It does not establish natural selection, other lines of evidence are needed for that.

    That is quite strong limitation for a “confirmation of evolutionary theory”, no?

    > The fact that the details of the particular paraves lines are still in flux does
    > not in any way call into question or diminish the evidence for the larger
    > patterns of common descent or birds from dinosaurs. That is a fallacy.

    But it does mean that the evidence about evolution from fossils of the origin
    of birds is very weak. As far as I can tell from reading the Nature article (which
    is accessible here http://www.plasmyd.com/doi/10.1038/nature12168) and previous
    articles. I attach the _full text_ of the relevant section from the supplementary
    information. They don’t actually know exactly where the specimen came from, and
    did not do any timing of the specimen itself.

    You really think that they have a reliable chronology after reading that?

    I have uploaded the full text of the supplementary here:
    http://www66.zippyshare.com/v/48237687/file.html

    Side comment: They do explicitly mention forgery, and that they tried to check against it.

    ================================

    3. ORIGIN AND AGE OF YTGP-T5198

    As it is the case for most of the paravian specimens known from western Liaoning Province,
    the holotype and only known specimen of Aurornis xui was acquired by the Yizhou Fossil &
    Geology Park from a Chinese fossil dealer, according to whom the specimen was collected at
    the Yaolugou locality (Jianchang county, western Liaoning, China), not far from Daxishan
    village where Anchiornis huxlei specimen LPM (Liaoning Paleontological Museum)-B00169
    was discovered2. The Tiaojishan Formation is widely exposed in this area29 though it also has
    limited outcrops of the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation30. The Aurornis xui specimen is
    preserved in a shale slab, the sedimentary structures of which closely resemble those of the
    specimens of Anchiornis huxlei and Xiaotingia zhengi also described from the Tiaojishan
    Formation; it is in fact extremely difficult to distinguish between Tiaojishan and Yixian shale
    slabs on the basis of macro-sedimentary features. It is therefore necessary to study in detail
    the micro-sedimentary structures and the pollen assemblages within the shale slabs to certify
    the age of the specimen, as also the case for the Anchiornis huxlei and Xioatingia zhengi

    specimens described so far3.
    The specimen was only partially prepared when it was sold by the Chinese dealer. Careful
    preparation by the Yizhou Fossil & Geology Park staff and by some authors of this paper (FE
    and PG) did not reveal any trace of forgery; the probability that the specimen is a composite
    is accordingly low.
    The Tiaojishan Formation crops out in western Liaoning Province and is equivalent to the
    Lanqi Formation of North Hebei Province31. The reason for the abundance of excellently
    preserved fossils is the presence of interbedded tuffs originating from recurrent volcanic
    events32. In western Liaoning, the Tiaojishan Formation is 130-970 metres thick32 and is
    composed of different types of rocks, including basalts, andesites, rhyolites, tuffs, tuffaceous
    sandstones and conglomerates32. Because of the complicated stratigraphic pattern in the
    Tiaojishan Formation, accurate dating of the formation is particularly difficult31. Ages
    between 165 ± 1,2 Ma and 153 ± 2 Ma were obtained by SHRIMP U-Th-Pb analysis of
    samples from the Tiaojishan (= Lanqi) Formation33. Zhang et al. (2008)31 concluded that the
    upper boundary of the Tiaojishan (= Lanqi) formation dates between 156 and 153 Ma. Chang
    et al. (2009)32 obtained Ar-Ar ages of 160.7 ± 0,4 Ma and 158.7 ± 0,6 Ma for the basal Lanqi
    Formation in North Hebei Province. These results indicate that the age of the Tiaojishan
    Formation is between the Callovian (Middle Jurassic) and the Kimmeridgian (Late
    Jurassic)34.

    =======================================

  42. Bill Openthalton 05 Jun 2013 at 5:07 am

    @ Yehouda
    Occam is used to eliminate more complex theories. The first three of your alternatives are more complex, requiring interventions currently not observed:

    1. God(s): there is no observable interventionist god today, or through known history
    2. Superhuman creatures are only seen in movies
    3. There is no evidence for a “natural species-factory”

    The fourth alternative doesn’t qualify as an alternative, as common descent/evolution/natural selection are constrained by the physical environment.

    The simple fact is that there are no credible altermatives, and your objection is rather specious.

    That being said, a lot of fossils are discovered by enthousiasts, or commercially motivated collectors(*), and absent detailed information on the origin of the fossil (in-site pictures are easy today with GPS-equiped cameras and cellphones), it should be treated with utmost circumspection.

    (*)Today, it is even more difficult to get budget for terrain work than when I was studying geology more than 40 years ago, and even then we had to rely on volunteers for our digs.

  43. Yehouda Harpazon 27 Jul 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Science had a piece about the authenticity of finding in China following the article that is discussed here:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6137/1153.summary

    I don’t have access to the fulltext online, I read it in paper. It says that it is
    not obvious whether the fossil is 160 million or 125 million years old, and that
    the authors admit it and say that they trying to establish what the actual age.

  44. sonicon 29 Jul 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Yehouda-
    I have a business partner who grew up in China. He tells me it is a good idea to question fossil finds from there — apparently the making of phony fossils is good business.
    The culture in China is different than here in the US– part of the difference is the Chinese don’t mind ‘knock-offs’ and ‘forgeries’ and such like we do. In fact, the person who can make a good knock-off is considered as good as the guy who did the original.

    My friend puts it this way– “You have a saying- ‘One in a million,’ meaning ‘someone special’. Where I come from ‘One in a million,’ means there are over 1,000 guys outside waiting to take your job.”
    (Originality is not held in as high esteem apparently).

    I don’t think this finding can be considered ‘stunning conformation’ anyway. It’s the kind of thing that has been found numerous times. If it were really ‘stunning’ wouldn’t the researchers have checked it’s validity more completely before presenting it?
    And as you point out, by itself, it doesn’t say anything about any number of other possible explanations.

    Here’s my problem– many people claim that there is ‘no other possible explanation for what we see other than evolution,’ and then those same people see a piece of evidence as ‘stunning conformation’ this belief.

    But people who can’t question see confirmation all over the place (Jesus in a piece of toast, for example).
    And the hyperbole of ‘stunning’ doesn’t help to differentiate between the two claims… rather it confuses them…

  45. BillyJoe7on 29 Jul 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Another baby lost in the woods. |:

  46. CalKingon 30 Nov 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Aurornis is an interesting fossil because ever since the discovery of Archaeopteryx, most scientists probably felt that it as not the first bird that evolved because Archaeopteryx has many avian characters, which could not have evolved in a giant leap from a non-avian predecessor. For example, its feathers are asymmetrical and they are fully modern, showing the same rachis-barbule-hooklet structure that modern feathers show. Since most scientists believe that feathers evolved from enlarges scales, it would be unlikely that a non-avian reptile with enlarged scales would give rise to Archaeopteryx in a single speciation event. Aurornis therefore is also unlikely to be the first bird. It is itself just another intermediate step. After all, the oldest known reptile with feathers is Longisquama, and Longisquama is 65 million years older than Aurornis and 75 million years older than Archaeopteryx.

    Therefore there is a gap of 65 million years between the first known reptile with feathers, and the oldest known bird. If one lives long enough, one will probably see more fossils turn up that fills this gap. As for the claim that birds evolved from a dinosaur, it is largely refuted. The oldest known bird-like dinosaurs, such as Deinonychus, now live some 10 million years later than the oldest known bird, making it even less likely to be the closest relatives of the oldest known bird. The disputable fact remains: there is no bird-like ground dwelling dinosaur living in a time period that predates the oldest known birds. Until we find such a beast, the possibility that some theropods are actually derived birds remains more likely than the alternative that birds evolved from a theropod. Frankly, the theory of the dinosaurian origin of birds does not prove evolution. If anything the people who are fixated on this falsified theory are acting more like creationists than scientists. That is because they both have a dogma that cannot be falsified, no matter what the evidence is. Creationists cannot be persuaded that evolution is fact, and the believers of the dinosaurian origin of birds will never admit that birds could have evolved from Lonisquama because they believe that it is impossible for birds to have evolved from anything other than a dinosaur.

  47. Steven Novellaon 01 Dec 2013 at 9:03 am

    CalKing – you are proposing a conspiracy theory without any evidence.

    Paleontologists favor the conclusion that birds evolved from dinosaurs because that is what the current evidence shows. If new evidence supports an alternate interpretation, then that interpretation would gain favor.

    That is what the history of paleontology clearly shows – not an a-priori attachment to birds-from-dinosaurs despite the evidence.

    You wrote: “The disputable fact remains: there is no bird-like ground dwelling dinosaur living in a time period that predates the oldest known birds. Until we find such a beast, the possibility that some theropods are actually derived birds remains more likely than the alternative that birds evolved from a theropod. ”

    I disagree with this interpretation. Groups can survive long after derived groups evolved from them. This does not present any special problem. The simplest connection of the fossils is from dinosaurs to theropods to birds. Proposing an alternate origin for birds and then theropods is unnecessarily complex and lacks evidence.

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