September 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Waltzing with Dinosaurs

51; An international team of paleontologists wrote a kind of “State of the Tyrannosaur Address” in Science last week,1 boasting about all that is known of these creatures:

Tyrannosaurs, the group of dinosaurian carnivores that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, are icons of prehistory.  They are also the most intensively studied extinct dinosaurs, and thanks to large sample sizes and an influx of new discoveries, have become ancient exemplar organisms used to study many themes in vertebrate paleontology.  A phylogeny that includes recently described species shows that tyrannosaurs originated by the Middle Jurassic but remained mostly small and ecologically marginal until the latest Cretaceous.  Anatomical, biomechanical, and histological studies of T. rex and other derived tyrannosaurs show that large tyrannosaurs could not run rapidly, were capable of crushing bite forces, had accelerated growth rates and keen senses, and underwent pronounced changes during ontogeny.  The biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs provide a foundation for comparison with other dinosaurs and living organisms.

As the article proceeded from this grandiose introduction into the details of children’s favorite pet monsters, a question arises: what to say about the biggest “shocker” (see Smithsonian, May 2006)of recent tyrannosaur histological studies, the discovery of soft tissue and blood cells in a T. rex leg bone? (03/24/2005, 06/03/2005, 04/12/2007)  After all, they could not just ignore such a pertinent matter without saying something about it and its implications.  Answer: they just waltzed right around it, with all the dainty grace of T. Rex Sue in ballet shoes.
    First, they made a passing mention of soft tissue: “These discoveries have fostered an increased understanding of tyrannosaur anatomy (6, 7), growth dynamics (8, 9), population structure (10), feeding (11), locomotion (12), biogeography (13), and soft tissue morphology (14�16),” they said, continuing the triumphal tone.  “This breadth of information, and of research activity, on a restricted group of organisms is unparalleled in contemporary dinosaur paleontology.”  The references 14-16 mentioned above include Mary Schweitzer’s bombshell Science paper from 2005.  What would they say next?
    “The spate of new discoveries has prompted a renewed focus on tyrannosaur anatomy, including external, internal, and soft-tissue morphology (Fig. 3),” the section on Tyrannosaur anatomy opened.  But Figure 3, “Tyrannosaur soft tissues,” shows none of Schweitzer’s famous photographs of flexible structures and putative blood cells.  In time, though, they could not ignore the evidence any longer:

Several easily degraded soft tissues, such as cells, blood vessels, and collagen, have been reported from a specimen of Tyrannosaurus (15, 35).  Some of these findings have been met with skepticism (36), and they remain to be validated by other research groups.  However, if correct, they promise to give radical new insight into the process of fossilization and may allow for molecular phylogenetic analysis of these extinct taxa (37).

References 15 and 35 are to Schweitzer’s two papers (03/24/2005, 06/03/2005; see also 04/12/2007)  The “skepticism” of reference 36 is to the counter-claim that the alleged soft tissues came from biofilm contamination (07/30/2008) – an argument Schweitzer vociferously denied, defending her procedures and conclusions (11/11/2006, 04/30/2009).
    After the above paragraph, surprisingly or not, the authors waltzed on to other matters like Tyrannosaur behavior and biogeography, saying nothing more about Schweitzer’s explosive discovery that threatens to undermine the dating and phylogeny of the world’s most famous dinosaur, if that is what “radical new insight into the process of fossilization” might include.
    Of the popular sites the reported on the Science paper, PhysOrg, Science Daily and National Geographic didn’t even join in the waltz, but ignored the soft tissue issue entirely, focusing instead on the triumphal march of science and millions of years.  Only Jeremy Shu at Live Science came on the dance floor, smiling, “One of the most exciting areas of research involves the possible discovery of soft tissues, such as cells, blood vessels and collagen, in one tyrannosaur specimen.  Although controversial, the findings could overturn ideas about what body parts can survive fossilization.”  Stephen Brusatte of the American Natural History Museum added this open-ended comment: “one of the joys of paleontology is that each new fossil has the potential to tell us something new, and even to overturn ideas we once thought were bulletproof.”  The bullets, meanwhile, have been flying from creation sites (e.g., CMI, AIG).

1.  Brusatte, Norell et al, “Tyrannosaur Paleobiology: New Research on Ancient Exemplar Organisms,” Science, 17 September 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5998, pp. 1481-1485, DOI: 10.1126/science.1193304.

The Smithsonian piece contained the expected Two Minutes’ Hate against “young-earth creationists,” talking about how horrified Schweitzer gets when these ignoramuses “misrepresent” her findings, “twist your words and they manipulate your data,” which “drives Schweitzer crazy,” as if it’s their fault these soft tissues were found in the bone.  Not even terrorists get the abuse that creationists endure from academia.  Despite the rhetoric, the Smithsonian article provoked many comments from Darwin skeptics, some wise, some otherwise.
    Though Schweitzer is a Christian, she’s the schizophrenic type that evolutionists can tolerate (cartoon): “For her, science and religion represent two different ways of looking at the world; invoking the hand of God to explain natural phenomena breaks the rules of science.  After all, she says, what God asks is faith, not evidence.”  So religion has no evidence but faith, and science has no faith but evidence.  How nice and neat (see 01/06/2008, and appeasement and false dichotomy in the Baloney Detector).  A true “scientist”, according to them, must have faith that evidence always will somehow lead to exaltation of their idol, Darwin-Baal.
    Evolutionists are tragically comical sometimes.  In this case they act like the musicians on the Titanic still entertaining the guests as the ship goes down.  Only this time, they are not playing Nearer My God to Thee, but Everything’s All Right:

Sleep and I shall soothe you
Distract and dogmatize you,
Molecular phylogeny for your hot forehead
oh then you’ll feel
Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s fine;
Fossils are cool and consensus is sweet
For the shock in your eyes
Close your eyes
Close your eyes
And relax
Think of nothing tonight.
Everything’s all right
Yes everything’s all right yes.

Escapism is the cure for worry about secular paleontology’s timeline falling, never to rise again.  We say, wake up!  If Schweitzer’s data have been met with skepticism, fine; resolve it.  If the claims remain to be validated by other research groups, what are they waiting for?  Do it (02/22/2006, 11/23/2006).  You can shut up the creationists by falsifying the soft tissue evidence or else explaining, with preferably a demonstration, how blood cells and flexible tissues could survive for 65 million years.  But don’t give us a song and dance. 

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Categories: Dinosaurs, Fossils

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