April 5, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Science Reporters Stretch the Truth on Limb Evolution Claim

Item: some fragments of bone were found from a road cut in Pennsylvania.  Conclusion: Darwinian evolution from slime to humans has been demonstrated again.  Sound far fetched?  Not if you are a science reporter for a typical news organization; this is common practice.
    The bone this time is a humerus of a presumed “early” tetrapod, described by Neil Shubin and team (University of Chicago) in the Apr. 2 issue of Science.1  Their diagram shows a few scattered fragments of bone, not a whole skeleton.
    That’s the data; now the interpretation.  According to the authors, the fragments of bone from this late Devonian creature represent a “novel mix of primitive and derived characters,” that “provides the basis for new interpretations of structural and functional stages in the origin of the tetrapod limb.”  Since only a few bone fragments were found, their identification of the fossil is “based on the presence of multiple shared derived features” compared with other assumed early tetrapods.  The shape of the bone, they think, indicates it supported bigger muscles.  It might have been, therefore, evolving into something that could support the body of the animal underwater and perhaps was used for a kind of hopping locomotion.  Admitting that “Many of the changes seen in these Devonian taxa are also seen in modern fish,” they “argue that this function represents the intermediate condition between primitive steering and braking functions in fins.”
    Jennifer Clack, a veteran tetrapod-evolution researcher (see 08/09/2003 entry), writing in the same issue of Science,2 agrees with the interpretation and thinks that Shubin’s conclusions “reveal how even fragmentary finds can be used to draw inferences about the nature and sequence of changes that must have taken place during the evolution of terrestrial locomotion by tetrapods.”  In other words, no one saw this creature walking on its fins; inferences were drawn based on what they envision must have happened sometime in the evolution from fish to four-footed walker.  Even though Clack admits this bone “hints at a wide diversity of tetrapods existing in close proximity” in Pennsylvania where it was found, she illustrated her article with the new bone arranged into a hypothetical progression from fin to foot.
    Here are examples of how this interpretation was reported in the media:

  • Astrobiology Magazine pictured a contemplative chimpanzee pondering its origins, and began, “The Darwinian picture of the first fish venturing out of a muddy pond to become a lizard, has always had a certain simplistic appeal, but recent findings suggest this transitional puzzle has new fossil evidence.  A 365-million year old humerus bone hints at a fish that tried to prop itself up underwater, long before its offspring could have appeared as eventual amphibians.”  Charles Darwin, in pictures and quotes, is featured in the story, along with an illustration of limbs reverting back to fins in the evolution of whales.
  • MSNBC News carried the story with the title, “How did fins evolve into feet?  Fossils document gradual change in the bones of ancient fish”.  The first paragraph is even more daring, connecting the story to us humans: “There is something fishy going on in your arms and legs – and it’s a good thing.  With the discovery of the world’s oldest known arm bone, scientists conclude that many of the physical features we associate with life on land, including the bone structures and muscles necessary for walking and doing pushups, have their evolutionary roots in fish.”
  • New Scientist claimed that this “Primitive fossil arm performed push-ups” and “has revealed important insights into how animals colonised the land.”
  • National Geographic gave Shubin’s team uncontested coverage, even though among the positive affirmations, they quoted one of the researchers as “unable to discern whether the humerus belongs to Hynerpeton, Densignathus, or an entirely new tetrapod species.”
  • BBC News reported the story in slightly more tentative language, “Fossil may be earliest arm bone,” though offering no alternative to an evolutionary interpretation.  When they wrote, “It suggests the earliest limbed animals were fish navigating shallow rivers, but its place in the evolutionary tree is the subject of some controversy,” the controversy they speak of is not whether evolution from fins to feet occurred, but where this particular fossil fits in the scheme: they end with another scientist mentioning that this bone “isn’t like any of the later humeri that you encounter in the later Carboniferous.”
  • Nature Science Update claimed “Strong-arm tactics drove creatures from the pond,” and stated, “The discovery of an ancient arm bone has helped scientists understand what happened as water-dwelling creatures evolved into land animals.”  The end of the article admits that “Details are sketchy, however.  We do not know, for example, how developed these creatures became underwater before crawling ashore, but the new find should add to the current picture.”

These articles can probably be considered representative of how the interpretation of one bone in a scientific journal was reported in the popular media.


1Shubin et al., “The Early Evolution of the Tetrapod Humerus,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 90-93, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1094295].
2Jennifer Clack, “Enhanced: From Fins to Fingers,” Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 57-58, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096415].

If this article doesn’t make you mad, you have been hoodwinked as a victim of bad high school science teaching.  These reporters have taken an inch of data and stretched it into a light-year in both directions, fitting it into an all-encompassing myth of their own making, without considering alternative explanations or even coming close to supporting their case.  No muscles were found, no dates were stamped on the bones, no creatures were seen doing push-ups, and no transition from fins to feet was observed.  In fact, this bone brings as many puzzles into the evolutionary tale as “insights” (oh, how they love to claim that such and such a discovery “may provide insight into evolution”).  Where is any science reporter wise and bold enough to stand up and call this kind of grandstanding unjustifiable, misleading and worthless?
    Darwinists have commandeered the news media by installing gutless lackeys as reporters who dare not question the fanciful interpretations of the Darwin Party.  As a result, they can weave their tall tales with reckless abandon.  If this were a court of law, the opposing attorney would cry “Objection!”, and demand proof.  If a politician made a claim on such flimsy evidence, the reporters would hammer him with hard-hitting follow-up questions and turn his reputation into a laughingstock.  If it were a logic class, the teacher would use it as an illustration of a of logical fallacy of extrapolation while the students would respond to the claimed evidence by rolling their eyes and rotating their fingers around their ears.  But no; the Darwin Party is a totalitarian regime, suppressing freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of thought.  Only the official party line can be debated.  That’s why Creation-Evolution Headlines, the alternative media, exists.  Spread the word.
    For a more detailed response to prior claims by Clack and Shubin, be sure to read our 08/09/2003 entry.  You won’t get it in the mainstream media.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Marine Biology

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