June 16, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

How Can They Call This Duck a Missing Link?

The news media are abuzz with the phrase “Missing Link” again.  This time, it’s about a fossilized duck or loon found in Early Cretaceous strata in China, announced in Science.1  The article calls it a “nearly modern” bird with soft-tissue preservation, including webbed feet, wing feathers and downy feathers.  They said it “possesses advanced anatomical features previously known only in Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic ornithuran birds.”  Being found in Early Cretaceous strata (assumed 110 million years old) makes it “the oldest known member of the clade,” but the paper does not call it a missing link.  Neither does the summary page “This week in Science” earlier in the issue; in fact, the summary states “this Early Cretaceous bird has many derived features,” and “It was also well adapted for an aquatic-amphibian lifestyle—the fossils even show what appears to be webbing in the feet.”  This particular species has been known previously from fragmentary fossils, it says.
    Why, then, are the news media all calling this a missing link?  See Fox News, for instance, and Associated Press on MSNBC News which states, “Waterfowl fossils fill in a big missing link.”  It was not missing, and it is not a link; it is a better-preserved specimen of a known species appearing much earlier than previously thought.  Live Science did not use the phrase, but said that it “might be one of the oldest ancestors of modern birds,” even when the original paper noted that the wing feathers “are asymmetrical and virtually identical to those of volant [i.e., flying] modern birds.”  National Geographic News avoided the buzzphrase “missing link” also, but claimed “The discovery supports the view that key characteristics of modern birds evolved quickly and early, long before the demise of the dinosaurs.” Quoting Jerald Harris (Dixie State College), a co-author of the paper, “It was unexpected to find a bird this advanced in rocks this old.  It tells us that the anatomical features we use to characterize modern birds evolved [sic] very quickly.”
    In fact, the specimen “shares many skeletal features with modern birds, including the knobby knees characteristic of underwater swimmers like loons and grebes.”  Even the “preserved skin of the webbed feet shows the same microscopic structure seen in aquatic birds today.”  There doesn’t seem to be anything un-modern about this fossil other than its presumed place in the evolutionary tree.  At the end of the NG article, Julia Clarke (North Carolina State U) makes the startling claim that “there was a wide range of bird types during the period that preceded the emergence [sic] of truly modern birds.”  That would seem to be the opposite of evolutionary expectations.
    At the end of their paper, the discoverers noted one other puzzle: “Consequently, contrary to recent hypotheses, adaptation to an aquatic ecology appears to have played little part in the survival of birds across the K/P boundary.”2


1Hai-lu You et al., “A Nearly Modern Amphibious Bird from the Early Cretaceous of Northwestern China, Science, 16 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5780, pp. 1640 – 1643, DOI: 10.1126/science.1126377.
2I.e., the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, assumed 65 million years ago when some catastrophic event killed off all the dinosaurs (but apparently not the sparrows and ducks).

This is scandalous.  The news media should be ashamed of themselves.  What should have been interpreted as the falsification of common notions about bird evolution has been twisted into support for evolution.  In an act of contortion astounding in scope, the media expect us to believe three more impossible things before breakfast: (1) that the anatomical features of modern birds including webbed feet, oil glands and all the other traits necessary for aquatic life, evolved quickly; (2) that soft tissues like webbed feet, downy feathers and “pelvic limbs with soft-tissue preservation” survived for 110 million years, and (3) that the cataclysm that spelled doom for dozens of kinds of survival-hardened dinosaurs, from the powerful carnivores to the pet-sized mini-sauropods (see 06/10/2006) – animals that presumably conquered the world from the arctic to the tropics, outlasting all kinds of environmental changes – somehow left our cute feathered friends unscathed.
    This is loony.  Aren’t you glad for the internet, and sites like Creation-Evolution Headlines, that can bring a dose of realism to out-of-control Darwin-infested science reporting?  Before, the mainstream media and networks fed this sleight-of-mind to the public unchallenged; well, now the public is calling out the propagandists and demanding honesty.  And welcome, all you at Panda’s Thumb; we know you’re paying attention.
Follow-up: Sidestepping at Panda’s Thumb:  Let’s examine how a PT critic answered the above entry:

…. Creation-Evolution headlines’ article on this find is particular execrable.  They call Gansus a ‘duck’; they claim the find is a ‘known species appearing much earlier than already thought’ (Gansus has always been assigned to the Early Cretaceous), and they mock the idea that birds survived the KT extinction (most of them did not; the enanthornithines did not, and there was a major genetic bottleneck in the ornithurines).  A shorebird, able to travel to find food, living largely off shoreline detritus and small shoreline scavengers, likely in the tropics, would be exactly the kind of species one would expect to survive a major catastrophe.

First of all, brush off the cussword execrable as mere emotional fluff, and examine the facts.  It wasn’t just CEH that called this a duck.  Every popular article linked above said it resembled a duck, was duck-like or was “just ducky.”  LiveScience began, “If it looks like a duck and paddles like a duck, it must be a duck, right?  That’s the conclusion of researchers….”  So let this critic castigate the other science reporters, then; the bird had webbed feet and swam, so why quibble about categories?  The original paper said that Gansus used to be thought of as a sandpiper, but “Its anatomy, however, demonstrates that it was more similar to, but not as adept as, foot-propelled diving birds such as grebes, loons, and diving ducks.”  The fossil didn’t come with a Linnaean sticker on it.  The criticism that we called it a duck when it isn’t is like complaining we called a vehicle a minivan when it was really a Caravan.  It’s a Dodge.
    As to Gansus always being assigned Early Cretaceous, the original paper stated, “Previously reported, alleged Early Cretaceous ornithurans are either fragmentary, of debatable age, or have received only limited examination.”  For instance, the first known specimen consisted of an “isolated partial left pelvic limb.”  The whole surprise of this discovery was to find a much more complete and well-preserved fossil of an Early Cretaceous bird with Late Cretaceous features.  The paper states, “this taxon possesses advanced anatomical features previously known only in Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic ornithuran birds.”  So the point is not where evolutionists had classified this species in their own incestuous dating scheme, but that it turned out to have “late” or modern features much “earlier” than expected.  The critic strains at a gnat and swallows a camel.
    Finally, about the extinctions, well, it’s nice that this critic was able to invent a just-so story to patch up an older just-so story.  There were shore-scavenging dinosaurs in the tropics, too, along with swimming dinosaurs.  This major catastrophe was shore selective in what shore creatures it wiped out.
    So how well did this critic do in attacking our report?  Now consider what he didn’t address – namely, the main points.  Evolutionists ask us to believe that a modern-looking aquatic bird, fully capable of swimming and diving, evolved all its advanced features quickly.  After being buried in pristine condition, its soft tissues, feathers and webbed feet survived intact for 110 million years.  That’s what all the science reporters are parroting without asking the obvious questions, and without considering any alternatives outside the Darwinian orthodoxy.  It’s time such nonsense was not foisted on the public as science without a challenge.
    Answering blogger blather such as that on Panda’s Thumb is not our style, lest we dignify what David Berlinski described as low-market, semi-literate posts with a “characteristic combination of pustules and gonorrhea that one would otherwise associate with high-school toughs” (ARN).  This was an experiment to see if they could deal with it honestly.  If you want creation-evolution news based on the original scientific sources along with critical analysis of reports issuing from the mainstream media, you know you can find it here.  We still invite the Thumb-suckers over there at PT to graduate to a higher education.

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