May 23, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Dino Feathers or Horsefeathers?

The much-touted feathers on certain dinosaurs may be nothing more than collagen fibers.  An article on ABC France says “Dinosaur ‘feathers’ are no such thing.”  Instead, it’s just decayed dermal collagen, like that found on sharks and reptiles.  A South African team came to this conclusion after analyzing the alleged feathers on Sinosauropteryx.
    If their analysis is correct, this casts doubt on the birds-from-dinosaurs theory.  The team lead called the idea a “reckless leap” from the evidence, and said, “There is not a single close-up representation of the integumental structure alleged to be a proto-feather.”  He called for more scientific rigor in the analysis of these fossils.
    Nature Science Update also reported on this find, saying “Bald dino casts doubt on feather theory.”  It says, “If Sinosauropteryx was indeed featherless, then it may be that feathers arrived on the evolutionary scene later than palaeontologists had thought.”  But Nature downplayed the implications.  David Unwin, paleontologist at the University of Leicester, said,“there’s no need to panic” about the implications of this find.  He claimed, “This doesn’t in any way challenge the idea that dinosaurs had feathers and that dinosaurs gave rise to birds.”  It just “throws into doubt the first step in feather evolution.”  But Unwin echoed a common theme in evolutionary theories: “Things may be more complex than we thought.”
    PhysOrg was more dramatic.  It said that this announcement “had the effect of a thunderclap” on scientists who had used the alleged feathers as evidence for bird evolution.  “Palaeontologists have fired a broadside over a fossil which is the cornerstone evidence to back the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs.”

Although we don’t want to make a conclusion based on one team’s analysis of one fossil, we agree more scientific rigor is called for.  Notice how Nature was quick to hedge about the meaning of this disillusionment.  The rest of the media that love to display artists’ reconstructions of feathered dinosaurs are strangely silent so far.  We ought to be asking seriously, in the meantime, have we been sold a bill of goods (again) about feathered dinosaurs? (10/10/2005, 05/06/2004).  We have often seen the propensity of the Darwinists to take flights of fancy based on lightweight evidence (cf. 02/08/2006, 09/27/2000).

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Categories: Birds, Dinosaurs, Fossils

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