July 15, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Another Evolutionary Statistic Is Wrong

Marine invertebrate diversity has not increased dramatically over time, contrary to conventional wisdom.  That’s the conclusion of a team of 35 researchers who spent a decade analyzing seashell fossils from around the world.
    Science Daily reported the story July 7.  A week later, on July 14, Science Daily reported a follow-up story, entitled, “Disproving Conventional Wisdom On Diversity Of Marine Fossils And Extinction Rates.”  The later article featured John Alroy (UC Santa Barbara), the principal author of the paper published in Science.1  “There’s been 36 years of people arguing about this,” he said.  “And I feel we finally resolved this debate, which is certainly one of the most high profile debates in the study of diversity of the fossil record.”  95% of the fossil record consists of marine invertebrates (see ICR claim).  The abstract says,

It has previously been thought that there was a steep Cretaceous and Cenozoic radiation of marine invertebrates.  This pattern can be replicated with a new data set of fossil occurrences representing 3.5 million specimens, but only when older analytical protocols are used.  Moreover, analyses that employ sampling standardization and more robust counting methods show a modest rise in diversity with no clear trend after the mid-Cretaceous.  Globally, locally, and at both high and low latitudes, diversity was less than twice as high in the Neogene as in the mid-Paleozoic.  The ratio of global to local richness has changed little, and a latitudinal diversity gradient was present in the early Paleozoic.

The team painstakingly catalogued 248,816 fossils from around the world and found that things that paleontologists have been saying for 40 years may not be accurate.  Diversity reached saturation early after the Cambrian and Ordovician and remained flat, with minor excursions, over the remaining eras.
    The new database suggests that there were only three, not five, mass extinctions.  The number of species recovered quickly, they said.  The sixth and last presumed extinction never happened, they claim, based on their results.
    Another researcher explained the utility of the project.  She said, “If we know where we have been, we know something about where it will go.”


1.  Alroy et al, “Phanerozoic Trends in the Global Diversity of Marine Invertebrates,” Science, 4 July 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5885, pp. 97-100, DOI: 10.1126/science.1156963.

It’s good to know where you have been.  Where you have been, though, does not necessarily predict where you will go.  Do these researchers know the answer to such questions?
    Statistics can be misleading.  Good for them that they went at it in much more detail than in previous studies.  They have falsified claims going back four decades.  That does not ipso facto “truthify” their own claims.  Because their work has an incestuous relationship with evolutionary geology and biology, any conclusions borne out have a statistically high likelihood of dementia.

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Categories: Fossils, Marine Biology

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