February 9, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Dinosaurs Evolved from Birds

Birds evolved from dinosaurs, we are often told.  That’s backwards, reply some scientists at Oregon State University.  According to PhysOrg, the recently-published bi-plane model study of Microraptor gui (01/29/2010) demonstrates that theropod dinosaurs did not sprout wings and fly; instead, they became flightless after their bird ancestors came down from the trees.
    Their response demonstrates how the same evidence can be spun different ways.  They are adamant about it: “The weight of the evidence is now suggesting that not only did birds not descend from dinosaurs,” John Ruben of OSU said, “but that some species now believed to be dinosaurs may have descended from birds.”  He’s glad to see a breakthrough from the conventional wisdom.  “This issue isn’t resolved at all.  There are just too many inconsistencies with the idea that birds had dinosaur ancestors, and this newest study adds to that.”
    Ruben believes instead that theropods and birds had a common ancestor, and birds evolved into flightless varieties, including raptors like Velociraptor.  “This may be hugely upsetting to a lot of people, but it makes perfect sense,” he said.
    Ruben portrayed OSU scientists as mavericks against the consensus along with others at Florida State, particularly Alan Feduccia, a long critic of the dinosaur-to-bird consensus. 

OSU research on avian biology and physiology has been raising questions on this issue since the 1990s, often in isolation.  More scientists and other studies are now challenging the same premise, Ruben said.  The old theories were popular, had public appeal and “many people saw what they wanted to see” instead of carefully interpreting the data, he said.
O    “Pesky new fossils…sharply at odds with conventional wisdom never seem to cease popping up,” Ruben wrote in his PNAS commentary.  “Given the vagaries of the fossil record, current notions of near resolution of many of the most basic questions about long-extinct forms should probably be regarded with caution.

Ruben’s commentary critiquing the “accepted wisdom” of bird evolution was published on PNAS today.1  The commentary ends with a warning to his colleagues to be careful about interpreting fossils.  He referred to “very recent data suggest that many clearly cursorial theropods previously thought to have been feathered may not have been so, and that dromaeosaurs, the group that birds are assumed to have been derived from, may not even have been dinosaurs.”  Scientists should therefore be careful about considering controversies solved.  “What pops up next is anyone’s guess.


1.  John Ruben, “Paleobiology and the origins of avian flight,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PDF), February 9, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0915099107.

So scientists saw what they wanted to see.  Next question: why did they want to see it?  The invisible hand of Charlie controls the blinders on their eyes.
    Conventional wisdom is often an oxymoron.  It afflicts those infected with sophoxymoronia (02/02/2008 commentary).  Wisdom often requires breaking from conventions, especially scientific ones, where wrong ideas reinforce one another.  Cheer for the Mavericks.  In this case, Ruben is not maverick enough.  He needs to burn his Darwin Party card and join the ID revolution.

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