Media Go Nuts Over Alleged Tyrannosaur Missing Link
From a few bone fragments and lots of imagination, reporters lit the fireworks and marching bands to spin stories for Darwin.
Whenever you see the phrase “missing link,” be prepared for a media circus. This time it’s about a horse-sized tyrannosaur fossil discovered in Uzbekistan. From 15 scattered bone fragments (7 of them vertebrae), Steven Brusatte and team have deduced it was a missing link. The find was published in PNAS; simultaneously, Brusatte crowed on The Conversation about his “Evolution Story” with a large banner of an artist’s rendition of the feathery monster walking on a beach. On cue, reporters started the drum roll and fanfare, prepared with artwork on their banners. The parade was on!
- “‘Missing Link’ in Tyrannosaur Family Tree Discovered” (National Geographic)
- “From Brains to Brawn: How T. Rex Became King of the Dinosaurs” (Live Science); see also their Photo Gallery
- “Newly Discovered Dinosaur Reveals How T. rex Became King of the Cretaceous” (Smithsonian)
- “Skull of mini T. rex shows it gained intelligence before size” (New Scientist)
- “Dinosaur find resolves T. rex mystery” (BBC News)
As you can guess from the headlines, the basic story goes like this: early tyrannosaurs were small, but the first Cretaceous ones were giants. There was a “frustrating 20+ million-year gap in the mid-Cretaceous fossil record” that desperately needed filling. The early tyrannosaurs lacked the proportionally large brain and acute hearing and sense of smell like the later T. rex. This new specimen, dubbed Timurlengia euotica (“well-eared Tamerlane,” named after a famous Asian ruler) seems to fill the gap, because it must have had the larger proportional brain and ear, but remained horse-sized like its ancestors. That’s the reason for the “brains to brawn” meme; this dinosaur supposedly “gained intelligence before size.” The artist added imaginary feathers to complete the popular picture of dinosaurs evolving into birds.*
*See a Live Science photo gallery of the new propaganda exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History that portrays dinosaurs with imaginary feathers and birds made to look like dinosaurs. Compare that with a CMI review by Sarfati and Carter, “Did dinosaurs evolve into birds?”
Nature reviewed this fossil find. While sitting on the bandwagon enjoying the parade, its coverage mentioned a couple of difficulties with the interpretation being put forth. After quoting the celebrants excitedly making it out to be “a wonderful affirmation of evolution,” writer Adam Levy mentioned a few other facts that must be considered:
- “Still, the new find is only a single data point in a 20-million-year evolutionary period; Timurlengia might not be typical of other tyrannosaurs that were alive at the time.”
- “And tyrannosaurs come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Even as far back as 100 million years ago, there were large tyrannosaurs — “weird off-shoots”, says Brusatte, that were not ancestors of the enormous tyrannosaurs of the late Cretaceous — such as the long-snouted Xiongguanlong baimoensis, and the 9-metre long Yutyrannus huali.” (This new species is claimed by the authors to be 90-92 million years old.)
To these caveats, we could add additional considerations from the PNAS paper, the artwork, and the photos of the actual bones.
- Most of the bones were found over a decade ago (1997 to 2006), and were scattered about different institutions. Brusatte only saw the brain case in 2014 from its storage site in St. Petersburg, Russia.
- The length of the arms are inferred; only terminal claws were found.
- “Individual bones come from different individuals,” the figure caption says. The text mentions, “We therefore consider it most parsimonious that all of these specimens belong to the same taxon,” but the authors acknowledge the possibility that “later discoveries” may “show this to be incorrect….” If so, only the braincase may be diagnostic of T. euotica and everything else could belong to different specimens or species.
- The size of the ear with its cochlea and semicircular canals was “reconstructed” from the sizes and shapes of cavities in the bones, not from any actual remnants.
- The authors confess that “part of the broken parabasisphenoid was not fused to the remainder of the braincase, perhaps suggesting that the individual was not yet osteologically mature and adults of the species may have been somewhat larger.“
- The articles mention the keen sense of smell of T. rex as if this “missing link” had that, too, although no bones of the nasal cavity were found. Nature says, “It is not known, however, whether the dinosaur possessed later tyrannosaurs’ keen sense of smell.”
- If these creatures inhabited Uzbekistan, what relationship could they possibly have with T. rex in Wyoming on the other side of the world?
- No feathers, of course, were found.
These issues are enough to cast serious doubt on the claim that these bones represent a missing link. Beyond that, the very logic of the inference is highly questionable. Is it a law of nature that larger brains precede brawn? Then why are birds so smart with small brains (3/05/16), and why aren’t humans as big as a T. rex? How did earlier giant dinosaurs like allosaurs and the ones mentioned by Nature survive so well if they were not endowed with big brains and big ears? Remember, it’s not the size of the hardware but the nature of the software that can make a huge difference in intelligence (see “Brain Size Myth Won’t Die,” 6/26/15)
Adding these problems to the question of whether the bones represent an adult of one species, there appears to be no clear line of descent to support a “missing link” claim.
Don’t you get angry at the snow jobs these Darwinians foist on the public? How many readers are going to stand in awe of the “scientists” who make such pronouncements, and fall on their faces before Darwin-Baal, the god of emergence? Listen to Brusatte, chief medicine man, go into a trance on The Conversation:
And swoop they did. Very quickly the human-to-horse-sized tyrannosaurs grew into supersized monsters, longer than a bus and weighing more than a ton. Their heads became giant killing machines and their arms, now unnecessary, shrunk down to nubbins. By 80m years ago these mega tyrannosaurs were terrorising what is now North America and Asia, spreading into all ecosystems on land, displacing smaller predators, and eating whatever they wanted.
It would remain this way for another 15m years or so, until the day, when T. rex was at the peak of its success rampaging across western North America, that a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid fell out of the sky and the world changed in an flash.
Oh, barf. This is the storyteller who told the tall tale about the “fluffy feathered poodle from hell” (7/20/15). If you are hypnotized by this kind of rhetoric, you need to read Creation-Evolution Headlines and our Baloney Detector more often. After sufficient deprogramming, instead of genuflecting, you will be laughing loud and long.
Exercise: Read Katherine Gammon’s article on Live Science, “A Brief History of Dinosaurs.” Run the Baloney Detector on it; how much is observation, and how much is storytelling? Name specific logical fallacies or propaganda tactics you find. Do you see the bandwagon argument and the argument from authority? What others are used?