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Polishing Darwin’s Icons

Finch beaks, peppered moths, transitional forms – the standard props for evolution have been scrutinized ad infinitum for decades.  Can anything new be said about them?  Find out in these recent articles. Peppered moths:  The peppered-moth story just about collapsed when investigators realized that the famous pictures that adorn textbooks were staged, because the moths […]

Monster Mash

Just before Halloween, it’s time for tricks and treats about monsters in the fossil record.  Here’s a list of recent stories about scary beasts: Dino Dance:  Are these potholes tracks or weathering marks?  PhysOrg and Science Daily were among news outlets reporting a new interpretation of formations by a grad student at the University of […]

Another Strange Chinese Fossil Found: Dinosaur or Bird?

Feathers and wings are among the most distinguishing characteristics of birds.  “Integumenary features” have been found on some dinosaur fossils, and true feathers have been found on some strange-looking extinct birds.  The news media often try to marry the two into a committed relationship using exaggerated artwork.  They have been found imagining feathers on fossils […]

A Turtle Missing Link: Are We Missing Something?

Everyone knows the iconic drawing of the parade of human evolution (see 09/23/2008 commentary); now, its turtle counterpart is making the rounds.  An article on New Scientist shows the march of progress from lizard to turtle.  The title says, “Fossil reveals how the turtle got its shell.”  Something is missing from the article, though: a […]

Walk the Ediacara Two-Step

Controversy is swirling around claims that footprints have been found in rock 30 million years earlier than the Cambrian explosion.  The press release on Ohio State shows a picture of parallel rows of dots that a team from Ohio State claims look like footprints of a worm-like or millipede-like animal.  The rocks are said to […]

Did This Dino Have Bird Breath?

Birds are the only vertebrates with a unique one-way, flow-through breathing system that includes hollow bones.  Their unique respiratory system is part of the set of features that allows flying with its need for rapid metabolism.  Science news outlets are clucking wildly about another putative missing link between dinosaurs and birds: “Meat-eating dinosaur from Argentina […]

End of the Neanderthal Myth?

A grim Neanderthal face stares out from the cover of the October 2008 National Geographic Magazine.  Coinciding with the cover story is a TV special, Neanderthal Code, about the Neanderthal genome.  Both are replete with artwork from the magazine’s army of illustrators charged with putting flesh on bones and bringing lost prehistories to life.  The […]

Fully Gecko 40 Million Years Earlier?

Amber, or fossilized tree sap, usually contains remnants of insect parts.  One piece, mined in the jungles of Myanmar, contained the foot of a gecko – alleged to be 100 million years old.  That’s 40 million years older than the previously claimed oldest gecko fossil.  This critter may have skittered under the feet of dinosaurs.  […]

Human Skeletons Found in Sahara

They went looking for dinosaur bones, and found human skeletons instead.  That’s what is being reported by National Geographic and the Los Angeles Times.  A barren wasteland in the Sahara, covered with sand, has turned out to be a treasure trove of evidence of human occupation.  The area appears to have been a lakeside paradise […]

How Much Is Known About Climate History?

Scientific papers on earth history can seem very erudite and confident, filled with jargon and named periods that appear carved in stone.  Every once in awhile, though, a surprise discovery raises questions about how sound their timelines and models really are.  Get a load of this opening to a review by Jacqueline Flückiger,1 an environmental […]

Dinosaur Soft Tissue: Fooled by Slime?

The claim made in 2005 that soft tissues in dinosaur bone had been discovered (see 03/24/2005) has been challenged by new research published in PLoS One.1  Maybe the pliable stuff is just slime.     Thomas Kaye from the Burke Museum of Natural History in Seattle with two colleagues were actually hoping to find more […]

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, […]

Feather Fossil Fallacy?

Imprints of melanocytes have been found in fossil feathers.  What does this mean?  The popular science news reports, like Science Daily, Live Science, PhysOrg and the BBC News seem convinced it can tell us something about how birds evolved from dinosaurs.  Understanding what was discovered requires sifting through claims that go far beyond the evidence. […]

Not Another Tetrapod Missing Link

Fossils don’t contain light bulbs, but almost every time a new one is found, scientists claim it sheds light on evolution.  The BBC News kept that tradition going with this line, “Scientists say a fossil of a four-legged fish sheds new light on the process of evolution.”  What, exactly, was found?  Whatever Ventastega curonica was, […]

Big Dino Site Found in Utah

A big dinosaur fossil quarry has been found in Utah near Hanksville, reported the Associated Press (see copy on PhysOrg).  The Bureau of Land Management says it may be comparable to the Dinosaur National Monument site and other well-known quarries in the region.  Apparently feeling a need to appeal to the MTV generation, a National […]
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