Feature Article - May 2017
by Do-While Jones

Dinosaur Divorce

Irreconcilable differences cited

If some scientists have their way, the traditional dinosaur family will be broken up! The breakup could not come at a better time for us here at Science Against Evolution.

The cover story of the 22 March, 2017, issue of the professional journal, Nature, gave us a perfect example of what we have been saying for the last several months. Evolutionists assume that similarity is the result of common ancestry. Therefore, they think that they can determine ancestry by studying similarity. They use cladograms to determine similarity, and from those cladograms infer ancestry.

We reject the premise that similarity has to be the result of common ancestry—but that’s another story. Instead, our emphasis in the last few newsletters has been that cladograms are subjective. They reflect the bias of the programmer who determines the algorithm that makes the comparisons. The proposed revision of the dinosaur family tree is a perfect example.

The new study assesses kinship among 74 dinosaur species that span the family tree, on the basis of similarities or differences in more than 450 anatomical features, says Matthew Baron, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who led the study. 1

The title and subtitle of the story are:

Dinosaur family tree poised for colossal shake-up
'Textbook-changing' analysis of dinosaur bones upends long-accepted relationships among major groups. 2

We aren’t going to take sides on who is right and who is wrong because it really doesn’t matter. Similarity isn’t proof of common ancestry, so it doesn’t matter which dinosaurs are most similar.

Here’s what is important: The reclassification of dinosaur families isn’t the result of any new fossil discoveries. All that changed was the way the data was analyzed. Matthew Baron had a different opinion about what traits are the most important indicators of similarity. He decided which 74 species to compare. He decided which 450 anatomical features to compare. A new computer algorithm, based on Baron’s opinions, produced a new result. Real science isn’t based on opinions. Real science is based on observation and experimentation. There was no observation of one kind of dinosaur evolving into another. No experiment caused one kind of dinosaur to evolve into a different kind.

All that changed was the analysis. We are supposed to believe that the old analysis was wrong, and the new analysis is right. How do scientists know which analysis is right? The one that confirms their prejudice must be right! The one that makes them most comfortable, and seems most reasonable because it reassures them that they are correct, must be correct. (And above all, the one that results in the most new funding for future studies is the best! )

Why is this Important?

Science is important. There would be no microwave ovens, computers, or cell phones without science. Biological research often leads to more effective treatment of diseases. If you played a game with your friends in which you take turns giving reasons why science is important until someone loses by not being able to think of something, that game would go on longer than a game of Monopoly because there are so many good reasons; but this foolish reason Sid Perkins gives is not a good one.

Besides upending decades of accepted wisdom about the relations among various dinosaur lineages, the new study hints that the first dinosaurs might have appeared around 247 million years ago, slightly earlier than previously suspected. They may also have originated in what is now North America, rather than in Gondwana — the southern portion of the supercontinent Pangaea — which was presumed to have been the dinosaur cradle. 3

How can anybody say this with a straight face? It is like arguing about whether or not Godzilla could beat King Kong in a battle to the death. It’s all fiction with absolutely no practical value.

Pangaea and Gondwana are imaginary places which supposedly existed millions of years ago.

Pangaea or Pangea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It assembled from earlier continental units approximately 335 million years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago. In contrast to the present Earth and its distribution of continental mass, much of Pangaea was in the southern hemisphere and surrounded by a superocean, Panthalassa. Pangaea was the most recent supercontinent to have existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists. 4

According to the myth, mysterious forces somehow broke Pangaea up and moved the pieces around to form the continents we are familiar with today. The picture below shows how they are supposed to have moved around over millions of years.

5

Nobody ever visited these places to see if dinosaurs lived there or not. They exist only in the minds of doctors of philosophy. They are philosophical explanations of the world around us. Their supposed existence isn’t a scientific fact.

Dinosaur History

Here’s Nature’s summary of how dinosaurs were classified in the past, and how they should be classified in the future.

The clade Dinosauria was named and described by the palaeontologist Richard Owen in 1842. However, in 1888, Harry Govier Seeley noticed such glaring differences between dinosaurs that he divided them into two groups named after differences in their pelvic bones, and, for a century, Dinosauria was not recognized as a natural group that evolved from a single common ancestor. This view changed in the 1980s, when the palaeontologist Jacques Gauthier showed that dinosaurs form a single group, which collectively has specific diagnostic traits that set them apart from all other animals. So both Owen and Seeley were right. And there it pretty much stood — until this issue of Nature.

For decades, the reconstruction of evolutionary trees in all branches of life has been standardized by the use of a phylogenetic systematic approach that insists on recognizing natural groups only by newly evolved traits that their members uniquely share. Baron et al. use this analytical method, but reach different conclusions from those of previous studies by incorporating some different traits and reframing others. Because the authors followed standard methods, their results cannot be dismissed as simply a different opinion or speculation. Instead, the trait analyses they used will need to be scrutinized in minute detail by researchers. 6

Despite the fact that a “standard method” was used, the results CAN be dismissed as “a different opinion or speculation.” The standard method used to be based on hip shape. Now the standard method is based on “newly evolved traits that their members uniquely share.” Which classification method is correct is simply a matter of opinion which can be dismissed as speculation.

Does any evolutionist want to explain to us how “newly evolved traits” are identified? We would love to publish the answer next month.

When researchers scrutinize the trait analyses in minute detail, what criteria will they use to determine if the right traits were selected? Any answer they give will really boil down to, “It makes the best sense to us,” which is really another way of saying, “It gives us the answer we desire.”

Let the Mudslinging Begin!

It is customary for studies published in the professional literature to begin by trashing the previous studies. This study is no exception. It begins by explaining everything wrong with all the previous studies, which is why all the old studies are wrong, and the new study is right.

Recent phylogenetic analyses of early dinosaurs have also supported the traditional scheme (Saurischia and Ornithischia), but those studies that concentrated on the earliest divergences within the clade have been limited to include only a handful of the relevant taxa and incorporate numerous a priori assumptions regarding the relationships within and between the higher taxonomic groups. Most recent studies of basal dinosaur relationships have tended to focus on a handful of taxa contained within one or two dinosaur clades (usually Saurischia), with Ornithischia represented only as either a single supraspecific taxon or by a small number of basal forms, such as Heterodontosaurus and Pisanosaurus. No studies on early dinosaur relationships have included an adequate sample of early ornithischians and the majority of studies have also excluded pivotal taxa from other major dinosaur and dinosauromorph (near dinosaur) lineages. Furthermore, and possibly in part owing to the unique anatomy of ornithischians, many studies of early dinosaur evolution have tended to score ornithischian taxa only for either anatomical characters that are thought to be dinosaur symplesiomorphies (ancestral traits or characters shared by two or more taxa) or characters that are related to discussions of ornithischian monophyly. As a result, these studies have incorporated numerous, frequently untested, prior assumptions with regard to dinosaur (and particularly ornithischian) character evolution, and have overlooked the possibility that some of the characters found in ornithischian taxa are homologues of those in saurischian dinosaurs, even though several authors have commented on the anatomical similarities shared by ornithischians and theropods. In order to examine the possible effects of these biases on our understanding of dinosaur evolution, we carried out a phylogenetic analysis of basal Dinosauria and Dinosauromorpha and compiled, to our knowledge, the largest and most comprehensive dataset of these taxa to date. Although this study has drawn upon numerous previous studies, no prior assumptions were made about correlated patterns of character evolution or dinosaur interrelationships. The results of this study challenge more than a century of dogma and recover an unexpected tree topology that necessitates fundamental reassessment of current hypotheses concerning early dinosaur evolution, palaeoecology and palaeobiology. 7

Of course, there were prior assumptions. The most obvious prior assumption is that dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor. The other assumptions involve guessing which traits are “newly evolved,” and which anatomical similarities are the result of common ancestry, and which are the result of convergent evolution.

Little Things are More Important

In order to come up with this new (and, more importantly, different) conclusion, the study focused on little things, rather than big things.

Using a mix of fossils, photographs and descriptions from the scientific literature, Baron and colleagues surveyed the anatomy of more than 70 different dinosaurs and non-dino close relatives, examining 457 anatomical features. The presence, absence and types of features, which include the shape of a hole on the snout, a cheekbone ridge and braincase anatomy, were fed into a computer program, generating a family tree that groups animals that share specialized features.  …

“The lesson is that dinosaur groups aren’t characterized by radical new inventions,” says paleontologist Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley. “The relationships are read in the minutiae, not big horns and frills.” That said, Padian, whose assessment of the research also appears in Nature, isn’t certain that the new tree reflects reality. Such trees are constructed based on how scientists interpret particular anatomical features, decisions that will surely be quibbled with. 8

Here’s our point: Who is to say that the shape of a hole in the snout and a cheekbone ridge are more important than big horns and frills when determining evolutionary relationships? It is just a matter of opinion that will surely deserve to be quibbled with.

If the earliest dinos were really omnivores, given the relationships in the new four-pronged tree, the evolution of specialized diets (vegetarians and meat eaters) each happened twice in the dinosaur lineage. 9

If one believes that specialized diets evolved first, then the traditional dinosaur family tree is correct, and some other differences evolved multiple times. It all comes down to an opinion about which differences are more likely to have evolved multiple times. This decision affects which traits are newly evolved, and which are basal traits.

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Footnotes:

1 Sid Perkins, Nature, 22 March, 2017, “Dinosaur family tree poised for colossal shake-up”, http://www.nature.com/news/dinosaur-family-tree-poised-for-colossal-shake-up-1.21681
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangaea
5 ibid.
6 Kevin Padian, Nature, 23 March 2017, “Palaeontology: Dividing the dinosaurs”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7646/full/543494a.html
7 Matthew G. Baron, et al., Nature, 23 March 2017, “A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7646/full/nature21700.html
8 Rachel Ehrenberg, Science News, 17 April 2017, “Anatomy analysis suggests new dinosaur family tree”, page 7, https://www.sciencenews.org/sn-magazine/april-15-2017
9 ibid.