Grey Thoughts
6.5.05
 
Science - Science reporting and reality
In news today there are quite a few mentions of a new dinosaur species, Falcarius utahensis found in Utah. Science News Daily and Scientific American have articles on it. The Mass Media also is in on the act, with the New York Times and Washington Post commenting, and even smaller sites like Earth Times and Ployer have significant posts. It is worth looking at them to see just how bad and inconsistent science reporting realy is.

The facts (as per scientific american and Science news)
Dinosaur Dated at 125 Million years - Dating method unknown.
90% of dinosaur skeleton found - This is a really great amount of skeleton. Most finds generally have just skulls and maybe a couple of other bones.
Roughly 1.4m Tall, and 4m long, with 10cm claws
Its belly is slightly larger than other meat eating dinosaurs and much smaller than other herbivores.
It was found with no feathers.
It had a reduction in the size of serated, meat eating teeth and more plant eating type teeth.
It is thought to be related to other similar dinosaur's in china which had feathers.

From this, the article all talk about a missing link between meat and plant eating dinosaurs.

The Washington Post and Earth Times both state unequivocally that the dinosaur had feathers, the Earth times even claims it was found with feathers. The Scientific American, Science News Daily, and Washinton Post all have an artists conceptions of the dinosaur, which has feathers. The New York Times and Ployer have a picture of the dinosaurs skeleton. Scientific American states that no feathers were found.

Science News Daily unequivocally states that birds evolved from maniraptorans, of which this dinosaur is one.

The Washinton Post and Ployer state that the change from carnivore to herbivore occured several times. Essentially another ad hoc use of 'convergent evolution'.

What is really puzzling is the number of statements about what it eats by the scientists involved....
"It's definitely eating a substantial amount of plants, (but) we still see the original imprint of meat-eating upon it."
"I wouldn't doubt this thing would eat a lizard or two in a pinch,"
"I doubt seriously this animal could cut a steak with that mouth"

The Washington Post claimed that "Falcarius ate plants, but its bones show the transition from its carnivorous ancestors while still in progress."
Whereas the New York Times claims "As for Falcarius, scientists are not sure what it ate, meat or plants or both, and they suspect that the transition extended over several million years."

Good to see consistent fact reporting eh?

The Washington post tells us "Analysis revealed that Falcarius was the earliest known member of a bizarre-looking group of plant-eaters called therizinosaurs"
Whilst Science news daily reports "Falcarius and Beipiaosaurus are about the same age and appear to represent an intermediate stage between deadly carnivores and later, plant-eating therizinosaurs. Falcarius is anatomically more primitive than the Chinese therizinosaurs."

Yep. The Washington post really does great fact checking....

What I really love is all the 'missing link'comments, because then we get this comment by co-author of the paper Scott Sampson "Falcarius did not descend directly from Velociraptor, but both had a common, yet-undiscovered ancestor".

What they are really saying is this dinosaur has features that place it between meat eating and plant eating dinosaurs. It is not a link, or a true transition. It just has similar features.

Clearly, the scientific american is the only report that is consistent, avoids speculation and claims of 'missing links'. So I give them good marks. The others fail by making unequivocal statements where it is not warranted, claiming transitional/missing link status where it doesn't exist, errors of facts and numerous other inconsistencies.
Comments:
Amazing! I saw the picture in the Washington Post and was convinced that they had found feather imprints in the fossil record. (I knew better.) Much like archeopterix, the news media won't report when the early theories are discredited. Thanks for exposing it.
 
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