With the reduction of ICR News articles from five a week to three, Brian Thomas has been missing a lot recently. He didn’t comment on the recent hominin finds, for example, nor on the paper in Nature in March attacking the chondritic Earth model, for another. But he has found the time to write an article on that feathered tyrannosauroid, Yutyrannus huali, in One-Ton ‘Feathered’ Dinosaur? And while Uncommon Descent merely went with the Piltdown Man allusion “at this point, we can’t rule out fossil fraud either”, Brian is flat out denying the very existence of the feathers.
He begins by attacking media reporting of the find:
Media reports are buzzing with misleading headlines. Wired Science reported, “Giant Feathered Tyrannosaur Found in China.” Even the technical description, published in Nature, is titled, “A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China.” Despite these assertions, the fossils’ details show no actual feathers or feather imprints.
But they do, that’s the problem (even despite Brian’s own assertions). Here’s the Wired Science article, while the Nature paper is A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. The latter can be read in full here, while you can see the figures in the paper from here, here, and here.
The Christian Science Monitor covered the story, too. The report might lead readers to believe that paleontologists actually found feathers, but they didn’t. Though the title reads, “Dressed to kill: A feathered tyrannosaur is discovered in China,” further into the article the “feathered” status is qualified—these tyrannosaur-like remains sport “feather-like features.” The same article later quoted lead author of the Nature paper, Xing Xu, calling the fibers “simple filaments.”
The Christian Science Monitor article is here. For some strange reason Brian’s own link leads to the second page – he needs to remember to tidy them up.
The Nature text also describes them as “filamentous integumentary [skin] structures.” So are they feathers, feather fibers, unknown fibers, or skin fibers? Answering this correctly is important. If they are not confirmed feathers, then these articles represent more examples of misleading headlines.
Er, Brian – you’re the one who said “skin”. They are as such both “feathers” and “feather fibers”. Misleading headlines or not, Brian is providing misleading quotes by adding in his ‘explanations’ in square brackets. “Integumentary” means covering, and if they’re “filamentous” they are not exactly “skin”. Hair would count, however, but they don’t exactly seem to be that.
Those misled into thinking that the fossil fibers are feathers—when they actually are not—become more susceptible to the lie that dinosaurs evolved into birds. Such a transformation would not have been possible.
His reference for that is his 2009 article Fossil Fibers Befuddle Dinosaur Evolution, about the apparent discovery of a feathered (though not, I don’t think, feathered in the same way and degree) but non-theropod dinosaur. I really do need to go back and go over these old articles… Any way, the Velociraptor had feathers, as did quite a number of other not-very-bird-like dinosaurs. What does Brian make of them?
The famous Chinese dinosaurs probably began rotting as they were transported in Noah’s Floodwaters only 4,500 or so years ago, even as modern carcasses rot. The soluble flesh rotted first, leaving behind more resistant fibers that were then fossilized.
As is the case with other famous claims of Chinese fossil dinosaur “feathers,” these are more straightforwardly interpreted as being the fossilized fragments of partly decayed skin. Researchers compared the fossil fibers to skin filaments from decaying carcasses, and found an excellent match.
Ah, back to Feduccia. We’ve met him before, or rather Brian quoting him to back up his position. The paper he likes to use – and uses here – is Do Feathered Dinosaurs Exist? Testing the Hypothesis on Neontological and Paleontological Evidence from 2005. I’m pretty sure it’s a little out of date by this point.
Feduccia is a proponent of the idea that birds evolved not from theropod dinosaurs, but from a related, non-dinosaur animal. The position is no longer popular, and more recent discoveries of non-bird theropod dinosaurs with clear feathers such as Microraptor have lead him to have to more-or-less say that theropods evolved from Birds – this new fossil isn’t going to help there either. He and his supporters dispute the classification of a number of more primitive structures than what have been found here as protofeathers, claiming them to be collagen fibres. But I doubt that he would be able to dismiss these ones as Brian does on the basis of his earlier experiments. So that’s a ‘no’ to Noah, or at least Brian’s idea of a rotting dinosaur carcass floating down stream. And, judging by the information provided in Cenomanian Last Stand the other week, it seems that B.T. has the conditions needed for fossilisation all wrong.
Why would so many headlines report that fossil feathers are present? Scientists themselves are not certain that the filaments are actually feathers. And a better explanation fits.
This is not the first time Brian has outright denied the evidence that a given fossil had feathers. In August of last year, for example, in Feathers Missing from ‘Feathered Dinosaur’ Display, he claimed that the dinosaur Caudipteryx did not have feathers. This could not be further from the truth. This is one of those times when you really can’t tell whether Thomas is being intentionally deceptive or just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.