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The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero 
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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
I read a book once by an explorer, post Lewis and Clarke, who did the first full account of the country in and around Yellowstone. I wish I could remember the name. They found dinosaur fossils which he called "giant lizards." He didn't even know what they were.

I too was impressed with the book leaving you wanting more. He made the other, less known fossils seem just as interesting as the dinosaurs.



Mon Nov 28, 2016 8:49 pm
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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Prothero doesn't shy away from the many errors and exaggerations by paleontologists, especially in the early years of fossil hunting. In the "Land of the Giants" chapter particularly, Prothero shows in great detail the tendency for many fossil discoveries to be promoted as the "biggest" dinosaur ever found, only to later be knocked down a peg or two by discovery of an even bigger fossil or, more frequently, the reality that a certain specimen was based on an incomplete fossil or from a composite of several specimens or simply its size was miscalculated. The mistakes are easy to understand when you see how sparse the fossil evidence is for some species. A few of these great lizards have been described based on only one incomplete specimen. Or in a couple of cases, on fossils that have since been destroyed. Obviously we know very little about many of these ancient creatures.

On the other hand, we have ample evidence for quite a number of our now-extinct creatures. Prothero discusses the idea of Loch Ness Monster being a long-surviving plesiosaur. There are multilple lines of evidence that make this pretty much impossible. For one thing the fossil record of plesiosaurs is abundant. And no plesiosaur fossils have been found in rocks younger than 65 million years. That makes the idea that a few long-lost plesiosaurs still live in Loch Ness nothing more than a fantasy.

Prothero: "In short, the existence of the Loch Ness monster is completely impossible scientifically, and it has been debunked by nearly every line of evidence available. Its only support comes from vague "eyewitness reports," which are the worst possible evidence in a scientific investigation, since human eyes and brains are easily fooled."

This line interests me because it shows the strength of multiple lines of evidence and why eyewitness reports are considered almost worthless. We see this again when Prothero discusses Mokele Mbembe, a purported living dinosaur in the Congo of Africa.

Prothero also mentions a number of errors made by both by scientists and museum curators, but he obviously understands that scientists are humans and sometimes our eagerness to draw crowds or discover the biggest or baddest dinosaur sometimes gets the best of us. In the end, the fossil evidence is all that really matters. Human errors are eventually weeded out.

Prothero discusses the ongoing case of the Brontosaurus, which originally was conceived by artist Charles Knight as a sea animal because it was so massive that scientists thought it must have been aquatic. It was also frequently incorrectly depicted with its tail dragging on the ground.

Image

Currently the brontosaurus is believed to be an apotosaurus that was originally misidentified, but I see now that the brontosaurus may be its own genus after all.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... -is-back1/


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
As usual Geo is hitting the nail square on the head.

Going back to the nineteenth century there was a free for all mentality with large fossil excavation. I think this can be attributed to the amateur involvement and a wide held belief in dragons and other monsters. Freak shows being a rage of the times, people were gullible for curiosities. There was of course those folks who were in it for true fossil finds and understanding of those finds. The pros had a two fold job of debunking the hucksters and verifying the genuine article. Times haven't changed as Prothero demonstrates with Nessie.



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Taylor wrote:
As usual Geo is hitting the nail square on the head.

Going back to the nineteenth century there was a free for all mentality with large fossil excavation. I think this can be attributed to the amateur involvement and a wide held belief in dragons and other monsters. Freak shows being a rage of the times, people were gullible for curiosities. There was of course those folks who were in it for true fossil finds and understanding of those finds. The pros had a two fold job of debunking the hucksters and verifying the genuine article. Times haven't changed as Prothero demonstrates with Nessie.

It was a free-for-all. That's a good way to put it. Not only was the field of paleontology in its infancy, but they were starting from scratch in categorizing all these extinct species when "extinct" was a concept not well understood and which seemed at odds to biblical teachings. Interesting that Creationists eventually had to admit that God would create life forms and allow them die out.

The Brontosaurus article I linked to discusses a recent 300-page study that analyzed 477 different physical features of 81 sauropod specimens. It took them five years and that's just the sauropods. Apparently they're still not sure how the brontosaurus fits in.

I think I'm slightly ahead of you, Taylor. Let me know when you get to the Archaeopteryx chapter. There's some really interesting stuff here.


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
I recently converted an old Wonderful World of Disney episode from 1968 from VHS to digital video. I wanted the episode for its Humphrey Bear cartoons, but half of the show was a a segment called "It's Tough To Be A Bird." The show mentions some bird ancestors. I borrowed two minutes of the show and post it here just for the heck of it. If nothing else, it tells us how to pronounce "Archaeopteryx".

https://youtu.be/fQRo6iWXM6g


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
I enjoyed that film clip, geo. My parents were fairly religious and I assume creationists. However, at the same time they never tore up our science books or otherwise forbade us to be exposed to evolution. I recall films and articles such as the above that got me to thinking. Plus of course I had that big brother telling me about evolution (he's the one who killed Santa Clause for me).

The chapter on Arcaeopteryx was very interesting. When I was young, I use to think of evolution as this smooth line of transition to new species. Prothero reminds us of all the dead ends. I liked his statement that "'some' dinosaurs evolved into birds" and not 'all' of them. I assure these were the smaller ones who took to the air to gain advantage over all those giants around. It's hard to conceive of a sauropod sprouting feathers and taking off. Can you just imagine how long of a runway he would need?



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
I was surprised to read that T. Rex was a feathered beast, or at least the young T. Rex had feathers, probably for its insulating factor. So it looks as if feathers evolved for other reasons first and were later co-opted by some of the smaller, lighter theropod dinosaurs for flight. It would have given them a huge advantage in terms of survival. And, indeed, birds are the only dinosaurs to have survived.

I liked the chapter on Arcaeopteryx too. It was a pretty important discovery as it turns out.


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
One of the things the cartoon demonstrates is how ideas change as new information techniques are used. There is some questions left unanswered as to whether the early wings were an aid to movement from tree to tree or as an assist in water crossing. Even whether Arcaeopteryx had to move up an incline or down in order to have enough momentum to take flight as it appears that it lacked proper bone structure for true avian flight.

evolutionnews.org/2013/10/the_origin_of ... 77291.html

Just for the interest of it. here's an article from the Intelligence Design side of the debate as to avian flight. I don't think its a valid counter point but just interesting in how they form their anti-evolution argument.



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
geo wrote:
I think I'm slightly ahead of you, Taylor. Let me know when you get to the Archaeopteryx chapter. There's some really interesting stuff here.


Sorry for my slow response's. I've actually finished reading the book last week. In my exuberance to share it, I immediately lent it to a friend so I haven't had it as a source to review while the discussion advances. I think my friend may be lurking on the thread but she is somewhat shy and will not likely participate. She's almost finished reading and I'll have it back to use for discussion purposes. In the mean time I have been reading through Wikipedia as some additional source material..



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Speaking of feathered dinosaurs, did you guys see this? Wow, an actual bird ancestor tail. There are some amazing photographs here.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016 ... retaceous/

Thanks for checking in, Taylor. I'll check out your ID link later. Hope your friend does poke her head in here and say hi.


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Taylor wrote:
evolutionnews.org/2013/10/the_origin_of ... 77291.html
Just for the interest of it. here's an article from the Intelligence Design side of the debate as to avian flight. I don't think its a valid counter point but just interesting in how they form their anti-evolution argument.

It states early in this piece that: "Here's a chance to compare the scientific merits of the competing views." But nowhere in here is a competing view, only the same old argument for irreducible complexity, which is not a scientific theory at all. For example, here:

Quote:
Here's the bottom line. You look at the anatomy of a bird, its behavior, its metabolism, the structure of its feathers, the structure of its muscles and so forth -- these are multiple independent points in a complex space, out of which flight emerges. And I think from a biological standpoint, to fly at all requires a cause that is able to visualize a distant functional endpoint, and bring together necessary to achieve that endpoint. Uniquely, and universally in our experience, only intelligence is capable of that kind of causal process.

This is the same argument used against eye evolution by the way. But the eye is not irreducibly complex. There are numerous examples in nature that show the stages that evolution could have taken, from very basic light sensitivity to full vision. I'm not sure we are able to document as clearly the progression of flight evolution, but clearly it did. Because flying critters exist. Unless you assume that an intelligent being conjured up a fully equipped bird at some point in the past. But if that's the case, we have heaps of evidence that show speciation in many other animals. So why single out birds except for the fact that the evidence is not yet glaringly obvious due to the incomplete nature of the fossil record.

So here follows the ID argument in a nutshell: 1) assumption of intelligent designer 2) Nothing will convince them otherwise. The ID article attempts to frame evolutionary theory as a fallacious argument, but this is disingenuous because the evidence already proves evolutionary theory. Based on this knowledge we can assume that flight evolution follows the same rules that other evolved systems, such as the eye, have followed.

The reason why we believe feathers preceded flight actually comes from the fossil record, and so scientists can only surmise there was some advantage to feathers before flight came along. The fossil record will either bear this out or not. The recent discovery of a feathered tail in amber is exciting because it provides yet another piece of the puzzle. And it also refutes one of the earlier theories about feathers. This is how science works. And, meanwhile, the ID community will pounce on areas where the evidence is fragmentary, always looking for their god of the gaps.

http://www.theverge.com/2016/12/8/13892 ... no-fossils


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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Great discussion of this book, guys. I actually was trying to find out whether Donald Prothero is related to Stephen Prothero, the very good religion writer (it seemed an uncommon name), but could find no link. You see how distracted I can be.



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
Geo; thanks for your breakdown of my linked article.

Irreducible Complexity has been one of those instances of confusion for me. I wasn't quite sure where the idea was heading or where it was coming from for that matter. I'm beginning to see though that it sets itself up for failure. Its claim requires unknown qualities as a foot in the door to not only confuse an unsuspecting public but to attempt some strange form of scientific skepticism. Behe uses bacteria as his milieu for IC in his book Darwin's Black Box. Evolutionary biologist such as Nick Lane are now demonstrating how Behe is wrong by showing how complex cells can evolve from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. I see now what is meant by an argument from ignorance, If something is unknown, undocumented, undiscovered, untested or a host of other un's... then there must have been a designer.( I haven't read The Blind Watchmaker, but it is my understanding that this is Dawkins argument from incredulity) Michael Behe has been known to be among the latest to push irreducible complexity as a proof of Intelligent Design.
Geo rightly points out how this same method of argument is applied toward the evolution of vision and bird flight. We can add whales to that list as well. Macro evolution being shown as not unprovable.



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
geo wrote:
Speaking of feathered dinosaurs, did you guys see this? Wow, an actual bird ancestor tail. There are some amazing photographs here.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016 ... retaceous/


The photo's are amazing. What I also found to be interesting was the number of times the national geographic article was mentioned on broadcast news. (CBS and my local news station). The rare nature of the discovery wasn't missed but the repercussions seemed to fly right over the heads of the journalist involved. Its amazing the fear or unwillingness on the part of media to question the veracity of religion when faced with such powerful evidence to the contrary. I mean, evolution every day smacks us in the face and yet there are deniers who persist.



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Post Re: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils by Donald R. Prothero
DWill wrote:
Great discussion of this book, guys. I actually was trying to find out whether Donald Prothero is related to Stephen Prothero, the very good religion writer (it seemed an uncommon name), but could find no link. You see how distracted I can be.

They must be different Protheros. I can find no connection either.

I did find an article about global climate change by Donald Prothero that covers a lot of the science. He takes a hard stance against deniers.

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-02-08/#feature


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