A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Palaeontological quacks.....

Don't you just love palaeontological squabbles? You get one enigmatic find and it can keep scientists bickering for (a)eons! Archaeology can be much the same. Now there is no ducking the latest cock fight. Is newly-described Vegavis iaai a bird, or not a bird, a duck or not a duck? That is the quackstion. One scientist quite gloriously shoots the poor thing down with the sharpest of barbs: "This is basically an unidentifiable bundle of bones." On the other hand: "Until now the fossil record has been ambiguous... But [here] we have a fossil which indicates that at least part of the diversification of living birds had begun before the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs." Hm! I love ambiguity; yet, more likely, granted, than Raquel Welch battling those terrible lizards. Here is the full duck pond for you to dabble in (uptails all): 'Cretaceous duck ruffles feathers' (BBC Science/Nature Online News, January 20):

"Ducks may have been paddling about in primeval swamps when Tyrannosaurus rex was king of the dinosaurs, scientists report in the journal Nature.

Fossil remains of a bird that lived 70 million years ago appear to belong to a relative of modern ducks and geese.

The partial skeleton, discovered on Vega island, western Antarctica, is likely to stir up controversy.

Many scientists believe modern bird lineages did not evolve until the end of the dinosaurs' reign....."

Wish I'd been a palaeontologist or archaeologist - you can make a whole career with just one bone of contention. Very humerus, Stotty.

Philip, that old Archaeopteryx himself. "Iaai, iaai, lunch! Dinosaur peckaroos."

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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