Book Progress #21

Writing a post about feathered dinosaurs yesterday gave me the shot in the arm I needed to jump back into my book project. I’ve spent so much time reading old papers and concerning myself with the thoughts of Victorian scientists that I had almost forgotten that I needed to bring the chapter up to date with the latest information. Sifting through the literature on dinosaurs like Dilong and Sinosauropteryx allowed me to set up the end-point that I want the birds/dinosaurs chapter to reach (it does help to know where you’re going). I will have to do a little more research on Mesozoic birds as I am not as familiar with them as I should be, but I feel that driving home the point that birds are living dinosaurs is more vital than tracing the evolution of birds once they emerged.

I spent much of last night writing about feathered dinosaurs because I think that the discoveries made during the last decade (and continue to be made) are absolutely fascinating. I am still amazed that within my lifetime feathered dinosaurs went from being a hypothesis to being resoundingly confirmed, and I never imagined that fuzzy little Tyrannosaurus hatchlings would have been a possibility. Enthusiasm will only get me so far, though, and reviewing what we know about the relationship of dinosaurs and birds is important for a more theoretical reason.

As Thomas Holtz points out in his lavishly-illustrated encyclopedia Dinosaurs it was predicted that tyrannosauroid dinosaurs may have been covered in feathers if so many other groups of coelurosaurs had them, too. Dilong was a confirmation of this idea, illustrating that evolutionary science (including paleontology) does make predictions that can be tested. I know some of you might be thinking “Well duh!” but I think this is a crucial argument that needs to be well-illustrated. It fits into my general plan of recalling arguments that I’ve heard creationists use (i.e. evolutionary science is “soft” in that it does not make predictions and isn’t falsifiable) in order to refute them without giving them space in a book I want to focus on scientific discovery.

Maybe one day I’ll pen a refutation of creationist nonsense (as it seems to be the fashion these days), but for now I think we’re drowning in a tide of carbon-copy books that are more concerned with repetitive diatribes against creationism than illustrating all the neat stuff we’ve learned in the past few years. Counter-creationism books have their place and there are some good ones, but I would be lying if I said if I wasn’t tired of them. I have almost no desire to read any more books about why evolution is right and creationism is intellectually bankrupt. I know that already; what we need are more well-written books that revel in scientific discovery.

I have my work cut out for me for the rest of the summer. I’ve got to wrap up my work on the Huxley chapter and then I’ll only have about a month to finish the 3-4 chapters that are nearing completion. There is no real deadline (I have no agent, no contract, etc.) but I know that as soon as September rolls around I’ll again be caught in the throes of what is deemed “higher education” and whatever progress I make will be slowed. I’ve got to keep myself going and finish the heart of the book before the fall semester requires me to spend more time thinking about physics, statistics, and primate socioecology. All things considered, though, I think I’m doing pretty well. I’m going to try to turn out a few other publications before the year is out and my goals may change a bit, but finishing the book is one of my top priorities.

I do want to express my appreciation for everyone who has supported this project, though, either on this blog or through e-mails. Your kind words, advice, and offers to help have definitely aided my writing progress; I just hope that I’ll soon have something tangible to reward your patience!

(New sections are in bold)


Huxley’s rejoinder to Wilberforce at Oxford – Darrow puts Bryan in the hot seat – Behe’s astrological mishap – One long argument – Flickering candles in the dark – Monstrous myths – Evolutionary archetypes –

Natural Selection

Separate creations – The need to be respectable – Botany and beetles – Acquired characteristics – An alternate interpretation of “adaptation” – Sublimation of parts – Why not secondary law? – Bon voyage, Mr. Darwin – Seasick

Avian Dinosaurs

Noah’s ravens vacation in New England – Hitchcock’s Jurassic birds – A little fossil birdie told me about evolution – A misplaced feather – From London to Berlin – The source of Huxley’s inspiration – Megalosaurus = an ossified, fossilized, underdeveloped chick – The unimportance of ArchaeopteryxHypsilophodon as a good transition – Problems with the Pachypoda – How did we get such beautiful fossils? – Ornithosuchus or theropods? – The case of the missing clavicles – 75 years of pseudoscuhian narrative – Barnum Brown’s forgotten Daptosaurus – Ostrom’s “terrible claw” – “Tetrapteryx” and Microraptor – – Maleev’s giant sea turtleSloth dinosaursFeathers, feathers, everywhereEarly, fuzzy tyrants


Koch’s MissouriumHydrarchos – The king of the seas flees to Europe – Maybe Basilosaurus, maybe not – Huxley’s overlooked insight – Intercalary whales – The problem of whale evolution – Diphyly of whales? – 70+ years of Protocetus – An unexpected skull – But what did it look like? – Indocetus – Teeth: confusion and convergence – Mesonychids, Perissodactyls, and Artiodactyls – The double-pulley – Diapsids did it first – From eel-like to tuna-like – Locomotion in the ocean – Limb buds – Unexpected vestiges – What development can do – Telescoping – Toothed mysticetes – Aetiocetus


Darwin’s problems with paleontology – Evolution, sure, but natural selection? – Gaudry and Hipparion – Kowalevsky and Anchitherium – Huxley’s linear phylogeny – Wherefore art thou, Hyracotherium? – “A gift from the Old world to the New” – Marsh’s “toy horse” – Huxley buried under bones – Ladder of horse evolution – Putting the litoptern before the horse

Human Evolution

Tyson’s dissection of a “pigmie” – A chimp’s place in the Chain – Where are the “missing links?” – White’s 1799 attempt to save the Chain – The intellectual Rubicon – Without language there is no thought – Glorified apes and lowly humans – Buckland’s “Red Lady” – She’s no lady – Where were the ante-diluvian humans? – The “mammoth” of Gasconade county – A muddied reputation – Cave contamination – Brixham cave – An unequal partnership – Falconer’s enthusiasm, Prestwich’s skepticism – Evidence from abroad – Somme Valley turning point – 1859 – Complaints and queries – Pre-Adamites – The Neanderthal that was mistaken for an Irishman – The Neanderthal fossils get named – Dubois goes to Indonesia – Skull of an ape, leg of a human – “Java Man” – The transitional gibbon-man – The discovery of “Peking Man” – Dart’s Australopithecus – An irrelevant ape – Le Gros Clark to the rescue – Osborn vs Bryan – Harold Cook’s Mystery Tooth – Hesperopithecus = Prosthenops – What makes us human? – Ask a stupid question… – Ape-like humans, not human-like apes – Caught in the Chain


Troodon sapiens? – It’s all about the brain – Walking with dinosaurs – Eerie similarity – Evolution doesn’t close a door without opening a window – Generations – “Nylon-eating bacteria” – Hop, skip, and a jump to citrate use – How can we know? – Unfamiliar ET’s – Alternative apes – No fast-ball-throwing baboons – Prof. Ichthyosaurus – Little but a twig

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