BANDitry, creationism, and global warming denial

A new book by Alan Feduccia, “Riddle of the Feathered Dragons” (Yale UP), will be published shortly. Reading the blurb I was strongly reminded of creationist and global warming denier rhethorics.

“Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In this book, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.”

What does this have in common with places like Answers in Genesis or the ID movement? Or with the industry of climate change denial?

Type specimen of Sinosauropteryx prima. Is that fuzz feathers or not?

To me, the great similarity is in how the BANDits argue, and how they talk to the press. I don’t want to go into the details, because that has been done about a hundred times. See, for example, Greg Pauls “Dinosaurs of the Air”, where he dissects what I call The Feduccia FlipFlop (Birds are not dinosaurs because the latter lack feathers suddenly became derived “avian” theropods are bird, not dinosaurs). Or check here and here….. the web is full of dissections of BANDit papers. I just want to list the main tactics, which all good scientists should know well enough to recognize:
– BANDits cherry-pick data, and concentrate on individual data points
– BANDits refuse to look at “big pictures” (ties in with the first point)
– BANDits use strawman arguments
– BANDits decry (perceived) methodological weaknesses by others, but themselves fail to live up these standards
– BANDits ignore counter-arguments, and repeat their debunked claims years later
– BANDits cry about hypotheses being “unreasonable”, but then turn around and make a similar claim an order of magnitude more unlikely (e.g., ghost lineages)
– BANDits make claims in press releases that go far beyond what their papers say
– BANDits often seem not to understand the methods they criticize
– BANDits advance conspiracy theories about mainstream science.

Absurdly, the book blurb’s second paragraph reads

“Advocates of the current orthodoxy on bird origins have ignored contrary data, misinterpreted fossils, and used faulty reasoning, the author argues. He considers why and how the debate has become so polemical and makes a plea to refocus the discussion by “breaking away from methodological straitjackets and viewing the world of origins anew.” Drawing on a lifetime of study, he offers his own current understanding of the origin of birds and avian flight. “

Hm, sound familiar? I’ve read carbon copies of this about a thousand times, always from creationists.

Obviously, there are huge differences as well: Feduccia, Lingham-Soliar and consorts do not pretend to be scientists, in many respect they are very good scientists! And they certainly do not get paid off the way the Koch brothers and Big Oil fund so-called “skeptic scientists” to lie about global warming.

By the way: much of the feather structure and halo issues so beloved by the BANDits can be resolved very simply: flatten a dead bird! Christian Foth has done so, for example, as have others. Results: what is generally thought to be feathers on fossils looks like feathers on flattened birds.

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
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10 Responses to BANDitry, creationism, and global warming denial

  1. Kurt Kohler says:

    I live in Corvallis, Oregon the location of Oregon State University, the home of BANDitry. About once a year or so, the local paper prints an article touting the latest “discovery” from the group. Unfortunately the articles seem to come straight from the press releases. I don’t recall there ever being any indication that that this stuff is considered highly questionable by nearly everyone else in the field. Each time I’m tempted to write a letter to the editor, but since I’m not a paleontologist I’m not sure my words would carry any weight.

    • Kurt, I hope you are not surprised that the BANDits are treated as local heros! After all, they get stuff through peer review and into high-class journals! They MUST be good, right?
      I guess the big problem here is (aside from lax review and so-so editorial decisions) the sorry state of the press worldwide, and especially in the US. I feel with you!

      • Kurt Kohler says:

        I’m definitely not surprised at all. I’m sure the papers thought process was dinosaurs + local story = WIN!

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  5. Adam says:

    “in many respect they are very good scientists!”

    For what it’s worth, Joel Cracraft, Bradley Livezey & Darren Naish have all been critical of Feduccia’s work on modern birds.

    • well, critical yes – but usually, their work was not criticised as “unscientific”, was it?

      • Adam says:

        Cracraft (1988) stated that Feduccia’s ideas on neornithine phylogeny “are based upon the absence of a broadly comparative character analysis, precisely formulated phylogenetic hypotheses, and proper comparative methods.” I don’t know whether or not that answers your question.

        • that’s really harsh, but it criticises specific areas and finds his work lacking. It doesn’t call it broadly unscientific, just shoddy and uninformed. If it said “upon an intentional omission of” – that would be more of what is usually said about, e.g., creationists. ;)

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