Microraptor and the feathered dinosaurs are not fakes

Whether by accident or design it’s hard to say, but the Musings has largely been free of creationist madness and incompetence over the (already) years (OK, only two) I’ve been writing. I tend not to delve into that side of things simply because more people do it better than I could, and I have no interest in engaging with people who don’t understand, or want to learn, the first thing about science. Even so, making the odd statement or correcting the more egregious public errors are hardly out of my realm and obviously the title of this post is rather relevant. Both the new UV paper and other recent papers on feather colour add to the general pattern of observations that Microraptor and other Lianoning feathered dinos are not fake so it is perhaps worth collating a few of them here.

Most obviously, these things look exactly like feathers and they appear in places we’d expect feathers to be and arrayed in the same way. This is no chance association. It would be easy to scoff and say that a good faker would go for this pattern, but that’s not actually necessarily true. The presence of different feather types in phylogenetically consistent and meaningful patterns is not the kid of thing one could fake easily, if at all without huge coordination of all those farmers and fossil dealers collecting and selling specimens. Not to mention you know, the actual researchers who go out and collect fossils firsthand themselves. We’re getting into ‘evolution ninja’ levels of conspiracy here to account for protofeathers being found only in earlier taxa and then more specialised and more derived feathers in more derived taxa, so best move on.

Secondly, the feathers are pretty much indistinguishable between the various birds and the feathered dinosaurs. If the dinosaurs truly are faked, then how come the feathers are apparently identical to the supposedly non-faked birds. The feathers are also pretty much identical to the apparently uncontroversial feathers preserved in the Solnhofen of Germany and the Crato of Brazil. And actually, more recent feathers that don’t date from the Mesozoic look the same too, again confounding the supposed difference between bird and dinosaur feathers.

Incidentally, none of these feathers form any of these formations look fake. Stick them under a microscope and they are (in most cases, obviously not all of them are perfectly preserved) very highly detailed (down to the sub-millimeter scale) and could hardly have been painted on. Of course, go a fair bit further with an SEM kit and we can see that these are indeed preserved in incredibly detail. They have the structure of composition of feathers (right down to identifiable melanosomes of different kinds) and are not fakes, the remains of bacteria, or for that matter, degraded collagen fibres.

Finally of course (though less critical than several of these points, but hell, it’s my research) we also see that under UV there is still so signs of fakery or other shenanigans, and of course there are now more feathers (or more accurately more bits of feathers) that could not seen before. Few people would go to the trouble of faking things that cannot be seen or even perhaps even detected using a technology they don’t even know about. These are not faked and there is no possible evidence or reason to suggest that they are or even could be or how on Earth this could be done.

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5 Responses to “Microraptor and the feathered dinosaurs are not fakes”


  1. 1 Tom 16/02/2010 at 12:40 pm

    I really don’t understand how anyone could even suggest that they could be faked. Its just sooo implausible.

    • 2 David Hone 16/02/2010 at 1:13 pm

      Well they do usually have some kind of agenda, and they assume incorrectly that researchers also have one. It’s not that we should not be cautious when examining and interpreting fossils, but all the evidence points one way only. However, the word ‘implausible’ is just about right here.

  2. 3 Beth Morning 19/02/2010 at 5:16 am

    “Creationist madness and incompetence”

    I beg to differ on this subject. You are most surely judging creationists as a whole, based on either your opinion or an encounter with one or more. That is a fallacy.

    If I may, I would ask that you contact Dr. Jobe Martin and discourse with him. I’m sure he would not mind. If you were to do so, I would ask that you contemplate what he says with a open mind. From what I have read, you seem to have one. Please keep it as such.

    I admire how you stick to your beliefs of how our world came to be, but I happen to believe that you are sadly mistaken. However, I shall not judge you, as I know I have made many mistakes myself.

    Please, if I have offended you in any way, forgive me. I shall pray that you are convicted of the truth, and that whatever happens, Dr. Jobe Martin would somehow change your life.

    God bless you.

    • 4 David Hone 19/02/2010 at 8:49 am

      “You are most surely judging creationists as a whole, based on either your opinion or an encounter with one or more.”

      No based on encounters with a great many (though admittedly on the internet in the vast majority of cases). That includes books I have read, e-mails I have had, their own websites, comments, pamphlets and direct conversations. Judging them *all* by this standard may indeed be unfair, but as a generalisation based on my experience (as surely that statement obviously was) it is fair. I’ve yet to see any evidence by any one of them that they are not basically and fundamentally incorrect and lacking in scientific knowledge and rigour. Harsh I may be, unfair, I think not.

      As I have documented on here before, and in association with a great many people who want to argue with researchers, often educated people with no religious axe or other aspect to grind, people often base their erroneous conclusions on a lack of information and yes, incompetence. Going into an argument with an expect armed with your misunderstanding or misreading of literature and accuse them (as I have been) of fraud, lying and incompetence will not go down well with someone who has devoted years of their life to the subject. It is not only obviously silly, but deeply disrespectful.

      I do indeed keep an open mind, but I also do the necessary work. I read books and papers, I look at fossils and living animals, I do experiments and write them up, I publish papers, I give talks, I discuss things with people, I debate points, I show my evidence, my thought process and my working and conclusions. What I do not do is assume that I know the answer up front and not explain how I reached my conclusions.

      I work in a museum, a public museum, with specimens accessible to anyone who asks who asks to see them with a good scientific reason. We also have further specimens on public display that anyone can see and photograph. Every week researchers arrive from all over the world to see our specimens and documents them, form their ideas, take notes, make photos, take CT scans, make SEM images, UV light at the rest. This is real reasearch, looking at a photo on the internet and declaring it a fake (as was recently put to me and prompted this post) is not research. It is laziness and incompetence.

      The evidence that these are feathers is published. The specimens with those feathers are there to be seen by anyone who bothers to ask. Anyone can publish a scientific paper to disagree with these results. Science is totally free and open in this sense. The scientific literature provides a forum for open and frank discussion on any scientific subject.

      So, you are free to disagree with me on feathers, or the idea (implicit, but not explicit, I admit in my above post) that creationist opinions on feathered dinosaurs are wrong, or even incompetence and madness. However, I have published my ideas openly and in a way that can be completely verified by anyone who turns up at the IVPP with a UV lamp and a few days to spare. If they disagree with my team’s work and conclusions, they can go ahead and publish it and then I’ll write my reply.

      However, I will not go out of my way to e-mail people I have not heard of, who have not (to my knowledge) read or written any papers on the subject, or every studied the subject, or seen the specimens. That’s not a good use of my time, or I suspect, theirs.


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