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Kate Wong Apr 3
Thinking about Tanis, the newly announced fossil site in North Dakota that is said to document the immediate aftermath of the asteroid impact that brought the Cretaceous period to a close, extinguishing the non-bird dinosaurs and a slew of other species.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @NewYorker
If you’ve been following this story you know that the claims have met with a good deal of skepticism from the paleontology community. The piece that broke the story discussed a number of concerns ().
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Kate Wong
Subsequent pieces in the (), (), () and (), among others, brought in additional perspectives. Folks also sounded off on Twitter and Facebook.
North Dakota fossils may depict the aftermath of the dinosaur-killing asteroid, but controversial claims about the breadth of the find are unproven.
Science News Science News @ScienceNews
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
I have a lot of thoughts (and even more questions) about the way this has all played out thus far, but I’m just going to share one observation here.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
Some people have asked me about one commonly cited reason for suspicion about the claims for Tanis—namely, that Robert DePalma, who leads the work there, misidentified a bone in his description of a new dinosaur, Dakotasaurus steini (), a few years ago.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
I don’t know DePalma but I’m troubled by the way this information is being used to discredit him.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
After DePalma’s initial paper on Dakotasaurus came out in 2015, another team published a study showing that the “wishbone” of Dakotasaurus was actually fossil turtle bone ().
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
DePalma and his colleagues acknowledged the error and promptly issued a correction ().
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
Such misidentifications are not uncommon. Fossil bones are often fragmentary and found at sites where remains from multiple species are jumbled together. Sometimes new eyes, new analytical approaches, new technologies can uncover further evidence that changes the interpretation.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
For instance, a few years ago researchers determined that the iconic Lucy fossil—the partial skeleton of human ancestor Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974—included a baboon vertebra that had been mistaken for an ancient human one ().
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
The record was corrected, Lucy’s significance was undiminished, and the error did not ruin the reputations of the scientists who originally found and described the fossil.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
Sometimes an entire skeleton is misidentified. In 2008 paleontologists reported on a fossil egg from Mongolia with an embryo inside. They argued the embryo was a type of neoceratopsian, the dinosaur group that includes horned species such as Triceratops ().
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
Subsequent reanalysis of the embryo revealed that researchers had originally mistaken the hindlimbs for the forelimbs. The ratio of forelimb length to hindlimb length was key for interpreting the find.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
The new paper, published in 2015 by a team including two of the authors of the original paper, concluded that the embryo belonged not to a neoceratopsian but instead to an extinct group of birds known as enantiornithines ().
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
The community did not write off the original authors because their initial assessment was wrong. This is how science is supposed to work. Its claims are provisional, subject to revision in the face of new evidence. The process is self-correcting, that’s the beauty of it.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
There may be good reasons to doubt the extraordinary claims about this new site, but DePalma’s accidental misidentification of a single skeletal element isn’t one of them.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
From the technical paper describing the geology of Tanis () the site really does look to be amazing.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
I can’t wait to see papers describing the fossils, including the dinosaurs—which members of the Tanis team have said are in the works—and talk to outside experts about their own assessments of the evidence once available. I have no doubt their input will strengthen the science.
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Kate Wong Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
My beef? DePalma naming a Cretaceous-Paleogene site after an ancient city in Egypt and being generally really into Indiana Jones pretty much guarantees lasting public confusion over the difference between paleontologists and archaeologists 😉
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Jakob Vinther Apr 3
Replying to @katewong
Ha ha haaaaaa... best point about this media frenzy made sofar.
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