Look what we found at PhysOrg: Flawed analysis casts doubt on years of evolutionary research. It’s the sort of headline every creationist dreams of. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
Years of research on the evolution of ancient life including the dinosaurs have been questioned after a fatal flaw in the way fossil data is analysed was exposed. Studies based on the apparently flawed method have suggested Earth’s biodiversity remained relatively stable – close to maximum carrying capacity – and hinted many signs of species becoming rapidly extinct are merely reflections on the poor quality of the fossil record at that time.
Then they tell us about the problem:
However, new research by scientists at the University of Reading suggests the history of the planet’s biodiversity may have been more dynamic than recently suggested, with bursts of new species appearing, along with crashes and more stable periods.
As we read this, we’re trying to figure out what creationists can do with it. Nothing comes to mind yet, because we don’t see anything that challenges the age of the Earth or the vast amount of evidence for evolution. Moving along:
The new study, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by Dr Manabu Sakamoto and Dr Chris Venditti, from Reading, and Professor Michael Benton, from Bristol, says a technique used to ‘correct’ records of diversity in fossils is actually giving misleading results. It means almost a decade’s worth of work aimed at providing an insight into evolution may be misleading as it was based on this fundamental error.
This is the published paper: ‘Residual diversity estimates’ do not correct for sampling bias in palaeodiversity data. All you can see is the abstract, unless you have a subscription. We’ll stay with PhysOrg. They say:
The method [which the new paper challenges] assumes that variations in the number of different fossils at any given time are a reflection of how much rock was available. It has been used in more than 150 published research papers since it was first used in 2007. Dr Sakamoto, evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, said: “Our work calls into question nearly a decade’s worth of scientific reports and interpretations on the way life on Earth has evolved.”
Interesting, but we don’t yet see much cause for creationist celebrations. One final excerpt:
Professor Mike Benton, Earth Scientist at University of Bristol, said: “The core assumption is that any portion of fossil diversity that can be explained by variations in rock volume should be explained by variations in rock volume. This assumption is based on no evidence. At the extreme, if you have no rock you get no fossils. However, there are many cases where two time intervals are represented by the same amount of rock worldwide, and yet fossil diversity varies massively. Explain that.”
Assuming this paper is correct, what we have here is a good example of science correcting itself. We note that the problem — assuming there is one — wasn’t discovered by creationists, and it doesn’t appear to challenge anything fundamental about either the age of the Earth or the fact of evolution. It certainly doesn’t challenge the radiometric method of determining the age of fossils or rock strata. So maybe the creationists won’t be celebrating. Nah — we’re dreaming. They’re already trying to figure out some way to puff this up into a major “scandal.” It’ll be fun to see how they handle it.
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