Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s December 6, 2018, and a fasting day for me but National Gazpacho Day for others. But gazpacho isn’t American, so this is blatant cultural appropriation. Don’t you dare even eat the stuff without thinking about the oppression and suffering of the Spanish people. It’s also Independence Day in Finland and National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada.

On this day in 1534, the city of Quito, Ecuador was founded by Spanish settlers. On December 6, 1877, the first edition of The Washington Post was published. Exactly seven years later, and in the same city, the construction of the Washington Monument was completed.  On December 6, 1884, the world’s first licensed taxicabs began running in the city of London.

It’s Finland Independence Day because on this date in 1917 Finland declared independence from Soviet Russia. And on that same day in the same year, the huge Halifax Explosion took place, when a ship collision detonated high explosives carried by one of them. The blast killed over 1900 people, and when I visited Halifax a few years ago I still heard about it.  As Wikipedia reports:

Nearly all structures within an 800-metre (half-mile) radius, including the community of Richmond, were obliterated. A pressure wave snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels (including Imo, which was washed ashore by the ensuing tsunami), and scattered fragments of Mont-Blanc for kilometres. Across the harbour, in Dartmouth, there was also widespread damage. A tsunami created by the blast wiped out the community of the Mi’kmaq First Nation who had lived in the Tufts Cove area for generations.

On this day in 1933, U.S. district court judge John M. Woolsey ruled that Joyce’s novel Ulysses was not obscene. One of several First-Amendment cases decided favorably by Woolsey, you can find his ruling here.  It ends with Woolsey nothing that he’d given the book to two of his friends for their opinion:

Without letting either of my assessors know what my decision was, I gave to each of them the legal definition of obscene and asked each whether in his opinion “Ulysses” was obscene within that definition.

I was interested to find that they both agreed with my opinion: That reading “Ulysses” in its entirety, as a book must be read on such a test as this, did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts, but that its net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women.

It is only with the normal person that the law is concerned. Such a test as I have described, therefore, is the only proper test of obscenity in the case of a book like “Ulysses” which is a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind.

I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes “Ulysses” is a rather strong draught to ask some sensitive, though normal, persons to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that, whilst in many places the effect of “Ulysses” on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.

“Ulysses” may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.

In another case of a controversial book, it was on this day in 1953 that Vladimir Nabokov finished his great novel Lolita. On December 6, 1956, the violent “blood in the water” water polo match took place between the USSR and Hungary in Melbourne, Australia (note that December is summer in the southern hemisphere). This was, of course, at the time of Hungary’s 1956 Revolution against Russian domination. Here’s a grainy video of part of that match.

On this day in 1969, during the Altamont Free Concert,  a Hells Angels (the motorcycle gang was hired by the Rolling Stones as security) stabbed to death eighteen-year old man Meredith Hunter.  Here’s a video of the incident, with Mick Jagger looking on, that appears in the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. The man who stabbed Meredith was acquitted on grounds of self defense, for Meredith had a gun.

Finally, exactly 20 years ago on this day, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. He died of cancer in 2013 while he was still President.

Notables born on this day include Alfred Eistenstaedt and Gunnar Myrdal (both 1898), Eliot Porter (1901), Baby Face Nelson (1908), Dave Brubeck (1920), Richard Speck (1941), and JoBeth Williams (1948). Porter was a great nature photographer whom I tried to imitate when I was younger. Here’s one of his works:

Those who died on December 6 include Jefferson Davis (1889), Harold Ross (1951), Honus Wagner (1955), B. R. Ambedkar (1956), Philip Berrigan (2002), and Johnny Hallyday (one year ago).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili wonders why humans can’t just eat raw mice and birds instead of laboriously making a fruitcake, shown below:

Hili: I can’t overcome my astonishment.
A: What about?
Hili: The effort humans put into baking of cakes.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie mogę wyjść ze zdumienia.
Ja: Nad czym?
Hili: Nad wysiłkiem jaki ludzie wkładają w pieczenie ciast.

Poor grammar of the day(with extra victimhood), from HuffPo, of course:

A tweet from reader Nilou: a baby otter drinks his bottle:

This tweeter’s real name is Elle Maruska, and she often produces funny and/or endearing series of tweets, like the one of the 15 best antelopes. Here are two of those:

Tweets from Matthew:

Here’s the male’s vocalization; you can hear a few meows (see the head bob here):

This is a close contender for Tweet of the Month (also sent by Grania):

Some evidence that ichthyosaurs (and perhaps other dinosaurs) might have been warm blooded (“homeothermic”):

More evidence that cats are liquid:

Tweets from Grania. This one originated with Matthew but was forwarded to me by Grania:

This bald eagle seems to lose a bit of its dignity in the water:

Have a close look at this one, which requires clicking on it and making the photos big. The tweets are real:



  1. Blue
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    On this day, 06 Decemberr, in y1989 … …
    my USA flag flies at its half mast not for
    two men, not for the recently dead
    US President Bush nor the dead killer.

    But for the exterminated, for the 14 killed
    … … that one day, 29 years ago now so
    withIN our lifetimes, our ‘civilized’ histories
    taking up only ~20 minutes’ moments thereof
    because and only because they were
    human beings … … female.

    It is at its half mast FOR these people:

    Ms Geneviève Bergeron
    Ms Hélène Colgan
    Ms Nathalie Croteau
    Ms Barbara Daigneault
    Ms Anne – Marie Edward
    Ms Maud Haviernick
    Ms Maryse Laganière
    Ms Maryse Leclair
    Ms Anne – Marie Lemay
    Ms Sonia Pelletier
    Ms Michèle Richard
    Ms Annie St – Arneault
    Ms Annie Turcotte
    Ms Barbara Klucznik – Widajewicz

    One here on WEIT, mocking me, very recently
    queried how parents and grandparents and
    others could have The Way to not worry
    in re their sons becoming sometime
    for violent crimes falsely accused.
    I ‘ad stated that The Way was
    widely and for a long and long time known.

    Apparently that one has no idea nor
    upbringing by his elders thusly cuz, o’course,
    .this. ‘ld BE The Way to … … no worries then:


  2. Anastasia Cheetham
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I was a bit disappointed to notice that while you explain why Dec. 6 is Finland’s Independence Day, you don’t explain why it is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

    Dec. 6 is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. On this day in 1989, Marc Lepine shot 28 young engineering students, killing 14 women. He deliberately separated the men from the women before he started shooting, calling the women “a bunch of feminists”. His suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life.

    This one is a bit close to home for me: The shooter, Marc Lepine, attended my high school four years ahead of me (he was in my brother’s class), and at the time of the shooting, I myself was a young woman studying engineering (albeit in the neighboring province of Ontario). As the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I”. Though of course, there is no god, just dumb luck.

  3. James
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I’m dubious about the claims of warm-blooded ichthyosaurs. The presence of blubber does not, by itself, constitute evidence of warm-bloodedness the way, say, a fossilized heart can. Mammals aren’t the only critters that have fat, after all, and an organism that used gigantothermy would benefit from an extra layer of fat. Perhaps not as much as an endothermic organisms, but still, the extra mass would help. And as for the formation, we’re looking at a relatively thick carbon film. We don’t know how it was formed. So obviously we can’t say “It was formed in a warm-blooded manner”.

    I’m also hesitant to say that the fat is related to thermoregulation. Ichthyosaurs aren’t mammals, so we can’t simply say “We see the same structure, it’s for the same thing”. Animals often use fat to sustain themselves through lean periods. It’s unlikely that this would be due to a lack of food in a marine creature (pre-industrial oceans were teaming with life), but there may be behaviors, such as mating, which require such fat. I’m speculating, sure–but my point is, so are they, and I can point to similar examples in modern animals to support my speculation (penguins spring to mind).

    It’s an interesting idea, and certainly one worth exploring–but I don’t think that the evidence supports this conclusion yet.

    The obvious solution is to go out and find more fossils! 😀

    Obligatory paleontological pedantry: The “(and other dinosaurs)” bit is misleading. Ichthyosaurs aren’t dinosaurs, they’re a whole other group of organisms. 😉

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Hi James

      What is your view on Mary Schweitzer’s other soft tissue claims? Have other teams replicated her results? And finally – do others in the field agree with her that iron particles may play a part in the preservation of soft tissue over geologic time?

      • James
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        I don’t hold any strong views on her claims. She’s not the only one to claim to have found preserved soft tissue, but at the same time the stuff they’ve found is dubious. I’d love for it to be true, which means I’m on the side of it not being true (in an attempt to balance my biases).

        I don’t know enough about the geochemistry of the areas where these have been found to speak to why soft tissue may be preserved. I’ve mostly done Tertiary/Quaternary stuff, and those fossils don’t preserve protein, much less soft tissue, so I’m inclined to say it’s not true; that said, the formations I’ve worked in tend to be fairly wet, fairly well-drained, and had a fairly high mineral content in the groundwater due to nearby volcanic activity (the Horned Toad Formation is one example–lots of ash beds, lots of evidence of ion migration, lots of preserved bones), and these are the opposite of areas that would preserve soft tissue. So my experience is a wash here.

        One big issue here is interpersonal relationships. There are a lot of strong personalities butting heads over this issue, and most paleontologists are already involved in a few such fights. We’re passionate people; if you don’t enjoy heated debates, you don’t last long. But any individual can only sustain participation in so many heated debates at a time. And at this stage, there’s so little data to work with that only the hottest heads are getting involved. So what often happens–and what I see happening here–is that the hot-heads argue, while the rest of us stand back, quietly examine the evidence, and wait until more appears before we commit ourselves. Basically, we’re getting popcorn, cracking open a beer, and watching the fireworks. 😀

        So I guess my stance is dubious, but hopeful, but not strongly committed either way.

    • mikeyc
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Fat plays many roles; it is not just storage for excess calories. Its distribution is a clue to its function. We humans have little need for blubber – a special kind of fatty deposit whose primary function is insulation. Of course it doubles as a repository for calories to bank on should food become scarce, but its primary role in aquatic, especially marine, animals is to reduce heat loss to the environment. Few terrestrial animals today have blubber; polar bears are classified as marine mammals partly for this reason. Such a trait is only reasonable in animals who are homeothermic (those that metabolically maintain a constant body temp). We see it in many extant marine mammals. When we find evidence of blubber in extinct animals it is reasonable to assume the trait functioned then as it does today.

      Is it possible blubber played some non-thermoregulatory role in in Ichthyosaurs? Of course, but parsimony demands we look to the obvious answer.

      • James
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Find me a reptile that has blubber. All your examples were mammals. Until and unless you can do that, your argument has a pretty big hole to fill. You cannot naively assume that similar structures perform the same function across such a taxonomic distance–you need to find additional evidence.

        Yes, location of fat can be a clue about its use; it can also be misleading, particularly when attempting to compare function across different classes of organisms. You are correct in saying that fat plays many roles–and that’s the problem. We don’t know, or at least I don’t think we have sufficient evidence to determine, which role this fat is playing. It could be thermoregulation; it could be calorie storage; it could be to protect vital organs from predators (professional Roman gladiators had a good, thick layer of fat, intentionally, because this allowed them to bleed well without too much risk of death). For that matter, it could be sexual selection; the role of reproduction in morphological evolution cannot be dismissed out of hand. It could be for buoyancy–several whale species have specialized structures specifically for that purpose (sperm whales being a spectacular example), and to the best of my knowledge we’ve found nothing analogous in ancient marine reptiles. I find it far more plausible (parsimonious, if you prefer) that analogous structures for buoyancy evolved independently than that endothermy evolved independently in ichthyosaurs.

        Please note that I’ve never argued that the conclusion that ichthyosaurs were warm blooded is wrong. I’ve argued that it’s premature. BIG difference.

        Parsimony is all well and good, but it’s only a guideline. Reality is what it is, and our job as scientists isn’t to find the PLAUSIBLE answers, but the TRUE answers. And given the paucity of evidence (even by paleontological standards) it’s entirely reasonable to say “Interesting idea, let’s see more data before we commit ourselves” in this case.

        Here’s why this matters: Humans stop looking for answers once we find a plausible one. It makes some sense–you’ve found an answer, after all! Unfortunately, reality isn’t confined to our understanding. This means that sometimes we discover that our plausible answer was wrong. Pores are at the ridges of fingerprints; Acanthostega had more than five digits; extinctions, even mass extinctions, occur. The history of paleontology is rife with such plausible answers being proven wrong by the addition of more data. We as a field of study have been burned too many times to simply ignore the possibility of being burned again. Caution is warranted, particularly when–as I stated earlier–comparing organisms from very different clades.

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          “Humans stop looking for answers once we find a plausible one.”

          Unless they are scientists working in that field on that specific question, this seems like reasonable behavior.

          • James
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            Seems like it is, yes. However, it really isn’t. This is the reason we have the presumption of innocence in our legal system–once you’ve found a suspect it’s always very, very easy to find evidence that they did it. This is why we field workers take copious notes–as soon as someone says “It’s your fault” everyone assumes, consciously or un, that you’re guilty.

            It’s a version of several fallacies, including Confirmation Bias and Sunk Cost.

            For some things sure, the first plausible answer is good enough. If I come home and the garbage can is knocked over and trash is strewn across my kitchen, I assume the dog did it, not that someone broke into the house and looked through my garbage. For others, the data constrain the plausible answers to the point where there is only one option. But there are many cases, more than people realize, especially in science, where the number of plausible answers is such that we cannot stop looking merely because we came up with one answer.

            With paleontology it’s even worse than in most fields. We’re used to organisms as they are today, because that’s what we see. The past is not constrained to what is present today; it was a truly weird, alien place. Using modern analogues gives us potential answers to questions we have, but we have gotten in serious trouble in the past by essentially stopping there. Doing so is negligence, pure and simple.

        • mikeyc
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          “Find me a reptile that has blubber. ”

          No extant marine reptile is endothermic so this is not going to be a fruitful challenge for you.

          There are marine mammals extant today who don’t have blubber (Otters, for example). That doesn’t preclude its role in retaining heat in animals that do possess it. Blubber is an adaptation to a cold marine environment in many extant endothermic animals – it does play other roles (it is fat and as such is used to store calories). Human fat in NOT blubber – humans (and our relatives) do not use fat to retain heat or protect against injury, despite the Gladiator experience (it couldn’t possibly have evolved for such use).

          Basically you’re accusing me of ignoring other possible uses of blubber when in fact I said;

          “Is it possible blubber played some non-thermoregulatory role in in Ichthyosaurs? Of course, but parsimony demands we look to the obvious answer.

          Fat stores have multiple uses, (including buoyancy), but in marine animals when it is stored as blubber its primary role is in thermoregulation.

          So, once more, blubber is used by extant animals to retain heat generated metabolically and we’ve found evidence of blubber in extinct marine animals; the deduction is obvious, other uses of fat not withstanding.

          • James
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            “Basically you’re accusing me of ignoring other possible uses of blubber….”

            Not really. I’m accusing you of unjustifiably favoring one explanation when others are possible, and refusing to adequately address alternate explanations. I’m also accusing you of flat-out ignoring the vast taxonomic gulf between mammals and ichthyosaurs–ALL of your examples are mammals, and that’s deeply problematic for the line of reasoning you’re engaging in. You still haven’t addressed this; the evidence you present in this post amounts to little more than you stamping your foot and saying “Is too!!” I mean, you’ve presented nothing new in this post; all your data is a re-hash of previous statements.

            “…the deduction is obvious…”

            I never said it wasn’t. What I said is that it is insufficiently evidenced. “Obvious” is a statement about what we believe to be true, and our beliefs can be erroneous. This is particularly true when drawing conclusions across such vast taxonomic distances.

            Look, if we were dealing with something that was somehow related to mammals I’d be on your side. We’re not. And that should make you very hesitant to accept these arguments. Analogous structures often do not perform the same function across classes, and that’s something we need to consider in this analysis. You’re not considering it. And without a careful examination of this issue, we CANNOT dismiss it.

            Simply re-stating “Whales use blubber to keep warm” isn’t enough. You need to demonstrate that ichthyosaurs did as well. And merely pointing to the fat and saying “It’s the same!” isn’t enough. By that line of reasoning you’d be arguing that humans open their jaws using their inner ear.

            • mikeyc
              Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

              James, this is pointless. If you want to believe that evidence of blubber in extinct animals means something else than what it means today, you’re free (and I encourage it) to seek out evidence that it isn’t.

              Some final comments before I scramble out of this rabbit hole.

              – I repeated my claims from my first comment because your response indicated that they did not get across to you.
              – I do not (never did) dispute the idea that if these animals had blubber that it might be used for other purposes (in fact I stated that explicitly).
              -Convergent evolution is a well established concept, irrespective of the “vast” taxonomic differences at play.
              -One must always remember that all scientific knowledge is provisional (including the claims that what they found is in fact evidence of blubber), but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that it isn’t also deductive.

              • James
                Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                “If you want to believe that evidence of blubber in extinct animals means something else than what it means today, you’re free (and I encourage it) to seek out evidence that it isn’t.”

                No. No no no no no.

                YOUR SIDE is making the positive argument. YOU have the burden of proof. My entire argument is that you have not met it (I have given specific reasons, which remain unaddressed). You DO NOT get to say “We have one of the weakest lines of evidence acceptable in science, ergo it’s on you to prove me wrong”. I cannot stress strongly enough (not without violating the terms and conditions of this blog, anyway) how serious an error you are committing here. What you are doing is the opposite of how science is supposed to work.

                “– I repeated my claims from my first comment because your response indicated that they did not get across to you.”

                Incorrect. I fully understand your argument. I disagree with it. It IS possible to understand someone and still think they are wrong. Not surprising this day and age that this is a confusing concept.

                “– I do not (never did) dispute the idea that if these animals had blubber that it might be used for other purposes (in fact I stated that explicitly).”

                Uh huh. You just happen to dismiss all other purposes, even those with modern analogues, from serious consideration because “parsimony”. Despite the fact–nearly universally accepted in paleontology–that parsimony’s strength as an argument is directly tied to taxonomic proximity. When dealing with marine reptiles vs. modern mammals, it’s pretty freaking weak.

                “-One must always remember that all scientific knowledge is provisional…but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that it isn’t also deductive.”

                This amounts to little more than an insult, especially considering my background. I have never argued that your line of reasoning isn’t reasonable. I’ve said it is–and that that is the specific problem!!! It’s reasonable, but we can’t say it’s true, and to accept it without further evidence is, given past occasions where similar has happened, very likely to prevent us from learning what is true.

                My accusation is that you’ve latched onto this one explanation far too early and are refusing to adequately examine alternative explanations. And no, saying “parsimony” isn’t an adequate examination.

                Further: The mere fact that some line of reasoning is deductive isn’t enough. The evidence must be strong enough to support it. I do not believe this evidence is. I agree that this is evidence for your pet hypothesis–it’s data that supports it. I do not believe that it supports it strongly enough to warrant accepting the conclusion.

                You are demonstrating exactly why paleontologists are typically very hesitant to accept the first plausible answer that comes to mind. Thank you for illustrating the point so thoroughly.

              • mikeyc
                Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

                You know what James, you really need a lesson in how to read for comprehension. Don’t tell me how to do science, boy and I do NOT deserve your nastiness. You are rude and you look like fool.

                Last comments to you.

                -It is NOT my claim that this is blubber – it is the authors.
                -It is my claim that blubber is NOT functionally the same as other adipose tissue.
                -It IS your claim that their evidence that it is blubber isn’t sufficient settle the question of endothermy and you are correct.
                I SAID THE SAME DAMN THING

                But one thing is for sure – marine animals today that have blubber are -all of them- endothermic. If these authors are correct and marine reptiles like ichtyosaurs had blubber then the best explanation for it is that these animals used blubber the way animals do today and were at least faculatively endothermic (though not necessarily homeothermic). THAT”S THEIR CLAIM

                The very same argument can be made for evidence of feathers in dinosaurs – that they had similar function in dinosaurs to feathers on birds today in display, thermoregulation and flight.

                One thing I am certain of, these Ichthyosaurs were not gladiators.

                Go soak your head.

          • Nicolaas Stempels
            Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Elaine Morgan of ‘Aquatic Ape Theory’ fame would disagree with you.
            And although I have my reservations about Morgan’s hypotheses, it is undeniable that human subcutaneous fat is anatomically indistinguishable from blubber. Care to explain why it would not be, apart from a rather loose contention it is not used to retain heat? (Is it not?)

            • mikeyc
              Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

              “human subcutaneous fat is anatomically indistinguishable from blubber.”

              Untrue. Not only is the lipid content of blubber different than other adipose deposits (they contain different lengths and hydrogenation states in the acyl chains and they differ in their SN1/SN2 positions). Blubber is also much more vascularised than other adipose, contains a variety of non-adipose tissue (including a kind of resident macrophage) not present in other fat stores and blubber interacts with skin epithelia as an additional function of blubber is assist in streamlining the body of the animal in water – human adipose tissue does not have this capacity.

              Blubber is a kind of tissue – it differs from other fatty deposits (which themselves differ from each other – the fatty deposits around your heart are different to the ones in your belly and both of these are different than the ones in your liver) because in addition to it’s role as storage depot for calories blubber has a specialized adaptive function.

              Enough. Stupid argument.

              • James
                Posted December 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                “Blubber is also much more vascularised than other adipose, contains a variety of non-adipose tissue (including a kind of resident macrophage) not present in other fat stores and blubber interacts with skin epithelia as an additional function of blubber is assist in streamlining the body of the animal in water ”

                And this is a serious problem I have with your pet hypothesis (not my term, by the way–see Strong Inference for evidence that it’s a common one). NONE of that is present in any of the figures I’ve seen (and this isn’t the only place I’ve looked). And that’s bad. The way science works is to try to disprove the pet hypothesis–if this were blubber there would be specific implications, and so we look to find those implications. Failure to find them is evidence against the pet hypothesis. None of these are present in the fossils I’ve seen photos of. Maybe they’re in the physical fossils, and if you can verify this please share!! But thus far, I have seen no evidence of it.

                Please note that this lack may not mean that ichthyosaurs didn’t have blubber. It could merely mean that we will never know. The laws of taphonomy are a harsh mistress, and there is no safe word. We get the data we get, full stop. This means we will never know certain things. It sucks, but that’s the reality if paleontology. The fact that we can know as much as we do is the amazing part, and is a testament to the unending creativity of the human mind!

                The only reason you consider this argument stupid is that you’re emotionally invested in one answer being correct. I’m not; I’m happy either way, because we’ll learn more either way. And I find the idea of debating whether or not this is blubber to be wildly entertaining. I’ve been thrown out of bars for this type of conversation (occupational hazard for a field paleontologist).

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree that subcutaneous fat is not a definite proof of endothermy, more of aquatic or semi aquatic life styles (in endotherms), and even then.
      Haversan channels in bones or a dense hair or feather cover are a better indicators.
      I’d be surprised if pterosaurs were poikilotherms, they did fly, after all. And they had hair, pelts.
      I think the obvious burden of evidence is on those that contend that pterosaurs, and theropod dinosaurs for that matter, were not warmblooded now.
      Robert Bakker has been much criticised, but he did give a lot of evidence that theropods were indeed endotherms. He ‘switched’ the burden of proof, as it were.
      Why do you think pterosaurs were poikilotherm, any evidence for that?

      • James
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        I’ll agree that the lines of evidence very strongly support therapods being warm-blooded. I mean, we know that at least some of them are (birds are therapods, after all). This makes the argument from analogy much, much stronger–similar structures are very likely to have played similar roles because non-avian therapods are very closely related to avian therapods.

        At this point, I agree that the burden of proof (as far as therapods go) is on those arguing they aren’t warm-blooded. The preponderance of evidence is that they are, and the evidence is extremely good (for paleontology). The fact that birds are dinosaurs means that arguing they’re cold-blooded is arguing against what we should treat as the default assumption.

        I will admit I’ve rather sadly neglected pterosaurs. I’ve mostly studied dinosaurs and Tertiary/Quaternary mammals. So I can’t speak to pterosaur thermoregulation. Personally I’d be somewhat surprised if there was only one method–even in mammals we see a variety of ways of regulating body temperature, after all, and pterosaurs were extremely diverse.

    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      I was also going to comment about the position of ichthyosaurs.

    • James
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Thought I’d add some additional facts to this debate:

      The fossil is preserved well enough that internal organs can be detected. This includes the liver. Not particularly surprising, as we’ve found a number of ichthyosaurs preserved like that. I’m not trying to downplay this–this is an awesome find!!! I’m simply saying that there’s no reason to doubt that they’ve found the large-scale structures they say they’ve found; it’s not common, but happily it does happen.

      I’m always dubious about claims about finding cellular structures. Too many things can look like cells (see the alleged Martian fossils!), and I’m not convinced that rock can preserve such things. Grain size dictates the smallest possible structure that can be preserved. That said, clay can be as small as a single unit cell. And others are less dubious about it than me. Perhaps I’m simply being unreasonable here.

      The idea that they’ve found blubber comes from Schweitzer’s use of a number of analytical techniques, most promisingly immunohistochemical analyses. Basically, they used antibodies to detect various proteins, and found proteins associated with blubber in the area they believed to be subcutaneous fat. Other methods were used, which seem to stem from Schweitzer’s belief that she found soft tissue and her interpretations on how it was preserved. Regardless, she believes that she’s found proteins indicative of blubber in the subcutaneous fat layer in these fossils.

      This is promising, but it leads to some obvious questions.

      First, if we have the organs, what do the other organs look like? The morphology of the heart is an important question (though again, we have to be cautious in interpreting the morphology). Bone structure is also an important question–warm blooded animals of all kinds grow differently from cold blooded animals. If they had that evidence you’d think they’d be presenting it alongside their other work, because it would demonstrate the validity of Schweitzer’s other hypotheses–if they could find independent lines of evidence supporting the validity of this preservation mechanism, it means that the mechanism is more likely to be true.

      Second, there’s the contamination thing. It’s one thing to prove THAT something is somewhere, it’s another entirely to prove WHY something is somewhere. Please note that I don’t mean to imply Schweitzer or her team contaminated the samples, intentionally or unintentionally; in this context, “contamination” merely means something coming in that wasn’t from the ichthyosaur. I’ve seen contamination that amounted to a clast rolling downhill in an unexpected direction. Leading causes here (from the folks I’ve discussed this with, anyway) are bacteria and water. Either could bring proteins into the fossil, which would react to the antibodies, giving a false positive. If the antibodies are differentiated across the body it makes this less likely, but not entirely unlikely. After all, water (and therefore proteins and bacteria) will move differently through bone vs. skin fossils. Geochemical gradients can also concentrate chemicals (either by osmosis or degrading certain molecules while preserving others). So, I’m skeptical. I’d like to see someone hostile to Schweitzer’s methods review the paper–not that I’d believe the other side without question, just, I’d like to see what the arguments are from someone more knowledgeable on this than me.

      The crux of the matter, though, still lies in their assumption that blubber=endothermy, as they present no other line of evidence for this conclusion. Basically they’re not presenting evidence for endothermy at all; they present evidence for blubber, and conclude “therefore endothermy”. And that’s based on a dubious assumption. No argument, to my knowledge, has yet been presented that endothermy is NECESSARY for blubber to form. That it has only thus far been seen in warm-blooded animals isn’t sufficient. We used to think that feathers were only found in birds, for example; then we found them in dinosaurs. We also may have missed blubber in other non-warm-blooded organisms, because fat is beyond difficult to preserve. I don’t know that we have found the earliest example of blubber in whales, for example. For that matter, the only way we know of a hump in one land mammal is because of cave paintings. A great deal of fun can be had (if you’re not prone to nightmares) looking up drawings of modern animals based on the same methods illustrators use to draw dinosaurs. Baboons are my favorite; things like demon-spawn when you shrink-wrap them! My point is, with so many known data gaps in our understanding of the evolution of fat–not just blubber, but fat in general!!–I do not believe we can make the leap from “blubber” to “therefore endothermy”.

      For their argument to be complete, they must demonstrate such a causal connection; they must bridge that data gap. Without that, their argument is necessarily incomplete–it leaves open the very real possibility that this structure independently evolved in two lineages (if we accept it is blubber). Which is hardly an extraordinary claim; after all, they expect us to believe that endothermy evolved independently in at least one group of ichthyosaurs.

      All of this assumes that these methods are valid, which I’m not able to comment on one way or another. I will say that objections to Schweitzer’s methods have been raised.

  4. Christopher
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Jerry, might I add to your birthday list a forgotten hero of mine? Also born on this day, in 1888, was zoologist Libbie H. Hyman. She was born in Iowa to Jewish immigrants, entered the University of Chicago in 1906,eventually became a research assistant to prof. Charles Manning Child studying invertebrates. She wrote two widely used books for university students, the Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology and the Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. She left Chicago for the American Museum of Natural History and began her life’s work writing The Invertebrates, a 6-volume text published by McGraw-Hill one at a time from 1940-1967. It was supposed to be at least seven volumes but she developed Parkinson’s disease and died in 1969. She also published something like 160 scientific papers. I wish more people knew about her, as I find her inspirational, both as a person and a scientist. Cheers!

    • Marlene Zuk
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Yes, seconded — I found out about her as an undergraduate and was inspired. That series is amazing, with wonderful illustrations.

      • Christopher
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I became quite obsessed with her, inspired by her life story, the obvious struggles she would have had being both Jewish and a woman, having a mother who seemed to dislike her and try to hold her back, and then of course her talent, as a scientist, author, an illustrator, as you mentioned (amazing that she took drawing classes in order to do the work herself), and multilingual to boot. Over the summer I bought a set of her Invertebrates texts, later printings or both of her manuals, and 12 of her scientific papers from American Museum Novitates, earliest one I found was 1938. She was really something. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s heard of her.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          One unsung heroine.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    The Huffpost article said nothing concerning the negatives on George H Bush that could not be said about every other president. If you want to praise someone for something good that they did, it is not necessary to add everything you think is bad about the person. It kind of cancelled out the effort you were making in the first place. It is as if your duty as a liberal is to kill any thought that you approve of another person who does not meet your standards.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I wasn’t old enough to vote for him and doubt I would have anyway but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him for signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It’s becoming increasingly doubtful we will see that kind of liberal, progressive lawmaking again in our lifetimes, especially from the republican side of the aisle.

  6. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Because the Hili Dialogues allow for some leeway in commenting, I hope it isn’t violating Da Roolz to recall a previous post here; to wit, the recent post about euphemisms for dying. Yesterday, on a BBC radio news program the announcer interviewed a researcher who’s sending thousands of worms to the space station, then study them on return. The worms have a brief life span, and the announcer in his plummiest voice said to the scientist “But you won’t get them back before the worms have passed away.”

    People simply do not like to speak of death without sugar coating it, even re worms. Then he tried to coax the researcher into regarding the worms as kind of his pets or his children and asked if he would feel some pride in his worms achievements — something like that. I didn’t get the exact words because I was too busy grabbing my throat to keep from gagging. I was astounded — this is the BBC!

    • Christopher
      Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Sugar coated death worms? Sounds like Willy Wonka meets Tremors.

      I’ve noticed the BBC has been infected with a strain of control-leftism, not quite as virulent as that which infected NPR, but disturbing all the same. Not sure what to make of the death euphemism stuff. I can kinda relate to the over-sentimental worm talk, I’m quite attached to my tank of pond water slime, algae, and various water fleas and friends, but I wouldn’t mourn their demise as I did the theft and death of my tortoise. It is indeed a strange time in news reporting. I fear we’re moving from balanced to biased to unhinged.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted December 6, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        I grieve for your tortoise. And come to think of it, I carry ineradicable guilt for the planaria I chopped and irradiated.

        • Posted December 6, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          There must be an intriguing story behind this. If your work has been published online, could you give a link?

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted December 7, 2018 at 1:34 am | Permalink

            If only! It was a high school science project. I was trying to become a teen-aged Marie Curie. I had no idea what I was doing. The poor things ended up exploding. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  7. Posted December 6, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    “How we face death is at least as important as how we face life.”

  8. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “Why I Struggle Memorializing George H.W. Bush As A Liberal Woman With A Disability”

    Yes, I would struggle with that too.

    Other topic – re those Trump tweets, it’s always possible to quote-mine any politician for regrettable things they said in the past. But it is a bit like mining – dig through a ton of tailings to find an ounce of real dirt.

    The difference with tRump is, it’s more like looking for dirt in a refuse tip. Embarras de richesses.


    • Posted December 6, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Such headlines are not only hilarious but also empowering. Make us “foreigners” feel good about our English.

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