Grass Discovered In Dinosaur Dung

by Jordan Niednagel
S: New Scientist (11-17-05)

It comes as a complete "shock" to the scientific community; something as completely absurd as "showing prehistoric humans hunting dinosaurs with spears." It grows in your backyard, and according to textbooks, it didn't become common until long after the Cretaceous Period (65 million years ago) when dinosaurs had already become extinct. Grass, and it was recently found in the fossilized dung of a dinosaur.

Of course, such isn't a big deal in the eyes of the average layman, but for scientists, this rewrites the history books (yet again). The evidence comes from tiny silica crystals called phytoliths which grow inside plant cells and can survive digestion. When paleontologists in India studying dinosaur diet called for an expert to identify the phytoliths, they were in disbelief. Some of the phytoliths were recognized as being those found only in grasses which hadn't yet evolved.

According to Caroline Strömberg, a phytolith specialist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the grasses eaten by the dinosaurs were herbaceous forest plants perhaps up to several meters tall.

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Most Scientific Papers Wrong, Analysis Says
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An also greater shock to them was how highly evolved the grasses were. Because of their presuppositions, in fact, they immediately suspected a mistake, but after examining the photographs, grass-evolution researcher Elizabeth Kellogg of the University of Missouri in St. Louis confirmed that "the identification is perfectly reasonable".

Fossils of titanosaurs, long-necked herbivores, were the only dinosaurs found in the area, so Strömberg and her group believe the droppings to be theirs. The evidence strongly indicates that the animals did not just keep their heads up browsing through the trees, but also down near to the ground munching on grass.

Of course, the belief that grass had not yet evolved came from its physical absence in particular layers of the fossil record. Yet again, 'evidence by absence' has proven itself untrustworthy and refutable, leading us to question what other creatures and plants co-existed together that we are emphatically taught did not.

Giant Squid Caught On Film

by Jonathan Drake
S: BBC News (9-28-05)

One of the world's largest, most elusive creatures has finally been filmed in its natural ecosystem. To be sure, Architeuthis have been found washed ashore on beaches in the past and discovered inside the stomachs of sperm whales, but never have they been seen alive and well in the deep oceans in which they inhabit ... until now.

Japanese researchers took the pictures of
a young juvenile approximately 3,000 feet (900m) down by suspending a weighted jig, a set of ganged hooks to snag the squid, and a single Japanese common squid as bait along with an odor lure made of chopped-up shrimps.

The creature was photographed near Japan's Ogasawara Islands, and was approximately 26 feet (8m) long. It wrapped its long tentacles around the bait, snagging one of them on the jig. As it tried to break free, 550 images of the squid were captured. Over four hours after it had first been snagged, the animal finally broke loose, but not without losing a tentacle, which the researchers retrieved.

"It was exciting to get a live Architeuthis tentacle. It was still functioning when we got it on the boat ... the grip wasn't as strong as I expected; it felt sticky," Dr. Kubodera told BBC News.

The images also reveal that Architeuthis is not a sluggish animal, something other researches had earlier suggested. Rather, it appears to be a rather energetic predator. Says Dr. Steve O'Shea, world renowned expert on giant squid (who we've reported on before):

"From the point of view of the public, who believe this squid is the largest, the meanest, most aggressive squid that we have - it is hugely significant."

While the colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, are thought to grow larger, the giant squid remains the largest to be identified.

Most Scientific Papers Wrong, Analysis Says

by Josef Long
S: New Scientist (8-30-05)

It's almost taboo to even mention, but according to a new analysis, there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are even true. The reasons? Small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, selective reporting and many, many others.

"We should accept that most research findings will be refuted. Some will be replicated and validated. The replication process is more important than the first discovery," says John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece.

If the odds are only 1 in 20 that the result could be pure chance, a study is, traditionally, said to be "statistically significant". In complicated fields, however, where there are a plethora of hypotheses to filter through, it's easy to come to wrong conclusions. When testing 20 hypotheses that are false, one of them on average will probably show up as true.

Competition is also a big factor. According to Ioannidis, many teams find themselves under pressure to beat other teams in finding significant discoveries.

Solomon Snyder, however, senior editor at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, isn't bothered. "When I read the literature, I'm not reading it to find proof like a textbook. I'm reading to get ideas. So even if something is wrong with the paper, if they have the kernel of a novel idea, that's something to think about."

Regardless, it goes to show that everything scientists publish shouldn't be taken as gospel truth, especially during their initial stages.


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Quote of the Month
"Gradual evolutionary change by natural selection operates so slowly within established species that it cannot account for the major features of evolution."

Steven M. Stanley
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University. 'A theory of evolution above the species level.' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, vol. 72 (2), Feb. 1975, p.646

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