Who is allowed to study what dinosaur?As Stegosaur plates claimed to reveal sex, reveal a lot more, according to reports in ScienceDaily and Science (AAAS) News 22 April 2015, BBC News and ABC News in Science 23 April and PLoS doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123503. Evan Saitta of the University of Bristol has spent six summers helping to excavate a “graveyard” of stegosaurs in Montana USA. He noticed that the back plates of the animals had two distinct shapes, even though they were all classified as belonging to the one species Stegosaurus mjosi. Some of the plates were wide oval shapes and others were narrow and tall.

Saitta compared the plates with other specimens of the same species housed in various museums, and found similar variation. It was possible that the difference was due to different stages of growth, but microscopic examination of the bones of the new specimens indicated they were all fully grown.

Saitta suggests the shape differences represent sexual dimorphism – differences between the two sexes of one species, with the larger oval plates belonged to the males as they had a larger surface area. Saitta explained: “We know from modern animals that males typically invest more into their ornaments than do the females. In this case, the broader variety reaches sizes 45% larger in surface area than do the tall plates. And I argue that these wide plates would create a great ‘billboard’ for male stegosaurs if they were using them to attract a mate”.

Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London says the results are “not quite watertight for me – not yet”. He went on to say, “I’d like to see a lot more information on the graveyard site itself, the different sizes of the specimens, how they were arranged in the ground, more detail on the geology, and on the analyses that were done. But it is interesting because it would add to the debate on what the plates were for. Sexual dimorphism is something we see a lot in modern animals, although it’s not particularly prevalent in living reptiles or in living birds”.

The Natural History Museum is currently studying various Stegosaur plate theories, including assessing whether the plates were strong enough for defence.

Some other scientists have also questioned the study, but the most scathing criticism came from Kevin Padian, a palaeontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who says the Montana specimens should not be used because they are the property of a private organisation, the Judith River Dinosaur Institute. Padian commented: “These are private specimens and the ethics of our profession are you do not publish on them”. He went on to say “It doesn’t matter that they call themselves the Judith River Dinosaur Institute or whatever the hell that is. Those specimens are not in the public trust”.

Saitta responded that it doesn’t matter who owns them, but whether they can be studied. He commented: “These stegosaurs are accessible and always will be accessible. I want people to focus on the science”.

ABC, BBC, ScienceDaily, Science

Editorial Comment: So now you know folks, if it is in a creation museum, owned by creationists or anyone outside the evolutionist system, the rules of the profession are that you don’t study it or comment on it, no matter how good it is! And you thought scientists were only interested in the evidence?

Padian’s attack on Saitta for researching specimens held by a private institute is irrational. Saitta is correct, it doesn’t matter who owns a fossil, it is still evidence. We wonder if Padian objects to private ownership of fossils because that means they can be studied by people who are not dependent on government or university funding, and therefore do not need to conform to the prevailing beliefs about fossils, including evolution. (We are not claiming that Saitta does not believe in evolution.)

This study fits with other research indicating that Stegosaur plates and other dinosaur excrescences such as frills and horns were designed for display and communication, and other peaceful purposes, rather than offence and defence in Darwin’s war of nature. There is also evidence that bony plates and frills were involved in thermoregulation (heat control). It will be interesting to see what the Natural History Museum concludes from their study. (Ref. dinosaurs, reptiles, fossils, growth)

Evidence News vol. 15, No. 6
29 April 2015
Creation Research Australia