Thursday, April 5, 2012

Feather Light

Journalists know a good story when they see one; they also know how to present it so that the reader/viewer won’t be disappointed. Today came news that T-Rex might have been a bird. How do our scientists know? Why, they saw the feathers in the fossil record.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported the story. ABC news put up several videos. But the striking thing is that we don’t see even so much as a hint of feathers in those videos. I ranged about and finally discovered a picture on the Canadian site (link) and (using the same picture) on the Winnipeg Free Press (link). In the Winnipeg paper one can enlarge the image. I for one don’t see any feathers anywhere.  More skillfully, from a journalistic point of view, the NYT brings an artist’s rendition. Here they are, those feathered creatures, running along, accompanied by prehistoric pelicans in the air and on the ground. Pleasing. Here is a link that shows this story.

We go from ambiguous stones and bones to vivid illustrations in one leap. The Canadians opt to disappoint their readers, it seems to me. Those oblong images of something might be feathers—or might not. And, in any case, what difference does it make? Let me go on to something useful and see what the latest news is on the development of a reliable time machine. Once that’s available, we could send a journalist back to the Cretaceous equipped with a sturdy camera for taking vivid scenes as well as tight close-ups of those feathers.


  1. And once again the question as to what function did the feathers serve? And were the dinos warm- or cold-blooded?

    Although feathers may serve to insulate, might they also cool?

    1. One of the compensations of being a fossil hunter, it seems to me, is the freedom you have to engage in imaginative flights after the dreary, dusty, and presumably hot field trips scraping and hammering at old rocks. I imagine fossil hunters a million years from now finding the detritus of the current age in the rocks...