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Missing Link Fossil Discovered 864

Posted by samzenpus
from the intelligent-fossil-design dept.
choongiri writes "The Guardian is reporting the discovery of a missing link of evolution. From the article: "Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals, showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago.""
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Missing Link Fossil Discovered

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  • Can we please stop using this "missing link" terminology? It's one of those terms often bandied about by creationists, but it has very little meaning in science. And anyway, everytime we find another transitional fossil the creationists are just going to point to the two gaps on either side of the new transitional and say, "Now there's two missing links! Nyah nyah nyah!" They already don't believe evolution is possible anyway.

    Now as for this find, there's something very important here that the writeup isn't covering. The scientists used their theory to not only predict the existence of such a transitional species, but also where, geologically, it would be located. And guess what - they found what they were looking for exactly where they were looking for it! Talk about predictive power! The predictive power of the theory of evolution is one of its many strengths, and one often overlooked by science-deniers.
    • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:18PM (#15073354) Homepage
      If I could MOD you up, I would!

      Yep - there's no such think as a missing link. There might have been in the past, but morphological properties allow us to make the connections without having to see all the transitional forms in between. As parent noted: Ambulocetus was predicted by evolution, and then it was found pretty much oin the form predicted, with the bony structures of the inner ear as predicted, in the geological strata at the date predicted - so there's nothing new about evolution proving its own efficacy.

      It might be exciting for scientists to actually discover a predicted fossil (well, of course it is!) but us mere mortals don't need to see it to know the truth: we have seen mud skippers on mud flats. We have seen an eel a kilometre from water in the middle of a field, wriggling to the next waterway. We've learned that Inter-tidal zone animals are extremely tough, and can survive long periods of exposure to the extremely hard environment of "air".

      So this isn't exactly surprising.

      What IS surprising, is that there is no image - not even the obligatory 100-pixel-across thumbnail, which links to a lame-ass 200-pixel-across "Large Picture". I am very interested in seeing this thing - so where the bloody hell is it?
      • by Tatarize (682683) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:47AM (#15073713) Homepage
        I don't even like the term transitional form. It seems to imply that there is a set goal of evolution, that the species is making the transition from this form to that form. In reality, going all the way back to our earliest ancestors you won't find a parent which was a different species than its offspring (some very special cases exist though, but typically never). Everything is a transitional form, from what its ancestors were to what its progeny will become.

        The organism 1.39390 isn't really making the transition from 1.39389 to 1.39391. It's just there.

        If anything is, I am a transitional form between apes and super-humans.
        • by x2A (858210) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @02:01AM (#15073983)
          um, no... if you read what he said you'll spot the words "in between", which creates a context which has a start and an end point, making everything in between - transitional stages. His wording was perfectly valid. That doesn't mean that you have to like the term, but it'll take more than not liking it to stop it being valid.

          If you're going to argue about wording, you have to take into account the context which it's used.

        • by dajak (662256) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:39AM (#15074569)
          I don't even like the term transitional form. It seems to imply that there is a set goal of evolution, that the species is making the transition from this form to that form.

          Evolution is not teleological, but the search for fossils by scientists guided by the theory of evolution is. History depends on retrodiction to prove the validity of theories, and retrodiction always uses this teleological perspective. As science understands evolution better it is able to predict the existence of more 'missing links', and if most fossils that scientists find are either known or classifiable as a 'missing link' between known species this is very strong evidence for the validity of the theory of evolution.

          The same is true for history in general: the big story creates 'missing links' to search for. Which culture(s) is/are the original source(s) of the Indogermanic languages? Why are there no texts about Jesus that bridge the time of Jesus and the second century? Why are there no records of the early Islamic state in Medina, even though the town has been unharmed and inhabited by Muslims since the days of Mohammed?

          Creationists abuse this teleological terminology to their own ends to misrepresent the status of evolution as a scientific theory, just like they misrepresent the meaning of theory itself (as in 'it is just a theory'). They can get away with it because too many people don't understand scientific method. Scientists should resist the temptation to let ID influence scientific method and terminology, because doing so will only seem to validate the credibility of the Intelligent Design lobby.
          • History depends on retrodiction to prove the validity of theories, and retrodiction always uses this teleological perspective.

            One picky point: The terms "retrodiction" and "postdiction" seem to be in competition. The paired prefixes "pre-" and "post-" would say that "prediction" and "postdiction" are the better pair. And "postdiction" is one char shorter, which will probably save you several seconds of typing over your lifetime. ;-)

            Anyway, whichever you call it, this is a good example. One of the creati
        • [i]If anything is, I am a transitional form between apes and super-humans.[/i]

          Since you are on Slashdot most likely you are just an evolutionary dead-end.
      • by Ugly American (885937) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:49AM (#15073934)
        Fox [foxnews.com] has some pictures of the model and sketches accompanying their article.
      • Obviously (Score:5, Funny)

        by robla (4860) * on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:54AM (#15073958) Homepage Journal
        What IS surprising, is that there is no image - not even the obligatory 100-pixel-across thumbnail, which links to a lame-ass 200-pixel-across "Large Picture".

        That qualifies as the missing link then, doesn't it.
      • by Witchblade (9771) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @03:07AM (#15074200) Homepage

        What IS surprising, is that there is no image - not even the obligatory 100-pixel-across thumbnail, which links to a lame-ass 200-pixel-across "Large Picture". I am very interested in seeing this thing - so where the bloody hell is it?

        Picture [newscientist.com] courtesy of New Scientist.

      • Images (Score:4, Informative)

        by armb (5151) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:20AM (#15074523) Homepage
        > What IS surprising, is that there is no image

        Lots of other places covered the story, some do have pictures.
        http://news.google.com/news?q=Tiktaalik+roseae [google.com]

        e.g. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&arti cleID=000A040D-36A2-1434-B6A283414B7F0000 [sciam.com]
    • by mcasaday (562287) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:00AM (#15073759)
      Ignorant Aardvark [slashdot.org]
      anyway, everytime we find another transitional fossil the creationists are just going to point to the two gaps on either side of the new transitional and say, "Now there's two missing links! Nyah nyah nyah!" They already don't believe evolution is possible anyway.
      cartel [slashdot.org]
      For me personally, there are just too many gaps. To convince me at least, one fossil/species is not enough.

      Whoa! Speaking of predictive power! Man, you really nailed it!

  • by scapermoya (769847) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:07PM (#15073296) Homepage
    Clearly, His Noodliness is testing us.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:08PM (#15073305)
    The fossil record is (and always will be) full of holes for the simple reason that not everything gets preserved (and some environments make preservation extremely unlikely), and there's no "magic fossil" that's needed in order to make the big puzzle fall together.

    For the most part, the big puzzle is already together. Yeah, there are lots of areas where we'd like to have more detail, but "missing link" implies that we're looking for some sort of Holy Grail, and are in a jam without it.

    That simply ain't the way it is.
  • by mcc (14761) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:09PM (#15073312) Homepage
    This was a predicted, sought find. This wasn't just like, some people found a fossil and was like "wow! this fills the gap in a missing link between reptiles and fish!". They set out to find something like this, targeted the most likely places in which to find it, and actually found what they were looking for. A quote of a Ahlberg and Clack article from the Pharyngula blog [scienceblogs.com] (lots of information there):
    First, it demonstrates the predictive capacity of palaeontology. The Nunavut field project had the express aim of finding an intermediate between Panderichthys and tetrapods, by searching in sediments from the most probable environment (rivers) and time (early Late Devonian). Second, Tiktaalik adds enormously to our understanding of the fish-tetrapod transition because of its position on the tree and the combination of characters it displays.
    I think that's just neat.
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:21PM (#15073369)
      > This was a predicted, sought find. This wasn't just like, some people found a fossil and was like "wow! this fills the gap in a missing link between reptiles and fish!". They set out to find something like this, targeted the most likely places in which to find it, and actually found what they were looking for.

      A similar thing can be seen on a NOVA [wikipedia.org] episode that they air now and then, where a palentologist used existing fossils in the sequence of whale ancestry to estimate the date of an intermediate form, consulted geologists re where to find exposed land that was the bottom of a shallow sea at that date, visited the site (now a desert) recommended by the geologists, and found vertebrae for the predicted species lying exposed in the sand. Excavations uncovered more complete specimins showing the predicted features of "nose" and legs.

      > I think that's just neat.

      Way neat.
  • IANAEB (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel@NOSPAM.bcgreen.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:11PM (#15073316) Homepage Journal
    I Am Not An Evolutionary Biologist -- So talking about this makes me feel a bit like a fish out of water.
    • Re:IANAEB (Score:2, Informative)

      by dteichman2 (841599)
      How can you be a non-evolutionary biologist? To be a biologist, one must understand say... DNA, which then has the whole "gene thing." Organisms with DNA that codes for beneficial traits live on, and the rest die. Evolution.
  • "As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power."

    This certainly goes against creationism but afaik the only difference between evolution and intelligent design is that intelligent design claims statistics is insufficient and a divine guiding hand was required, wouldn't this missing link be required for either model as both need to go from water to land?
    • Well, that's part of the problem of ID. Really, a very small number of people have thought through ID to its logical (or illogical) conclusion. They do, however, say that there's a problem in the fossil record in that there's "no transitional fossils" (see previous comments about this fallacious argument). This is just the sort of thing that such folks were mockingly certain did not exist.

      Guess they do.

    • > "As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power."

      > This certainly goes against creationism but afaik the only difference between evolution and intelligent design is that intelligent design claims [...]

      The proponents of ID are all over the spectrum with respect to their views on evolution. Some are YECs of the most narrow sort; others think biologists basically have things right except for an occasio
  • Pictures (Score:5, Informative)

    by lifeisgreat (947143) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:20PM (#15073361) Homepage
    Since the write-up lacked anything flashy, here's an article from the Nature journal [nature.com] about the find.

    Doesn't look very tasty.

  • by irish_spic (18702) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:27PM (#15073395)
    Heh, there's lots of missing links here in canada - calling each other hosers and swilling cheap beer, eh.
  • by MarkByers (770551) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:41PM (#15073441) Homepage Journal
    The Flying Spaghetti Monster just put it there to confuse us.
  • FYI (Score:5, Funny)

    by prof_peabody (741865) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:43PM (#15073457)
    m = milli = 10^-3
    M = mega = 10^6

    325m years = ~ 118.6 days

    Missing link may be a bit young don't you think?
  • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:10AM (#15073551) Homepage Journal
    You can only find a "link", not a "missing link." Once found it is no longer missing.
    In much the same way as a hot water heater is unneeded since hot water is already hot.
    /attempted humor
  • teleology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stalyn (662) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @12:57AM (#15073751) Homepage Journal
    Assume this animal uses oxygen as an energy source for chemical reactions. Traditionally it retrieved oxygen through the water. Yet after some time its lungs grew the capacity to retrieve oxygen through the air. It would seem that there would have to be some sort of informational exchange in order to determine air was a candidate source for oxygen. How did this happen?

    The ancestors of this animal most likely lived in shallow water and perhaps came into contact with air all the time. It might have been able to jump out of the water for a very short period of time. Yet in order to evolve lungs that could take advantage of oxygen in the atmosphere there must have been some informational exchange.

    I think some will argue that there doesn't have to be any information involved because random genetic change and natural selection will over time evolve a lung that can retrieve oxygen through the air. The major presupposition is that the genetic code that allows for breathing on land is implicit in genetic change. The group of possible genetic alterations included at least one genetic sequence which would result in land breathing capabilities.

    If genetic change is truly random then it could have possibly happened somewhere that was not close to land. Therefore such a change would have not been selected. Then either the space of possible genetic changes is rather small (unlikely) or there is an informational element to evolution.

    • Re: teleology (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Black Parrot (19622)
      > It would seem that there would have to be some sort of informational exchange in order to determine air was a candidate source for oxygen. How did this happen?

      For an intuitive notion of "information exchange", evolution extracts "information" from the environment by trial and error.

      Crudely put, if evolution tries A and B, and discovers that A works and B doesn't, it has extracted one bit of information from the environment. (Actually not always a whole bit due to redundancies between A and B, and redun
  • Not direct ancestor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Envall (821011) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @01:38AM (#15073890) Homepage
    According to Swedish radio this is not a direct ancestor to us. However this find is important since it is close to the trunk from which the mamals is derived.
  • by giafly (926567) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @03:31AM (#15074263)
    Re: showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago

    Not so. Arthropods (millipedes and centipedes etc) first conquered the land around 500 million years ago [bris.ac.uk] and were walking around long before this newly-discovered beastie. Their fossilised footprints have been found. "The oldest body fossil of a land animal is a 430-million-year-old millipede."

    "Our own ancestors, fish-like amphibians, first lumbered ashore a mere 370 million years ago. There they found a world teeming with plants and giant creepy crawlies."
  • by jhml (95488) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:38AM (#15074711)
    You mean this sucker is important evidence of evolution, has been missing for who knows how long, they found it, and now they tell us about it? Where was all the hoopla when it was missing?

    Before they found it. I don't recall any scientists saying "This theory of evoution might be convincing if we could find a fish with toes, but until then...."

    Nor do I recall anyone saying "Well we had this link, but Mortimer apparently slipped it into his pants and took it out of the Smithsonian, and since then it has been missing..."

    What else are they missing and not telling us about?

    Whole thing just deepens my suspicion. I want an accounting of all the links they claim to have, but for all we know have also gone missing.

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