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Researchers: Over one hundred million-year gap between accounts of when flowers originated – “false precision”

classical flowering plant/Sara, Fotolia

When it’s this imprecise, is it still science? From ScienceDaily:

Flowering plants likely originated between 149 and 256 million years ago according to new UCL-led research.

The study, published today in New Phytologist by researchers from the UK and China, shows that flowering plants are neither as old as suggested by previous molecular studies, nor as young as a literal interpretation of their fossil record.

We used to hear the term “literal interpretation” in a different context.

“The discrepancy between estimates of flowering plant evolution from molecular data and fossil records has caused much debate. Even Darwin described the origin of this group as an ‘abominable mystery’,” explained lead author, Dr Jose Barba-Montoya (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment).

Invoking Darwin is soothing. It means nothing is wrong.

Through the lens of the fossil record, flowering plants appear to have diversified suddenly, precipitating a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution in which pollinators, herbivores and predators underwent explosive co-evolution.

Molecular-clock dating studies, however, have suggested a much older origin for flowering plants, implying a cryptic evolution of flowers that is not documented in the fossil record.

“In large part, the discrepancy between these two approaches is an artefact of false precision on both palaeontological and molecular evolutionary timescales,” said Professor Philip Donoghue from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Science, and a senior author of the study.

“Similarly, interpretations of the fossil record have not fully recognised its shortcomings as an archive of evolutionary history, that is, that the oldest fossil evidence of flowering plants comes from very advanced, not primitive flowering plant lineages,” Professor Donoghue added. Paper. (paywall) – Jose Barba-Montoya, Mario dos Reis, Harald Schneider, Philip C. J. Donoghue, Ziheng Yang. Constraining uncertainty in the timescale of angiosperm evolution and the veracity of a Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution. New Phytologist, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/nph.15011 More.

The fossil record has “shortcomings”? We know. We are still seeking a recovered materials market for splintered lecterns. There is, as it happens, a huge oversupply.

From Heidi Ledford at Nature:

The debate centres on the finer points of flower architecture, but points to a broader concern about using statistical models and large data sets to tackle biological questions, says Pamela Soltis, a plant biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “Things can be statistically possible without being biologically possible,” she says.More.

The skinny: The gap between 149 and 256 million years ago is, if mathematics has not yet succumbed to post-modernism, 107 million years. That is a lot of evolutionary time (chart):

Paleozoic era: from 543 to 248 million years ago
Mesozoic era: from 248 to 65 million years ago

We apparently don’t know anything except that flowers have been around a long time. It’s one thing to not know things and another to pretend like we do, let alone “fix” people for doubting.

See also: New hypothesis as to why flowering plants predominate

“Confounding”: Moths and butterflies predate flowering plants by millions of years


Doubtful Finnish scientist discovers just how intellectually curious Darwinists are. Not. Jacket copy: Leisola reacted angrily, and set out to defend evolution, but found his efforts raised more questions than they answered. He soon morphed into a full-on Darwin skeptic, even as he was on his way to becoming a leading bio-engineer. Heretic is the story of Leisola’s adventures making waves—and many friends and enemies—at major research labs and universities across Europe.


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