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When fossil hunters get it wrong or are stumped…

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It’s a tricky business and ScienceAlert offers some famous examples, including Dickinsonia:

Dickinsonia has had one long identity crisis since it was first described in 1947. It hails from the Ediacaran era, prior to the Cambrian, before the emergence of the major phyla we know today. The Ediacaran biota were mostly soft-bodied organisms, and very few of them resemble any living or extinct organism. So they’ve been very hard to contextualize.

Dickinsonia looks a lot like a strangely ribbed oval, and it could be anything, really. On its discovery, it was classified as a type of jellyfish. Scientists have also thought it could be a worm, a polyp, or a mushroom or lichen. It’s even been proposed that Dickinsonia belonged to some unknown, extinct kingdom that was neither animal, plant, nor fungus.

A study a few years ago into the way the organism grew seems to have solved it. According to the scientists’ analysisDickinsonia is an animal, belonging either to Placazoa, which are among the simplest of animal organisms, or Eumetazoa, which are a step up from sponges.

Michelle Starr, “The Famous Fossils Scientists Got Incredibly Wrong” at ScienceAlert (December 28, 2021)

Gunter Bechly would take issue with the contention that Dickinsonia is an animal. See: Gunter Bechly: Dickinsonia Is NOT Likely An Animal Dickinsonia does not seem to have the bilateral symmetry of an animal. Also, some life forms other than animals produce cholesterol, Bechly says.

Well, if Dickinsonia doesn’t have bilateral symmetry, maybe “animal” is a flag of convenience? Call it an animal and close the file? These stories remind us why dogmatism is not an asset in science.

Comments
Zweston/2
Seversky, if Bechly could be right, shouldn’t he be heard?
He is being heard. Our own dear News is assisting valiantly with that
Shouldn’t his research be funded?
That is for the donors to decide.
Shouldn’t he be able to keep his job?
Yes, unless he chooses to resign or his work is judged to be sub-par.
Shouldn’t his wikipedia page stay up? https://evolutionnews.org/2017/10/wikipedia-erases-paleontologist-gunter-bechly/. I know it is up again, but still…
I think the German-language Wiki entry was always there.
Do you have a firm stance on anything? You are so squishy on everything it seems. What is your belief about the origin of the universe, the mechanism for all the diversity of life, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
I'm not going to pretend to certainty where there is none to be had. There are a lot of questions where we simply don't know the answers yet. We just have to live with that.
What is your belief about the origin of the universe,
The science points towards this universe having a beginning but we have no idea how and why. There is also the argument that since you can't get something from nothing and there plainly is something then there must have been something before the beginning of this universe, whatever that might have been.
the mechanism for all the diversity of life
Evolution seems to be the best explanation we have at this time, although it is still a work-in-progress.
and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
No more factual than the Iliad or the Epic of Gilgamesh. Seversky
Plants are mostly radial, but many flowers are bilateral. Snapdragons or orchids. So plants "know how" to do bilateral. polistra
Seversky, if Bechly could be right, shouldn’t he be heard?
Of course. This is a scientific dispute, so he should submit scientific papers to journals (and perhaps put his manuscript on a pre-print server like bioRXiv).
Shouldn’t his research be funded?
If he (like everyone else) can persuade funders to fund him. He had a position as a curator in a museum, so he would have been able to do research there on their collections.
Shouldn’t he be able to keep his job?
Which job? The one he resigned from?
Shouldn’t his wikipedia page stay up?
Only if he's a notable person. But he was just a curator in a medium-sized museum (one of many, even in Germany), so I'm not sure how he would become notable enough. There are professors at much larger German museums who aren't on the German wikipedia either. Bob O'H
Seversky, if Bechly could be right, shouldn't he be heard? Shouldn't his research be funded? Shouldn't he be able to keep his job? Shouldn't his wikipedia page stay up? https://evolutionnews.org/2017/10/wikipedia-erases-paleontologist-gunter-bechly/. I know it is up again, but still... Do you have a firm stance on anything? You are so squishy on everything it seems. What is your belief about the origin of the universe, the mechanism for all the diversity of life, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? zweston
The fact that there is often heated debate about how to classify these fossil fragments doesn't indicate some sort of collective dogmatism in the field. And Bechly's is just one opinion amongst many. He could be just as wrong as those he disagrees with. Seversky

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