THE PROPER practice of science requires adherence to the evidence above all, even when it leads us in directions we did not anticipate. While we would like to think that we succeed in this goal, perhaps sometimes scientific progress is slowed by dogmatic adherence to popular scientific models. Perhaps we would be better served by an “open science” model, setting aside such things as reams of gene sequences and fossil descriptions to see what others can come up with when their creativity is not straitjacketed by over-reliance upon the scientific method.
Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology, while tending to be a stick-in-the-mud regarding evolutionary theory, at least has his eyes open for alternative explanations. While popular science has it that birds and mammals come from two entirely separate evolutionary branches, Naish reported recently on a theory that says mammals and birds are sister groups based upon similarities such as warm-bloodedness. More recently, Naish covered the theory of ancestral bipedality, which says that the aquatic ancestor of all vertebrates was a bobble-headed chordate that floated vertically in the water column.
Naish has been skeptical of these theories, and perhaps rightly so, but today he reports upon a new, ground-breaking theory that will rewrite the evolutionary history of the mammals, and perhaps have implications for the evolution of other groups as well.
The amphisbaenians are a group of often-legless burrowing creatures, previously thought to be related to snakes and lizards. However, these creatures share many characteristics with mammals, such as pink skin and an affinity for digging. Now new research shows that amphisbaenians are not reptiles, but really the ancestors of mammals! Perhaps when we tuck ourselves in at night under warm blankets we are returning to our amphisbaenian roots, simulating a dark, safe burrow. This theory is lent additional credence by the preservation of naked mole rats as basal mammals retaining many features of their amphisbaenian ancestors.
While Naish’s training is as a paleontologist, he acknowledges that the fossil record does not have much to say about mammalian and amphisbaenian evolution.
Given that textbook dogma stakes matter-of-fact that mammals supposedly evolved somehow from quadrupedal synapsids of the Palaeozoic, we have to wonder why so many zoologists have fooled themselves into relying on cold, stony fossils, and not on the obvious living evidence that we can glean from the creatures around us today. We have learnt that we need not concern ourselves with Sineoamphisbaena from Upper Cretaceous Mongolia, and other fossils allegedly linked to the amphisbaenians: you might be surprised to hear this coming from a palaeontologist but, well, that’s just how it is. So fossils are vastly over-rated for this sort of thing and can be safely ignored; in fact they may as well not exist.
Naish understandably feels a little bitter about his deception by the MADsy (Mammals are Derived Synapsids, y’all) contingent, but I don’t think he can really be blamed for being fooled. He documents evidence that this theory had roots reaching back decades, yet was suppressed by the mainstream evolutionists in what can only be described as a conspiracy. Perhaps even a vast conspiracy. Well, we now know, and we’re not going to take it any more. Mammals descended from amphisbaenians. We must teach the controversy!