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Re: Coelophysis/Rioarribasaurus

This is an interesting discussion (for me--sorry about boring anybody
else).  I've enjoyed it, but I've just got to get on to other things (I'm
falling behind again!), so I'll make this my last comment on this topic.
Obviously, there are philosophical differences that won't be resolved
here.  I hope the moderator will allow these quotations from other
postings, which are lengthier than normal.  These issues aren't as
straight-forward as many.

Dinogeorge wrote (4/23/96; 2:36a):

>>Subsequently it has been suggested on the basis of obdurator

>Sorry--I didn't write the above; Norm did. I just responded to it.
>(And I probably wouldn't have misspelled "obturator," either.)

I didn't write that either.  I also wouldn't have misspelled "obturator."

>In the final analysis, there is _no_ way to judge which features
>are important in diagnosing a taxon; certainly not in advance of
>the study!...[snip]...The type specimens of _Coelophysis bauri_
>and _Rioarribasaurus colberti_ differ. Whether these differences
>are the result of their belonging to different genera, different
>species, or merely different individuals of the same species cannot
>be determined, because we don't have living populations of these
>animals to examine and study.

My views have been strongly influenced by those of Alan B. Shaw.  I
believe the paper was titled "The butterfingered handmaiden," published
in the late 60's.  Shaw would have agreed with the above assessment by
Dinogeorge, concluding that there is no objective way to evaluate
competing views of the "correct" taxonomy.  It comes down to one person
setting his subjective "artwork" against the subjective "artwork" of
another.  After a person has published something, someone else can come
along and undo it, even though there is no objective way to decide that
the second view of things is better or more correct than the first.

I reiterate that many of the comments made by people here (including the
above by Dinogeorge!) support my contention that the
Coelophysis/Rioaribasaurus situation could have been handled better.  I
suspect Lagosuchus/Marasuchus could also.  This situation shows what can
happen when individual paleontologists just satisfy their technical,
legalistic obligations, without regard to the over-all well-being of the
science.  So, I suggest again that it might be better to have a plan to
deal with such situations that come up in the future, rather then leaving
our fate up to the whims/philosophies of individuals.  And, no, I'm not a
socialist!  Ten years in the corporate world (big oil) were enough to
convince me that teamwork is better than a free-for-all.  Generally, a
collective wisdom is better than the individual.

To my assertion that Bob Sullivan could just as easily formulate a
diagnosis to make all of the Ghost Ranch theropods into _Coelophysis_,
Dinogeorge said:

>Yes, by disregarding the differences between the type specimens.
>This is a good thing? Why not return to the days of the 19th century,
>when all pterosaurs were described as species of _Pterodactylus_, all
>theropods were described as either _Megalosaurus_, _Deinodon_, or
>_Laelaps_...[snip]...The point of creating a diagnosis is to
>_distinguish_ a taxon from its close relatives of similar morphology.

I guess I have to work on the clarity of my statements.  I am not
contending that a better diagnosis wasn't needed, but that we could have
found a better way to shuffle the names in question.  _Coelophysis_ could
have been retained for the well-known specimens which have historically
been referred to that genus.  The diagnosis for _Coelophysis_ could have
been revised to take in what some say should be called _Rioarribasaurus_.

Consider the following snippets from Dinogeorge together:

>This is FAR FAR FAR more complicated than simply publishing
>the paper in which Hunt & Lucas presented the results of
>their work. That's all any scientist is obliged to do.///[snip]///
>This directly infringed on the right of all scientists (not just
>Hunt & Lucas) to designate as a holotype whatever specimen they
>feel like so designating.///[snip]///Eventually the proper name
>for the Ghost Ranch theropods would float to the surface.

This is all very traditional and capricious.  Is that what we really want
for our science?  Other sciences are advancing.  Why not paleontology?

In a similar vein, Nick Pharris wrote (4/22/96; 6:04p):

>However, if we were not allowed to split up ill-founded or
>"wastebasket" genera, almost every large theropod would have to be
>called _Megalosaurus_...

That's a good point, but in the current debate we're talking about just
one(?--we'll see, right?) animal from one location that has always been
known by the well-known name in question.

>and all of the nearly 40 species of cats would be
>subsumed under the name _Felis_...

But I believe my cat is still _Felis_, and my dog is still _Canis_.

To my claim: "It takes an expert to figure it out, and even
the experts have had trouble keeping things straight," Nick responded:

>I am by no means an expert, and I have little trouble figuring it out.

It's not just my contention--HISTORY shows that even the experts have had
trouble keeping nomenclatorial matters (in general) straight,
irrespective of who's right and who's wrong in this instance.

Finally, Nick also said something that highlights the capricious nature
of what we sometimes do:

>The species is the only taxonomic grouping with a rigid definition
>(and the only one even capable of having such a definition).  **Anything

>above that level is up to the author.**

Which author?  Different authors don't agree!  One person's "artwork"
isn't the same as another's, yet they can both be "correct."

We could have an all-nighter about this, as long as the beer lasted!

Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712                      e-mail:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu

Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712                      e-mail:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu