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Re: Bakker threads

[moderator - ok *this* is the last one :-/
I have passed it because it also brings up the possibility of an
interesting thread on the validity of Palaeobiology.  Also it evens up the
score in case the big B is watching and wants to write his next book about
a walk in the Garden of Ediacara.  How about it Bob?  All I want is 25% of
the gross and a lecture tour, . . .twenty?  . . ten? . . .my name on the
cover . . ?]

At 10:39 PM 4/24/96 -0400, you (Chris Nedin) wrote:
>OK I think the "lets dump on Bob Bakker" threads have gone on long enough.
>Obviously people have strong opinions of Bob Bakker, but I don't consider
>this an appropriate forum for experssing then - especially since Bob Bakker
>is not here to defend himself.
>I will no longer consider messages about Bob Bakker unless they are more on
>topic (or you pay me lots of money).

I am a mere humble lurker (and Chris, I CERTAINLY can't afford to pay you
lots of money!), but Wednesday's postings got me seeing Red (Raptor or
other!), and I think it's time all of you on the list sat back and looked at

I must first acknowledge two things:

1) I haven't read Raptor Red, but I will admit to being tempted by the dust
jacket synopsis;

2) my Vert Paleo classes were over 15 years ago, in my undergrad days,
(GASP!) just before I gave up the pursuit of pure science for the lure ($)
of corporate life.

NONETHELESS, as a reasonably intelligent person, I think I am qualified to
point out the following (especially following Roger Stephenson's 4/23
diatribe against Bakker's methods):

What facts do we know about dinosaurs?

1)   There are no (non-avian) dinosaurs known today.
2)   There are no known dinosaur fossils more recent than approx 65Mya.
3)   Dinosaur fossils include petrified bones, nests, eggs, footprints, skin
impressions and dino-doo-doo (coprolites).

On a macro level, those are the facts... everything else - EVERYTHING ELSE -
is speculation and supposition!  Educated, informed, highly-probable
speculation in many cases; but supposition nonetheless!

Even such seemingly obvious hypotheses as that theropods were carnivorous
(because they SEEM to be adapted to a carnivorous lifestyle) are based on
interpretation, and analogies to living creatures.  We DON'T know FOR A FACT
that T. rex was a carnivore, do we?  Has anyone actually seen one eat?

OK, that's a deliberately absurd example - but think about it folks...

If we stuck to the facts - just the facts, as Stephenson/Joe Friday would
have it - then all any paleontologist could do is describe the fossils...
NOT the creature they came from, but the fossils themselves; morphology,
composition, placement in the bed, etc. - because these are observable,
repeatable etc.  None of the threads on bolide impacts, stealthy
egg-predators, swimming mammoths, tripping-up tyrannosaurs, sauropod feeding
habits, would have any place in such a rigorously scientific discussion.
One might well ask - what's left to discuss?

For those first early thinkers to speculate that these strangely-shaped
rocks were in fact the remains of long-vanished animals - that required a
leap of faith, and a willingness to look absurd in reaching out to an
audience.  Bakker's methods may be unorthodox - but don't deny them any
validity simply because they don't fit with your notions of how science
should progress.

Facts are ultimately meaningless - until we put them into context.  It's
only then that we can speculate on how they fit into hypotheses and
theories, and then through discussion (and yes, in some cases, peer review!)
and reach an UNDERSTANDING of how these extinct creatures MAY HAVE lived.
Let's not forget that even peer review in Paleontology is simply the
determination of a consensus on a speculation...  Even though Bakker made
some money off it, concocting a story of a dinosaur's day-to-day life is no
less valid than musing whether a tyrannosaur would have tripped over its
feet in the forest.

Would a young child (or even an interested but 'lay' adult) prefer to read
Raptor Red and Jurassic Park (warts and all), or a lively discussion of
whether the obturator foramen warrants splitting up the (man-made) clade
_Coelophysis into separate genera - or some such bed-time reading?  Which
will generate more interest in how these animals lived?

I don't think I need to answer that...

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!  Remember - count to 10 (I did!)
Now I'll just sit back and wait for the flames...

Pragmatically yours...


"(...It's only a model)"