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Behaviour Bias



After a few months on this list, I've begun to recognise a curious and (to
me) somewhat disturbing *need* on the part of many people to believe that
dinosaurs behaved like birds (and, no doubt, many dinosaurs possessed many
avian behaviours) and/or mammals. Certainly, the desire, which seems to exist
quite apart from the actual data, has, in part, grown out of the work of
particular palaeontologists -- perhaps most notably that of Bakker. That most
of Bakker's more dramatic claims have little or no hard science behind them
seems to be no hinderence to the acceptance of this *image* of "mammalian"
dinosaurs.

Our best data, so far, tells us this: dinosaurs lacked the intelligence to
develop "mammalian" behavioural patterns. The most intelligent dinosaurs
(some later theropods) could have matched the relatively complex behaviour of
some extant birds.

Now, it isn't surprising that many dinosaur enthusiasts have accepted ideas
to the contrary, considering the generally sloppy way that the popular press
and media (and certain palaeontologists) have handled the presentation of new
data and theories. What is (to me) surprising, is the ferocity with which
these ideas will be defended in the face of what we do know about dinosaurs.

Again and again, there is the explicit or implicit message that unless we
adopt a paradigm that allows us to see dinosaurs as  para-mammal (ceratopids
as rhino-analogues, allosaurs as lion-analogues, etc.), then we're resigning
dinosaurs to the "bad old days" of swamp-wallowing. This is, of course, quite
certainly not the case.

The disturbing part is that we may be allowing our status as mammals to
dictate the way we *want* to see dinosaurs portrayed. Of course, there can be
no proper scientific relationship between what we want and what may be the
truth about dinosaur behaviour. What's wrong with dinosaurs that behaved like
reptiles and birds? Personally, I find the behaviour of squamates and
crocodilians very interesting, and it would be entirely mistaken to say that
ectotherms like monitors and crocs are anything but dynamic. 

What I'm trying to say is simply that we need to take our lead from the data,
and only from the data. From testable models, and not from a belief that a
"pride" of cooperatively hunting _Velociraptor_ is more interesting or
exciting than a flock of collectively foraging _Velociraptor_.

Caitlin R. Kiernan