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Cladists versus non-cladists



Hardly a digest goes by without another round in the apparently never ending
battle between cladists and non-cladists.
As a non-paleontologist with little in-depth understanding of the subtleties
or otherwise of different classification methodologies these discussions
contain much fascinating data and stimulating opinions, (unfortunately
sometimes punctuated with personal comments ranging from mildly imflammatory
to downright insulting that we would all probably be better off without).
The problem for someone like myself is - how to judge these comments?
Cladistic analysis seems to have been adopted by most professionals. From my
own experience in science, new ideas are not generally accepted just because
they are new - in fact the opposite often applies! If we go back within
living memory (for some of us, anyway) there was a time when cladistics was
unknown and everyone used variations on phylogenetic classification (this is
probably the wrong terminology, and someone is bound to point this out to
me, but you know what I mean). Now, unless paleontologists behave very
differently from other branches of science, cladistics would not have
reached its current position of prominence unless it had a LOT going for it.
It cannot be dismissed out of hand, it would seem, without simultaneously
dismissing paleontology as a legitimate branch of science. Is anyone
seriously proposing this? If not, then it becomes difficult to accept
cladistics as the accepted method but then cast aspersions on the same
method when its conclusions do not agree with your own.
Cladists do not consider their method infallible, and the appearance of
different cladograms depending on who is doing the analysis and the
characters being used would support this. However, going back to
pre-caldistic days again, virtually every book you picked up had a different
classification scheme, so the older methods don't appear to have any
advantage in that respect. 
Coming back to the point of view of the non-expert, I have no option but to
go with the concensus, and that is that cladistics is the method of choice.
Specific to the therizinosaur question, I hear on the one hand that cladists
(ie most professionals) place them as theropods, and from George and others
what sound like (to the non-expert) convincing arguments that they are
prosauropods. What to make of this? Again, I have to go with the concensus
and call them theropods - the data and conclusions are published. I would be
happy to do this and cite the counter-argument, but I do not believe that it
has been published? With all due respect George, if you want people to
accept your views, I think you need to have them independently published in
a peer reviewed journal (the same goes for BCF). Then at least they are part
of "science" and HAVE to be considered by all. I have the greatest respect
for the work George does and his erudite opinions and analyses and I believe
they should be published and discussed. I would make the same comments about
a lot of published dinosaur finds and analyses - I think there is a strong
case to be made for not accepting a find as valid until it has been
published in a peer reviewed journal (and I am aware of the limitations and
drawbacks of peer review in journals).
2-3 years on this list and I'm still confused about cladistics! Am I the
only one? Any other non-experts have a view on how to tackle this problem?
Apologies for the ramble - this has been bugging me for a long time (just
hope I don't get unmercifully flamed from both sides!)
Graeme Worth