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Re: Lots'a questions after a ref.-tiding-up!



Message text written by INTERNET:Dinogeorge@aol.com
>This sort of thing happens all the time in dinosaur paleontology,
unfortunately. I had a big argument with Ken Carpenter about this at last
year's SVP meeting. My point was that if you have to go back to the actual
specimens >every time< you want to publish something, then >what the hell
is
the point of publishing descriptions<? <

        China, sadly (as I understand it), had no formally trained
paleontologists, or universities in which to train them, for a long time,
possibly covering the time up to and including that during which the
original _Chilantaisaurus_ material was described (I don't have details). 
Only recently have things turned around, with some more classically trained
paleontologists returning to China and establishing a fairly good
educational system, which has produced the new and current generation of
Chinese paleontologists.  If I'm wrong on any or all of this, and someone
has better or more detailed info, please feel free to correct me!

        Regardless of this fact, paleontologists are still prone to
mistakes from time to time, George.  (As are those in the well-informed,
albeit amateur, community.)  I'm fairly certain that _every_ scientist,
regardless of his/her field, would probably look back at some of their
early publications and pick out errors that they made in them only because
they lacked the benefit of further years of education and knowledge gained
over time.  Maybe this is the case with _Chilantaisaurus_ (described in
1964); I don't know.  Then again, there were many fewer dinosaurs in 1964
known and adequately described, so there were fewer comparable animals that
could be used to analyze the material -- it looked vaguely allosauroid, so
they said it was allosauroid, even if it had some differences; again, I
don't know.  Maybe it was a combination of all these things.

        _This_ is why we publish, George:  so that the ideas we have _now_
can be _re_-examined by future generations with more information and newer
perspectives.  If things seem to have changed, and our published data point
seems anomalous, then we can go back and reexamine the original material to
see where errors, if any, were made.  Even you, I am sure, recognize this
as fundamental to scientific methodology.  I don't pretend that anything I
said in my _Acrocanthosaurus_ monograph (or anything else I've written) is
static information:  it's the best analysis I could do with the information
at my disposal and at my current level of knowledge...as newer information
comes out, my thoughts will revise.  Maybe someone down the line will point
out a whole new suite of characteristics that I overlooked, and even I will
have to revise my notions of _Acrocanthosaurus_'s relations.  That's fine
and dandy -- that's science.  But we're not there yet -- _I'm_ not there
yet.  If we had those kinds of crystal balls into which we could peer to
see the future, _then_ we wouldn't need to publish.  But we don't, so we
publish our perceptions, ideas, implications, and conclusions in the
_present_.


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Jerry D. Harris                         (505) 841-2865
Fossil Preparation Lab                
New Mexico Museum of Natural History        
1801 Mountain Rd NW                           
Albuquerque  NM  87104-1375             102354.2222@compuserve.com