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Pronunciation, France and Cladistics (and a little art)



I thought I would follow up on some of Mickey's points.

Early on in my professional ontogeny I studied (and still do) trilobites, some 
of the great creatures that have ever evolved. At the time I first came here to 
NMNH on a 10 week graduate student fellowship, I got to know the three world's 
experts on calymenid trilobites, 2 of them British and very serious about their 
pronunciations. No two of them pronounced the genus Flexicalymene the same. 
That told me a lot about pronunciation and science - that there sometime are 
multiple interpretations of the same input that make sense and the importance 
is in the communication of ideas. Almost inevitably, the people I run into who 
are most ardent about exact pronunciations of various dinosaur (and other) 
names are not doing this professionally. I don't know that many professionals 
(there are some) who really care all that much (except for the term data which, 
if pronounced daa-ta rather than day-ta can get you some abuse, usually good 
natured) because most realize what the names are really for - communication. As 
long as I can figure out what you're talking about, you've done your job - just 
don't pronounce Triceratops in a way that sounds more like Centrosaurus. 
Stegosaurus and Stegoceras are trickier - as I know from experience - but I 
usually make sure my audience knows the difference right away by saying more. 
If it's pros, they're on their own with context. Conventional wisdom has the 
third syllable from the end accented, but I know I violate that whenever I feel 
better about a different one. Anyway, you do your best. Now there was a CNN 
reporter discussing the Australopithecus find the other day who tried to 
pronounce it and I had no idea what the heck they were trying to say...

Of course, now 23 professionals will write in saying why I'm full of crap on 
this but, oh well.

Now onto France - most of the dino stuff from there is pretty scrappy, so 
perhaps by saying there are 7 species (I think that was the number), they are 
not including generic assignments of specimens that could not be assigned to a 
species, very common. Lots o' scrappy material there. Would be nice to have an 
indication of that, but have not read the paper yet to know if they have or not.

Now onto cladistics, There really is much less controversy amongst taxonomists 
about this - although not about how you name and the logic you use but about 
the names themselves which is, of course, pretty controversial. Dinosaurs are 
reptiles. That's it. The big change over the last 30 years has been the shift 
in the node it represents. The old one is now Amniota. Names shift all the time 
as we try to get a better and better phylogeny. Get used to it. There are 
aspects of cladistic procedures that I find personally annoying, although old 
extreme opinions such as not using fossil taxa are finally gone. I still don't 
understand, for example, why there is such a fear of ancestors in some 
cladists, they seem to go as overboard in the avoidance of the term as earlier 
types did in worshipping ancestors. Yes, we might not have the means to 
recognize them even when we have them, but they did exist or nothing would. We  
need more moderates (funny to hear that from Washington). So, there are 
problems with cladistics but there is no better alternative as yet. I suspect 
we will evolve towards one. There was an interesting discussion on the Nature 
website on integrating stratigraphic data within phylogenetic reconstructions. 
Very polar with both sides frequently making very over-stated opinions. 
Interesting points did come out, though.

Best not to get frustrated with cladistics but enjoy the ride as we try and get 
better reconstructions, and evolve the techniques to remove the 
overly-restricted components and replace them with as yet undeveloped 
components. Science, after all, is based on the dialectic and you need to have 
disagreement to get a good dialectic going. 

Finally, my lovely bride of 15 years gave me a Christmas present last night. I 
tend to not get around to framing pictures except every 5 years or so, so 
images build up. Well, she framed two originals that I have been meaning to for 
a long while. A nice Bob Walters work with color dinos in a line. I consider 
Bob one of the best and I had my eye on this for 5 or 6 years before finally 
extracting it from Bob. And I finally have framed Brian's Stegoceras painting, 
which is lovely. Have to find the right spot for 'em.

Have a good holiday all,

Ralph Chapman, NMNH