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Re: Understanding names (long)



Unfortunately, I missed the original posting that led to this exchange.  
I admit to often deleting messages without reading them, simply as a 
matter of deciding how to spend my time.  In that vein, I have always 
been impressed by the care taken by Tom Holtz to respond to postings by 
everyone and anyone on this list (even to me, on occasion, sometimes in 
more detail than I would have hoped!).  Frankly, I don't know how he can 
do it; some universities have objectives of their faculty making a public 
outreach through the Internet; or maybe he's just a concerned 
professional who is trying to reach us all.

I agree that names have a subtle psychological power.  Would it surprise 
you to know that the first thing Adam did after he was created, according 
to Genesis, is to name the animals?  That established Man's dominion over 
them (I know that sounds like sexist language, but that was BEFORE 
Woman--or so the story goes!).

>> >It's increasingly obvious that the resident monks will not permit
>> >questioning of the Scripture of the Holy Clade, and that amateurs 
>> >are not welcome to express opinions that dare to go against the
>> >established wisdom.

I disagree with this analogy.  Scripture is not to be questioned, whereas 
scientific writings are supposed to be questioned.  The wisdom is not 
established, but rather constantly evolving.  Whenever I question the 
"Scripture of the Holy Clade", mostly I just get admonitions to go read 
it again.  Sounds like something Tom said!  I'm sure the journals/books 
where these "sciptures" appeared would love to publish a dissenting 
opinion, if it were informed and logical.

I don't think it is necessary to reaffirm what others have already said 
here about names.  It is simply an impossible dream to expect the name 
for any particular taxon or Clade to either comprehensively or uniquely 
characterize something about it.  Geeeze, do herrerasaurs look like Mr. 
Herrera?  Moreover, our cladograms are diagrams that practically exist to 
be torn apart.  They are a means of organizing data so our hypotheses of 
relationship can either be disproved or confirmed.  So, they cannot be 
criticized for being changed, nor can the cladist be criticized for 
either proposing one or changing one.

I think there is value in insisting on establishing a pinnacle of human 
accomplishment.  Not everyone will see what is on the highest plane, but 
that does not mean that plane should be lowered.  We simply have to 
explain what's up there as best we can.  That's much of what I try to do, 
and I think it makes a big difference how I do it.

I have inferred that the original posting may have had a deeper message.  
Many people refrain from speaking out because they get squashed so often 
by saying something that is wrong--either factually wrong or conceptually 
wrong. Those god-like people on the higher plane have the knowledge to 
point out the errors.  Knowledge is power!  However, the average person 
should not be expected to maintain the same level, and should not be 
treated as if he/she is deficient somehow by not having reached the same 
level.  There are still some good people out there who think that 
Arctometatarsalia, as originally proposed, is a monophyletic Clade, and 
it may not be possible to convince them otherwise.  That is not 
necessarily a commentary on their intelligence, educational achievement, 
or other measure of their personal worth.  So, we shouldn't be too hard 
on them.  If we continue to try to show their inadequacy (or correct them 
in a way that suggests we enjoy making them look stupid), they will 
eventually believe us, rebel against the whole game, and go play 
elswhere.  But if we bring them along step by step, however slow that may 
be, they might stick with it, immerse themselves to the degree required, 
and eventually get to the top level.

I think one problem is that there may not be an appreciation "out there" 
for how much effort is required to reconstruct the anatomy of the typical 
fossil vertebrate.  Of course, it can take years.  Likewise, it takes 
years of study, day in and day out, to learn how to be a 
paleontologist--like, to make a good cladogram; some people take 6, 7, 
even 8 years to get their Ph.D.  So, I might not be able to explain all 
this stuff in an afternoon, and attention spans are often much shorter 
than that.

>>Whatever nonsense and pseudoscientific doubletalk Holtz slipped by
>>the censors in papers published in magazines to which I have no access
>>does not matter. 

Tom really showed a lot of patience in responding to this one.  Of 
course, you're not going to slip anything past the reviewers Tom 
mentioned.  My experience with the peer review process is that you are 
not required to agree with the reviewers.  If you can answer their 
questions/objections, either in the text or in a private note to the 
editor explaining that your reasoning is sensible, you can publish your 
ideas the way you want.  But there is no point in publishing incorrect 
data and incorrectly applied concepts, statistics, etc.  Peer review 
helps maintain the "high plane" I mentioned earlier.

>>What matters is what a non-expert sees when s/he is reading about
>>dinosaur groups.

I wonder how "non-expert" this means?  Years ago, I saw nothing special 
in the brush strokes of a painting by Renoir.  Now I see a lot.  It was 
there all along, and I just needed to learn how to look at it.  Likewise, 
the non-expert needs to know what to see in a taxonomic name, in a 
cladogram, and in any interpretation about dinosaur physiology or 
lifestyles.  The real challenge for those of us in education is more to 
teach people how to look at these things, rather than to make them learn 
the current content.  Some people may never catch on, however.  When that 
happens, it's simply time to move on to another challenge.  My ex-wife 
didn't see any value in impressionist paintings because the scenes 
weren't nearly as accurate as photographs (which explains both why there 
are impressionist paintings and one reason why she is now an ex-wife).  
So I agree that the layman's evaluation cannot be THE standard.  There is 
a place for something better, but it may be true that some people will 
never get there.

I'm rambling again.  Got to get back to work!

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*
Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712                      e-mail:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu