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Selling Science (was:The fossil record)
--Original Message--From: Jeffrey Martz <email@example.com>: Monday,
January 18, 1999 11:55 PM
> John Jackson has brought up the argument offered by Fedduccia and
others that >cladistic analysis placing _Archaeopteryx_ as a dromeosaur
descendant contradicts >the known fossil record, because no Jurassic
dromeosaurs are known.
It wouldn't matter if it were one or two bird-like theropods after and not
before - but ALL of them? See...
How many bird-like forms after with none before would it take before they
>This argument is pretty meaningless; _Archaeopteryx_ had to have been
descended >from something, and it hasn't been found.
Then what are you going to have as flightless Ax descendants? None? Why
>ANY proposed ancestor for _Archaeopteryx_ is in the same boat as the
>dromeosaurs; except that we KNOW the dromeosaurs existed not too long
>afterwards. Besides, even if you want to ignore Cretaceous coelurosaurs,
the most >bird-like things known from the Jurassic are still theropods.
Although I am prepared for surprises on this one, I do tend to suspect Ax as
having originated amongst the theropods.
For a potted version of my theory and comparisons with others, see:
> For a little perspective as to why it would be totally unsurprising to
not find a trace >of dromeosaur material in the Jurassic, even if most of
the world was glutted with >them, pretend you are paleontologist looking at
the Holocene vertebrate fossil record >about 150 m.y. from now, with the
preservation as good as the Late Jurassic is now. >The large animal fauna
from the Western Interior of North America is pretty well >known, with a
scattering of small vertebrates. A section of Bavaria exhibits pretty
>spectacular preservation of a lot (but probably not nearly all) of
vertebrates that lived >in the general vicinity. Other then that, the
fossil record worldwide is pretty sparse; a >few sites here and there give
mostly fragmentary remains that give some idea of >some of the animals that
lived around there. It would probably be relatively easy to >conclude that
there were no primates (except for humans), elephants, rhinos, hippos,
>camels, llamas, large marsupials (assuming they were detected at all) or
If you found 171 nasobrachs, varied in distribution, time and form,
gradually expanding over the 150 mys from a point diverging from "now", then
"now" would be the most likely time for the origin of the nasobrachs.
> By the way, the attitude seems to crop up a lot on this list that
being feisty, >arrogant, contentious, and the only subscriber with a brain
is going to give particular >credibility to one's argument and just impress
the hell out of everyone. Lets try to stay >chill and focus on working out
the arguments and the evidence rather then playing >dress-up as Professor
Challenger. It irritates and bores but contributes nothing >substantial to
the pursuit of science to try to figure out the way things really happened.
I sympathise with your sentiment, Jeff, and I know it is widely shared. I
was not born a pure song-and-dance man - in fact for the first 22 years I
usually tried to treat people as logical machines, but eventually discovered
it just didn't work (and they don't like it anyway). Funnily enough, if you
are refering to others as well as me, I quite like reading the ones I
suspect you may be thinking of.
(The episode I think you may be particularly referring to was actually a
*response* from me to someone else doing it.)
But the sheer tooth-grindingly hair-tearingly wicked truth of the situation
is that scientists are people first and logic machines almost never. When a
hardware company wants to do business with a university, it's still someone
from the Sales department they send, not a flowchart.
The situation I am addressing is this:
Theory "B" is supported by inconclusive evidence principally from source "C"
which is known to be imperfect.
Theory "2" is supported by inconclusive evidence from a variety of sources,
known to be imperfect.
Supporters of the two theories almost never cross over; recruits are
gathered from outsiders who are exposed to evidence for one side or another.
The means of evidence display are in the hands of the "B" supporters. They
never allow the "2" theory any exposure.
When challenged on this, the "B" supporters try to justify it by saying
theory "2" doesn't deserve any exposure.
Yet when shown undeniably that the evidence for their theory is not
conclusive so people ought to be given the chance to decide for themselves,
the "B" 'ers just keep saying "Our source of evidence is really good".
They can't see that until their theory is proven, "B" just another theory,
equal in status to "2".
The "B" 'ers are therefore not behaving as true scientists should, so it is
pointless the "2" 'ers restricting themselves to logic. Whatever that may
The good news is that whichever of the two theories is best supported, or
even turns out to be true, doesn't matter a fig.
If it mattered, the "B" 'ers would find themselves in court. At least there
a fair minded referee might be found.
You must realise that people tend to judge the person and not the argument.
They shouldn't but they tend to. If I didn't inject some bite and drama
into my arguments no-one would pay any attention. Remember we're
outnumbered by over 1000:1, and any qualifications Greg Paul has in biology
is all we've got between us. In order to overturn the entrenched views
established over twenty years we have to develop a new theory of early
birds, new ideas on handling palaeontological evidence, and new ideas on
I've tried sending polite little letters to the right people. The first
reply told me my theory (an old one) was wrong because there is no evidence
of deinonychosaurs in the Jurassic. Now, guess what?!
The "B" 'ers, like the "2" 'ers, are human, and flawed. I have no illusions
about my own abilities - I am slightly less able than the average
intellectual in many ways but I can see what the majority can't because I am
standing in a different place. My background is more varied and I just hate
to have any link in a line of thought that relies solely on being widely
accepted. I can afford to do that in this field because I, like Greg, (and
George), never had to fill our minds with the orthodoxy. No-one allowing
ourselves the freedom in the subject we have done would have found it easy
to have graduated.
I'm going to go on selling the theory because selling is slightly more
acceptable than being unscientific.