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Re: Fixing dinosaurian carnivour question
In a message dated 5/27/99 4:08:40 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
<< I know, but I had become somewhat nettled (perhaps unrightfully so) that
birds were being used as answers, when it was rather obvious what
Megaraptor was getting at. Perhaps he should have used something akin to
"the smallest classical Dinosaur", or some such thing, but in the end it
becomes rather pedantic for some of us amateurs. >>
The exclusion of subjectivity is the underlying issue here, and it shows up
in everything from naming (apatosaur/brontosaur) to definition (reptilia) to
classification systems (cladistics/Linnaean). The assumption is that
unassailable rules can be found in each situation and that an arbitrary
measure (such as, in a different context, a foot) can be replaced with an
objective measure (a meter).
To me, the problem is whether the available information is sufficient to
allow for a fully inclusive solution. A scientist working on a problem in
physics or chemistry can in many cases observe the entire problem being
investigated in a lab. The data needed to produce a solution can be
identified and, with effort, obtained.
Paleontology works with objects which at present can be in only one place at
a time, the data are obviously incomplete, and the only way to get additional
information is to wait and hope. Inference has to be piled on inference, and
a number of sciences and techniques have to be applied by the same individual
to produce...an interpretation of the evidence. Admirable detective work.
Still, the result of this work is a logical argument, not an inclusive,
unique solution. In a situation like this, what you're calling pedantry is a
very understandable response to the limitations of, to me, the best
speculation now going on outside physics. I do, though, think that sometimes
the decisions made could be tolerant rather than insistent. For example, the
decision to use apatosaur (which means something like misc. dino) was
unnecessary when brontosaur (thunder dino) was popularly accepted and
evocative. From the Gould essay (Bully for Brontosaurus), it was possible to
retain the older term. I wish that had been done. If some miscellaneous old
tooth named the Greek or Latin for 'banana tooth' turns out to be an older
naming than Tyrannosaurus Rex, I would really dislike seeing my other
favorite dinosaur name attacked.
At any rate, annoyances aside, I enjoy being a guest at this discussion.