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RE: Two open letters from Storrs Olson
Two random thoughts.
The oddest thing about the whole dinobird debate has been the level of
rhetoric. For what it's worth, I have gradually come to think that the
evidence is strong enough now to say that birds are dinos. But the biggest
hurdle for me has been the rhetoric from the proponents. Usually, folks who
advocate scientific positions as if they were religious dogma do so because the
evidence is lousy. Here the evidence is quite good, so why the need for
Second, and related. Every era has its preoccupations. Ours are computers and
sex. This affects paleontology as much as everything else. So, the 1990s have
been dominated by computer cladograms and the notion that everything we don't
understand is a sexual display device. This is real progress, and I don't mean
to belittle it. (Well -- perhaps, but just a little) These paradigm shifts are
very productive, even essential, and accomplish much that is useful. Most of
us are only rarely creative, and a reasonably quick turnover of conceptual
tools allows us to do new things without really new ideas.
However, trees do not grow to the sky. Anything can be carried beyond the
point that it is useful. Remember last season's intellectual fashion: "chaos
& complexity"? Another very useful paradigm, but eventually it became stale,
over-used and tended to obscure other ideas. We approach that point here. It
is *not* useful to forget that organisms consist of more than morphometrics and
sexual display. This is real life, not "Friends."
So what's the point? The point is that Henry Gee is wrong -- as wrong about
methods as he is right about dinobirds. The work of a number of
ornithologists, physiologists and embryologists on the dinobird issue has
immeasurably enriched the dialogue, and has given us new and important insights
into life and the world of the Mesozoic. I won't name them, because their very
names evoke such emotional responses that discussion becomes impossible. This
time, they were probably mistaken. They will not always be so.
Vertebrate Notes at