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Re: popular vs. academic terms (Avedinosauria?)
I have no such misconception. I am fully aware that some people still
unfortunately lump anything big and extinct under the umbrella term
"dinosaur" (sometimes even including non-reptiles like mammoths). These are
the kind of misconceptions we should continue to correct (and I have heard
kids in museums educating their grandparents on such matters). Same goes
for bugs, sharks, lizards, whales, or whatever.
However, someone stated that popular ideas should conform to
scientific ideas and not vice versa. I couldn't agree more!!! For most of
the 19th and 20th Centuries, the term Dinosauria was applied by scientists
to non-avian dinosaurs, and the popular idea of dinosaur followed suit for
the most part. It was the strict cladists who came along, and unilaterally
decided to dump in all the birds and to still keep the same name. A new
name would have obviated all this confusion (even one of Jenny's
grade-schoolers pointed this out). To use Dinogeorge's excellent example,
perhaps the cladists should get a new name for Clade A----instead of
commandeering Dinosauria (cladists just added to the imprecision of this
word by what they did).
Like it or not, many (dare I say most?) professional biologists still
recognize various paraphyletic groups, including Dinosauria for non-avian
dinosaurs. Michael Benton is a very prominent one among vertebrate
paleontologists (and one of those who is beginning to see that such groups
need a "marker" for any exgroup that has been removed).
It was the strict cladists who changed the meaning of Dinosauria and
dinosaur (by dumping in all of the birds and not changing the name). Can't
you see how galling it is for us to see cladists set up this kind of
confusing situation, and then say that it is the non-cladists and the public
that have misconceptions about Dinosauria (as you have redefined it). We
have had a name (Dinosauria) for non-avian dinosaurs for a very long time,
so please don't give the rest of us a hard time just because we want to
enjoy the benefits of a useful paraphyletic group like this one. If you
want a precise scientific term for birds plus dinosaurs, come up with a new
one (like Pandinosauria or Avedinosauria):
Avedinosauria minus Aves (A-B) = Dinosauria
P.S. Strict cladists have there own misconceptions, having been taught
that paraphyletic groups are "unnatural", and that they should be thrown
upon the garbage heap with the polyphyletic ones. So deeply ingrained is
this misconception, that they even reject semi-paraphyletic groups (with
markers that render them informationally holophyletic). Perhaps I should
have called them semi-holophyletic groups instead (to avoid any
Pavlovian-type gut reactions to phrases with paraphyletic in them). I guess
I should have foreseen such reactions. I was obviously overoptimistic. So
Chris brochu wrote:
You seem to have a misconception that there is one popular conception of
"dinosaur," and that yanking birds out leaves slow-witted nonavian herps.
This is incorrect. Some people equated "dinosaur" with "nonavian
dinosaur;" others with "extinct reptile," still others with "big extinct
vertebrate." I'm sure you've seen boxes of toy "dinosaurs" that include
Dimetrodon, a mammoth, a pterosaur, and maybe a sabercat. In this sense,
popular "dinosaur" and popular "bug" are exactly equivalent - they're
imprecise and convey a wide range of imagery.
The word "whale" brings an immediate image to most people - one that
implies a very, very large animal. That belugas and narwhals are not that
big does not make them "not whales;" it simply shows that the popular image
does not convey the diversity of the group as understood by scientists.
"Shark" brings the instant image of a great white; angel sharks, Port
Jackson sharks, and deep-water sixgill sharks don't stop being sharks
because they're dissimilar from great whites. Ditto for "wasp," "lizard,"
and (if you include the fossils) "crocodile." It's this underappreciated
diversity that gets most of us hooked on systematics in the first place!
We scientists need precise terminology. When an entomologist says "bug,"
he or she means "member of Heteroptera." When a paleontologist says
"dinosaur," he or she means "member of Dinosauria." As currently defined,
Dinosauria includes birds; hence, from a scientific perspective, "birds are
dinosaurs" is both precise and correct. I am fully aware of the multitude
of popular images conveyed by the word "dinosaur," so when I speak with
public groups, I start by explaining what I mean by the word.
So - based on what we know, birds are dinosaurs. No mistake there.
Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
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