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RE: Re. Progress

I was worrying about this last week.  I don't know if there's a 
satisfactory way to do this.  I agree that the primitive/advanced dichotomy 
is misleading.  However early/late is better only in a very specialized 
sense.  An "early" species can arise only slightly earlier and survive long 
after the "late" ones have died off.  That leaves us with things like 
general/derived which carry no information to most people and tend to carry 
their own freight, suggesting that early-appearing species are less well 
adapted or less specialized (may be true, but sometimes not). Stem/crown is 
simply technically wrong and dilutes good terms with precisely defined 

I finally decided to use basal/advanced.  The 19th century connotations of 
those terms are almost extinct, so the damage is limited.  Biologists are 
acutely aware of the embarrassing history of these terms, but the 
generalist is not and no longer has a 19th century outlook to be 
reinforced.  I still don't like it much, but couldn't think of reasonable 

Any suggestions from the teachers?

  --Toby White

Vertebrate Notes at
and http://www.dinodata.net

-----Original Message-----
From:   chris lavers [SMTP:chris.lavers@nottingham.ac.uk]
Sent:   Tuesday, May 02, 2000 6:54 AM
To:     dinosaur@usc.edu
Subject:        Re. Progress

>I've seen 'primitive' used to mean 'appearing early in the line leading
>to...' and 'advanced' meaning 'specialized' or just 'later'.  Anything 
>with these usages?

@@@In my opinion there's a lot wrong with these usages, mainly because they
give non-specialists (and some specialists!) entirely the wrong idea about
the process of natural selection. There also seems to be something rather
insidious about the continued use of these misinterpretable terms when you
consider that for 'earlier' you could just use the word 'earlier', and for
'later' you could just use 'later'. Why use 'primitive' and 'advanced' with
all their associated perjorative baggage when there are simple, logical,
precise alternatives that cannot be misinterpreted?

>More broadly, can't 'progress' be used to mean 'better adapted'? This is 
>referring to a Great Ladder, but aren't certain adaptations like flight 
>major advantages that one would be able to refer to a line of animals 
>and better at flying as making progress toward flying?  If so, couldn't
>intelligence be considered one of these major adaptations?  (Remember that
>like flight significant intelligence has developed in many lines of
>animals.) I prefer to think of such definitional distinctions as
>rather than 'hedging'...

@@@Flying and intelligence are sucessful adaptations, and there were times
when, with hindsight, both 'got better' in particular lineages, but to say,
for instance, that lineages were 'making progress towards flying' suggests
that natural selection somehow knew where it was going. You would then also
have to say that whereas some lineages made progress towards flying,
others, like secondarily flightless dinosaurs and ostriches, made progress
back towards not flying. Easier and less risky, especially when lay-people
are listening, to describe the changes and the reasons for them (if known)
and leave it at that.

Take care