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Re: the definition of Reptilia
If we were to characterize Aves osteologically (as we have Mammalia),
we could still use appropriate visible characters to convey information
about the taxon to the non-scientific public. Popular encyclopaedias often
characterize mammals by such visible characters as hair and mammary glands,
even though some therapsids may well have had these as well. The more
sophisticated the audience is, the more precise and arcane one can be. For
example, if I were talking to friends or family, I would use the phrase
"tiny ear bones", rather than the more scientific "ear ossicles".
Anyway, I am more concerned at this point in finding an expanded Aves
that would be acceptable to scientists, and if we don't expand it too
greatly, we may well be able to use feather characteristics to supplement
the osteological definition for the wider public (who would not often be
interested in the arcane osteological stuff). But we must start with a
solid science foundation (however arcane it may be) and then worry about the
best way to educate the public in less arcane terms. However, I do
understand that we can't sit in elitist ivory towers and just ignore the
needs of society at large or throw unnecessarily arcane terminology at them
like an intellectual prima donna. That usually will backfire sooner or
P.S. David's example of nematodes and polychaetes didn't make much sense to
me. I believe that the vast majority of polychaetes have legs (parapodia),
but I don't think any nematodes have such appendages (am I wrong?). Unless
he was thinking of what were once called "archiannelids", but they are
pretty uncommon compared to other polychaetes. In any case, I doubt that
Jefferson was talking about identifying worms from horseback.
Subject: Re: the definition of Reptilia
Date: Sat, 1 Dec 2001 18:45:10 -0500
In response to my comment:
<The first consideration [in devising a classification system]
should be conceptual, rather than solving the problems of classifying
specific individual animals whose available remains are limited.>
<It is often impossible, I'm told, to tell apart polychaetes
(complete, living individuals) not just from horseback but in the lab
without a microscope.>
Okay, then the sentence should end, '... whose available remains
are limited or whose differences must be observed with a microscope.'
I was considering the role of fossils which share character[istic]s
of different groups, but point taken.
I response to my
<And, contra HP Kinman, the characteristics (I'm using the more
general word here) that most people would use to distinguish
birds from lizards are not entirely osteological.>
<From lizards, yes. But from "reptiles" or another group whose
recognised/invented/... only by scientists?>
cf the comment about 'arcane' knowledge in a prior paragraph.
When knowledge, or worse, language are available only to an elite
there are social problems.
There isn't a scientist on this List who doesn't want to be understood
by the person whose comments s/he is answering and, preferably,
by everyone else.
I don't think there is any intent to create hierophants; my concern
is that in an attempt to gain influence on the way the public
thinks, there may be an accidental creation of a polarization
between those who Know and those Ignorant because they use
I do think avoiding that is worth an effort.
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