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Re: Abstracts & Illustrations

Tracy Ford wrote:

Josh:    Rather than repeat the entire text of a rather long email, I will just
offer my
support and state that I feel Norm is 100% correct.  You must SEE the
specimens.  Period.  You must also see the outcrop.  To quote Don Wise the day
I entered his structure course, "The one who sees the most rocks before he dies

wins."  It is true for fossils as well.

I agree to a point. Yes, one should see the material, BUT, when someone
can't the best and only way to JUDGE the specimen is either by the
photographs or illustrations. For example, Triceratops flabellatus by good
old MARSH is illustrated totally wrong! BUT, it keeps being USED in
scientific papers. Triceratops phylogenies have been used off this
inaccurate illustration! I must emphasize that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH

Tracy, as always (except during those strange bouts of periodic insanity he
has...), makes a good point.  However, I think we are sort of arguing the same
issue here.  Of course I won't (indeed cannot) argue with his final
statement....DUH.  But the only way to illustrate a specimen is to SEE it first
hand and moreover, the only way to determine if Marsh's illustration is correct
is to, yep, go back and SEE the specimen.  The problem illustrated in Tracy's
post is that the illustration keeps getting used in scientific papers.  Which
means that people are using the illustration RATHER than seeing the specimen,
which I believe the dangers of were the point I was trying to make...  If you
cannot see the specimen you should either not be writing about it, be writing
on some aspect of it where you do not need to see it (systematics is
emphatically NOT one of these aspects, I fear), or you need to figure out if
the illustrations and descriptions are sound.  Either way, someone in the line
needs to put their face against the fossil.  I know that the literature is the
traditional source for systematic information, but it needs to be done with
extreme caution.  I am currently in the middle of trying to determine how many
of the theropod dental features described in the literature are real and what
their distribution is.  The results, for these very simple and easily described
elements, are NOT encouraging...   So, I guess we need to emend the Holtzian
clause:  wait for the damn paper (but be very careful about synthesizing the
data from said paper when it does come out).  I don't interpret this post as
disagreeing with Tracy's above post, but it might be interpreted as such.
There IS nothing wrong with doing the illustrations correctly and damn I hope
we do.  Illustrations ARE data, after all...but it is very hard to objectively
assess these works...


Josh Smith
Department of Earth and Environmental Science
University of Pennsylvania
471 Hayden Hall
240 South 33rd Street
Philadelphia, PA  19104-6316
(215) 898-5630 (Office)
(215) 898-0964 (FAX)