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Re: In (premature) defense of the USNM
On Wednesday, May 8, 2002, at 09:22 AM, philidor11 wrote:
The refusal to consider a hypothesis because it is too speculative
this case be considered the same as contradicting the hypothesis. The
opposing point is that unless the artist does something directly
sort-of feathers hypothesis, such as putting stripes on the skin, then
issue may still be considered open.
Take another example: an artist reconstructing a face from a skull
discovered by the police completes the project except for the hair. If
artist does not put on hair, is the artist asserting the individual was
bald? I'd say no, that the artist might be concerned about lessening
chance of a good identification if the hair were incorrect.
What? I think that the artist is more likely to give them "average"
hair. Medium length, with a nondescript style.
Let's consider a police artist doing a drawing of a wanted criminal from
a description. If for some reason their hair was not known, do you think
that the artist is likely to draw them bald? I don't think so. People
would assume that because a bald (or shaved) head is unusual amongst
humans, that it was a known distinguishing feature.
In a post some time ago, the writer quoted a friend complaining about a
reconstruction that used simple old-fashioned green skin. I remember
thinking that this was a good way to express neutrality about the whole
issue of integumentary structures.
The problem with this argument is that people only see drab grey and
green dinosaurs, they will assume dinosaurs were all conservative in
this regard. This is almost certainly not true.
Because people process visual information very quickly, and are likely
to see dozens or even hundreds of pictures of dinosaurs, palaeoartists
should aim to get the balance right, not just show what was strictly
speaking most likely for individual animals. So, although drab colouring
is probably the statistically most likely for individual animals, it
becomes much more likely that some animals will be brightly coloured if
we look at larger groups.
We must assume that people are going to see many pictures of dinosaurs,
therefore we should show some as being brightly coloured. This will give
the right "impression" of the group as a whole.
One other issue palaeoartists must consider is "countering" the decades
of drab green and grey dinosaur art. Many people have only a vague
notion of the advances in dinosaur palaeontology made in recent years,
and a great many own books that are very out of date. If modern
restorations tend toward the brightly coloured, it might go some way to
redressing the balance.
Also, people are going to want read more about animals that LOOK
interesting. Brightly coloured dinosaurs could be seen as a sort of
"advertising" for palaeontology. A way of catching peoples attention.
I think the above arguments work for other integumentary structures as
If we paint and draw strictly according to statistical likelihood, then
maybe 2/3rds of our pictures of theropods should show them sleeping,
because that is probably how they spent 2/3rds of their time. ;-)
John Conway, Palaeoartist
"All art is quite useless." - Oscar Wilde
Systematic ramblings: http://homepage.mac.com/john_conway/phylogenic/