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Re: In (premature) defense of the USNM




> You commented:
> <The point however is, that the "weight" of evidence is shifting
> to support
> small feathered theropods in general.>
> Well, not the weight of evidence, but the consistency of inference,
> Mike.  You're speaking of bracketing, which is the result of
> an argument, specifically not the result of the integumentary
> structures found.

*** To clarify, the evidence I am referring to is specifically the
growing number of existing diverse feathered specimens from
Liaoning.  The bracketing simply follows by extension. What's
really happening here, is that the initial trend ( supposition that
the majority of small predatory dinosaurs were covered in a
pavement of fine tubercles) is replaced by (most small predatory
dinosaurs were adorned in a coating of fine insulating "feathery"
integument and varying degrees of more advanced plumage). In
terms of real evidence (and outside of the bracketing issue), while
there are a growing number of confirmed feathered specimens to
refer to, how many instances are there of small theropods displaying a
scaled integument, from the fossil record?

> Say you see a marking on a fossil that would, in a contemporary
> animal, indicate placement of a large, strong muscle.  Wouldn't
> drawing the inference that the dino had a large strong muscle
> at that location be closer to your source data than the whole
> panoply of logic necessary to obtain a bracket?

*** Yes, and I would in that case go to the living reference first as
a primary example to support the contention of a large muscle in
the reconstructed dinosaur, but that does not mean that making
meaningful deductions via bracketing will not assist in a clearer
picture of a defined external integument. When in the absence of
actual physical evidence on the specimen, similar anatomical
features discovered on a host of related feathered forms would seem
a strong indicator of which treatment is appropriate, barring further
concrete evidence to the contrary.

> Once you've created a scale of degrees of inference, then couldn't
> someone reasonably draw a line after which the degree of inference
> is considered excessive?

*** Sure, I for instance feel completely confident that the large majority
of small theropod sported feathery integument and beyond that I will
even have the audacity to introduce certain markings and color schemes
to give my subject character.  While I am comfortable in deducing
feathers as a common denominator, where I go out on a limb, is
when I assign specific colors to the animal.  That is "excessive", but
neither can it be avoided if one is going to attempt a reasonable life
restoration. Even rendering in black and white media implies "local color",
adding a sense of tones and shades to an overall depiction.

Seems like a contrarian would appreciate
> the option.  Did you really advocate, 'Go with the flow?'

*** When the flow is based on an informed collective opinion
and supported by real and circumstantial evidence, why not?  Don't
forget that while the issue here originates in "black and white" issues
of the science, it also transcends it into the "grey zone" of artistic
reconstruction which by it's very nature implies a certain amount of
latitude.  And if in that flexibility, paleo artists sense that the "tide"
is moving in one seemingly uniform direction, will we then resort to
"going with the flow?" Absolutely!

If along the course of discovery, one finds that all roads seem to lead
to Rome, then for the time being, that becomes the destination of choice.
While arguing the possibilities, is a method by which paleontology
advances towards a better understanding and interpretation of the
information and ideas presented, one has to decide which alternative
is best supported at any particular moment and explore that course
further until such time as that premise can be additionally substantiated
or refuted.

> You would put hair on your human reconstruction?  Even knowing
> how much length, style, color, etc. indicate class and other
> markers that might cause people to decide they wouldn't know
> that person and so not look closely at the face?  Interesting.

*** To use your own argument, leaving the person bald could equally
distort the desired impression, if the individual in real life was anything
but bald.  A recent news item showed artistic renderings of
Osama Bin Laden with all facial hair removed.  Authorities suspect
he may have changed his appearance to allude his would-be captors
and are circulating the images based on the "expectation" that this is a
deliberate attempt in his bid for escape and freedom.  The recent
renditions of feathered theropods in contrast, are based on far more
than an "expectation" that feathers were pedestrian attire, and it is "we"
who need to shift our position relative to what current discovery is
bringing to light.

Mike S.


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