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RE: Peering at review

Hi Tracy:

Tracy Ford said:

"Huh? What's this? ONLY *real* data? What about Heilmann? Chatterjee? Paul,
Olshevsky or Ford? Evolution for that matter. If it was completely based on
*real* data palaeontology would be at a loss. Please..."


"So, we only look at the fossils as they are, don't infer other things like
the evolution of feathers, the horns of ceratopians (if you saw Horners
talk), no telling how long the horns really were because they weren't
preserved. Just looking at the *real* data is limiting ourselves. <snip> What I mean by this is that we do have an imagination and
we use that in our work and don't be just limited by the *real* data."

Tracy, you are correct that imagination does play an important role in scientific investigation. Obviously, if we only dryly reported data and never discussed its implications, where would we be?

However, as scientists, we should use our imaginations to devise testable hypotheses inspired by the data we have at hand. Using your example of ceratopsian horn length, how might we figure out how to determine within reasonable limits the "true" length of ceratopsian horns? Does mammalian horn growth tell us anything about reptilian patterns? What sort of test or experiment could we devise to figure this out? Is there a consistent ratio? A morphological signal or character we've overlooked? Are dinosaurs doing something different with horn growth, and, if so, how would we look for that?

I think everyone on this list enjoys dinosaurs in one way or another because of the mystery inherent in studying fossils. There's a whole lot we don't know yet, and amateurs (I use this only in the sense of people who cannot devote 24/7 to dinosaurs) can make great contributions to this field. However, I would argue that imagination channeled into constructing and testing hypotheses about dinosaur relationships and lives is a more constructive approach than postulating ideas or theories with no suggestions for testing them.

It's the testing of our hypotheses that is the most difficult and frustrating aspect of dinosaur science, but that is also the challenge and the fun -- can we figure out a better way to test and figure out dinosaur biology and evolution?


Matthew F. Bonnan, Ph.D. Department of Biological Sciences Western Illinois University Macomb, IL 61455 (309) 298-2155 mbonnan@hotmail.com MF-Bonnan@wiu.edu http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfb100/

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