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Re: Who says dromaeosaurs can't fly?

Posted for Jere Lipps.

>From a recent correspondent:  (dino.hunter@cox.net wrote:)

"Welcome to the world of Paleontology."

"To me paleontology is more like philosophy than other sciences. Unlike
molecular science in paleo you don't have the chance of discounting theories
with cold hard physical evidence. We have to relay on theories and beliefs,
whether it's our own or a computers (i.e. cladistics). That's the way it is
in paleo."
I hope you will rethink this.   What you have rephrased is that paleo is only 
a bit more difficult (only sometimes) than other "hard" sciences.  I've been 
doing paleo for a few decades and this is not what I do or what I teach.  I 
teach hypothesis development based on evidence and testing with further 
evidence.   That is exactly what our "hard" science friends advocate.  They 
use experiments, but those are merely a form of observation, and we make lots 
of observations in paleo that are hard.   Paleo uses evidence, not beliefs 
nor is it a philosophy.  It is an accumulation of evidence that needs to be 
framed into viable hypotheses for testing.  Just like any other science!  If 
you find a "believer" in paleo out there, shun him/her until they present 
"And if you can't prove cladisically when or if some animals could fly, why
to cladist argue about it so much? Sure, some say, it's possible that some
dinosaurs could fly or climb trees, then argue completely against it (see
Holtz and Haedden's posts). This is one of the things that bothers me which
makes me not believe what they are trying to say."
Of course, you don't "prove anything in science", you only develop 
hypotheses, support them with evidence and logic or disprove them with the 

Cladistics proves nothing.  It does, however, provide very explicit 
hypotheses, which are extremely useful.  Since these hypotheses are very 
clearly laid out with this methodology, you know exactly what it would take 
to disprove them.  Usually other character sets.  You also know exactly what 
it will take to provide good alternative hypotheses.   If you think some 
cladistic hypothesis is incorrect (not believable, in your vocabulary), then 
all you have to do is formulate another one using evidence that the other 
guys can then test.  If they yell and shout, be careful.  Demand alternatives 
supported by at least some evidence, and clear disproofs.   I don't worry 
about the those who yell, shout, rant or rave--I cheer on those who are 
clever enough to come up with other viable hypotheses to mine--then I and 
they have advanced science and understanding.  The others have only confused 
and clouded the issues with emotion--theirs and yours!  Forget them.  If they 
are wrong, they will disappear under the weight of the evidence, and if they 
are right, wonderful!   We should be glad that we understand a bit more about 
our world. 

There is no belief in the way we do good paleontology, although there can be 
a lot of ranting and raving--but that is not science.  If you are worried 
about when or how birds or dinos started flying, take all the hypotheses out 
there plus your own and subject them to the evidence.  This is not 
philosophy, this boils down to a good way to cut through the diatribes, 
immovable stances, and get to be a good scientist.  Try it.  It works.  
Believers have nothing to offer.  Scientists have hypotheses and  evidence.  
Check it out--it works.


Jere H. Lipps, Professor and Curator
Department of Integrative Biology
Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

Phone:  510-642-9006
Fax:   510-642-1822
Email:  jlipps@uclink4.berkeley.edu