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Reply to Middleton review (long)
The below reply to K Middleton?s 2003 review of Dinosaurs of the Air in
Paleontographica Electronica was rejected, unless it was revised in a manner
would have constituted excessive censorship and shielded Middleton from
justified criticism. Since I have received press inquires about the review, I
posting the complete reply.
Reply to Middleton -
Kevin Middleton?s review of my Dinosaurs of the Air contains so many errors
and distortions that a response is warranted.
Middleton criticizes my statement that ?flight, even the flapping version, is
a comparatively simple operation? by taking it out of context with the same
rhetorical slight of hand regularly employed by creationists. I was explicitly
comparing flapping flight to walking, which is well documented to be much more
difficult than the former in terms of control systems. Children can buy and
fly little flapping wing models. Meanwhile even the most advanced robotics
projects -- such as the effort to produce the first realistically walking
by Peter Dilworth and myself -- are pushing high level technology to make
machines walk on normal terrain. Middleton does not cite my statement that
powered flight is ?however, more difficult than walking in that it requires
power per unit time? (p. 133).
Middleton makes the false claim that I presented an ?analysis of avian flight
as if it is well supported by scientific evidence, although, even after more
than 50 years of research, the mechanisms of avian flight.... are still not
well understood.? In DA I pose the cautionary question and answer ?...how do
wings really work? The answer to this remarkably complex and still somewhat
controversial question would take up a whole chapter in of itself,? and that
?worse are flapping wings that change shape and orientation during each beat?
(p. 133). On the same page I refer readers to additional, detailed sources on
the subject of the science of aerodynamics.
Middleton is precisely and deliberately deceptive when, as an example of my
allegedly summarily dismissing contrasting viewpoints, he uses the following
quote completely out of context; ?...Ruben and co-workers? analysis is without
sufficient basis and must be rejected (p. 202)?. The full quote reads ?Such
speculations are rendered academic because, as explained in Appendix 3B, Ruben
and co-workers? analysis is without sufficient basis and must be rejected.?
Appendix 3B consists of 18 pages of text and figures addressing in detail the
work of Ruben et al. on the subject of theropod lung anatomy. It is
corresondingly ironic that Appendix 3B is based on my paper in the peer
volume New Perspectives on the Origin and Early Evolution of Birds. It must be
concluded that Middleton is a prejudiced reviewer to the point of
Middleton claims that DA was ?not reviewed by peers.? As is common among
university presses, Johns Hopkins Press requires that all technical books be
formally and anonymously reviewed by two qualified researchers in the field of
publisher?s choice, and this was the case with my work.
Presumably, as usual for the genre, Middleton?s review was not peer reviewed.
Perhaps if it had been his gross misuse of quotes from DA would have been
aborted. But perhaps not. Consider the presentation in Hutchinson and Garcia?s
recent Nature paper the estimate that four tenths of the total mass of a
juvenile tyrannosaur would have to be leg extensors for it to ran fast, when a
cited in their study found that in similar sized ostriches leg extensors make
up only two tenths of total mass. Or the Science paper by Ruben et al.
featuring the diagram of the path of a dromaeosaur?s nasal airway that was not
incorrect, but was based on a restored image of a skull that lacks most of the
snout bones. Over the years I have become ever more distressed at and
embarrassed by the disturbing number of basic errors and nonscientific
and conclusions infesting peer reviewed publications. It inspires a wish for a
return to half a century ago. The structure of DNA was discovered in February
of 1953. Papers by Crick, Watson, Franklin and Wilkens describing the data
were published that April. Such fast turnover was possible because the papers
were not peer reviewed. One supposes Middleton would have had the ground
breaking papers delayed for further processing, he being among those to whom
arbitrary process seems more important than good results. This is contrary to
the scientific community, which is increasingly turning to rapid posting of
new results and analyses on-line, using the method of post presentation comment
and rebuttal instead of prior review.
Middleton is not alone in being obsessive over the issue of peer review,
which in the paleontological arena is partly driven by the vexation of American
creationism. It is a legitimate problem but one not solved by prior review --
creationists have set up their own such systems. If a legitimate scientist
publishes data and analysis without prior review, and another disagrees with
the latter need simply publish a reply. For example, Predatory Dinosaurs of the
World -- at the time greeted by much consternation and grief by some --
continues to be frequently cited in the technical literature, sometimes
sometimes favorably, including in Nature and Science. The same is sure to be
true of DA, as are the multitude of books published by active researchers.
As for Middleton?s contention that ?I would welcome a well-reasoned analysis
of the origin of birds and evolution of flight, rather than the uneven,
sparsely documented presentations that have been offered so far. The authors
books Middleton does not approve of] expect to be taken seriously by the
paleontological community, but the approach used precludes such acceptance,? I
recommend a solution to Middleton?s plea. In Paleobiology professional
and long term participant in the bird origins debate Kevin Padian says that
one ?book presents us with the most extensive comprehensive analysis of
anatomical features that has ever been published relating to the dinosaur-bird
transition (and he considers other animals as well). Having these different
of bone after bone lined up on the same page on the same page and drawn in
comparable style is invaluable and of lasting use.? The book reviewed by Padian
is Dinosaurs of the Air. Another professional, Graham Taylor, in Ibis
commented that ?... criticisms aside, Paul has succeeded in producing a
that will be an invaluable reference for those interested in avian origins
for many years to come.?
Middleton?s using quotes in a misleading manner that would make Duane Gish
proud is so blatant that it?s obvious they would be read and easily exposed by
their author. What issue motivates him to be so reckless? The main thesis of
the book does not seem to be the driving factor because, aside from a
stereotypical criticism of the way in which I address and challenge standard
he barely mentions the contents of DA. In other words he does not really
review the book.
The agenda of Middleton is as clear-cut as his advocacy is muddled. The
misrepresentations of Dinosaurs of the Air are a vehicle for a screed against
books that include original technical content and hypotheses while being
oriented to both a scientific and popular audience.
The muddling starts with Middleton?s assertion that DA is ?aimed a
nonprofessional audience,? DA is actually a university press book of a
technical nature with a secondary popular audience, unlike PDW which was
by a commercial house and had broader sales appeal. Middleton even seems to
imply that the contents of the peer reviewed technical book Mesozoic Birds
have been presented as journal papers in order to speed up their presentation.
All of this leads to a series of questions and problems.
To start with, just what would Middleton allow the nonprofessional public to
find on the shelves of their favorite library or bookstore? He acknowledges
that heavily technical books like Mesozoic Birds are not for most. Yet the
extremity -- and inconsistency -- of his opinion is revealed by his inclusion
science writer Pat Shipman?s Taking Wing in the genre he condemns. TW is a
journalistic account of the bird origins debate that does not take major
on the issues or present novel hypotheses, and is correspondingly rarely cited
in the technical literature. So what?s left? Presumably Middleton thinks
that only works that endorse results already agreed to by the majority of
scientists in a given field should be seen by nonprofessionals with an interest
dinosaurs and ancient birds, but he does not explicitly state or define or
provide examples of what he thinks should be the standard. By sloppily
what he does not like while failing to make clear his views, Middleton plays
role of the idle critic who does not do the harder work of detailing a well
thought out alternative.
The view that all scientific research and opinion must first pass through
peer review is as extreme as the opinion that peer review should be abolished.
Every scientists has the right to publish what they think without the
of their peers, but the advice of their peers can be useful. Peer review is
too rampant with politics and incompetence to maintain the basic quality of
science, but when well done it provides a necessary service to journal and
university press editors who have to vet manuscripts somehow, and are often not
qualified or are too overwhelmed to do it themselves. Objective, knowledgeable
reviewers can provide helpful observations and corrections. I submit papers to
review, sometimes find the comments useful, and too often find them political
and off the mark. I regularly formally review other?s work in the hope they
find the observations objective and productive. But qualified scientists are
capable of publishing without the prior constraint of others and are free to do
so. What science needs is a mix of peer review and unfettered presentation of
research and analysis. As with most things there is no one size fits all
solution to a complicated situation.