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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 
lots of 
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 
reviewed symposium 
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 
unprofessional manipulation. 

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 
much of 
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 
beautiful book 
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.  

G Paul