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Grr... I hate Hotmail, destroying my basically complete reply. Anyway,
shortened main points appear below.
Félix Landry wrote-
But IMO that doesn't mean old-fashioned two hundred pages long monographs
careful anatomical description should be replaced by short Nature or
papers with almost nothing in them and some unreliable sixty taxa tree at
They haven't been. We still get long monographs (Clarke's on Ichthyornis,
Chure's upcoming on Allosaurus, etc.), and short papers existed in the past
too (ever seen any original descriptions by Marsh?). It just takes longer
to write long papers, and I for one would rather learn about a new discovery
quickly than wait several years for a monograph. Monographs are often
published for specimens originally described briefly anyway.
But I dare to think
this is NOT science. For me, dinosaur paleontology is mostly anatomy,
stratigraphy, paleobiology and paleoecology. The first two items are the
dry and hard
data on which the other two more attractive ones are based.
But where does phylogenetic systematics fit in there?
Phylogenetic systematics is as much science as paleoecology is. They're
just determining different kinds of facts. You may find the higher level
subjects to be more attractive, but not everyone shares your aesthetic.
I completely support
Nick's position in that I think we should mostly limit phylogenetic
to the identification of solid patterns (with or without postcranial
characters, that's not my point). But after this is done, I can't see the
utility of those numerous analyses. You add some abscure species known
teeth and one caudal vertebra and the tree gets completely changed... Get
of some characters you don't like and Corythosaurus might appear as a
new ankylosaur! I'm not exagerating so much.
From your description of the labile nature of current results, it should be
clear identifying basic evolutionary patterns is NOT complete. Most
published morphological cladistic analyses are crap. Too few characters and
taxa, too subjectively defined states. Once adding a new taxon or getting
rid of a few characters doesn't change topology much, THEN you can complain
we should get on with other fields.
OR I could reverse your argument. Once we get the basics of paleobiology
down, let's move on to determining low level relationships. We already know
Tyrannosaurus is a terrestrial carnivore, I can't see the sheer utility in
all these papers trying to determine its speed, cranial strength, binocular
overlap, etc.. You change some assumptions in Hutchinson's running model,
and come up with completely different results. ;)
I keep thinking that human
thought is somewhat superior to computer calculations, and that careful,
anatomical studies completed with detailed stratigraphic work can also
some useful picture of evolution. I think we'd know more about bird
REALLY describing ANY of those Yixian feathered findings than by building
heaps of cladistic trees by slightly modifying some already used and
Human thought is inferior to PAUP when it comes to calculating most
parsimonious trees in a realistic time. All the anatomical description in
the world is useless for phylogenetic studies if objective extensive
comparisons to other taxa aren't performed. Madsen's monograph tells us
what Allosaurus' osteology was, yes. But does it tell us how and why
Allosaurus is related to Acrocanthosaurus or Carcharodontosaurus? Okay, it
technically does include a page of comparison with some other theropods, but
you get the idea. We need both detailed descriptions and extensive
phylogenetic analyses (and other studies...) to learn about the totality of
think we might figure out many things about phylogeny if we started
about it instead of having computer programs do the work for us.
Is it that silly to say that we could somewhat turn back to
actually thoroughly interviewing fossils instead of comfortably use some
unreliable statistical method?
PAUP only does work we could do ourselves if we weren't so slow. We don't
use parsimony because it's easy, we use it because it's objective. That's
what makes cladistics more scientific than non-quantitative methodologies.
Is morphological cladistics unreliable? Perhaps. I seriously doubt a lot
of our classic theropod relationships are real, for instance. But at least
we have a consensus. And I'd rather have that than unresolvable 'which
character is more important' debates any day.
And, more generally, is it really more
interesting to know where Torvosaurus fit on the cladistic tree than to
know what it
looked like and how it lived?
To me, yes. Yes it is.