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Re: The iguanodont paper



Mike Taylor writes:

Woah, woah!  Tim, this is ridiculous.  To say that these ideas "were
never true" is absurd.  They were perfectly true according to the
understanding of the term "dinosaur" that was unanimously held at the
time.  That reformers have subsequently come sweeping in and
reassigned that name to mean something different cannot be a licence
to rewrite history.

Sorry, I don't believe that's correct Mike. Birds did not evolve from dinosaurs in the 1970s, they did it in the Jurassic. Just because paleontolgoists in the 1930's did not think it was true doesn't change the fact that there have been aquatic dinosaurs. Now, I realize that the strict emphasis on phylogenetic definitions is more recent, but (ironically) I don't think you are giving our predecessors enough credit. Romer, Brown, etc. were clearly intending "dinosaurs" to be one (or two...Saurischia and Ornithischia separately) monophyletic groups. When they indicate that there weren't aquatic dinosaurs (possible excepting sauropods in those days) they didn't mean "not counting birds because we like to use paraphyletic groups". They actually believed that dinosaurs were a dead end, and both popular and technical literature is rife with statements to that effect. Those statemetns were factually wrong, and you can't pretend that their statements were somehow not wrong just because we place a higher premium on monophyly in our taxonomy.


Being wrong in science is not an insult; it's far better than making a hypothesis that isn't brittle enough to be disproven. Give them their due: they made a hypothesis (dinosaurs were a dead end) and it is wrong, period. Our predecessors made many other contributions that stand to this day; you just can't win them all.

Those statements were perfectly accurate when
they were made (and, we should remember, would still be considered
accurate by the overwhelming majority of people today).

The majority of people today think plesiosaurs and mosasaurs are marine dinosaurs. That's in no way informative for how to construct phylogenies. There is no way to rescue the idea that dinosaurs were a dead end, even if you use paraphyletic groups (because they would have then "given rise" to a new group, whatever the heck that means).


Scott Hartman
Science Director
Wyoming Dinosaur Center
110 Carter Ranch Rd.
Thermopolis, WY 82443
(800) 455-3466 ext. 230
Cell: (307) 921-8333

www.skeletaldrawing.com


-----Original Message----- From: Mike Taylor <mike@indexdata.com> To: twilliams_alpha@hotmail.com Cc: dinosaur@usc.edu Sent: Wed, 12 Dec 2007 10:50 am Subject: RE: The iguanodont paper



Tim Williams writes:
> Take the example of the old Dinosauria, which excluded
> birds. People made all sorts of sweeping statements, such as:
> "Dinosaurs never became aquatic or marine" and "All dinosaurs
> became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous".  We now know that
> both statements are untrue, and (more importantly) were *never*
> true, given that birds are a subset of dinosaurs.  But if we were
> to have a taxonomic group that was limited to the *traditional*
> dinosaurs (i.e., without birds), these clangers would return with a
> vengeance.

Woah, woah!  Tim, this is ridiculous.  To say that these ideas "were
never true" is absurd.  They were perfectly true according to the
understanding of the term "dinosaur" that was unanimously held at the
time.  That reformers have subsequently come sweeping in and
reassigned that name to mean something different cannot be a licence
to rewrite history.  Those statements were perfectly accurate when
they were made (and, we should remember, would still be considered
accurate by the overwhelming majority of people today).

This is exactly analogous to my redefining The Beatles to include
George Martin, and then saying:

   Take the example of the old Beatles, which excluded
   George Martin. People made all sorts of sweeping
   statements, such as: "Beatles never produced records
   by Kenny Rogers" and "All beatles came from
   Liverpool".  We now know that both statements are
   untrue, and (more importantly) were *never* true,
   given that George Martin is one of the Beatles.  But
   if we were to have a taxonomic group that was limited
   to the *traditional* Beatles (i.e., without George
   Martin), these clangers would return with a vengeance.

If we're going to go around redefining venerable terms, let's at least
show a little respect for those who came before rather than writing
them off as the perpetrators of "clangers" and "statements that were
never true".

_/|_ ___________________________________________________________________
/o ) \/ Mike Taylor <mike@indexdata.com> http://www.miketaylor.org.uk
)_v__/\ "Clear use of function pointers is the heart of object-oriented
programming" -- Rob Pike.




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