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RE: The iguanodont paper

Mike Taylor wrote: 

> 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.  

This is not what I meant at all. I was only stating that it was evolution 
itself that derived birds from dinosaurs. That's all. The methodology by which 
we discern this evolutionary history might be considered "reform" (i.e., 
cladistics), but the history itself can't change. From that perspective, it is 
entirely appropriate to say that the idea that birds are not dinosaurs was 
indeed "never true". This is a separate issue from what we consider(ed) a 
"dinosaur" in the vernacular sense, since the latter might include plesiosaurs, 
_Dimetrodon_ and even woolly mammoths. It's the job of science to correct 
misconceptions, not perpetuate them simply because they were once widely 
disseminated - or even canonical. 

> 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). 

Not a very compelling argument, Mike. In many countries, the "majority of 
people" would also believe that the earth is only 6000 years old, and took six 
days to create. 

> 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". 

Ummm.... what? Hold on there. You're entirely missing the context in which I 
wrote those comments. I was referring to the future, not to the past. All I was 
saying is that if certain paraphyletic groups come back into vogue then it 
would breathe new life into a whole lot of misconceptions. I mean, read my 
entire message (http://dml.cmnh.org/2007Dec/msg00136.html).  

I'm not into attacking the great paleontologists of the past because they 
didn't regard birds as dinosaurs, any more than I'll attack them for regarding 
_Teratosaurus_ or _Ornithosuchus_ as dinosaurs. What kind of arsehole do you 
think I am? (Wait, don't answer that!) But if new data emerge that show that 
certain time-honored ideas are no longer well supported, then that's just the 
way things have panned out. None of this is revisionist history. It is not a 
personal attack to say that past paleontologists held to ideas that no longer 
stand up to scrutiny. It's the ideas that we criticize, not the people who 
voiced them. 


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