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Re: Darwin's young dead pet from Messel

Mike Taylor <mike@indexdata.com> wrote:

> Right.  Which is why I'm a bit dismayed at some of the more extreme
> criticism the authors have caught on some blogs (and especially in
> some comments).  Which it's true that the paper is phylogenetically
> poor, it does seem that in some people's eyes, actual description is a
> rather boring waste of time, and it's _all_ about phylogeny.  But in
> fact, the detailed descriptive work in the Darwinius paper will still
> be cited long after any specific phylogenetic hypothesis has turned to
> dust.

But Mike -- the paper actually goes further than this.  It doesn't just propose 
intriguing hypotheses (which is perfectly fine); it also makes assertions about 
primate phylogeny.  While I don't subscribe to the more extreme criticisms, I 
can see why the "Phylogenetic Relations" component of the paper left many 
people cold.

To be clear: I don't believe that the description of every new taxon requires a 
cladogram.  But on this latter point, (a) the paper does claim to actually have 
a "cladogram" (Figure S7), which isn't a cladogram at all; and (b) if you are 
going to denote certain characters as "synapomorphies" or "convergent", you 
really need a phylogenetic analysis to back up these interpretations.

In short, I think it's possible to be amazed by the specimen, and impressed by 
the description, especially how much the authors could infer about the 
critter's lifestyle (I certainly was), but also be bewildered (and perhaps even 
disappointed) by the phylogenetic claims.