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Russia and phylogenetics was Re: Ceratonykus braincase described

 It's one of those many times that make you wonder where the reviewers
 were (or how much input Barsbold had).

_Is_ the Paleontological Journal peer-reviewed? 20 years ago, many small journals in _western_ Europe weren't reviewed except by the editor, and a few probably still aren't.

 Russia seems to be stuck in the 70's where phylogenetics is
 concerned, resulting in heterodox hypotheses, since there's no
 constraint like parsimony to hold them in check. A similar example
 is Ivakhnenko's (2009) "Eotherapsid hypothesis for the origin of
 Monotremata." It has monotremes evolving from anomodonts and
 supports groups no cladist believes in, like "Eotherapsida"
 containing sphenacodonts and some therapsids, but not cynodonts and
 mammals. And there's Kurochkin's "enantiornithines are theropods but
 ornithuromorphs aren't" ideas. Do they just lack access to new
 articles? Are the professors all 'old school' and pass on outdated
 thinking to their students?

All of the above.

First of all, paleontologists – and in general people who think for a living (except that I wonder about oil geologists) – are screamingly, grindingly, crashingly underpaid in Russia. They all have second jobs in order not to starve, and they're still poor. Political reasons have been alleged.

For this reason plus obvious historical ones, many just don't speak English to a reasonable degree. (I'm told this is actually a divide between St. Petersburg, where scientists do speak good English, and Moscow, where they don't.)

For these reasons, the Iron Curtain still has after-effects. For instance, the book "Permian and Triassic tetrapods of eastern Europe" by Ivakhnenko et al. (1997) uses a classification derived directly from that in Olson's 1955 textbook. Olson's own 1965 paper which _demolishes_ that classification is not cited and seems to have never made it to Russia.

Do you know what that means?


There is no AMNIOTA in that book!

Seymouriamorphs, diadectomorphs, procolophonoids, pareiasaurs etc. form Parareptilia, in spite of all the gilled seymouriamorph larvae that are described in that very book. Parareptilia is _not_ a subset of Reptilia – there is no Reptilia.

I cannot figure out if the classification is even meant to represent phylogeny in any way. I cannot tell for sure if any particular taxon is meant to be mono-, para- or even polyphyletic. The authors don't say and don't seem to care at all. The book does not contain any kind of phylogenetic tree, not even a romerogram. I think they're stuck in the stage of phylopessimism, which in the West lasted from something like the 1950s to the introduction of parsimony: people had realized that there are no absolutely reliable characters, had figured out that everything can evolve in every direction, had understood the ubiquity of convergence, had finally grasped that the stratigraphic sequence is unreliable, suspected that every obvious taxon could be polyphyletic*, and found themselves without any reliable means to trace phylogeny, so they increasingly just gave up. Without parsimony, they had no way to discriminate between hypotheses, and they knew it. Olson's 1965 paper, of all things, is a good example: it tries to demolish not just the Parareptilia-Eureptilia dichotomy, but _all_ attempts to divide Amniota (including diadecto- and seymouriamorphs) in two, including Theropsida-Sauropsida. The paper tells us in all seriousness to stop trying and learn to love the amniote polytomy – not quite in those words, but really close enough.

...OK, OK, 1997 was 14 years ago, and it was just 6 years after the end of the USSR. A new generation of paleontologists has appeared. And?

In Moscow, nothing has changed. Young Bulanov's (2003) lavishly illustrated monograph on seymouriamorph heads – a completely indispensable resource if you ever want to work on seymouriamorphs – still uses the same classification. It even says "seymouriamorph parareptiles" in the title. I'm told Bulanov doesn't speak English.

There are signs of hope, like the cladistic analysis in Skutschas & Martin (2011).** But it's going to take some time. As you can guess, Skutschas is from St. Petersburg, Martin is German, and both are affiliated with the university of Bonn in Germany -- the former capital of West Germany, in fact. (Even the spelling _tsch_ is German.)

I see a great "market" for a Russian version of the Polyglot Paleontologist. FFS. Olson's textbook. These people haven't even seen Romer's textbook (except, I guess, maybe its 1945 edition).


* With the interesting exception of Aves. Polyphyletic mammals (you know, "several lines of therapsids that independently attained the mammalian level of organization", retch), polyphyletic amniotes, polyphyletic tetrapods were all commonplace, but all birds were always believed to be descended directly from Archie Herself till Kurochkin came along and tried to interpret the suddenly drastically improved fossil record. ** Well, the _particular_ matrix they expanded is not a sign of hope at all (Marjanović & Laurin 2009: Electronic Supplementary Material 1, 2; Sigurdsen & Green 2011: [online] appendix 3), but that's _really_ beside the point. :-)


Bulanov, V. V. (2003) Evolution and systematics of seymouriamorph parareptiles. Paleontological Journal 37: 1 – 105. [The Pal. J. publishes simultaneously in Russian and English. This normally means that the authors submit manuscripts in Russian, the journal translates them – fairly well, I must say –, and then the original and the translation are published.] Ivakhnenko, M. F., Golubev, V. K., Gubin, M. Yu., Kalandadze, N. N., Novikov, I. V., Sennikov, A. G. & Rautian, A. S. (1997) [Permian and Triassic tetrapods of Eastern Europe]. Moscow: GEOS. [Russian with English abstract and table of contents. Large-format paperback with very bad binding.] Marjanović, D. & Laurin, M. (2009) The origin(s) of modern amphibians: a commentary. Evolutionary Biology 36: 336 – 338. [Bizarrely, the supplementary information is _not_ available for free unless you ask me. BTW, disregard what that paper says about *Scincosaurus*.] Olson, E. C. (1955) [Can't find the reference. There is a 1950 paper with that classification, but that paper doesn't seem to have made it to Russia: The temporal region of the Permian reptile *Diadectes*. Fieldiana Geology 10: 63 – 77.] Olson, E. C. (1965) Relationships of *Seymouria*, *Diadectes*, and Chelonia. The American Zoologist 5: 295 – 307. Sigurdsen, T. & Green, D. M. (2011) The origin of modern amphibians: a re-evaluation. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society online-early: 13 pp. Skutschas, P. & Martin, T. (2011) Cranial anatomy of the stem salamander *Kokartus honorarius* (Amphibia: Caudata) from the Middle Jurassic of Kyrgyzstan. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 816 – 838.