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Re: tiny-armed theropods

Matthew Martyniuk <martyniuk@gmail.com> wrote:

> Well, it seems patently absurd to us now. But in the 1960s when some
> scientists essentially unilaterally decided that the widely used name
> Deinodontidae was not based on a sufficient enough holotype to be
> worthy of priority, it may have seemed equally absurd to replace it
> with newcomer Tyrannosauridae as replacing Troodontidae with
> Stenonychosauridae would seem to us today, despite being identical
> situations.

Actually, in light of the fact that _Troodon_ is a controversial
genus, and possibly a nomen dubium (as noted most recently by Zanno et
al., 2011, for example), the situation you mention is not absurd at
all.  (Although as Mike K. noted, Saurornithoididae would be the
preferred replacement name).  I mooted the possibility of Troodontidae
being replaced by Saurornithoididae a few years ago:

"If _Troodon_ is declared a nomen dubium, then there's no
objective reason to maintain Troodontidae in preference to Saurornithoididae
any more than we would use Deinodontidae in preference to Tyrannosauridae."


> It's worth remembering that our current "stable" names became that way
> after unseating previously stable names, sometimes a matter of a
> decade or two ago (anybody remember Podokesauridae, which was
> supplanted by Coelophysidae in the early 1990s for no discernible
> reason)? As far as I know, PhyloCode has no mechanism to preserve this
> traditional practice of influential researchers arbitrarily replacing
> stable names with names that they like better. What's a paleontologist
> in 2100 to do if he suddenly gets the gut feeling that
> _Therizinosaurus_ is a poor holotype and that the group should
> obviously be called Nothronychidae?

I think you're being a little bit unfair here.  Many of these family
names are not stable, and the practice of replacing them is not

For the purposes of nomenclatural stability, it's no good having
families established on crappy genera.  Yes, you can do it (such as
Ceratopsidae, and potentially Troodontidae), but it's not a good
policy.  That's why we no longer use Deinodontidae and Atlantosauridae
(and haven't for a long time); and why an equally sensible decision
was made to replace Podokesauridae with Coelophysidae, given the
uncertainties surrounding the genus _Podokesaurus_.  (In addition to
Tom Holtz's reasons, I would also add that the type specimen of _P.
holyokensis_ no longer exists, having been destroyed in a fire.)