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RE: Australian Dinosaur stampede: identity of large track-maker



 
RE:  Richard A. Thulborn (2013)  Lark Quarry revisited: a critique of methods 
used to identify a large
dinosaurian track-maker in the Winton Formation (Albian–Cenomanian), western 
Queensland, Australia.
Alcheringa (advance online publication) DOI:10.1080/03115518.2013.748482
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03115518.2013.748482

 
 
Allow me to point out that there are no ad hominem remarks, either in the 
Abstract or
elsewhere.   The paper examines methods
and the data to which those methods were applied.   There
are no remarks on the behaviour, motives or intentions of any person(s), living
or extinct.
 
It's not a paper that I wanted to write, or ever expected to
write, but circumstances forced me into writing it, simply to set the record
straight.   Let me say it again:  the identity of that large track-maker at 
Lark Quarry is of no interest or importance to me whatsoever.  I couldn't care 
less if it was made by an ornithopod, a theropod or mischievous green tourists 
from Mars.  What I DO care about is getting the facts right - which, 
old-fashioned though it might seem, is something that scientists are supposed 
to do.  Unfortunately the facts are so unpalatable that some consumers have 
taken to diluting them with large quantities of hogwash.
 
Yes, an early version was published online (proof version)
in Cretaceous Research in November 2011 but was withdrawn at some data (unknown
to me) in the following six months.  Nobody told me it had been withdrawn;  I 
learned of its disappearance by chance at the end of May 2012.  
The information supplied by Elsevier/Cretaceous Research doesn't tell you why a 
paper has been withdrawn, or who withdrew it.  It gives the impression that 
papers are withdrawn for unpleasant reasons (fraud, plagiarism, major errors 
and the like), but that's not the case here.   The publishers requested me to 
make some changes to the online proof version, which I did.  They then wanted 
some more changes, and again
I complied.  They then wanted a third c
 I refused.  I refused
because the change they wanted would require me to misrepresent my findings.  
So, the publishers withdrew my paper permanently and declared it "not formally 
published".
 
 
As the work was "not formally published" I assumed
I was free to submit it to a second journal (along with a full account of its 
eventful
history), and Alcheringa seemed the obvious place.   The version in Alcheringa 
is not the same as
the proof version that was (briefly?) available from the Cretaceous Research
website.   I found that so many readers were inclined to start with
false assumptions that I had to introduce an explanation ('Rationale') of what
the paper IS about and what it's NOT about.   It's not a comparison of two 
competing hypotheses;  it's not attempting to show that one
hypothesis is "better" than another;  it is simply a look at the methods and 
data used in ONE
publication.   And the Abstract tells you
in plain English what I discovered about those methods and those data.
 
The biggest change was noted by Steve Poropat - the last paragraph in the 
Cretaceous Research version is lacking from the paper in Alcheringa.  I removed 
this (at request of Cretaceous
Research) on the understanding that it concerned a matter of editorial policy
rather than scientific content (as Steve rightly observed).   It needed to be 
said, because it might
affect a reader's interpretation of the published work, but Cretaceous Research
wasn't going to say it (in editorial comment or anywhere else).  Having removed 
it, I decided not to put it back into the paper for Alcheringa (same reasons:  
nobody really wants to say it).
 
Steve Poropat says:  "It has distressed me greatly to see various media sources 
and
blogs accepting Romilio and Salisbury's papers' conclusions essentially
uncritically and without contacting any other 
palaeontologists for their two cents or referring explicitly to Thulborn and
Wade's papers."
 
That's it, Steve, in a nutshell.   I questioned the argument put forward by
Romilio & 
present a legitimate scientific case?  Is
their case founded on legitimate scientific data?   In both cases my  answer 
was no.   Legitimacy is an absolute:  either something is legitimate 
(acceptable)
or it's not legitimate (unacceptable):  it can't be fairly legitimate any more 
you can be slightly dead or partly
pregnant.   Either it is or it isn't, and I found that what Romilio & Salisbury 
published
is not acceptable science.  If I pretend
that it IS acceptable, but science which is just a bit dodgy-looking
(questionable, dubious, imprecise... whatever - editors and reviewers have 
kindly
supplied dozens of these soothing but inaccurate adjectives), then their
argument CANNOT be rejected.   It falls on the legitimate and acceptable side
of the divide.   Consequently it will endure in the scientific
and popular literature (and in people's minds) as "alternative"
interpretation of Lark Quarry.  There
will continue to be two conflicting interpretations of the site, and despite my
criticism, others (especially the media) will insist on "fair and balanced 
treatment" giving both sides of the argument equal weight (just like Evolution 
vs Creation).  In effect the Romilio-Salisbury
interpretation will be indestructible and people will go on believing it - just
as they've done up till now - because it's nice and easy to understand (just 
like Evolution vs Creation).   (In fact, it will probably get first
mention, as it's more up-to-date.)  So, I
needn't have bothered to write my paper, because it will have no effect
whatsoever.
 
THAT is why I have to stick with "fabricated".  It's accurate, it's what I 
actually found,
and it's what the evidence shows.  It
says that there is something seriously wrong with the
Romilio-Salisbury story in Cretaceous Research, and not just some bits that are
dubious or questionable.  It says that
there is something so seriously wrong that their story must be rejected.  Full 
stop.  Romilio and Salisbury haven't presented a legitimate scientific
case.  What they'v
for serious consideration, so dump it in the bin and forget it.   Unfortunately 
few people are willing to confront that painful reality;  most would rather 
pretend that Romilio & Salisbury (2011) have presented an acceptable scientific 
story (albeit one that is 'weak, dubious, questionable, imprecise'... etc.) - 
thereby guaranteeing its immortality in the scientific literature.   Most would 
prefer to imagine that my criticism is unfair and that I'm so determined to win 
some imaginary dispute over the track-maker's identity that I've descended to 
foul underhand tactics, personal insults, mud-slinging.   So, I'll say it 
again, for the Nth time:  the identity of that large track-maker at Lark Quarry 
is of no interest or importance to me whatsoever.   I couldn't care less if it 
was made by an ornithopod, a theropod or anything else, because it makes no 
difference to the evidence for a dinosaurian stampede.   What I DO care about 
is getting
 the facts right.  Which brings us to the truly depressing bit.
 
The truly depressing aspect is that no one - reviewers,
media reporters, bloggers, subscribers to DML - absolutely no one (except Steve 
Poropat) has bothered
to go back and check out a few facts before reaching for the keyboard.  If a 
reviewer for Cretaceous Research had bothered to check out even a SINGLE fact, 
that paper by Romilio & Salisbury (2011) would never have been published in the 
first place.  And I wouldn't be wasting my time trying to clear up the 
resulting mess.
 
Tony Thulborn

 PS  SUBJECT line:  I removed the quotes around stampede (for those who can 
take a hint)