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No stampede at Lark Quarry?



Among the news items mentioned by Ben Creisler [DML July 13; 'Stegosaur 
vertebra ... and other news'] was one titled "No dinosaur stampede at Lark 
Quarry – so what really happened?" (by S.W. Salisbury & A. Romilio, *The 
Conversation*, July 15).  On investigation (yes, I was dopey enough to go and 
take a look) it proved to be a nice little sample of the overgeneralized 
half-truths, inaccuracies, inventions, evasions, contradictions, exaggerations 
and obfuscations that seem to be the hallmarks of all the burgeoning Romilio & 
Salisbury literature on Lark Quarry.
 
As everyone is already bored witless by this saga, I won't add to the misery by 
offering a guided tour through all its delightful by-ways;  I'll just point out 
a few of the more significant landmarks and allow you to find your own way to 
the conclusion.

The piece in *The Conversation* is a boiled-down version of the far more 
formidable paper in *Cretaceous Research* (Romilio & Salisbury, 2014, vol. 51: 
186-207), and while the consequences of boiling down are in some respects 
disadvantageous, they also include a few benefits.  On the negative side the 
story has become so over-generalized that it will defeat anyone in search of 
hard facts.  (There was scant regard for verifiable facts in the first place.)  
All I can do here is recommend that you go and check for yourself.  (I wish 
more people would.)  Put the original account alongside the version(s) 
published by Salisbury and Romilio, and you will start to detect some 
discrepancies...

On the positive side a vast quantity of mundane and repetitive waffle has been 
extirpated, so you can at least begin to see what Romilio & Salisbury are 
driving at.  And, believe it or not, they are still flogging the same old dead 
horse that they dragged into the arena and presented as Exhibit 1 three years 
ago (*Cretaceous Research*, vol. 32: 135-142; 2011).  I dissected that poor 
creature last year (*Alcheringa*, vol. 37: 312-330;  2013) and found that it 
didn't qualify as acceptable evidence.  (In fact I s
one complained about the awful smell and I had to relocate to *Alcheringa*, 
which had better ventilation.)  Now, in 2014, Romilio & Salisbury are 
attempting to breathe new life into the carcase by applying  miracles of 
technology.  What remains of the faithful old nag has been hoisted to its feet, 
dusted off, given a walloping great dose of digital photogrammetry and wheeled 
back into
 the arena as Exhibit 1 (Reborn).  Full marks for trying but, frankly, the poor 
creature doesn't look too healthy.

My (late) colleague Tim Hamley and I were applying digital photogrammetry at 
Lark Quarry and other dinosaurian track-sites nearly 20 years ago.  It's hardly 
new technology.  It wasn't so informative as we'd hoped and - more importantly 
- it has some major limitations (which aren't mentioned by Romilio & 
Salisbury).  Without going into the technicalities, you might notice that in 
the final event, and despite all the hype about 3D morphology, Romilio & 
Salisbury eventually revert to comparisons of 2D footprint outlines - that is, 
individual contour lines selected from their photogrammetry plots.  You can 
pick and choose among the contour lines to find the one which you'd like to 
call "the" footprint outline:  to quote Salisbury and Romilio in *The 
Conversation*, 'it’s simply a matter of selecting a contour line'.  Is that 
really an 'objective' assessment of footprint outline?  Is it really surprising 
that your choice of a contour line [= a
 footprint outline] might not agree with mine?  (And, of course, it's not 
really that simple, because there is infinite variation in the pattern of 
contour lines, depending on one's choice of base-line datum and contour 
intervals.  You can use this approach to generate practically any footprint 
outline you might desire.) 
 
Photogrammetry supplies picture which are very pretty, especially if they're 
enlivened with a splash of colour, and they certainly look 'scientific' enough 
to impress the public, but that doesn't mean they have any special scientific 
value.

Not that it matters anyway, as I've explained previously.  In 1984 Mary Wade 
and I suggested that the largest track-maker at Lark Quarry was a theropod.  
Romilio & Salisbury have now spent an inordinate amount of time and effort 
trying to prove that it was more probably an ornithopod.  OK, we'll call it an 
ornithopod.  So what?  It doesn't affect the evidence of a stampede.  Mary and 
I explained that in 1984, and I seem to have been repeating it ever since.  
Anthony Martin says the same thing in his new book on ichnology: it doesn't 
matter.  Identify that track-maker as anything you like, ornithopod, theropod, 
brachiopod, tripod... it makes no difference whatsoever to the actual evidence 
of a stampede.

Yet, contrary to all logic, Romilio & Salisbury still persist in pretending 
that it *does* matter and that the entire hypothesis of a dinosaurian stampede 
depends on the identity of that single track-maker.  It doesn't.  Nevertheless 
they are obliged to maintain the fiction;  if they don't, they wouldn't have a 
story to publish.  Initially they maintained the fiction by blatant 
misrepresentation:  in 1984 Mary and I said that Lark Quarry was the site of a 
dinosaurian stampede, but Romilio and Salisbury stated (2011) that Mary and I 
had interpreted the Lark Quarry as the site of a dinosaurian "pursuit".  That 
statement is manifestly untrue (check the publications for yourself) and 
presents an entirely different proposition.  A "pursuit" wou
rsuer, presumably a theropod.  But a stampede requires only a number of animals 
that were running - which is what we have at Lark Quarry.  Anything else at the 
site is
 purely incidental.  The older and differently-oriented tracks at the site 
might, or might not, help to explain the occurrence of a stampede, depending on 
how you choose to interpret them, but they are not essential.  Ornithopod or 
theropod?  It makes no difference.

In more recent publications Romilio & Salisbury have continued to maintain the 
fiction by pushing it into the background.  By omitting to mention that the 
original account of Lark Quarry was bipartite, with a clear-cut division into 
factual and conjectural sections, they allow their readers to merge the two 
components into the fictional narrative of a "pursuit" at Lark Quarry.  In my 
previous post I explained how Romilio & Salisbury had stitched together 
snippets from two different sources, A (factual; Lark Quarry) and B 
(conjecture; *not* Lark Quarry), in order to obtain the fictional story 
underlying their most recent article in *Cretaceous Research* (2014).  In *The 
Conversation* the distinction between fact and conjecture has receded even 
further into the background, leaving many (most?) readers to assume that Lark 
Quarry is the site of a dinosaurian 'pursuit' - the urban myth that they've 
encountered time after time in newspapers, magazines and
 TV documentaries.  Salisbury and Romilio have only to drop a few oblique hints 
and the urban myth is reinforced in the minds of their readers.

To a large extent these 2014 publications are an elaborate attempt to prove 
that my mention of 'fabricated data' (*Alcheringa*, 2013) is unwarranted, even 
outrageous exaggeration.  In *The Conversation* Salisbury and Romilio explain 
that they merely joined up the dots in the original illustrations;  in 
*Cretaceous Research* they explain that they 'adapted' the footprint outlines 
that Mary and I had published (1984) 'to include missing or dotted 
(contentious) sections' and that the 'missing/dotted portions were added'.  
Well, that's not quite accurate.  In 2011 their Figure 2 illustrated complete 
outlines for all 11 footprints and stated in the caption that these were the 
'outlines of tracks 1-11 *from* Thulborn and Wade (1984)' - not that they were 
'adapted' from that source.  And the dotted portions were already there, in the 
original illustrations, so they can't have been 'added' by Romilio and 
Salisbury.  They didn't add the missing portions
 either:  they added what they believed or suspected to be the missing 
portions.  So where did they obtain those beliefs or suspicions?  How did they 
know what the missing portions ought to look like?  I won't labour the point 
(form your own opinions), but I consider that Romilio and Salisbury have voiced 
the stock-standard excuse for every occurrence of fabricated data in the 
scientific literature - the authors merely *added the bits that were missing*.  
(Incidentally, if it were simply a matter of joining up the dots or adding a 
few lines, I think that Mary and I might have noticed, don't you?  After all, 
we did study the site fairly intensively for about 14 years.)

OK, from time to time we all make mistakes or use the wrong words or stuff it 
up one way or another, and 'adapting' the original illustrations might have 
been nothing more serious than that - over-enthusiasm, poor judgement or bad 
luck.  If it had been, I'd have indulged in a bit of grumbling (who wouldn't?) 
and overlooked it.  But it wasn't an isolated blemish:  it was only one 
transgression in a whole catalogue of misdemeanours.  As I've explained 
elsewhere, the Romilio and Sallisbury article in *Cretaceous Research* (2011) 
broke every rule in the book, all the way from torturing the data through to 
blatant cherry-picking, and in my estimation it should never have survived 
peer-review and been published in the first place.

Anyway, all this stuff about digital photogrammetry is apparently offered in 
vindication of their juggling with the original illustrations.  The 'objective' 
method of photogrammetry appears to confirm that Romilio and Salisbury got the 
correct footprint outlines in the first place, by joining up the dots and 
adding the 'missing' bits... so what's the point of whining about their 
methods?  Or, at least, that seems to be the implication.  (Bearing in mind, of 
course, that you're at liberty to pick any contour line that you might fancy 
and glorify it as "the" footprint's outline.)  In response to my assessment of 
th
marked:  'He [I] considered the methods we had used to analyse the track 
outlines to be flawed, and that in obtaining our results we had in some way 
“fabricated” our data.  His [my] main gripe seemed to be that we had altered 
the outlines of some of the tracks to suit the
 analytical method we chose to employ. [...] After convincing ourselves that 
the 1984 outlines were good approximations of the tracks, we decided to join 
the dots' (*The Conversation*).

While overlooking several other inaccuracies in those statements, I'll point 
out that this was neither my main 'gripe' nor, indeed, a gripe of any kind.  
Gripes are rumblings and grumblings of no great consequence, little more than 
visceral discomfort, whereas I was expressing serious concern at lapses in 
proper scientific procedure.  My *main* 'gripe' was misrepresentation, not 
fabrication.  By declaring that Mary and I had described Lark Quarry as the 
site of a 'pursuit' (when we'd actually said 'stampede') Romilio and Salisbury 
were able to pretend (and are still able to keep on pretending) that the 
identity of a single track-maker - theropod or ornithopod? - was a matter of 
profound importance.  If they were to come clean and summarize the original 
(1984) interpretation fully and accurately, everyone would see through their 
pretence and realise that they've just wasted three years arguing about 
something of trifling importance.  I'm still
 waiting for them to correct the misrepresentation by telling everyone the 
whole story... and I'm still waiting... and waiting.  That is my 'main gripe'.

Sorry.  That's much longer and more strident than I'd intended.  The 
conclusion?  Well, *The Conversation*, like *Cretaceous Research*, has allowed 
its unsuspecting readers to be hoodwinked, thereby corroding half of its its 
mast-head claim to 'Academic rigour, journalistic flair'.   Some of the 
readers' comments are truly depressing.

Back to the swamp,

Tony Thulborn