and Tetrapod Zoology – part 1

I’m always interested in criticisms of my work. That’s why I read with great interest a recent Tetrapod Zoology blog by Scientific American writer, Darren Naish. It’s a tour de force slam on, which provides most of the data for the PterosaurHeresies.

Let’s Get Down To It
I’ve always said that the sister taxa in my 300+ study look like their nested sisters, which demonstrates the gradual change we should all expect in evolution. To counter that, Darren started off his report with an illustration that dismantled those spectral changes by illustrating a tree with just 14 disparate taxa. His tree is true, as far as the tree goes, but it doesn’t do the large reptile tree justice. A tree full of leaves in late Spring is a good model for the tree of life created by evolution. A tree hacked down to just 14 bare branches, each with a single leaf, gives a far different impression.

Something Old…and Sophomoric.
Darren kindly gave my dino books some free publicity. Then he illustrated one of many illustrations of several pterosaurs he dredged up from the 1990s. Darren, why go back to early uneducated illustrations when all of the latest, more mature materials are freely available on Of course this makes me look bad! Those illustrations are sophomoric. There was growth between then and now! Several days ago I urged you to use the latest illustrations. That you chose not to demonstrates something I’ll leave for readers to judge. I don’t use those crappy illustrations anymore. In fact, I pulled them from circulation. There’s motive here.

Digitigrade Pterosaurs
Yes, those sophomoric pterosaur feet were digitigrade, likely because they were drawn prior to the 1995 flurry of new data on pterosaur tracks. As I described in Peters (2000) many pterosaurs had flat feet. Others, as demonstrated in Peters (2000, 2011), remained digitigrade. It’s 2012 Darren. Let’s go with the latest data and observations, please.

Breaking up the Ornithodira
Darren mentioned my early manuscript breaking up the Ornithodira and remarked, “* The title is inaccurate since, by definition, Ornithodira is the clade that includes Dinosauria and Pterosauria. Pterosaurs will always be ornithodirans, no matter where they end up in the tree of life.” Actually that’s not true. According to the large reptile tree, the most recent common ancestor of pterosaurs and dinosaurs is the basalmost reptile, Cephalerpeton. That means all descendants of a basal sister to Cephalerpeton (literally all reptiles, past and present) are also ornithodires, which was not the original intention of the author of that term. The term ‘Reptilia’ is older and thus has precedence over ‘Ornithodira.’ All this can be tested, by the way, by anyone who wishes to simply add the basal lizard Huehuecuetzpalli to any archosaur/pterosaur matrix. Not sure, considering the recent hubbub, why no one has done this yet… Seems rather easy to do…

More tomorrow and for several days hence, I presume. Hang in there, we’ll get through this  together. Read Darren’s blog. See if you think it represents a fair criticism of the latest work seen in

As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.

Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.

Peters D 2000a. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods. Ichnos 7:11-41.
Peters D 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141.

Tetrapod Zoology


25 thoughts on “ and Tetrapod Zoology – part 1

  1. Actually, I think your older illustrations are better than your newer ones. I remember printing all of those out back in the day. Besides, they were shown in a clearly historical context and acknowledged to not be your current thinking. As for the pruned tree, it doesn’t look any worse on its face than his pruned traditional tree right below it. It’s not like a small restoration of Ornithocheirus looks more like Iguanodon than it does like Varanus.

    Darren’s right about Ornithodira. Just because Ornithodira is a junior synonym of Reptilia in your tree doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The phylogenetic definition would need to include a caveat of “Pterodactylus + Megalosaurus, but not including Crocodylus” or something to actually be capable of being broken up. It’s really only technical semantics though.

  2. I’m with Mickey (unsurprisingly). I was including those old (c. mid-90s) pterosaur reconstructions because they are clearly very good, and pre-date all of your recent problematic hypotheses, not because I had an agenda in revealing inaccuracies or deficiencies. I hope this is clear. Whatever happens, I hope we can remain rational, restrained and polite in all of this. As I told you over email, I’m not happy about doing this. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

    • Hi Neil, Actually I’ve been to dozens of museums, looked through many microscopes, spent the night with many curators, been to Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, and always to see fossils. I’m glad you commented. Gives me a chance to respond.

  3. I’m skilled with Photoshop and I’m a competent artist I’m also a fossil preparator and photographer and know how hard it is to light and photograph fossils to capture the characteristics you can see in the actual specimen. Have you published the details of your Digital Graphic Segregation method in detail so the technique can be put to the test to see if your interpretations can be replicated? I don’t have the expertise to follow other lines of criticism of your ideas, but I’m more than skeptical of your DGS technique. If the images on your site are reasonable examples of your raw material, I think your interpretations are more likely to be manifestations of imagination than testable and repeatable scientific observations. I see poor source material for your analysis with relatively low resolution at the scale of detail you’re interpreting. I see only single direction lighting that can easily lead to misinterpretation and I see mostly monochrome images that obscure matrix color variations that can deceptively look like fossil details. The specimens you look at are flattened, but they are not flat. For the kind of reconstruction you’re attempting, I’d want much higher resolution images photographed with lighting from many directions (as well as stereo images) to reveal relief details. And I’d want full color and multiple spectrum lighting images to reveal as much as possible about the mineral structure of the fossil. Perhaps that’s not practical for you, but your convenience doesn’t excuse your apparent comfort with really poor source material. From what I’m seeing there’s more cloud-gazing than scientifically valid observation in DGS, but the burden of proof to show that DGS is a valid technique is yours.

    • The main pattern I see is that you are refusing to answer the questions posed. You never explain what the DGS method is, or how others can employ it. That’s vital. The page you point to trumpets some of your alleged results, but doesn’t say a single word about what the method is and how other can use it. No one can test and test again if you don’t even identify the tools you used.

      From all the evidence presented I’ve got to say you remind me of Prosper-René Blondlot, the physicist who towards the end of his life made a fool of himself by claiming to discover “N-rays.” Sadly, once scientific controls were enacted, it was proved that N-rays were imaginary. Please note, I’m not calling you a liar. I think you really see what you think you see, because of your particular biases. But it’s vital to test and test again, and the only way to do that is to get as many eyes on the same thing you’re looking at, hopefully eyes more qualified than yours. Your obscuring of the “DGS method” is only making you look suspect.

      • Scott, I am working on just a DGS solution at the moment with Bellabrunnus. Other similar solutions can be found in in the three pterosaur eggs, Jeholopterus, Dendrorhynchoides, Herrerasaurus, Helveticosaurus, the flightless pterosaur SOS2428, the flathead pterosaur and several other taxa here and there. I have explained the DGS method on in the post entitled, “The “Headless” Langobardisaurus and the DGS Method.” Another includes, “Did Dimorphodon Have an External Mandibular Fenestra?”. For your benefit, a short course: a jpeg is opened in Photoshop, transparent layers are added and various [skull] parts are colorized until all the bones are accounted for. It’s really that simple. The results are often superior (identifying more bones) than traditional methods. Testing involves reconstructing the recovered bones, making sure symmetrical bones match, then placing the reconstruction into a phylogenetic perspective. All autapomorphies are suspect and require reexamination. This, hopefully, expunges any biases. Knowing pterosaurs as well as I do is also helpful, having reconstructed more skeletons than anyone else. Sound good? On the other hand, I was impressed by your bias, comparing me to a discredited physicist before getting the answer you requested in your first paragraph.

      • I know very little about paleontology, but I recognise the fallacy of circular reasoning when I see it; Mr. Peters if you truly believe in the information you present, you have to become better at arguing logically.

  4. Darren, why go back to early uneducated illustrations when all of the latest, more mature materials are freely available on Of course this makes me look bad! Those illustrations are sophomoric. There was growth between then and now! Several days ago I urged you to use the latest illustrations. That you chose not to demonstrates something I’ll leave for readers to judge. I don’t use those crappy illustrations anymore. In fact, I pulled them from circulation. There’s motive here.

    Yeah, and it’s quite obvious: to show the historical development of your work – to provide some context for its current stage.

    BTW, the PhyloCode hasn’t been implemented yet, so priority does not exist for phylogenetic definitions. It will not be retroactive.

  5. More and more, your ideas seem to be taking hold.

    I remember the flack Robert Bakker caught with his theories on warm-blooded dinosaurs. Not one of his hypotheses was accepted, until more evidence showed he was basically correct. However, so many times, scientists whose findings backed Bakker’s claims left his name out of it.

    You’ve explained what you do. They can’t duplicate it…YET! How much you want to bet that when they DO get it…and they will…that “they” will do their best to claim priority? Darren Naish’s blog against you is reprehensible, but it should have one good effect, David; it will make it that much harder for someone to steal your methodology. And you can bet a Pterodactylus’ Tiny Tokus someone will.

    • “Steal your methodology”? How can others “test, test and test again” unless the methodology is shared? The results can’t be trusted until others, using the same methodology, have obtained the same results.

      • Susan, you’re being silly. David has shared the methods openly. Since you want to test him…and you SHOULD want to test his methods, why don’t you do so? If you lack the skills needed to do so, perhaps David can teach you.

        And I stand by my statements.

  6. David, I’ve been following since 2012 and recoiled at the chafing tone of Darren’s “ignore” long enough to avoid reading even any more of it until tonight. While I may be “only learning” paleontology from either one of you, what I glean from you is a founding on intent scrutiny and objectivity, but I had to clench my teeth to get through any of Mr. Naish’s disturbing castigation of you. Use my professed relative ignorance of paleontology itself as a qualification that Mr. Naish’s language marks him as a fallacious arguer here. One point Mr. Naish and most of your other shrill detractors here miss is the fact that even if a, sheerly-for the sake of argument, 90% of your novel theories about fossil interpretations were ultimately overturned, the remaining 10% would still be 100% more net “corrections” to the old theories than there would have been without your rigorous, industrious iconoclastic detective-work, and yes, Brian Riolo, I do see the clear parallel you pointed to between David Peters and Robert Bakker, as well of course as other now fully-embraced, dinosaur paradigm-smashers.
    I could do “verbal” “DGS,” (or whatever “Mr. Naish,” would consider “most-accurate,” since he doesn’t think “DGS,” “is-accurate” at all) on Mr. Naish’s arguments, if I wanted to stoop to his level, I could pun his name and say his arguments made me “Gnaish,” my teeth, (and they “did–!”) but my stooping to what I’d say were his level would by definition invalidate any point I’d be making.
    My point is that the real dispute lies outside even whether DGS makes things better or worse, whether you, David, made the DGS method “clear” enough to other paleontologists, or whether your arguedly speculative hypotheses have putatively “hijacked” “traditional” science forums “without” “notice–;” but that Mr. Naish and too many of your other detractors display conspicuously through their numbingly-condescending “linguistics–;” a disturbing, casual arrogance, and seem to be blind to their own intellectual blindness. (Some of your detractors assure that they’re sure “you,” “really-see,” details they can’t and that you were “not,” “a liar–;” (as if anybody plausibly would-ever have “gone” “this” far to have done another “Piltdown-Man,” style, paleo-“hoax–!” or that the fact that you “at-least,” weren’t “a liar,” weren’t “conspicuously self-evident–;”) and Mr. Naish reiterates ad-nauseam that his detraction “is-not,” “a personal-attack,” on “you–;” despite continuing-on to condescending insults each-time he “repeats” that–; to give just “one” “example,” on a list of logical-and linguistic- fallacies and intellectual-insults that I detest even to look-back on)–; . I repeat now that I am NOT “speaking” as any so-called “paleontologist–;” but only as a student of argument and linguistics. Mr. David Peters is being-wronged here in Mr. Naish’s argument. This is indisputable.
    For the sake of the critics who made whatever sense to me, my cautious only suggestion would be for you, Mr. Peters, to have a meeting with one of them to find-out why any of them thinks DGS hasn’t been “explained” “clearly-enough,” or start a new branch of work that focuses on “training” others to “use” it, in such a manner that they “can” reproduce many of your results. If too many people are saying that, make-sure that they can’t say it anymore. I’d really hate to see “,” or “pterosaurheresies,” go-down in-flames, just because somebody decided you looked too much like “Joseph Smith” with his specious “seeing-stones,” that was parodied convincingly on “South Park–;” even if only because of what harsh and unfair “critics,” whose validation that that would have effected.

    • Amen, Melvin Rogers! At last, someone else is taking a look at what Darren actually said, and at what David here is actually trying to do. DGS is an offshoot of the venerated (and justifiably so) tracing methods used at least since the day of Agassiz and continued right up to this minute by respected, peer reviewed paleontologists. Why the methodology is considered fine for someone else and false when David Peters does it is beyond me.

      And never mind the technique, which David uses mainly (as far as I can see), to separate and delineate bones, it is his observation of nature that influences and impresses me the most. He provides links to material demonstrating his theories, as in pterosaurs taking flight. He provides links to his rivals’ blogs without prejudice, he clearly demonstrates his methods, he allows that both his theories and his opponents’ theories are unproven (find the fossil evidence!), yet I and EVERYONE else in existence are supposed to ignore David Peters because he’s not a member of their clique? That is not science, that is politics.

  7. Pingback: Over het ontstaan van kikkers, slangen, krokodillen | Tsjok's blog

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