Darren Naish picks up with a 1995 criticism of my first published work, which happened to be in Nature, as I reconstructed Sordes pilosus prior to the apparent drifting of the elements (Fig. 1). Admittedly sophomoric. The work was crude and based on crappy photographs, but at its core was more or less correct. The left forelimb had drifted, as shown here in photographic detail. The wing membranes had a narrower chord than others had imagined. The myth of the purported “uropatagium” in Sordes is detailed here in ReptileEvolution.com and here.
At left are the only two images of Sordes published before my Nature paper. Note the Unwin/Bakhurina (1994) image omits many of the details found in the earlier Sharov (1971) paper. So really, what was gained? Darren wrote of my Nature drawings (Fig. 1), “This is a speculation based entirely on examination of published photos. It cannot be considered anywhere near as reliable as Unwin & Bakhurina’s examination of the actual fossil.” Of course this is speculation. It’s an idea, an explanation for a weird phenomenon. Science permits such speculation because Science likes ideas. (How did the rings of Saturn form? Do continents really drift?) I still haven’t seen the Sordes specimen, but I have found in the specimen (here in ReptileEvolution.com) overlooked bones that explain why the mass of wing membrane is where it shouldn’t be.
With regard to the uropatagium
All other pterosaurs (and fenestrasaurs) have twin uropatagia that span the area behind each knee, arcing to the pelvis and heel. So how does one explain the anomaly of a single uropagagium in Sordes? Now I think the material between the feet of Sordes includes unattached wing membranes carried there by disarticulated and drifted forearm elements as shown here. The paired uropatagia are smaller and less distinct, but still visibile here. If there is a better explanation out there, I’d like to see it. Remember, this is only an idea and Science likes ideas. As you can tell by the Unwin and Bakhurina (1994) drawing, attention to detail was not their strong point.
If you want reliability, don’t take my word for it. Don’t take their word for it. Take a look at the specimen yourself using all the published materials as your guides. Science is all about repeatability, not taking someone’s word for it, but testing it youself. Unwin and Bakhurina (1994) provided their interpretation. I provided another. Nothing to raise hackles about.
Cosesaurus and the Rivisita Italiana Paper
Darren reports he was initially impressed by my paper on pterosaur origins (Peters 2000b) noting that I had reconstructed elements of Longisquama and Sharovipteryx with more detail than prior workers (which means only Sharov’s (1970, 1971 short papers and small illustrations). With regard to Cosesaurus a great deal of detailed work was earlier provided Ellenberger (1978, 1991). All three of these specimens were examined personally and under the microscope — and even so, I made mistakes due to my lack of experience. Darren reports that despite his initial enthusiasm for the results, “[others] were far from enthusiastic; the overwhelming opinion being (1) that you just couldn’t see the things reported in that paper in real life (that is, the interpretations were in error), and (2) that the phylogenetic analyses included in the paper were completely erroneous, since they wholly relied on those problematic observations (in the paper.,”
In order to get that paper (and all my many others) published it had to pass peer review. And it passed. More to the point, you’ll note that once again critics are painting my work with the broadest of brushes, dismissing my direct observations (using established paleontological techniques) without providing alternative observations that could then be considered side-by-side for comparison. Here’s a fact that you can look up: Dr. Paul Ellenberger (1978, 1993) saw all of the items that I saw in Cosesaurus, only our interpretations differed, which I covered earlier here and here. He correctly identified the strap-like, bird-like scapula which I dismissed because I had the prolacertiform bias (since corrected here.) He correctly traced two wrist bones outside of the wrist, which I earlier ignored then later realized they were the pteroid and preaxial carpal. The list goes on (see more here). Oddly, no one has made a serious attempt at reconstructing the skeletons of the basal fenestrasaurs since my work in 2000, despite the importance and despite their dismissals (“step aside and let a REAL paleontologist look at that specimen!). Wonder why that is? Wouldn’t it be awful is someone actually confirmed our (Ellenberger and myself) observations? It would literally bring down the house.
Pterosaurs and Dinosaurs
Darren continues by reiterating traditional thinking, “other workers have continued to find support for a close affinity between pterosaurs and dinosaurs (e.g., Brusatte et al. 2010, Nesbitt 2011, Butler et al. 2011), and they’ve ignored the results and proposals of Peters (2000).” You’ll note in none of these papers do these workers test the fenestrasaurs in their matrices to see what would happen. They don’t even look at them. For some reason they are content to simply stay the course. Darren reports, “It’s because his [meaning my] observations, and hence his character codings and the trees that result from them, are regarded as wholly unreliable.” Fine! Then create your OWN observations and character codings! What’s wrong with that? There should no “trust” in Science as there is in Religion. There should only be testing! No reliability! Only skepticism! In 2000 I simply suggested an alternative. It really is up to others to repeat the experiment, but so far others have refrained from doing so.
Darren continues, “Remember that the workers who produce the trees that support the ‘conventional’ view of pterosaur affinities have spent a lot of time looking at actual fossils.” As if I haven’t (see above). He continues, “Furthermore, these researchers have done an excellent job of explaining and documenting the characters they use in their phylogenies, and they have proven track records of showing that they understand how to reconstruct phylogeny and analyse phylogenetic data.” And that’s why they can’t explain how pterosaurs suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent antecedents. And that’s why they can’t explain why Vancleavea has no antorbital fenestra or mandibular fenestra despite claims that it is an archosauriform. Etc. etc.
Let’s also remember that in that landmark pair of papers by Hone and Benton (2007, 2009) they didn’t even look at the specimens in question and discarded two of them outright (Longisquama and Sharovipteryx) while only retaining a quarter of the characters for Cosesaurus. This is how the battle has been waged: ignore the specimens, attack the methods, dismiss the wise guy in St. Louis, don’t upset the status quo. It’s a sad state of affairs in paleontology if this is really what it has come to.
Hopefully someday Darren will reexamine Hone and Benton (2007, 2009) with the same vigor and find out why these two PhDs didn’t notice that their supertree could not nest Choristodera with the choristorderes Champsosaurus, Cteniogenys and Lazarusuchus. And it failed to nest Lepidosauromorpha with the lepidosaurs, Gephyrosaurus, Sphenodontia and Squamata and more errors detailed here. They found that Cosesaurus nested next to Proterosuchus, for instance. Crazy results slipping past everyone’s radar…
Next up: the Longisquama Controversy
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