Scathing Book Review – Pterosaurs by Mark Witton 2013 – part 2

I finally got the new Witton pterosaur book from Amazon.
Most of the topics you’ll read here have been posted before.

pterosaurs-wittonWith his new book, Pterosaurs, Witton (2013) continues to stick his head in the sand (or wear his professional blinders), avoiding and dismissing the best testable evidence for pterosaur origins, wing shape, take-off, phylogeny, ontogeny, morphology, gender identification and reproduction. (Which is why the Pterosaur Heresies is needed, to right these wrongs). Here’s yet another expert disfiguring pterosaurs big time.

Of  course his artwork is beautiful, flaws and all. And his writing style is friendly, informative and a joy to read, until you come up against bogus information and images. Then you wonder why has the world gone topsy-turvy, where amateurs provide better, more accurate evidence and more parsimonious explanations than professionals do?!

And it’s not just that we disagree.
I am pointing out factual errors here that can be tested by looking at specimens.

Case in point
Earlier we talked about the first few chapters of Pterosaurs in which Witton ignores the four outgroup taxa closest to pterosaurs: Langobardisaurus, Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama. Witton did produce his version of Sharovipteryx, which explains much of the problem and why he dismissed it. Here it is (Fig.1). See if you can see where Witton pays little heed to accuracy.

Figure 2. This is what scientists call complete fantasy and total disregard for data. Upper images from Witton 2013, in which he simply made up the proportions of the pedal elements for Sharovipteryx. No wonder he didn't see the phylogenetic connection to pterosaurs! Below, the actual proportions traced from an 8x10 transparency taken after personal examination of the fossil. Like pterosaurs, cosesaurs, langobardisaurs,  Tanystropheus and Huehuecuetzpalli, Sharovipteryx had a short metatarsal 5 and an elongated p5.1. It's a key trait for this clade. Don't tell me pterosaurs just appeared out of nowhere. Here's the evidence of kinship.

Figure 2. This is what scientists call complete fantasy and total disregard for data. Upper images from Witton 2013, in which he simply made up the proportions of the pedal elements for Sharovipteryx. Lower image from yours truly after examining the specimen firsthand. No wonder he didn’t see the phylogenetic connection to pterosaurs! Like pterosaurs, cosesaurs, langobardisaurs, Tanystropheus and Huehuecuetzpalli, Sharovipteryx had a short metatarsal 5 and an elongated p5.1. It’s a key trait for this clade. Don’t tell me pterosaurs just appeared out of nowhere. Here’s the evidence of kinship.

I rolled my eyes so far back that I actually saw my brain.
Witton (2013) disfigured Sharovipteryx by completely imagining the proportions of the pedal elements. There’s not even a feeble attempt at accuracy here. And because Witton put his blinders on he completely missed the unique morphological similarities in the pes shared by Sharovipteryx and pterosaurs. This is why I earlier stated that Witton was ill-prepared to write a book on pterosaurs. This is not about ‘not knowing’ the correct data. This is about ‘not wanting to know’ the correct data, which has been around for forty years.

If you are of the opinion
that my work (Fig. 1) is flawed, check out the original paper, Sharov (1971), who made the same tracing.

And if you’re friends with Mark
Yes, he’s a great guy and tries hard, but he fkd up here. Don’t run to his defense. There is no defense for this. Earlier Witton slammed ReptileEvolution.com in general. Here, as elsewhere, I’m being surgically precise with my critique. I’m simply trying to lift the blinders off those who profess to be experts in pterosaurs. If you’re an expert, act like it. Be professional. Test ideas and observations. Don’t just follow tradition, especially when you profess to not know the answer. And for Pete’s sake, don’t make up things out of your imagination.

Note that,
even in his figure of Sharovipteryx, Witton ignores several other key traits shared with pterosaurs to the exclusion of basal archosaurs: 1) Elongated and retracted naris (long premaxilla); 2) Large orbit, or is that the antorbital fenestra?; 3) Short torso (knee can reach the shoulder); 4) Elongated ilium (capturing more than four sacrals); 5) Attenuated caudals with chevrons parallel and appressed to centra; 6) Tibia longer than femur: 7) Fibula attenuated and 8) the big one, uropatagia (soft tissue trailing the hind limbs (Witton invents most of the soft tissue in front of the femur. See Fig 3.)). Evidently Witton eschews hard evidence and phylogenetic analysis. I find it answers many, many problems.

Figure 2. Sharovipteryx mirabilis in various views. No pycnofibers added yet. Click to learn more.

Figure 3. Sharovipteryx mirabilis in various views. Trailing membrane on the hand is guesswork based on phylogenetic bracketing. Note, there is a soft tissue flap in front of the femur, but it does not connect to the torso, which, in reality is circular in dorsal view with wide flat ribs. And yes, Sharovipteryx has prepubes, a pterosaurian trait inherited from Cosesaurus.

Simply having an elongated pedal digit 5 puts Sharovipteryx and pterosaurs outside of virtually all archosauriforms (they have vestiges) and squarely in kinship with tritosaur lizards, like Huehuecuetzpalli, which shares some of the traits listed above.

Witton doesn’t like pterosaurs as highly derived lizards
Witton (2013, p. 17) reports, “There seems little similarity between the skulls of pterosaurs and the highly modified, mobile skulls of squamates, or any similarity between the trunk and limb skeletons of each group.” This is, of course, bogus data (imprecise to untrue) to draw you off. Pterosaurs are not related to squamates (Iguania and Scleroglossa), but to a third, more basal lepidosaur clade, the Tritosauria, that did not have a mobile skull and did not fuse the ankle bones. Again, putting his blinders on, and following in the footsteps of Dr. David Unwin, Witton does not introduce his readers to the following lepidosaurs: Huehuecuetzpalli, Macrocnemus, Cosesaurus and Longisquama, all of which demonstrate a gradually increasing list of pterosaur traits as detailed here.

In order to further dismiss my work, Witton references Hone and Benton (2007) which has been lauded as one of the worst papers of all time based on the fact that they set up a battle between the fenestrasaurs and archosaurs, then eliminated the fenestrasaurs from consideration and declared archosaurs the winners. They also had typos in their matrix (found by Bennett 2012) which they used to dismiss data. And there were many other problems listed here. I just want to ask Dr. Witton, “Where is the critical thinking?” I know it’s easy to cozy up to your friends’ work and difficult to accept others’, but really, you have to examine the evidence without bias.

Final pertinent note
Witton reports that my work has received little attention due to my “highly controversial techniques used in his analyses and anatomical interpretations.” At least I don’t just make the stuff up (see Fig. 1) !!!!! Dr. Witton, this is really “the pot calling the kettle black.” Please look at the specimen or get precise references next time. It will solve lots of problems and get us back on the right track.

As always, if anyone has better data, I am known to frequently make corrections wherever warranted. Just made a bunch this week.

More later.

References
Bennett SC 2012. 
The phylogenetic position of the Pterosauria within the Archosauromorpha re-examined. Historical Biology. iFirst article, 2012, 1–19.
Peters D 2000. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Peters D 2011. A Catalog of Pterosaur Pedes for Trackmaker Identification. Ichnos 18(2):114-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10420940.2011.573605
Sharov AG 1971. New flying reptiles from the Mesozoic of Kazakhstan and Kirghizia. – Transactions of the Paleontological Institute, Akademia Nauk, USSR, Moscow, 130: 104–113 [in Russian].

9 thoughts on “Scathing Book Review – Pterosaurs by Mark Witton 2013 – part 2

  1. “At least I don’t just make the stuff up”.
    Yes, surely. Despite people having access to the actual specimens told you otherwise.
    Those just do no want to shift their established paradigm and thus oppose you in all possible means just for the sake of gospel. Most likely they tell you that your interpretation is impossible without even looking.

  2. “I am pointing out factual errors here that can be tested by looking at specimens”

    And yet you just look at photos! You really are a joke

    • This one maybe, but you seem to base most your ‘amazing discoveries’ that real palaeontologists try to replicate and cant see, on photos played with in photoshop. And if I had wrote a series of ‘reviews’ which are little more than personal attacks on the author I wouldn’t be telling others their insults are out of line!

  3. Neil, you/re biased and prejudiced. I say this because you speak in generalities (in your present note) when I ask for specific instances that I can address and repair.

    “Maybe”? Again this is your bias speaking on your behalf. You don’t believe me when I tell you the specimen was in my hands, yet you believe it when other paleontologists report that.

    “Real paleontologists try to replicate”? Give me one instance that is currently online with regard to the Witton book. That would be more than helpful.

    D

    • The problem is David you have a track record to go back and change things to cover your mistakes. So I could waste hours of my time digging through your website and finding references that you will no doubt dispute anyway so why waste my time.

      I now see you have written 6 ‘reviews’ that are just thinly veiled personal attacks, something I notice you haven’t denied. And yet you still have a long way to go to match the number of good reviews I’ve seen for Marks Book. Why do you suppose everyone else loves the book and you are the only one that seems to have found these so called flaws?

      • They haven’t studied pterosaurs, run them through phylogenetic analysis, dissected the eggs, etc. Majority doesn’t trump here. Evidence trumps. Why are you even bothering to read my posts when the evidence doesn’t move you?

  4. Like pterosaurs, cosesaurs, langobardisaurs, Tanystropheus and Huehuecuetzpalli, Sharovipteryx had a short metatarsal 5 and an elongated p5.1. It’s a key trait for this clade.

    …Uh, no, this is plesiomorphic for diapsids!

    Anyway, I’d greatly appreciate if you could tell me where to find good photos of the foot of Sharovipteryx.

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