About a year ago
Darren Naish, at his Tetrapod Zoology blog, launched an all out (as opposed to specific pinpoint) attack on ReptileEvolution.com. As you’ll recall, and beyond all logic, he peppered his attack with monstrous renderings from other artists. In the same vein, Naish also included his own version of the large reptile tree (while virtually ignoring the real one, Fig. 2). His self-titled “highly simplified version of the David Peters reptileevolution.com tetrapod tree” version (Fig. 1) included only 14 taxa. And over half of those were new (not included in the original large reptile tree taxon list of 325.)
So once again,
rather than using real data and real evidence from the ReptileEvolution.com website, Darren Naish made up his own tree (Fig.1) and taxa. And by labeling it a “version of the David Peters tree,” Naish set it up (passively in this case) to be ridiculed. Here’s how: Covering such a wide gamut with so few taxa gives the impression that none of these taxa are closely related to one another, or evolve from one another. Which is true! By omitting hundreds of transitional taxa (nodes shown in pink, Fig. 1), Naish’s tree becomes a misrepresentation of the large, robust and fully resolved tree that depends on those hundreds of transitional taxa to show close relationships and evolutionary pathways.
Making up your own evidence and planting it on someone else is typically inadmissible in court. Withholding evidence (omitting hundreds of transitional taxa, ) is likewise frowned upon. Yet Naish still feels justified and proud of his invented journalism.
The failure of prior trees, including Naish’s tree
is in their small size. Too few taxa (14 in Naish’s case) cannot hope to relay the wonders and blends and relationships within the wide gamut of reptile evolution. You need more taxa (at least a magnitude more). And in Naish’s case, you need more basal taxa (no Iguanodon, please).
Naish chose to portray (Fig.1) a derived Cretaceous pterosaur rather than a basal Triassic one. He chose to portray a derived sauropterygian, ichthyosaur, dinosaur, croc, mammal, turtle and frog, none of which are found in the large reptile tree. So there’s massive misrepresentation here. This is not the Peters taxon list. He wanted the taxa to look unrelated, and he succeeded. He wanted to make the reptile evolution tree look bad.
If only Naish had listened to the good angel on his other shoulder…
Naish could have shown the actual reptile evolution tree, or segments of it, but he didn’t. He could have focused on a recovered clade and demonstrated problems within it, but he didn’t.
(Notice, I am using Naish’s own tree in my attack here. It wasn’t that difficult to do.)
As an analogy, Naish’s tree gave us the colors blue, red and yellow without including the gradual spectrum of color transitions between them — which is the whole point of any study of evolution, right?
On a sarcastic note
Using Naish’s “highly simplified” version of evolution (Fig. 1), let’s also show the evolution of humans starting with a sponge, a fly, a starfish, a lamprey, a swordfish, Eryops, a snake, Dimetrodon, Burnetia, a platypus, an elephant, a cat, a rabbit and a tarsier. That’s the same number of taxa that Naish used and in the correct phylogenetic order. But the evolutionary transitions are just too difficult to understand because basal taxa are not used.
This is how Darren Naish made evolution look bad.
By contrast —
This is how to make evolution look good.
If you are interested in any genus listed on the large reptile tree, you can find it at ReptileEvolution.com. Look it up and you can link to any number of predecessors and descendants (if there are any), relatives and offshoots. You’ll see that related taxa share a very large suite of traits. Unrelated taxa don’t share as many traits. You’ll be able to read what traits are new and what traits have become vestiges. Sadly, such rich details are missing from Naish’s “highly simplified” tree. In large gamut evolutionary studies 14 taxa cannot provide the same value as 340. To “highly simplify” evolution is to misrepresent it and make it unintelligible and laughable. Naish’s version of simplification has the same effect as removing 20 or more letters from the alphabet.
The power and value of ReptileEvolution.com
is in the number of included taxa, each one a slight variation from its closest relative. The whole point is to get closer to these transitions so you can begin to understand the natural selection trends and the gradual evolutionary processes that occurred back then. Here you’ll get higher resolution by removing the evolutionary distances between related reptiles. And you do this by increasing the number of included taxa.
More is better!!!!
You just can’t get such high resolution and increased understanding from a mere 14 taxa in a “highly simplified” tree.
A year later Naish still doesn’t understand his error. He thinks he did the world a great favor by exposing the “sham” behind ReptileEvolution.com. Hopefully someone someday will point out to him that, in this case, his over “simplification” was the real sham.