Gaffes in paleontology

Some ideas were considered gaffes before being accepted. Other ideas were accepted before being recognized as gaffes.

Of the former
was denounced for his continental drift theory. 
Darwin… well… everyone knows what happened to Darwin’s reputation before others realized his theories explained so much of the natural world.

So one always runs a risk when pointing a finger.
Famous and not-so-famous paleontologists the world over have printed ideas we now know not to be true. These are now known as gaffes (for now…).

Now everyone knows that everyone makes mistakes.
Time and others help scrub them away. That’s the process of Science. So, the following gaffes were products of their time, long since scrubbed away by later discoveries.

1. Carroll 1988, p. 277:
“Crocodiles are the only surviving archosaurs.”

2. Ellenberger 1987:
“Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne).” (On the presence of a probable bird ancestor from the upper Muschelkalk (shell-bearing limestone) of Catalonia, Spain.) This introduced the world to Cosesaurus, a macrocnemid and a fenestrasaur, not a bird ancestor.

3. Modesto 2006:
“Mesosaurs form a clade with millerettids, procolophonoids and pareiasaurs”

4. Bakker 1975, p. 68
Longisquama…was covered by long overlapping scales that were keeled, suggesting that they constituted a structural stage in the evolution of feathers.”

5. Gardiner 1992
“A radical alternative hypothesis, based on a character analysis of living tetrapods, is elaborated in which birds are considered the sister-group of mammals, crocodiles the sister-group of those two, chelonians the sister-group of those three, and squamates + Sphenodon the sister-group of those four.”

6. Gardiner 1993
“Fossil members of the Haematothermia include pterosaurs and “dinosaurs” (both stem-group birds) and Dinocephalia, Dicynodontia, Gorgonopsida and Therocephalia (all stem-group mammals).”

7. Heilmann 1926
from Wiki, “Heilmann published an English revision of his series of Danish papers in 1926 as The Origin of Birds.[5] Like Thomas Huxley, Heilmann compared Archaeopteryx and other birds to an exhaustive list of prehistoric reptiles, and also came to the conclusion that theropod dinosaurs like Compsognathus were the most similar. However, Heilmann noted that birds possessed claviclesfused to form a bone called the furcula (‘wishbone’), and while clavicles were known in more primitive reptiles, they had not yet been recognized in theropod dinosaurs. A firm believer in Dollo’s Law, which states that evolution is not reversible, Heilmann could not accept that clavicles were lost in dinosaurs and re-evolved in birds, so he was forced to rule out dinosaurs as bird ancestors and ascribe all of their similarities to convergence. Heilmann stated that bird ancestors would instead be found among the more primitive ‘thecodont‘ grade of reptiles.[5] Heilmann’s extremely thorough approach ensured that his book became a classic in the field and its conclusions on bird origins, as with most other topics, were accepted by nearly all evolutionary biologists for the next four decades,[6] despite the discovery of clavicles in the primitive theropod Segisaurus in 1936.[7] Clavicles and even fully developed furculae have since been identified in numerous other non-avian dinosaurs.”

Speaking of Heilmann (later Heilman) Wiki reports, “He was largely self-taught and essentially an amateur, he was largely disregarded locally by established academics. He however was not afraid of taking on the establishment and made his arguments clear.

Anybody believe in reincarnation?  ;- )

Gaffes in pterosaurheresies and reptileevolution
Judging by the many dozens of score changes I’ve made and updates to illustrations, Lord knows I’ve made my share of mistakes. Recognizing and fixing those errors is one form of “manning up.” After all, that’s the process of Science, whether you do it yourself or benefit from the help of others.

Bakker, RT 1975. Dinosaur renaissance. – Scientific American 232,58-78.
Ellenberger P and de Villalta JF 1974. Sur la presence d’un ancêtre probable des oiseaux dans le Muschelkalk supérieure de Catalogne (Espagne). Note preliminaire. Acta Geologica Hispanica 9, 162-168.
Gardiner, BG 1982. Tetrapod classification. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 74, 207-32.
Gardiner BG 1993.
 Haemotothermia: Warm-blooded amniotes. Cladistics 9(4):369-395.
Heilmann, G (1926).The Origin of Birds. London: Witherby.
Modesto SP 2006. The cranial skeleton of the Early Permian aquatic reptile Mesosaurus tenuidens: implications for relationships and palaeobiology. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 146 (3): 345–368. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2006.00205.x.

2 thoughts on “Gaffes in paleontology

  1. Continental drift = Alfred Wegener. Least liked by US structural geologists, but had fans among european paleontologists and biogeographers. Darwin: I imagine you’re thinking of early 20th C decline of natural selection. Again, theories always were live issues.

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