Much appreciated support ‘out there’ for ReptileEvolution.com

I found
a blog that repeated and supported Darren Naish’s diatribe, “Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com.” That was answered in a multipart reply here, here and in links therein back in 2012.

The name of that blogpost is:“the-best-scientific-smackdown-about-evolution-youll-read-this-week. from io9.com. If I read things correctly, the blog is hosted by Annalee Newitz under the topic Science Scandel, Newitz reports, “Since that time, he [David Peters] has become a bane of the paleontology community by insisting that he’s invented a new kind of technological analysis for fossils. And using this analysis — which he calls Digital Graphic Segregation — he believes he’s proven that pterosaurs are far more distant from dinosaurs in the reptile family tree than previously believed.”

The bane? Is that true?
As loyal readers know, DGS is a technique I applied a name to, but did not invent. Paleontologists, like Michel Laurin (1996), had been tracing photographs of fossils long before I came on the scene. And, as loyal readers (and all pterosaurologists) know pterosaurs don’t really fit will with dinosaurs. Just look at the fingers.

The Newitz blogpost goes on repeating Naish’s logic and images. What I found interesting were some of the blog’s comments. Most ganged on, disliked my web code or worried about SEO and Google robots. A few others took the opposite tack and urged caution before continuing the attack and those are re-printed below:

  1. KipHansen wrote: Nothing wrong about proposing an alternate hypothesis, certainly in a field as based on opinion as Reptile Evolution. I was expecting Naish to blow Peter’s out of the water with carefully researched DNA evidence or something equally scientifically strong – instead we get “I don’t see what you see.” — which, in all honesty, adds up to zero – zip – nada – and nothing. Certainly Naish can come up with *something* more concrete? In science, “I don’t agree with you and I am, after all, an Expert” doesn’t cut much ice. Peter’s may be full of it but Naish has done nothing to convince me of the superiority of his position.
  2. KipHansen wrote: “Is not Peters just proposing shifting some of these things around about? I can’t quite see what is so exasperating about some single person suggesting a different arrangement of something that we are unlikely to be sure about for some time yet. Just because paleontologists have finally agreed, at least for the time being, about reptile evolution doesn’t mean that we have finally ‘found the truth’. The current consensus is just your collective best guess based on available data and techniques and seems to be supported, for the most part, by what we know so far. This consensus will be shattered when someone makes a new remarkable find, or develops a new technique or method of investigation and is brave enough to publish an alternate view. Meanwhile, is there nothing whatever to the DGS techniques in the viewing of fossils, irrespective his interpretations? Is this a interesting new digital technique that could add something to our ability to understand rock encased fossils? Has anyone asked Peters to clearly mark his interpretation as an “alternative hypothesis” to a linked exposition of the consensus view?”

  3. KipHansen wrote: Annalee Newitz: You fail to mention that Mr. Peters, who you characterize as an ‘amateur paleontologist”, is the lead author on a half a dozen or so peer-reviewed papers in respectable paleontology journals. And not just in the 1980’s and 90’s. What’s up with that? Are you sure this isn’t just one of those silly academic wars where some outlier publishes papers in the journals but the entrenched consensus refuses to deal with them, instead resorts to ad hominem attacks via gullible journalists?”

  4. David Marjanovic wrote: “On a few things, he [David Peters] may turn out to be right. One of his first papers (yes, published and peer-reviewed) was on the origin of pterosaurs: he thinks they’re not close relatives of the dinosaurs (the consensus view), but close relatives of (to say it in a neutral way) lizard-shaped animals like Cosesaurus and Langobardisaurus. Peters is the first to have tested this idea by including enough species in a phylogenetic analysis; “the establishment” has never done this, because it’s too much work (it would be at least one complete PhD thesis). Unfortunately, Peters hasn’t put enough work in to this either: his analysis lacks several characters that support the consensus.”

  5. Alanborky wrote: “As an artist/visual type he [David Peters] sees and extracts vastly more visual data from whatever he’s looking at than a none artist (eg most people see a blue sky but artists see literally millions of shades and tones of blue as well as myriads of other colours derived from objects peripheral to their eyes bleeding into those blues subtly influencing how those blues differ in appearance as the eyes shift their focus around the sky) which’s probably why Goethe spotted the intermaxillary bone before none artists did.”

  6. jazzraptor wrote: “How has Peters “muffled” his opposition? Promoting ones own ideas is very different than censoring other people’s ideas. Disagreements about details of evolution are typical and ever-present in the field — not one bit unusual. Isn’t Peters entitled to his opinion? Obviously the guy has put a ton more hours than you have into his studies. And it’s not fallacious to ask for a better explanation for evidence than the one put forward. (Of course his request for competing hypothesis doesn’t mean that he’s right. But there’s nothing wrong with the argument. Ever hear of Occam’s Razor?) Your article looks way too much like a hatchet job. Science is tentative and provisional after all; how will you feel if Peters eventually gains consensus? I’ll answer for you: like an idiot.”

I also wrote a reply to the Newitz blog post. It follows:

Hi Annalee,  David Peters here. Sorry to be late to the party. In 2012 I replied to Darren Naish’s blogpost in a seven-part series that ended here: https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/reptileevolution-com-and-tetrapod-zoology-part-7/  You’ll find links to the first six posts within. A few quick notes here will clear up some issues.

1. The latest cladogram at http://www.reptileevolution.com/reptile-tree.htm includes 504 taxa and they nest in near complete resolution. All sister taxa resemble one another (you can see the reconstructions throughout the website), a great clue that that cladogram reflects actual evolutionary lines of descent. Add to that 59 therapsids and their kin plus 219 pterosaurs and their kin and you have the largest phylogenetic analysis ever attempted for reptiles. (That, I think, is the extraordinary evidence requested by Carl Sagan and one of your readers.)

1a. More characters would be great, as D. Marjanovic requests, but they are not necessary. Fewer characters will recover the same tree. 228 characters is enough to provide complete resolution as proven at reptileevolution.com. Almost all characters can be correlated, like vertebral counts and limb lengths. Correlated characters are hard to avoid.

2. With so many taxa, you can trace the lineage of pterosaurs, or any included genus, back to Ichthyostega or to any node in-between. You can delete large branches or individual taxa from this tree and it will recover the same topology. The fact that this tree nests mammals (synapsids) in a different place than some DNA studies do is a problem that has not been resolved yet. You probably know that many DNA studies do not agree with one another. You may not know that embryological studies support a closer relationship between mammals and archosaurs than with turtles and lizards, which matches my cladogram.

3. Current and traditional cladograms (i.e. Nesbitt 2011) nest pterosaurs with parasuchia and proterochampsia, two croc-like clades that everyone realizes are bad matches for pterosaurs. Pterosaurs nest where they do in Nesbitt 2011 because he excluded the taxa that nest around pterosaurs at reptileevolution.com. Some workers ignore Nesbitt 2011 and nest pterosaurs with dinosaurs, all the while realizing that there is no way the vestigial lateral fingers of even the most basal dinosaurs and their ancestors could ever evolve to become the long wing-fingers of pterosaurs. The same goes for the lateral digits of the foot.

4. The sternal complex of pterosaurs, as the name implies, is a fusion of the interclavicle, the clavicles and the sternum. My work with DGS shows how that happens in Cosesaurus and Longisquama, non-volant pterosaur sisters. Dinosaurs are not a more parsimonious match.

5. The fact that Darren Naish does not see both prepubes of Cosesaurus (in your illustration above) does not mean that everyone agrees with Naish. I encourage you and your readers to see for yourself at www.reptileevolution.com/cosesaurus.htm and let me know the consensus. Those prepubes are 2mm long in life, so they are tiny, but well formed. Naish reported he saw the stems in the photo. No sister taxa have such stems on their pelves. Those stems are the prepubes, even if Naish wants to deny it.

6. In Science we don’t ‘trust’ –anything– because in Science we can prove everything for ourselves. Many of the taxa I present are the reconstructions of others. Yet other taxa have never been reconstructed, so I’ve done the work with as much detail as can be gleaned from the best available data. You don’t have to trust those reconstructions –or– my color tracings. You are invited and encouraged to repeat the experiment, make your own observations and either refute or support any part or all of what I have presented. It’s simply a presentation. Rarely it’s an alternative. My best contribution to paleontology is simply adding more taxa to the cladogram so that more nesting opportunities are provided, minimizing the effects of bias, tradition and paradigm.

7. Digital Graphic Segregation (DGS) is a name I proposed for a technique that has been used by paleontologists for several years prior to my first attempt at it. Laurin (1996) used it in tracing Utegenia and I dare say anyone tracing fish bones and scales is going to trace a photo rather than get lost in the chaos of those repeating structures without some sort of mechanical aid. I use DGS to color every other reptile rib another color, again, to avoid confusion in a smashed roadkill. Then, I can lift those colors and move them around (usually slightly) to reconstruct the ribcage with the precision of the original.

8. I realize that D. Naish carries a lot of weight with the paleo-blog community. Unfortunately Naish published some of my work that has been in my trash bin for several years. In Science you can admit you made a mistake and you can propose a new reconstruction or cladogram to reflect the latest data. I have made tens of thousands of scoring errors in my cladogram, as I’ve reported at www. pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com. That also means I’ve made tens of thousands of corrections to past errors. With all of those corrections the tree topology has changed a little here and there, but overall, not so much. With 228 traits and 504 taxa the matrix can handle nearly 115,000 scores.

9. Finally, unless you have other unanswered questions, it’s true I have not seen for myself the vast majority of the fossils shown at reptileevolution.com. However I’ve taken three trips to Europe, one to China and several others to USA museums to visit specimens and see them in person. Longisquama and Sharovipteryx both came to St. Louis several years ago, so I was able to study them both. I spent several days with Cosesaurus in Barcelona. Some of the rumors to the contrary have gotten out of hand.

Let me know if YOU have any issues that need clarification. I am here for you.

And I’ll give you the same challenge I gave Darren Naish. If what I’ve done is so off the mark, then the results cannot possibly make sense. The challenge is, please send me two taxa that should not nest together, but they do at reptileevolution.com. If you do find two mismatches, please let me know so I can make yet another correction. If you cannot find two mismatches, I hope you’ll let me and others know that maybe what I’ve done has some value.

PS. I am not a professional web designer. I was an agency art director who wrote and illustrated some books in the 1980s and 1990s, then published, with peer review, a half dozen papers, some with co-authors. D. Marjanovic is correct that I have submitted several other manuscripts for peer review. They were rejected, not sent back to correct errors. Often referees note that what I’m proposing in those manuscripts cuts across traditional paradigms.

Thank you one and all.
The Internet is full of ideas and images. Decide for yourself which have value and which make the most sense. Feel free to follow the links above to see the original Annalee Newitz post and the replies that followed.

References
Laurin M 1996. A reappraisal of Utegenia, a Permo-Carboniferous seymouriamorph (Tetrapoda: Batrachosauria) from Kazakhstan. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 16(3):374-383.

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4 thoughts on “Much appreciated support ‘out there’ for ReptileEvolution.com

  1. Keep up the good work, David. Instead of trying to start a war here; I have a question to ask of most of your detractors: does the fact that David Peters makes mistakes mean he’s never right? My answer is no. David seems to me to be almost uniquely qualified to do what he’s doing with the roadkill tracings. Can anyone claim to be better trained than him?

  2. I find Mr. Petets rebuttal to D. Naish devastatingly concurrent with the Copernican principal of science. Evidence must be weighed; not merely dismissed due to one’s favor of the paradigm it may challenge. Dogma has no place in the provisional reality of science. The view of Naish would find safer harbor in the realm of philosophy or, dare I submit, religion.

    • Major Payne, I agree with you, except for the dig at religion. True, many “religious” people never let facts get in the way of their beliefs, but not all of us who believe in God are that way. Hard to believe though it is, belief in a higher power does not automatically preclude curiosity, doubt, and the mandate to question, to seek, and to find out.

      And Darren’s Diabolical Diatribe has little to do with philosophy, but with politics, debate, and rhetoric. Wait, leave “debate” out. Debate demands we find out about our opponents’ views and beliefs, not shut them out.

  3. No offense but my point was that even scientists can be as dogmatic about things as the religious people they often condescend to. By the way, I’m a closeted atheist living in America’s Bible belt. Sure miss home in the UK.

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