Comments from readers

I don’t get very many comments from readers.
Rarely do any of my blogposts get any feedback. The few rare comments I do get usually arrive whenever I make a mistake among the bird-like theropod dinosaurs, who have their own large fan base. Oddly, many of those readers also become further angered whenever I correct those mistakes, something I thought they were encouraging me to do! In the world of the Internet, and scientific discovery, such feedback is par for the course and must be expected. People in general, and scientists in particular, like their paradigms and don’t want outsiders tampering with them.

As a matter of practice, 
I try to be very specific and show images in my comments on the work of others, keeping anger and other negative emotions out of it.

Even more rarely
do I get replies that include specific instructions and data on how to correct my tracing errors. That has probably happened less than ten times in 1350 blog posts. Nevertheless, all of those rare comments are gratefully appreciated and acted upon. As my readers know, I’m only trying to get everything right, hoping only to provide new ideas to colleagues, whether they like those ideas or not. In Science, testing is supposed to be an okay thing to do. And if the tests are not valid, they can be done again and again until they are valid.

After 4+ years of
and, I still haven’t seen any other paleontologist attempt to provide large gamut reptile cladograms based on specimens and species, now hovering around 560 taxa (exclusive of the pterosaur cladogram). The bird, dinosaur, croc and lizard paleontologists have done similar large gamut work, so I’m trying to avoid those well-studied clades, concentrating only on their origins. Let’s face it, a large gamut study of the basal reptiles needs to be published. The problem is, no PhD is interested or capable (time and travel constraints) of doing so, so far. Perhaps one is in progress.

The ‘hate mail’ I get reminds me of the 1961 Yankees
and specifically of the plight of Roger Maris, who, in 1961 approached and ultimately exceeded Babe Ruth’s hallowed 60 home runs in a season record. Teammate Mickey Mantle (Fig. 1) was also in that race that year that also featured an extended season. No one liked the fact that Maris, an outsider, was doing something so important.

Figure 1. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantile in 1961, two Yankees with a chance to break Babe Ruth's home run record.

Figure 1. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantile in 1961, two Yankees with a chance to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. The press and the fans were not kind to Maris during that season or to Mantle several years earlier.

Wikipedia reports, “In 1956, the New York press had been protective of Ruth when Mantle challenged Ruth’s record for most of the season. When Mantle fell short, finishing with 52, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from the New York traditionalists. The New York press had not been kind to Mantle in his early years with the team; he struck out frequently, was injury prone, was a true “hick” from Oklahoma, and was perceived as being distinctly inferior to his predecessor in center field, Joe DiMaggio. Mantle, however, over the course of time (with a little help from his friend and teammate Whitey Ford, a native of New York’s Borough of Queens), had gotten better at “schmoozing” with the New York media, and consequently gained the favor of the press. This was a talent that Maris, a blunt-spoken Upper Midwesterner, never attempted to cultivate. Maris was perceived as surly during his time on the Yankees.

“More and more, the Yankees became “Mickey Mantle’s team” and Maris was ostracized as an “outsider” and “not a true Yankee.” The press at that time seemed to be rooting for Mantle and belittling Maris. Mantle, however, was felled by a hip infection causing hospitalization late in the season, leaving Maris as the single remaining player with the opportunity to break Ruth’s home run record.”

Much of the same sort of human psychology is at play here.
In this case, yours truly, an outsider, not a true paleontologist, and not a PhD, has created a large gamut set of cladograms for reptiles and pterosaurs. The expanded data recovers a different topology than smaller studies, often handicapping themselves by using suprageneric taxa. And not all of those smaller studies match one another. The new topologies featured here and here were due in large part to taxon inclusion that was not attempted in the smaller studies. No one should see this as a threat.

That same outsider (yours truly) also broke a cardinal rule among paleontologists, “You have to see the fossil.”  Due to the large number of specimens involved, I have not seen every fossil, nor will anyone else in my lifetime. Referencing the literature is also common practice. That’s what it is there for!

Instead, after concentrated study,
I have reconstructed every included fossil and compared one with another graphically. That is something most paleontologists don’t do or do only rarely. As you should expect of such a large cladogram, all sister taxa actually look like they could be related, something that is too often lacking at certain nodes in certain other traditional cladograms.

In my attempt at making sure all the data was verifiable,
I have traced photos of in situ specimens and reconstructed them. That, evidently, is a sin, but one that is getting to be increasingly popular. And like most paleontologists, I have made a few mistakes along the way. These seem to happen most often when working with images of low resolution. When alerted to those mistakes, and provided better data, I have made corrections. That’s should be considered, “a good thing,” just as it is with the new data on Pluto (note the earlier fuzzy images that still have/had scientific value). Unfortunately, like Roger Maris’s situation in 1961, the jeers keep coming, but the large gamut reptile studies have not arrived yet.

I encourage more reader feedback,
but please, make replies constructive and include data if you have it. I don’t want anybody to be embarrassed by brash comments as future data and cladograms confirm current findings. And if you find two taxa that should not nest together, please let me know where the errant one should nest. If there are any mistakes in my presentation, I want to fix them.



4 thoughts on “Comments from readers

  1. I enjoy your cladograms and many of your other works, your skeletal diagrams are a little difficult for me to read (the bright colours upset my eyes, so I can’t see clearly) but they are understandable.

    You are right in stating that people seem to care more for theropods than any other group of prehistoric reptile, dromaeosaurs and tyrannosauridae seem to be the main area of focus nowadays (occasionally they also pay heed towards carcharodontosaurids and, more recently, the spinosauridae, but even then most “fanboys” don’t like the new look for spinosaurus).

    I find your work interesting in that you seem to see what other paleontologists don’t; not to say that I agree with some of your theories, but your articles and diagrams are thought provoking.

    It’s a little sad that when people get close enough to the science they love, they start to disagree with it, feeling that they know more than the ones who’s jobs are in said scientific field. Leave them be – if they don’t like it, then they don’t have to read it – they are of course entitled to their opinions but then again this is science: the latest theory is fact until sufficiently disproven and replaced.

    I’ve been following this blog of yours for a few months now and so far I’ve seen nothing that I’d explicitly say is wrong or incorrect. I just think that you are so deep into the science that most of your followers have no idea what you’re talking about – especially when it comes to pterosauria.
    Maybe start a blog segment with some more basic pterosaur focused paleontology? Something the masses will understand more easily. That may be a bit much to ask, but then at least you can educate those willing and slowly thin out those who don’t care at all.

    Just my opinion. As someone who’s been a prehistory nut from a young age I look up to you; you challenge the common ideas and give your own theories to take their place. With ideas as outlandish as yours (that’s what I thought when I first came across your blog) it’s a wonder you dare put your theories forward. But that’s what I like: you have the guts to fight back against the scientific community, something no one man has done in a long time.

    Keep up the good work. I assure you, there are many who appreciate your efforts. Myself included.

  2. I am an English retired marine electrical engineer. I took up the study of pterosaurs on retirement after stumbling across Peter Wellnhofers Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs in a second hand bookshop. It seemed a worthwhile subject to study in my declining years. I am now truly bitten by the bug and look forward to each and every blog you write on the subject. However, I feel I cannot help you in any way since I have no qualifications. I can only learn from what you write and cannot supply you with worthwhile feedback. I would just like you to know that you have followers out here even though they remain silent!

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