Sometimes it takes the paleo crowd an ‘epoch’ to accept new data

A few short bios here demonstrate 
that paleontology often takes a lonnnggg time to accept data, break with paradigm and adopt new hypotheses. Judge for yourself whether this is due to data, peer pressure, public opinion, inertia, fear, pride, being too busy or what have you.

Thomas Henry Huxley
In the 1860s TH Huxley proposed a relationship between birds and dinosaurs. According to Wikipedia: “Huxley had little formal schooling and was virtually self-taught. He became perhaps the finest comparative anatomist of the latter 19th century. After comparing Archaeopteryx with Compsognathus, he concluded that birds evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs, a theory widely accepted today.” But not back then.

“Darwin’s ideas and Huxley’s controversies gave rise to many cartoons and satires (cartoon attacks continue in the present day). It was the debate about man’s place in nature that roused such widespread comment: cartoons are so numerous as to be almost impossible to count.”

“Although Huxley was opposed by the very influential Owen, his conclusions were accepted by many biologists, including Baron Franz Nopcsa (that’s good to know!)while others, notably Harry Seeley, argued that the similarities were due to convergent evolution. After the work of Heilmann, the absence of clavicles in dinosaurs became the orthodox view despite the discovery of clavicles in the primitive theropod Segisaurus in 1936. The next report of clavicles in a dinosaur was in a Russian article in 1983.” Even so, that paradigm was not broken for another 17 years. See below.

John Ostrom
According to Wikipedia, “Ostron, revolutionized modern understanding of dinosaurs in the 1960s. His 1964 discovery of Deinonychus is considered one of the most important fossil finds in history. The first of Ostrom’s broad-based reviews of the osteology and phylogeny of the primitive bird Archaeopteryx appeared in 1976.” That’s his legacy. However, his life, as he lived it, was apparently something different and something we can all empathize with.

According to the Hartford Courant (2000), “In 1973, Ostrom broke from the scientific mainstream by reviving a Victorian-era hypothesis (see above) that his colleagues considered far-fetched: Birds, he said, evolved from dinosaurs. And he spent the rest of his career trying to prove it.” With the announcement of the first dinosaurs with feathers from China, Ostrom (then age 73) was in no mood to celebrate. He is quoted as saying, ““I’ve been saying the same damn thing since 1973, `I said, `Look at Archaeopteryx!'” Ostrom was the first scientist to collect physical evidence for the theory. Ostrom provoked a debate that raged for decades. “At first they said, `Oh John, you’re crazy,”’ Ostrom said in 1999.

Robert Bakker
Wikipedia reports, “One alternate hypothesis challenging Seeley’s classification (the dichotomy of Saurischia/Ornithisichia) was proposed by Robert T. Bakker in his 1986 book The Dinosaur Heresies. Bakker’s classification separated the theropods into their own group and placed the two groups of herbivorous dinosaurs (the sauropodomorphs and ornithischians) together in a separate group he named the Phytodinosauria (“plant dinosaurs”). The Phytodinosauria hypothesis was based partly on the supposed link between ornithischians and prosauropods, and the idea that the former had evolved directly from the later, possibly by way of an enigmatic family that seemed to possess characters of both groups, the segnosaurs. However, it was later found that segnosaurs were actually an unusual type of herbivorous theropod saurischian closely related to birds, and the Phytodinosauria hypothesis fell out of favor.” Yes, the segnosaurs are indeed derived theropods, but the Phytodinosauria is recovered in the large reptile tree. Click here for a supporting opinion (not supported by a cladogram).

There are several hundred daily readers of this blog
Many read it because they hate it. Others because they find something interesting enough here to keep coming back. Still others drop in to see what’s up only when something big or controversial comes around.

Only every so often
does the world of paleontology comes around to agree with conclusions first found here. The ‘Eoraptor as a phytodinosaur’ hypothesis comes to mind as an example.

On the other hand,
I’ve noticed if I have anything to do with a hypothesis (pterosaur origins, reptile origins, dinosaur origins, etc.), others completely avoid the taxa, avoid the hypothesis and to top it off, Hone and Benton (2009) went so far as to attribute my published work to another worker after earlier (Hone and Benton 2007) making the correct attribution. It can be crazy out there. Not sure why…

Perhaps there is a reason for this conservatism
As readers have seen here on many, many occasions, a long list of paleontologists have come up with incorrect hypotheses, especially in the realm of systematics. As has been demonstrated, much of this is due to relying on old matrices, inappropriate taxon exclusion and inclusion, problems minimized with a large gamut study like the large reptile tree. But that is something that most paleontologists are currently loathe to accept or even test. Then again…

Conspicuous by its absence, Cartorhynchus was excluded from Ji et al. 2016.
Earlier we looked at a new ichthyosaur cladogram by Ji et al. 2016. Yesterday it crossed my mind that the cladogram did not include the Early Triassic Cartorhynchus, which Motani et al. 2014 considered a strange “basal ichthyosauriform.” Earlier here and here we nested Cartorhynchus as a basal sauropterygian/ pachypleurosaur. Montani, Ji and Rieppel were coauthors on both studies. So that team was aware of Cartorhynchus and two years had passed since publication. So, what happened? I can only wonder if the large reptile tree had some influence.

Ji C, Jiang D-Y, Motani R, Rieppel O, Hao W-C and Sun Z-Y 2016. Phylogeny of the Ichthyopterygia incorporating recent discoveries from South China. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 36(1):e1025956. doi:
Motani R, Jiang D-Y, Chen G-B, Tintori A, Rieppel O, Ji C and Huang D 2014. A basal ichthyosauriform with a short snout from the Lower Triassic of China. Nature doi:10.1038/nature13866




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