So, you want to be a paleontologist…

Summary for those in a hurry:
Becoming a paleontologist who can support a family is difficult and rare. Up-and-comers end up supporting powerful professors. Outsiders and insiders with new ideas are sometimes ridiculed and/or ignored to silence debate and prevent upsetting the status quo.

PS (added 24 hours later). If you’re serious about paleontology, see Dr. Chris Brochu’s well-considered and insightful comments (below). Dr. Brochu agrees, disagrees and adds more data to many of the points made here.

Once you get your PhD in paleontology…
sure it’s a happy day of celebration, a great achievement invested with time and treasure. But then reality sets in as you realize you are not automatically a ‘made man‘ as in the gangster movie, “Goodfellas.”

You still need to get that first good paying job in paleontology,
and those are hard to come by. Black 2010 reports, “it is extremely difficult for researchers to find jobs and secure funding for their research. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century most paleontologists were self-funded enthusiasts who either used their family fortunes (O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope, for example) or sold fossils (the Sternberg family, for example) to underwrite their work. For most paleontologists most of the time, research funding comes in the form of grants.”

Through the grapevine
I hear that anywhere from 40 to 80% of grant money goes to the university or museum that provides office space for the paleontologist. (Is that correct?).

It comes as a disappointment to many PhDs
that they end up as preparators, docents, research assistants, artists and librarians, rather than highly-paid professors making decisions, doing field work in the summer and buzzing around the world doing book tours. That jarring dose of reality comes at a time when young, former students are starting from scratch, trying to buy a house, start a family, pay off loans and hoping to make a name for themselves by publishing discovery after discovery.

Evidently it is worse for female students and scientists…
Harassment and bullying were chronicled in a recent (April 14, 2021) PBS NOVA documentary you can access here.  Some notes follow:

PAULA JOHNSON, M.PH., M.D. (President, Wellesley College): “The best estimates are about 50 percent of women faculty and staff experience sexual harassment. And those numbers have not really shifted over time. If you think about science, right now, we have a system that is built on dependence, really, singular dependence of trainees—whether they are medical students, whether they are undergraduates, or if they’re graduate students—on faculty, for their funding, for their futures. And that really sets up a dynamic that is highly problematic. It really creates an environment in which harassment can occur.”

KATHRYN CLANCY, PH.D. (Biological Anthropologist): “Generally speaking, sexual forms of sexual harassment, like come-ons, unwanted sexual advances, those are actually the rarest forms of sexual harassment. They actually don’t happen very much; mostly you see putdowns.”

One woman noted, “an invitation to have a beer with someone important interested in your poster sometimes has little or nothing to do with your poster.” It is noteworthy that the dropout rate in STEM studies is higher in women, who suffer from unequal treatment according to this documentary.

Fossils are hard to come by.
If post-grads don’t find their own fossils in the field, the fossils that come in the door are going to be distributed by the professor as they please, like a mother bird feeding hungry nestlings. (BTW, I’m talking about paleontologists who like bones. Others in the petroleum industry with a Master’s Degree make better money than a PhD in dinosaur studies because they are in greater demand.)

In the typical bell-curve of success after a doctorate,
every year or so, some few do come to international attention for their discoveries and publications. Most do not. Many struggle just to keep up an association with a university, quite aware of the fact that year after year another clade of young, eager, intelligent, well-connected future paleontologists with scholarships are coming into the professors’ view with the exact same dream and goal.

When grad students and post-docs are trying to establish themselves,
they tend to maintain relationships with universities and ally themselves with groups that huddle around and support established professors. It’s the only game in town. These 20- and 30-somethings are known to professors as ‘cheap labor’ due to an over supply of young, eager and bright hopeful students.

Older, established professors decide
who of their underlings gets funding and who goes hungry. Well-known professors bring a lot of money into universities, so universities undervalue underlings based on this value system.

New hypotheses that upset those in textbooks are not welcome.
If those ideas come from outside the tribe, someone is sent out to dismiss and dismantle that radical. Discoveries and hypotheses are welcome only if the professor is made a co-author and it doesn’t depart from the paradigm (i.e.  supporting invalid clades like ‘Ornithodira‘, ‘Avemetatarsalia’, ‘Afrotheria‘, ‘Laurasiatheria’ and ‘Cetacea‘).

Peer review was not always part of the publication process,
but it is now. Dinerstein 2017 wrote, “The controversies that have plagued peer review from its earliest days, censorship, conflict of interest, the tension between early reporting and veracity, the need to fill space, the desire for prestige and income remain with us today. They may have assumed different forms, but at their core are flaws in a system designed by flawed humans. It may not be the best system, but it is the one we use.”

According to Kampourakis et al. 2015,
“The peer review process can be one of the most subjective endeavors in the scholarly world. It should not be, and it does not have to be subjective, but it can be. Each reviewer has his/her own conceptualizations, views, experiences, and biases, which can collectively impact the stance taken toward a manuscript.”

Established authors,
who are often established professors, who are well-known to established editors, have an advantage over independent researchers. Reviewers (= referees) are typically other professors hoping to get their work favorably reviewed when their time comes. If papers support the general narrative found in textbooks, they are more likely to be published. Departures that show textbooks are in error are at a disadvantage. No one wants to weaken the power of established professors, least of all other professors who understand how to play the game.

More on manuscripts from Kampourakis et al.
“Most manuscripts are not appropriate for publication when we initially receive them. They always have limitations, which authors themselves are unable to identify—we know this from our own publication experiences. Therefore, if the editors only relied on reviewers for a decision, this would most likely be a “reject” one in the first place. Reviewers are always experts in their domains, and when their review is constructive, it provides crucial feedback to authors.”

Actually reviewers/ professors are not experts in their domain if they are teaching untenable traditions as facts. You wouldn’t think that happens, but it does.

Actually reviewers/ professors can not be experts if the subject of the manuscript is a discovery, something new, something not seen or understood before by anyone.

The issue is: will reviewers and editors recognize ‘the new order’ or will they defend ‘the old order’, the one they teach, the one that creates their monthly paycheck coming from lectures and textbooks.

Discoveries should be a cause for celebration,
if followed by confirmation after testing using methods and materials.

Instead
discoveries by outsiders encourage young PhDs (e.g Naish, Cau, Witton) to start name-calling (e.g. ‘pseudoscientist‘, ‘crank)‘. Be aware that this sort of behavior has a long history in humankind, going back at least as far as the Romans, who called non-citizens ‘barbarians’. So, if you make a discovery don’t hold your breath waiting for accolades and citations (see John Ostrom link below).

Name-calling by teachers/ professors/ colleagues is inappropriate.
Better to help colleagues with suggestions or data if genuine errors are found.

Errors are everywhere.
I just spent the weekend correcting errors in the LRT. Finding new insightful data is its own reward.

The LRT is online day and night, world-wide,
available to anyone looking for taxon list suggestions and citations. In like manner, ReptileEvolution.com is a source for data. It would be great if someone else were to create a parallel study to confirm, refute and compare discoveries found here. In the last ten years, no one has yet ventured forth to do this, or threatened to do this. That may be because they are stuck in the present academic world and all of its restrictions.

You should do science
because you love science.

There are only so many discoveries to be made, and fewer every year.
No PhD wants to simply confirm what someone else has already discovered. That’s not why they spent their time and treasure getting their PhDs. They want their own discoveries. When someone else makes a discovery, that’s one less out there waiting to be discovered. That’s the sort of frustration that has led to name-calling when it should have led to unemotional scientific confirmation or refutation following scientific methods and materials.

And speaking of vague insults,
the latest I’ve heard is “Your methods are flawed.” Really? No more specific instruction? No actual testing of the methods? I keep hearing, “your character list needs to be expanded.” Daily testing shows this is a myth. Experts are not always correct, as you will sooner or later find out for yourself.

Once you’ve shown and labeled
all your taxonomic data, let the software recover a cladogram in which all sister taxa actually look alike. This simple method has led to several satisfying discoveries, like ancestors for pterosaurs, snakes, whales, and turtles back to Ediacaran worms.  Make all  your .nex files available to strangers. Have the balls to tell PhDs that genetic analyses deliver false positives in deep time studies, if that’s what your studies reveal.

IMHO
Your methods are flawed” comes off as a vague and baseless claim coming from an immature and insecure worker who has turned to projecting their own faults on others. Pressed for details, something real scientists are usually eager to fill an hour with, disgruntled post-grads usually retreat to social media. Funny that the ones who say, “your methods are flawed” do not repeat the same insult to their fellow PhDs when they make the same discoveries years later.

By design, the manuscript review process
usually takes months. It might take years. This is also a professional ‘brake’ on new ideas that keep the established professors behind their lecterns for as long as possible. Why would a professor return a favorable review on a paper that upsets his own hypotheses, lectures and textbooks? Professors rely on lectures and books for their salaries, royalties and status. Any manuscript that upsets the status quo is going to sit at the bottom of their growing IN pile for as long as possible, then begrudgingly returned with a ‘NO’. Cogent reasons are not required by editors.

In an ideal world
arguments should be published immediately, while the subject is still fresh in the public’s mind and before inaccurate myths get out there and spread into the world of general knowledge. Colleagues should treat each other more like co-pilots rather than saints vs. sinners.

Even if you become a tenured professor,
you are not always free to do what you want to do. “One way of getting rid of tenured professor, that’s known, is you ask the person to report on their research and you load them up with teaching and you give them a lousy office. And then eventually they’ll just quit.” Eric Weinstein on Joe Rogan #1626 3:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1jTUhwWJYA
Even tenured professors are steered.

The red pill and blue pill.
This is a common meme from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix. It refers to a choice between the willingness to learn a potentially unsettling or life-changing truth, by taking the red pill, or remaining in contented ignorance with the blue pill. Over the last ten years of building the LRT I’ve come to realize when a PhD has taken the blue pill. Keep working and soon you will, too.

That’s why this blogpost exists.
Blogposts sponsored by major publications like Scientific American, are less about science and more about journalism, reporting the untested results of published papers.

Textbooks are too often used as unchangeable bibles,
instead of jumping off points for the next set of discoveries.

American physicist, Richard Feynman once said,
“As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Historically
it has taken an outsider, someone not beholding to one professor or to the rest of the professors, to clean house. Yale paleontologist John Ostrom was an insider with an outsider idea and even he had a frustrating story to tell about how long his ideas took to come to consensus.

The video above
at 33:40 discusses the tiny (5%) number of those who train for jobs in academia actually get jobs in academia. It also discusses the large percentage (50%) of grant money that goes directly to the university. Under this system the university hires students, often foreign students, to do the teaching for low wages leaving the successful grant writers to keep writing expensive grant applications.

ResearchGate.net
reports readership for my papers and manuscripts on their site has surpassed 5000 with some papers exceeding 600 reads. That’s good to hear. Just getting the information out is why anyone writes a manuscript. Nowadays everything is downloaded. If you’re not a card-carrying student or faculty member at many universities, you’re not going to be allowed in their libraries to browse the increasingly old-fashioned book shelves.

Finally, it’s up to others to approve or dismiss,
and that’s out of our control no matter if we publish fact or fancy, online or in the literature. Good luck in your career. Don’t let anything restrict your studies.


References
Black R 2010. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/who-pays-for-dino-research-66263095/
Dinerstein C 2017. The surprising history of peer review. American Council of Science and Health. online here.
Kampourakis K et al. (3 co-authors) 2015. Peer review and Darwinian selection. Science & Education 24:1055–1057.

collegescholarships.org/scholarships/science/paleontology.htm
palass.org/awards-grants/grants/list-external-grants
usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/what-paleontology-is-and-how-to-become-a-paleontologist

john-ostrom-the-man-who-saved-dinosaurs/
indeed.com/how-much-does-a-paleontologist-make
work.chron.com/salary-palaeontologist

For more PhD shenanigans, click on these links:
Padian 1 –  Padian 2 
Naish
Witton
Hone and Benton  –
Benton 1
Ezcurra 1
Cau 1

7 thoughts on “So, you want to be a paleontologist…

  1. “Through the grapevine I hear that anywhere from 40 to 80% of grant money goes to the university or museum that provides office space for the paleontologist. (Is that correct?).”

    For US Federal grants, it’s about a third.

    Overhead – usually named “F&A” (Facilities and Administration) or some such thing – is a separate line item in a proposal. The amount is negotiated in advance between universities/museums and the federal agencies. I’ve never seen this exceed 50 percent – but that means one is adding whatever the pre-approved percentage is to the overall total. For a 100k grant, that would usually be around 48k – meaning you’re applying for 100k in research funds, but submitting a proposal for 148k. So it’s more like a third.

    I have no idea where you got 80 percent.

    Depending on the kinds of things being requested, the actual percentage may be much, much lower. If you’re paying for services on a subcontract, for example, F&A only applies to the first x amount of the subcontract cost. (I don’t recall what this is.) So some of what you’re being awarded wouldn’t be included in the F&A calculation.

    Bear in mind, some smaller grants (esp. from private foundations) do not include F&A, and grants in other countries might not do this at all.

    There are also people who apply for such grants who cannot include F&A in their calculations, depending on who their employer is.

    Much of the rest of what you wrote about becoming a paleontologist is similarly misleading. I would ask that you take this article down so that you can do some more research on the subject.

  2. Some additional comments on the first part. I’ll address the rest later; I have other tasks that require my attention.

    “You still need to get that first good paying job in paleontology, and those are hard to come by.”

    Sort of.

    It’s true that jobs entitled “paleontology” or “vertebrate paleontology” are rare. I’ve often said that there were more openings for “Governor” in the US than or vertebrate paleontologists in 2000, the year I was offered my current position.

    But – if you think about how paleontologists in general (and vertebrate paleontologists in particular) are trained, we aren’t limited to jobs specifically for vertebrate paleontologists. For example, I require my PhD students to take gross human anatomy in the med school. As a result, several of my former students have gotten good, high-paying jobs teaching human anatomy. And these aren’t all-teaching-all-the-time jobs, either – like other faculty positions, they allow time for research. Meaning they’re still vertebrate paleontologists contributing to the field, even if what they teach in the classroom is different.

    If you look through the membership of SVP, you’ll see vertebrate paleontologists in all kinds of programs – earth science, biology, anthropology, medical, environmental, and so on. I was indeed very lucky to get a job specifically for vertebrate paleo – but I was also applying (and competitive) for positions in environmental science, evolutionary biology, comparative anatomy, herpetology, and biogeography. My own inclinations are closer to the biological side of the field, but my degrees are all from earth science departments, so I would probably have been competitive for positions teaching basic and sedimentary geology as well.

    We’re also different from most other academic disciplines because we can find employment in non-university or non-college settings. Museums, for example – which of many of us also qualify as academic positions, albeit of a different nature. Others work for federal or state government agencies (e.g. National Park Service, USGS, etc), as authors or editors, or for private agencies that, among other things, conduct field surveys in advance of development or construction projects. And this is not a complete list.

    The hard part these days, for those looking to work in an academic setting, is getting a tenure-track position – but that’s true across Academia, not just in our discipline. There’s an increasing emphasis in filling curricular holes with non-tenure-track instructional lines.

    “Through the grapevine I hear that anywhere from 40 to 80% of grant money goes to the university or museum that provides office space for the paleontologist. (Is that correct?).”

    No, as I previously discussed.

    “It comes as a disappointment to many PhDs that they end up as preparators, docents, research assistants, artists and librarians, rather than highly-paid professors making decisions, doing field work in the summer and buzzing around the world doing book tours. That jarring dose of reality comes at a time when young, former students are starting from scratch, trying to buy a house, start a family, pay off loans and hoping to make a name for themselves by publishing discovery after discovery.”

    There’s a lot of confusion in this paragraph.

    First – the vast majority of people who “end up” as preparators or collections managers aren’t “disappointed” by this. They often began their education specifically to follow such career paths. Preparators, in particular, are highly trained, and not everyone can do what they do. (I, for one, cannot. Too clumsy and impatient.).

    Second – what do you mean by “research assistant?” I ask because the term can mean several things. Usually, it refers to a paid position filled by a grad student, similar to a teaching assistant but with different duties. Such positions are highly sought after – many grad students would greatly prefer an RA over a TA.

    Third – the vast majority of us “highly-paid professors” (who aren’t as highly paid as one might think) have never written a book, much less gone on a book tour. Moreover, we would never make decisions about any sort of field work or research travel without consulting with the others who might be involved – especially the preparators (who actually make most of the practical decisions on what to bring, where to go, and so on) and the grad students whose research is part of the project.

    Fourth – has it occurred to you that buzzing around the world on book tours and making all of the decisions on a field project would actually restrict the ability of a young professional to publish discovery after discovery?

    Seriously – you really need to think this last one through. There’s a reason most students would greatly prefer a postdoctoral position before moving on to a more permanent position. Starting a permanent position actually stops us from publishing discovery after discovery for a year or two; indeed, this is taken into consideration when considering an application for tenure. We expect productivity to drop as the new hire gets his or her lab running.

    “Evidently it is worse for female students and scientists… “

    This, unfortunately, is true. And it’s true across the academic field – not just in vertebrate paleontology.

    I’m on a couple of the committees at my university that, among other things, are trying to address these disparities. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re not ignoring it. And again, this is true for every academic discipline.

    “Fossils are hard to come by. If post-grads don’t find their own fossils in the field, the fossils that come in the door are going to be distributed by the professor as they please, like a mother bird feeding hungry nestlings.”

    Where, exactly, did you come upon this bit of folklore?

    That’s a serious question. I’ve been in the field now for about 30 years, including grad school. I’ve never, even once, known this to be true.

    “(BTW, I’m talking about paleontologists who like bones. Others in the petroleum industry with a Master’s Degree make better money than a PhD in dinosaur studies because they are in greater demand.)”

    This isn’t really true, largely because oil companies rely a lot more on geophysical methods to find hydrocarbons than fossils.

    “In the typical bell-curve of success after a doctorate, every year or so, some few do come to international attention for their discoveries and publications. Most do not. Many struggle just to keep up an association with a university, quite aware of the fact that year after year another clade of young, eager, intelligent, well-connected future paleontologists with scholarships are coming into the professors’ view with the exact same dream and goal.”

    What, exactly, do you mean by “international attention?”

    There are all kinds of variables involved in building a reputation or brand. There’s the quality of the work, which in turn might depend on the kind of material available, the infrastructure at the host institution, the questions being asked, and – surprisingly enough – the aptitude and personality of the investigator. Being in the right place at the right time also helps. So does working for an institution with a highly-skilled PR department.

    You seem to imply that we either make a big hit right out of the door or wither away. That just isn’t the case. The vast majority of us earned our reputations the old-fashioned way – we plugged away at our work, worked hard at maintaining collegial relationships with others, played by the rules (i.e. obtained independent funds, which takes a LONG time because grants are very, very rarely funded the first time; submitted our work for peer-reviewed publication; gave talks at professional meetings; served in a professional capacity on professional organization committees and as a peer-reviewer for grants and manuscripts), and made an effort build a program based on questions and long-grown expertise.

    “When grad students and post-docs are trying to establish themselves, they tend to maintain relationships with universities and ally themselves with groups that huddle around and support established professors. It’s the only game in town. These 20- and 30-somethings are known to professors as ‘cheap labor’ due to an over supply of young, eager and bright hopeful students.”

    Again – how did you come to this mythical conclusion?

    I suppose we do “maintain relationships with universities,” but the groups with which we ally ourselves are far more typically comprised of people from our own age cohort who share similar research interests. Of course some of us old timers will work with them = we share those research interests, too! We may also have access to resources a grad student or post doc doesn’t – and that’s not a matter of keeping the gate safe from interlopers; it’s a simple matter of having done this for a longer period of time.

    I don’t know of one single professor who keeps younger groupies around as cheap labor. Frankly, having lots of people in one’s immediate orbit, all of them dependent on you for support, is a pain in the ass. It means having to find the resources, and it adds to the amount of time I have to spend on what amounts to HR. It’s time I’d rather spend doing research. The goal is to get these younger scholars into positions where they can rely on their own resources. Every professional I know operates on this principle.

    “Older, established professors decide who of their underlings gets funding and who goes hungry. Well-known professors bring a lot of money into universities, so universities undervalue underlings based on this value system.”

    Not entirely. Yes, decisions are sometimes made. In pretty much every case, it’s because our funds are limited. We may not always be able to fund every student every time. But the decisions are neither arbitrary nor capricious. We might decide to provide some research funds to student A, and not student B, because student B has been in the program for a while and has already gotten substantial funding support, while student A is just starting out and needs the funds to get things rolling. Or we might support student A because student A’s project requires the funds, while student B’s project does not. (Maybe student A has to do more travel or is doing work requiring stable isotope analysis, while student B is conducting multivariate morphometrics on specimens already on-site with existing equipment.).

    Also – not sure if you know this, but grad students generally cannot apply for federal grants. So of course the professors bring in the money – they’re allowed to!

    Not sure if you know how the grants work, but we don’t just get a check from mother NSF. NSF awards the funds to the institution. The PIs –always permanent or contract employees, such as professors, instructors, or post-docs – can draw from these funds through the institution.

    NSF used to have dissertation improvement grant programs that funded a specific dissertation project; the student would have done the legwork of getting it submitted, but the advisor would still be listed as the PI. (Most of these grants programs have been discontinued.). I didn’t necessarily like this, but most (all?) institutions at least havebpolicies in place that prevent an advisor from using these funds for anything other than the intended research project – so no, the advisor couldn’t just use the funds for themself.

    This isn’t a matter of elitism, either – it’s a combination of federal law and institutional policy. Limiting the number of authorized spenders makes book-keeping a lot easier for everyone and helps prevent misuse of funds. These grants are a massive pain in the ass not only because of the application process, but because of the policies we have to follow when spending and justifying the expenses. I can also say from personal experience that if someone in your institution is caught deliberately misusing funds, the rest of us pay for it with added policies to make sure it never happens again.

    “New hypotheses that upset those in textbooks are not welcome.”

    Sort of, kinda, but not really. If new ideas are not included in textbooks, it’s usually because they’re exactly that – new. Maybe they’re accurate, but maybe not. Usually, textbook editors wait until radical new ideas gain some currency in the profession before adding them to textbooks.

    There are all kinds of reasons a radical new idea might not gain acceptance. Consider continental drift – when it was first proposed by Wegener, there was no mechanism that could have explained how it would work. That, and the evidence put forth by Wegener, though compelling, was not so compelling as to defy conventional explanation. The revolution came not because Wegener kept at it, but because new discoveries provided a physical explanation (plate tectonics) and added so much new evidence for the phenomenon that conventional explanations were no longer sufficient.

    The same is sort of true for the Copernical solar system. Religious dogma might have played a role, but in fact, Copernicus’ model wasn’t as good as the Ptolemaic model it tried to replace. Copernicus used circular orbits around the sun, which don’t predict planetary positions as well as Ptolemaic epicycles. It was Kepler’s insight to use elliptical orbits that made the difference.

    If you haven’t read Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” I recommend it.

    “If those ideas come from outside the tribe, someone is sent out to dismiss and dismantle that radical. Discoveries and hypotheses are welcome only if the professor is made a co-author and it doesn’t depart from the paradigm (i.e. supporting invalid clades like ‘Ornithodira‘, ‘Avemetatarsalia’, ‘Afrotheria‘, ‘Laurasiatheria’ and ‘Cetacea‘).”

    Bologna.

    First – not sure if you’ve thought of this, but groups like Afrotheria and Laurasiatheria were nowhere near the paradigm when they were first published in the 1990’s. That’s not so long ago, if you think about it. That they’ve become mainstream has nothing to do with the prominence of the people proposing them. Indeed, many were first proposed by younger researchers, some still in grad school. I know, because I was being trained as a systematist at this time, and friends of mine were involved in publishing this work. This, in and of itself, falsifies many of the claims you’ve been making.

    They’ve become mainstream because so much corroborating evidence now exists to support these clades. A lot of it is molecular, but there’s actually quite a lot of morphological support for them as well. (Have you included any of the characters supporting Afrotheria and Laurasiatheria in your analyses? If not, why not?).

    I don’t quite know what you mean by the “tribe,” but ideas from non-professionals are absolutely welcome if they stand up to scrutiny. I’ve never been aware of an effort to shut ideas down because they came from outside Academia. What I’ve seen instead is efforts to check them out. Often, they don’t stand up to scrutiny. But when they do, they find just as much support as ideas from paid professionals.

    Furthermore – whether a professor is a co-author depends on several variables. Did the professor fund any of the research or provide any of the underlying data? Did the professor assist with writing the paper, or with formulating the ideas and/or conclusions the paper promotes?

    • Well said, Dr. Sloan. Thank you for your in-depth perspective on this subject.

      re: genomic results in deep time studies… this is something for which you’re going to have find trait support. Or forget about it. So far, that has not happened anywhere and it needs to happen to support the concept of evolution: small changes over shallow time can add up to large changes over deep time.

      Apparently gene studies were widely accepted at their genesis because 1) DNA catches criminals (accepted by the judicial system), 2) DNA therefore had ‘the power’ to uncover less-than-obvious relationships (e.g. golden moles and elephants, grebes and flamingos), 3) sometimes DNA works! (but any exception is like a nail in a tire) and 4) no one on the planet had created something like the LRT back then as a benchmark to test emerging DNA results. Unfortunately the LRT came late to the scene, AFTER genomic research became widely accepted. Now it’s like swimming up a waterfall.

      • Not sure who Dr. Sloan is.

        Your claim that morphological support (what you call “trait support”) hasn’t happened – presumably for Laurasiatheria and/or Afrotheria – is simply untrue. A scholar.google.com search for “afrotheria morphological support” recovers several hits.

        You’ve also decided to respond to a side point (whether groups you dislike have support) and not the main point, which is that you’ve completely mischaracterized how modern science as a career works.

      • That’s funny. There is a Chris Sloan out there. He used to, and perhaps still does, write for Nat Geo. Correction made, Dr. Brochu. I know better. My brain blinked.

        re: Afrotheria morph support: Here is one sentence from Lee and Camens 2009. “When analysed alone, morphology indeed is highly misleading, contradicting nearly every clade in the preferred tree (obtained from the molecular or the combined data).”

        Preferred?? That’s what I’m talking about. Their cherry-picked taxon list of about 40 placentals (no outgroup taxa) correctly matched the LRT for many taxa (Mus + Rattus, Procavia + Loxodonta), others not correctly ((Carnivora + Bats) + Perissodactylia) (dolphins + rorquals), (Tupaia + flying lemurs). They nested elephants + hedgehogs + golden moles at the base of the Placentalia followed by anteaters followed by primates, rodents, tree shrews. That’s upside down from the LRT where arboreal marsupials give rise to arboreal tree shrews and other taxa descend from these.

        re: completely mischaracterized how modern science as a career works: you agreed with many of the points I made, so not ‘completely’. Your views were published and cited early in the blogpost. So let’s leave it at that. Neither your experience nor mine is omnipresent (in every classroom, lab and office). I hope others also add comments from their experience, confirming and/or refuting the two views presently offered above.

  3. I wlll leave it for others to decide the degree to which I “agreed” with your points. Mostly, I was pointing out the vast differences between how professional paleontologists operate and how you seem to think they do.

    I’ve decided not to comment on the rest of what you said, largely because I cannot be assured you’ll take it any more seriously than you did my earlier comments.

    • Your thoughts are always welcome, Dr. Brochu. When you say, ‘take seriously’ what that translates into here is ‘see things my way’. I have the same frustration when dealing with others. Too often they cherry-pick taxa, they trust deep time genomes, they mis-characterize or don’t cite my work, they hold on to old myths, make up new myths, etc. If this continues we will both turn into grumpy old men, like John Ostrom in his later years describing his frustrations with the paleo community until Chinese feathered theropods started appearing in quantity.

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