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Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Notice to those who see that this article is incredibly long and then decide not to read it: here’s the take-home point… ReptileEvolution.com does not represent a trustworthy source that people should consult or rely on. Students, amateur researchers and the lay public should be strongly advised to avoid or ignore it.

For the rest of you…

ResearchBlogging.org

The study of Mesozoic archosaurs – dinosaurs and pterosaurs in particular – attracts a great many interesting people who might best be considered ‘outside’ the normal, academic community. These wonderful individuals span the range from the deranged, dangerous, unhinged ones who threaten you with physical harm, to the erudite, technically adept and sometimes likeable people who succeed in publishing some of their less problematic opinions and hypotheses in the technical literature. Sitting somewhere in the latter part of that cluster we find David Peters.

Dave Peters is an outstanding artist with a brilliant, intuitive understanding of animals and anatomy. Check out these books if you haven't already.

David Peters has been a constant background presence in the Mesozoic reptile research community since the early 1990s, mostly because of his interest in pterosaurs. Actually, Dave first made a name for himself as a very competent artist, and several books on living and prehistoric animals showcase his brilliant work (Giants of Land, Sea & Air, Past & Present (1986), A Gallery of Dinosaurs & Other Early Reptiles (1989), From the Beginning: the Story of Human Evolution (1991), Strange Creatures (1992), Don Lessem’s 1996 Raptors! The Nastiest Dinosaurs and Don Lessem’s 1997 Supergiants! The Biggest Dinosaurs). I and many others think very highly of Dave’s artistic skills, and I understand that he is a highly successful businessperson in the world of marketing, advertising and web design.

Pterosaur skeletal reconstructions, produced by Dave Peters in the mid-1990s. The digitigrady in the feet is now acknowledged as wrong, and the bipedal poses are misleading since pterosaurs were almost certainly mostly quadrupedal. Otherwise, these aren't bad, and they're incredibly conservative compared to what was to come.... I hope Dave is ok with me using what must seem like ancient images.

I began corresponding with Dave during the mid-1990s and got to see early versions of his pterosaur skeletal reconstructions, his markedly unusual phylogenetic trees for Pterosauria, and an unpublished manuscript in which he argued that pterosaurs were unlikely to be close kin of dinosaurs (it was titled “Questioning the inclusion of pterosaurs within the Ornithodira*”). It was obvious right from the start that Dave was adept at using his skills in graphic design and image interpretation to ‘see’ stuff that was generally ignored or dismissed by other researchers, and that he was unafraid of making wholly novel proposals based on these new and unusual observations. I didn’t think that his phylogenetic trees were likely to be right, but in general I thought that this stuff was great – finally, someone who could find the details that we so often want to see in the fossil animals we’re interested in.

* The title is inaccurate since, by definition, Ornithodira is the clade that includes Dinosauria and Pterosauria. Pterosaurs will always be ornithodirans, no matter where they end up in the tree of life.

A necessary disclaimer

Mainstream researchers have not really been interested in Dave Peters's hypotheses and proposals: the majority of interest has come from those who work in palaeontography (the science and art of reconstructing extinct animals). For a 2008 conference talk, Kosemen & Conway reconstructed pterosaurs as if Dave's ideas were correct. Here is their version of Dave's Pterodactylus (as per 2008). Yes, I said Pterodactylus.

Before I continue, I feel it’s important to get some personal stuff out of the way. The article you’re reading was difficult to write and took a long time to put together. Partly this is because I’m acutely aware of the fact that it might look like a personal attack. So I want to get some things very clear right from the start. This is not intended as a personal attack on Dave Peters.

Dave is an independent researcher, unaffiliated with any academic institution, and without qualifications in the earth or biological sciences. But… I don’t care. I’m not an academic snob; I believe that your value as a researcher is judged by what you bring to the table and on what you contribute, not by your qualifications or affiliations. Dave Peters has numerous unique, heretical views on both the life appearance of the animals he’s interested in, and on how those animals might be related. I strongly disagree with just about all of his claims and arguments (and so do other researchers who have expressed an opinion); the reasons for this are discussed in the rest of this article.

The only photo I have from Kosemen & Conway's 2008 pterosaur history talk (given at the Geological Society of London's Burlington House). You might be able to read the text on the projection screen - the title reads "Peters!".

But I’m not saying that he should be censored, and I think that he has every right to share his observations and ideas. These days, the internet is the tool for that. But, despite success at publishing technical papers in mainstream and even top-tier venues, Dave has, increasingly, failed to get his heretical ideas into the technical published literature or discussed at palaeontological meetings. Is Dave’s peripheralisation a result of the fact that those of us who review technical papers and talk abstracts belong to some sort of secret club, that we’re fighting to defend a status quo, or to maintain the ‘traditional’, ‘establishment’ views that are otherwise prevalent in the community, or is it that Dave is ‘blackballed’, as he contends? No. It’s because reviewers, as experienced, sceptical scientists, can see unreliable and inaccurate work, and they act to prevent its appearance in the technical scientific arena.

The front page of ReptileEvolution.com as of July 2012. It really is a great looking website.

Frustrated by mainstream rejection of his ideas and proposals, and incredibly productive to boot, Dave has put huge quantities of his personal research online at a new website that he’s called ReptileEvolution.com. That’s why we’re here.

ReptileEvolution.com has an enormous web presence. This presence is so pervasive that Dave’s heretical views are mis-educating naïve parties who encounter his material, and think that they’re seeing something worthy or accurate. Keeping in mind everything I’ve just said in the last few paragraphs about this not being a personal attack or attempt to censor Dave Peters or his views, those of us interested in tetrapod evolution need to counter Dave’s online work and proclaim as loudly and publicly as possible: ReptileEvolution.com does not represent a trustworthy source that people should consult or rely on.

Cleverly-done graphic that Dave uses in the banner of his The Pterosaur Heresies blog, created in the style of Bakker's 1986 book The Dinosaur Heresies. Image David Peters.

Dave runs a second internet site – a blog called The Pterosaur Heresies, subtitled “There’s something very wrong with our pterosaurs”. I don’t agree with any of the stuff he says there, either (and, in fact, some of it I find personally insulting), but the fact that the site is labelled ‘Pterosaur Heresies’ at least lets naïve readers know that they’re going to be reading about non-mainstream views that are heretical compared to what’s in the rest of the literature.

So… I really hope readers can understand why I’m writing this article. It is not an attack on Dave Peters. It is not an effort to censor or muzzle him. Plain and simple, it is an effort to strongly express the opinion – as best and as publicly as I can – that Dave’s observations and ideas, as published online at ReptileEvolution.com, represent a highly idiosyncratic, almost certainly wholly erroneous, view of tetrapod anatomy and evolution. His stuff is definitely fun to look at, but my concern is that naïve parties are effectively being mis-educated by it. This article is an effort to counter that mis-education. Again, it is not a personal attack.

Because referring to Dave Peters as ‘Peters’ in the rest of this article could be misconstrued as sounding aggressive (even though it would be in keeping with the convention of scientific writing), I’m deliberately going to keep things informal and refer to him as ‘Dave’ or ‘David’ throughout the rest of this article. I’ve met and spoken with Dave on several occasions and would like to maintain as cordial and friendly a relationship as possible. I emailed him on June 30th to let him know that I was writing this article and we then corresponded about its contents. He very kindly gave me permission to use his illustrations. I have tried to be as fair as possible in this article, but it’s very clear that we will never agree on the key points of contention. Dave says that he will respond to this article.

At his The Pterosaur Heresies blog, Dave accused me of "lampooning" his Longisquama reconstruction. Err... what? My coloured drawing, produced for Tet Zoo, is on the right. And on the left is the skeletal reconstruction I based it on - published in 2004 by Dave in a Prehistoric Times article. Ok, so I didn't make the appendages on the head fat enough or long enough. But I'm "lampooning" him? Really? I was trying to be accurate!!

The backstory to ReptileEvolution.com

The journey that ended with the production of ReptileEvolution.com can be imagined to consist of five stages. These stages chart Dave’s increasingly elaborate, increasingly unorthodox opinions and ideas. An article about the evolution of Dave’s ideas is already online: Nima’s 2011 The Strange Journey of David Peters. It catalogues many of the responses and rebuttals to Dave’s ideas that have appeared over the years. Anyway, here’s my take on the same subject…

Stage 1. Starting in 1995, Dave began publishing arguments and hypotheses in the technical literature. He started with a brief letter in Nature (Peters 1995) where he suggested that previous authors (Unwin & Bakhurina 1994) had erred in their interpretation of a particular pterosaur’s wing membranes (that particular pterosaur was Sordes pilosus, a small, long-tailed form from Kazakhstan). What happened in that 1995 article set the course for everything that was to follow: Dave looked at published photos of the pterosaur concerned, thought he could see something that the original authors (and everyone else who’d looked at the actual fossil) had missed, and based his whole argument on the re-imagining of an image (Peters 1995). In their response to Dave’s article, Unwin & Bakhurina (1995) noted that “Peters’… reconstruction… is based on a highly unreliable technique, interpretation of photographs” (p. 316).

Dave Peters in the august journal Nature! In this response to Unwin & Bakhurina (1994), Dave argued that the extensive wing membranes preserved in Sordes owed their position to post-mortem 'drifting'. This is a speculation based entirely on examination of published photos. It cannot be considered anywhere near as reliable as Unwin & Bakhurina's examination of the actual fossil.

Cosesaurus aviceps, as interpreted by Dave in 2000 (Peters 2000). This illustration now looks extremely conservative compared to Dave's more recent efforts to interpret this specimen. Yes, there are some filament-like structures around some of the bones. But there often are on fine-grained pieces of matrix, even when you're looking at fossil plants, invertebrates and fish.

Stage 2. Dave’s next significant article (“significant” in the context of the story I’m telling here) was very different from that half-page Nature letter; it was a lengthy article titled “A reexamination of four prolacertiforms with implications for pterosaur phylogenesis” (Peters 2000). It’s an interesting paper in purportedly providing a huge amount of new anatomical information on the frustratingly enigmatic and highly weird Triassic reptiles Longisquama and Sharovipteryx, as well as on the less enigmatic and less highly weird Cosesaurus and Langobardisaurus.

Based on his examination of these four Triassic animals, Dave used several different phylogenetic analyses to show that they were close kin of pterosaurs. If correct, this would move pterosaurs well away from dinosaurs in the reptile family tree.

I readily admit that I was initially impressed with this body of work – wow, how was Dave able to find so many brand new bits of both skeletal and soft-tissue anatomy? Longisquama is famous for being weird. It has giant, feather-shaped appendages of some sort projecting upwards from its back. Dave was able to go much further. He had reconstructed the skull in more detail than anyone had before, and apparently succeeded in finding many new details of the forelimb and pectoral girdle (Peters 2000). For the also enigmatic Sharovipteryx, he had apparently discovered many new details of the pectoral girdle and forelimb as well as innumerable, detailed features of the skull, including even the pattern of scales on the snout tip.

Cosesaurus as reconstructed today on ReptileEvolution.com. A whole lot of fine details and a lot of integument. For those who know - I'm deliberately not mentioning hinge lines in this article, since that would mean adding even more text.

Excited, I spoke to others about this new paper (Peters 2000). They were far from enthusiastic; the overwhelming opinion being (1) that you just couldn’t see the things reported in that paper in real life (that is, the interpretations were in error), and (2) that the phylogenetic analyses included in the paper were completely erroneous, since they wholly relied on those problematic observations (in the paper, Dave added characters coded from his re-interpretations of LangobardisaurusCosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama to the published data-matrices produced by other workers).

I'm nowhere near Dave Peters in terms of artistic ability, but here's my life reconstruction of Longisquama, based on what I can actually see in the fossil. Quite a contrast to Dave's super-flamboyant version shown above.

That 2000 paper simply did not instigate any sort of paradigm shift in mainstream thinking about the affinities of pterosaurs: other workers have continued to find support for a close affinity between pterosaurs and dinosaurs (e.g., Brusatte et al. 2010, Nesbitt 2011, Butler et al. 2011), and they’ve ignored the results and proposals of Peters (2000). Is this because Dave is somehow “outside” “establishment” thinking? Or is it because his work contradicts the personal positions of the scientists who act as reviewers of his research, as Dave has repeatedly suggested? No, absolutely not. It’s because his observations, and hence his character codings and the trees that result from them, are regarded as wholly unreliable. I say more about these issues below. Remember that the workers who produce the trees that support the ‘conventional’ view of pterosaur affinities have spent a lot of time looking at actual fossils. Furthermore, these researchers have done an excellent job of explaining and documenting the characters they use in their phylogenies, and they have proven track records of showing that they understand how to reconstruct phylogeny and analyse phylogenetic data.

Anyway – - – claiming to find those new details of Sharovipteryx and Longisquama was remarkable enough, but things were going to get much, much weirder.

Stage 3. The Longisquama holotype consists of the front half of the animal, preserved on a slab of matrix. It seems that the adjacent chunks of matrix are known, but they’ve rarely been figured in the literature. By using a special photo-tracing technique [read on] on both the front half of the specimen, and on the additional segments of matrix, Dave claimed some time round about 2003 that he (and everyone else) had previously understated the weirdness of Longisquama. He claimed to find the whole back end of the animal – the hips, the hindlimbs, the tail, and a whole bunch of additional, giant appendages. And hitherto-overlooked baby specimens of Longisquama were preserved on the slabs as well.

Everybody can see the skull and front end of the Longisquama holotype. By using his digital tracing technique, Dave claims that he's found THE WHOLE ANIMAL. These images may be too small to reveal the details - see the page on ReptileEvolution.com for his larger images.

Dave's current (2012) version of Longisquama, shown here in tree-climbing pose. He thinks he's found the whole of the animal, and it has a longer tail, a longer 4th finger and longer head appendages than his previous reconstruction (shown above).

Dave had now crossed the line from producing remarkable-but-just-about-plausible results to freakin’-crazy-almost-certainly-not-real results. Longisquama-like dorsal frills, claimed Dave, were present in pterosaurs. Yes, in ALL pterosaurs. Short-tailed pterosaurs were not actually short-tailed: they actually, said Dave, have long, whip-like tails, often with tassels at the ends. Furthermore, toothless pterosaurs actually have teeth after all, wing-fingers still have claws at their tips, and digit V is still present in the pterosaur hand, says Dave. Some pterosaurs have two nostrils, says Dave (as in, two on each side). Dewlaps, enormous dorsal crests and even anglerfish-like ‘lures’ decorate the heads, snouts and throats of Dave’s pterosaurs. Some of these structures, says Dave, are about as big as the animal’s head and body combined. ‘Best’ of all, pterosaurs of many kinds are – says Dave – preserved with babies attached to, or adjacent to, their bodies. These babies are, says Dave, built like miniature adults (that is, they have adult-like proportions), decorated with the same grandiose flaps, frills and dewlaps as Dave’s adults, AND they have wholly unossified skeletons, hence explaining their feint, translucent, near-invisible essence on the slab. I’m not joking about any of this stuff: it’s all documented online, and also in Peters (2004).

The Dave Peters vision of Pteranodon, as reconstructed by Nemo Ramjet (Mehmet Kosemen) in 2008. I'm no longer entirely sure whether Dave still supports the idea that pterosaurs looked like this, but he argues for all of the features you see here in his published articles (e.g., Peters 2004). Dave doesn't like illustrations such as this as he thinks people are lampooning or making a fool of him. Maybe that's so, but the fact remains that the reconstruction shown here (and those elsewhere in this article) is accurately based - without embellishment - on a reconstruction that Dave has produced himself.

Stage 4. Like anyone interested in pterosaurs, Dave wants to know how these animals might be related to other reptiles. As noted above, the general thinking on this issue is that pterosaurs are archosaurs, closely related to dinosaurs and their kin, and forming with them the clade Ornithodira. A list of anatomical characters appears to support this position. However, it has been suggested on occasion that pterosaurs aren’t archosaurs at all, but are in fact more closely related to a poorly known group of Triassic reptiles that are probably best termed protorosaurs (other names have been used, but things will be simpler if I avoid that mess here). This is the position supported in Peters (2000). Therein, Dave found Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama to be successively closer relatives of Pterosauria, with protorosaurs like Tanystropheus and Macrocnemus being outside Fenestrasauria, the name Dave gave to his proposed Cosesaurus + Pterosauria clade (Peters 2000).

In more recent work, Dave has taken to looking in detail at other kinds of reptiles, and indeed at other kinds of tetrapods. Some time round about 2007/2008, he started saying how new work was revealing that pterosaurs (and other ‘fenestrasaurs’) were close to, if not within, Squamata (the clade that includes snakes, lizards and amphisbaenians). And this radical new proposal – that pterosaurs are not archosaurs, nor even close, but actually nested within squamates – was not alone. Dave claimed that he’d ‘discovered’ a whole new shape for the tetrapod tree with numerous unorthodox relationships. More on this below.

The ReptileEvolution.com/David Peters model for pterosaur origins, involving Cosesaurus, Sharovipteryx and Longisquama. It looks good, but many of the details key to this hypothesis have been 'discovered' via Dave's digital tracing technique and hence are not trustworthy or repeatable. A much larger, higher-res version of this diagram is available at ReptileEvolution.com. Used with permission.

Stage 5. So far as I know, Dave hasn’t succeeded in getting this new hypothesis of tetrapod phylogeny into print, despite efforts (I know for a fact that he’s submitted manuscripts on this new model to certain top-tier publications) [UPDATE: not wholly correct. Brad McFeeters has brought my attention to Peters (2006), a popular magazine article in which Dave discusses his new tree]. He’s therefore taken to putting it all online. And this brings us up to the modern day. All of Dave’s observations, ideas and phylogenetic hypotheses are discussed at length at his new website, ReptileEvolution.com, and at his blog site, The Pterosaur Heresies.

Here we come to the reason for the article you’re reading now. ReptileEvolution.com is a huge problem, and those of us involved in research on tetrapod evolution need to somehow counteract its influence. If you google the name of just about any fossil reptile, synapsid or amphibian (I’m using ‘amphibian’ in the maximally inclusive, enormously vernacular and technically wrong sense), you get numerous hits for ReptileEvolution.com, typically high up or even top in the search results. This goes for image searches as well as for normal ones. And, while it’s understandable that this goes for obscure animals where there’s comparatively little information available online (I tested by googling Silvanerpeton, Kotlassia, Owenetta, Eusaurosphargis, and Helveticosaurus), it goes for comparatively well known ones too (I tested by googling PlatyhystrixSeymouriaDiadectesPlacodus and Coelurosauravus – believe it or not, these are “well known” as fossil tetrapods go).

The massive web-presence of ReptileEvolution.com, here tested by googling for Silvanerpeton. Of the 28 hits shown here, 12 are for ReptileEvolution.com or for the blog The Pterosaur Heresies.

Googling for one of my favourite Triassic reptiles - Helveticosaurus zollingeri - reveals 6 of 12 top hits to be links to ReptileEvolution.com and The Pterosaur Heresies blog. Dave frequently revises his reconstructions. That's ok, but I'm often left confused why the differences between revisions are so great - is this because his digital tracing technique is utterly unreliable? Compare the two different skulls he shows here for Helveticosaurus. Images by David Peters, used with permission.

I’ve been saying on facebook for a while (we talk quite a lot about Dave’s stuff) that something needs to be done. By this I mean that the rest of us need to somehow counteract the enormous web-presence of ReptileEvolution.com. So, what to do? Just ignoring ReptileEvolution.com doesn’t work in the age of the internet. The site is easy to find, so any rebuttal of any sort needs to be easy to find too.

The high visibility of ReptileEvolution.com is exacerbated by the fact that Dave’s ‘competitors’ – those who publish the sort of big-scale, taxon-heavy analyses that contradict his own trees – either have no internet presence at all, or are not interested in putting images, diagrams and other representations of specimens online. And image use is one of the key issues here. Dave is, as we’ve seen, a brilliant artist: he has been, and is, able to generate hundreds of excellent, highly attractive images. His stuff looks great. It’s therefore not really much of a surprise that naïve parties, after finding his stuff online, are drawn into thinking that it might be good, reliable work.

It might, by now, be obvious that I have a problem with ReptileEvolution.com, and indeed with Dave’s work in general. But we’re not done yet. Let me spell it out as clearly as possible. Why, exactly, am I so unhappy about ReptileEvolution.com?

An example of how good Dave's diagrams are. This one - from The Pterosaur Heresies blog - shows how Kadimakara (known from a partial skull, shown at top left) compares to various other reptiles that Dave considers to be diadectomorphs and protorosaurs respectively. Remember that Dave's grouping of the animals shown here as 'diadectomorphs' and 'protorosaurs' are likely not correct. Illustrations by David Peters, used with permission.

A whole lot of heresy. Whether we like it or not, few of us will make contributions to the human endeavour that will persist far into the future. I like to imagine that the total sum of human knowledge can be imagined as a giant, sprawling, baroque castle made of lego bricks. It’s bristling with lego flying buttresses, lego gargoyles, lego battlements and lego towers, and it’s surrounded by defensive lego walls. Everything is connected, but everything is incomplete and in need of more lego. Those of us who publish scientific results will, if we’re lucky, get to add a few bricks to one of the walls, or perhaps get to slightly modify the shape of one of the battlements or buttresses. People who get to build whole new walls, or wings, or – better yet – demolish an existing wall or wing and construct a wholly new one are rare and special indeed.

What I’m getting at here is that people who come along and properly instigate paradigm shifts or convincingly overturn long-held models are exceptional, and either incredibly gifted, incredibly lucky, incredibly hard-working, or incredibly rich… or some or all of the above.

David Peters would have us believe that just about the whole ‘mainstream’, accepted structure of the tetrapod tree is wrong, and that he – uniquely – has discovered a wholly new, paradigm-busting one. According to Dave, (1) reptiles and all other amniotes can be placed along either a lizard branch, or a mammal-croc-bird branch; (2) pterosaurs are not archosaurs or even close, but deeply nested within lizards; (3) synapsids (the amniote clade that includes mammals) are on the croc-bird branch, close to (or part of) Archosauromorpha; and (4) Dinosauria does not consist of Ornithischia and Saurischia, but Theropoda and Phytodinosauria (and the latter clade includes several traditional non-dinosaurs, like Lotosaurus and silesaurids).

Massively simplified version of the new tetrapod phylogeny recovered by Dave Peters, and given extensive coverage at ReptileEvolution.com and The Pterosaur Heresies. Be sure to compare it with the 'mainstream' tree shown below. The main unorthodox, radical details of this tree involve the positions of synapsids (close to archosaurs) and pterosaurs (well away from archosaurs, within lizards). This tree cannot be considered reasonable based on other lines of evidence, nor has Dave compiled or analysed enough data to show that it is viable (see text).

And there’s more – lots more. Synapsids are non-monophyletic according to Dave (since some traditional synapsids – caseasaurs – are on the lizard branch in Dave’s tree). Snakes are non-monophyletic, with scolecophidians (worm-snakes and kin) grouping with some platynotan lizards, rather than with other snakes. Trilophosaurids and rhynchosaurs are in Rhynchocephalia, close to sphenodontians. Mesosaurs are close kin of ichthyosaurs and thalattosaurs. And so on…

If you’re not familiar with the generally accepted structure of the tetrapod family tree, it would take me a while to explain why these proposals are so heretical and contrary to other studies. Suffice it to say that they are odd indeed, totally discordant with the careful, detailed work that other workers have documented in the peer-reviewed literature (for the record, a highly simplified ‘consensus’ tetrapod tree is depicted below).

A highly simplified version of the tetrapod family tree as consistently recovered by morphological and molecular studies, and also supported by embryology, biochemistry, behaviour and other lines of evidence. Synapsids (including mammals) are the sister-group to reptiles, with both forming Amniota. Turtles may be on the squamate branch or archosaur branch of Reptilia.

The specific details of phylogenetic hypotheses – that is, the specific positions of species relative to one another – will, in many cases, always fluctuate between studies. But the general pattern of the tetrapod cladogram as a whole is universally agreed on: mammals are the sister-group to the turtle-lizard-croc-bird clade; lizards (and other lepidosaurs) are the sister-group to the croc-bird clade. This pattern has been consistently recovered in morphology-based analyses (e.g., Laurin & Reisz 1995, Müller 2003, Lee et al. 2004, Hill 2005) and is also overwhelmingly supported by molecular data (e.g., Hedges & Poling 1999, Janke et al. 2001, Rest et al. 2003, Shedlock et al. 2007, Lyson et al. 2011). Embryological, biochemical and behavioural data also shows, pretty much unanimously, that lizards form a clade with archosaurs while mammals are outside this lizard + archosaur group.

Extent of the wing membrane (here depicted in the Cretaceous pterosaur Arthurdactylus) as reconstructed by Dave Peters based on digital tracing interpretations. Dave imagines the main part of the wing membrane to be incredibly narrow (or with an extremely high aspect ratio), and he insists that the membranes never contact the tibia. Based on my examination of fossil specimens, I am confident that the wing membranes DO contact the tibia (and extend as far as the ankles) in some and perhaps most or all pterosaurs. Image by David Peters, from Peters (2002) and The Myth of the Bat Winged pterosaur at The Pterosaur Heresies blog.

In additional to this phylogenetic re-shuffling, and in addition to those many new details of anatomy that he claims he’s discovered (more on that in a moment), Dave also thinks that he’s discovered some crucial new stuff about the biology and behaviour of pterosaurs and other fossil tetrapods. Using the digital tracing technique, he claims to have discovered flightless pterosaurs, vampiric pterosaurs that bit dinosaurs, widespread evidence of super-narrow wing membranes, and even prey items (like insects) preserved within the mouths of some animals. Pterosaurs have generally been assumed to be egg-layers, an inference based mostly on their hypothesised position among archosaurs. Recent finds of baby pterosaurs preserved within eggs (Chiappe et al. 2004, Ji et al. 2004, Wang & Zhou 2004), and of an egg preserved right next to the pelvis of a particular pterosaur specimen (Lü et al. 2011), provide compelling support for that assumption.

But Dave’s claim that numerous unossified baby pterosaurs are preserved alongside – or on or even in – the bodies of adult specimens is discordant with this, since their ‘presence’ led Dave to argue that pterosaurs were viviparous. After the first baby pterosaur preserved inside an eggshell was discovered, Dave seriously proposed that it represented a miniature kind of pterosaur – he named it Avgodectes pseudembryon – that took to hiding inside broken eggshells (he published that name in the magazine Prehistoric Times). I should add here that I don’t think that those numerous, soft-boned babies exist at all; they’re artifacts of the digital tracing technique (on which, read on), and in fact it might (or might not) be that Dave has given up on this idea in view of subsequent discoveries.

Tiny pterosaurs otherwise interpreted as hatchlings (or 'flaplings', sensu Unwin) are regarded by Dave Peters - uniquely - as the adults of miniscule new species. Two of these 'adults' are shown here to scale with a modern ginkgo leaf. Dave notes that, if they are adults, they would produce eggs and hatchlings LESS THAN 10 MM IN TOTAL LENGTH. Image from ReptileEvolution.com, used with permission.

Dave thinks that a number of small pterosaur specimens – interpreted by everyone else as juveniles of Pterodactylus and other taxa – are actually miniature adults. His interpretations are dependent on his digital tracing technique, and on the incorporation of the characters he finds via digital tracing into his phylogenetic analyses. Given that he interprets these tiny animals as adults, and given that he contends that growth in pterosaurs was isometric, he proposes that the babies of these miniature pterosaurs were less than 10 mm long. Yes, less than 10 mm long.

This is an awfully long list of heresies to come from one researcher. Is it impossible that Dave Peters really is the most insightful, most gifted, most brilliant compiler and analyser of phylogenetic data of our time? No, it is not impossible. Is it likely? Let’s consider the following.

How to make real, unambiguous discoveries in pterosaur anatomy: employ CT-scanning or (as here) UV light. This image of a tiny Anurognathus skeleton (wingspan c. 40 cm) was produced by “master of UV”, Helmut Tischlinger.

How not to change the world. If you think you’ve discovered something radically new and absolutely contradictory to previously accrued evidence, you don’t go round saying “Hey everyone – I’ve solved all your problems. Everything is different now – here is the new truth!”. You ask other people what they think before your announcement, you try and test it using alternative methods (for fossils, the application of CT-scanning and UV light to specimens is showing us stuff we can’t clearly see with our own eyes) and, essentially, you state your incredible discovery in appropriately conservative fashion. Some people actually take years or even decades to announce their major, groundbreaking discoveries because they want to be as sure as they can be that they’ve considered all the weaknesses, alternative explanations and possible flaws in what they’re proposing.

Dave is a bit of a contradiction on this front. He’s thrown a million radically strange new discoveries out there at a phenomenally rapid pace, and indeed the rate at which his ‘discoveries’ occur is unprecedented. Dave proclaims frequently that he changes his ideas when he’s wrong, and indeed he invites others to test his claims. So far so good. But, when others don’t see what he sees, when they criticise his interpretations and his methods, he remains steadfast in his opinion that they’re wrong because they’re biased, because they’re refusing to use the same method that he does (read on), or because they can’t provide a superior hypothesis.

What about the alternative – that they’re not wrong? I’ve now corresponded with Dave on several occasions about the structures he reports to find. He seems very confident that he’s always right, yet I don’t think that he ever is. I am not alone; many others have challenged Dave’s observations in discussion (virtually all of this is online, though see Bennett 2005), and indeed Dave’s work is ignored by publishing scientists. And so we come to…

If you want to learn about fossils, you have to look at fossils. When detailed, novel anatomical information is concerned, nobody seriously accepts that you can rely on photos alone.

The core problem: Digital Graphic Segregation. We convince others of our observations by pointing to objects or structures that can be perceived by those others. If I assert that structure x is present in specimen y, I say so with the confidence that any other sighted person will be able to look at that specimen (or an image of it) and, like me, see the same structure. Seeing as a lot of my technical work has involved descriptive skeletal anatomy, I think about this issue quite a lot; I think that any ambiguity surrounding the existence of anatomical structures should be avoided: something is either demonstrably there, or it’s not. Today, we can confirm the existence of ambiguous or hidden elements by using new imaging technology, like the CT-scanning and use of UV light that I’ve already mentioned.

Just one example of Dave's application of DGS. At top, the disarticulated skull as preserved. At bottom, the information that Dave thinks he has discovered via DGS (note the insect inside the mouth!!). From The Pterosaur Heresies, image by David Peters.

Contrast this with the technique that makes Dave’s observations rotten to the core. He calls it Digital Graphic Segregation or DGS (so far as I can tell, this term is unique to Dave’s writings), and he claims that it allows him to, variously, separate bones from underlying ones, to piece together previously unnoticed, shattered bits of elements in jigsaw-fashion, and to recognise truly novel, soft-tissue structures like elaborate dermal frills and those unossified pterosaur babies.

David maintains that, via DGS, he can reliably distinguish and identify tens and sometimes hundreds of bones and other structures that are effectively invisible to everyone else. A primary assumption behind the technique is that fossil animals preserved flat on slabs of sediment are always preserved as ‘high-resolution, high-fidelity’ objects, where even near-microscopically tiny elements are preserved, findable, observable, and decipherable. As you’ll know if you’ve spent time looking at fossil vertebrates preserved on slabs, this is very typically not the case – many fossils are preserved as partially eroded, heavily broken, very much incomplete objects where tiny elements are invisible, long gone, or unpreserved, and where eroded, degraded and distorted bone surfaces are wholly lacking their sutures and many of the fine details they would have had when fresh. They are just not the ‘high-resolution, high-fidelity’ objects that Dave assumes.

Reconstruction (drawn by me) based directly on Dave's 2004 Campylognathoides zitteli. He illustrated an enormous, flap-like head crest (not sure how it's meant to be internally supported), a dorsal crest on the neck and back, a super-long wing-finger (with claw at tip) and an extra-long tail. Again, this drawing is not done to lampoon or mock Dave's reconstructions - it's an effort to redraw one of his own published illustrations.

I have no doubt whatsoever that, with literally one or two exceptions, every single element Dave is identifying via DGS can be explained in one of three ways. (1) It’s not a genuine anatomical structure or feature: it’s a scratch or imperfection on the slab, a lump or bump in the adjacent sediment, an area of paint, glue, preservative or cement, a bit of plant tissue, or even a digital artifact resulting from the coarse-grained pixelisation that occurs when you zoom in close to scanned images (for this work, Dave relies almost wholly on images from the published literature). (2) Some of the big, ragged structures that Dave interprets as frills, dewlaps, wattles, pouches or crests might actually be sloughed patches of tissue that have broken away from the animal’s corpse during decomposition. Dave’s default assumption for such structures is that they can be interpreted as being preserved in the ‘in life’ position, but other options need to be considered first. Decomposition and fossilisation are messy. (3) In a few cases, Dave is seeing real bones, but interpreting them as something else. Broken, indeterminate rod-like elements that might be bits of ribs or gastralia, for example, become reconstructed as if we can be sure what their identity is.

Dave says that DGS is reliable because it revealed one unquestionably valid, genuine discovery: he found the head and neck of Langobardisaurus pandolfi thanks to this method. But this is a red herring. Look at the fossil (it’s here; below). I maintain that you do not need some special digital tracing trick to see that missing head and neck: you can clearly see the skull preserved, upside down, beneath the ribcage. Compare this with the other fossils where Dave claims to make ‘discoveries’. They are not the same.

Langobardisaurus specimen, with skull concealed beneath ribcage. The point here is: I can see the skull with my own eyes. It is not like the other objects that Dave claims to find via DGS. Photo from ReptileEvolution.com, used with permission.

Even fanboys & girls don't trust Dave Peters. By the mysterious artist known only as 'The Mac'.

Every single researcher who has expressed an opinion on this issue has said exactly the same thing, and you can see from discussions in chatrooms, message boards and blogs that interested amateurs, fanboys/girls and idly curious commenters tend to note that Dave’s views and DGS ‘discoveries’ are suspicious or obviously erroneous too. That is, Dave is ‘discovering’ artifacts of sedimentology and taphonomy, not genuine features of anatomy. Chris Bennett published an excellent article on Dave’s methods and observations in which he pointed to specific case studies (Bennett 2005). That article is required reading for anyone interested in the Dave Peters issue [a pdf is linked to in the references below].

The pelvic region of Cosesaurus (at left), with the Dave Peters/ReptileEvolution.com reconstruction in the middle and at right. You can see that Dave identifies markings on the slab as prepubes. But we can't be sure what they are and cannot regard them as prepubes. Illustration from ReptileEvolution.com, used with permission.

In email correspondence, Dave said that my explaining away of his ‘identified’ elements is unsatisfactory since, in order to knock down his proposed DGS-based identifications, I need to come up with superior hypotheses that are supported by “a ton of evidence”. One specific example we discussed concerns the alleged prepubes of Cosesaurus. Prepubes (singular: prepubis) are fan-shaped bones located anterior to the pelvis, and they’re unique to pterosaurs. Dave says that he’s found them in Cosesaurus, and here [above] is the photo that’s supposed to support that claim. I cannot see any prepubes there. I can see some rod-shaped impressions in about the right region, but nothing that comes close to being convincing. I thus simply reject Dave’s suggestion that he has ‘found’ prepubes in Cosesaurus. Dave is wrong in arguing that I need to present a superior explanation that accounts for the presence of the structures we can see here, or that I need to compile some sort of evidence that overturns his hypothesis. I don’t: it is wholly acceptable in science to say “I don’t know what’s going on there; we cannot reach a conclusion without more evidence”.

Despite all the differences and disagreements, I like to think that those of us in the technical research community can still deal cordially with Dave Peters. This photo - taken in Munich (Germany) in 2007 - shows Dave (at right) talking with Mark Witton about the (then unnamed) azhdarchoid Lacusovagus.

Dave’s mantra is “Test. Test. And test again”, his implication being that those of us who reject his proposed observations aren’t seeing the things he reports because we’re not trying hard enough: that is, we’re not testing the anatomical structure of fossils in the same way that he is. What he fails to credit is that those of us interested in fossil tetrapods are, in fact, testing his proposals every time we look at the fossils concerned. I look at the images (or at a replica, or at the actual specimen) of Cosesaurus, for example, and I make my own decision about the structures that Dave is purporting to identify. I therefore have tested his hypothesis, and I’ve rejected it. Note that future discoveries could, hypothetically, prove David right. However, we don’t work on the basis of what might be found in the future – we base conclusions on what we have now.

Dave has now made hundreds of claims concerning the alleged presence of elements and soft tissue structures ‘discovered’ via DGS, and a huge number of the reconstructions viewable on ReptileEvolution.com incorporate information obtained via this method. I think there might be – literally – one or two cases where he’s on to something. But, overall, I regard DGS as absolutely unreliable and absolutely misleading. Dave is reporting things that do not represent genuine details of anatomy. This goes for skeletal elements, dermal and soft-tissue structures, and sutures between bones. I have yet to hear from a single researcher who agrees with any of his many, many proposals. Remember that this affects all of his work, since his character codings, and hence his phylogenetic hypotheses, are heavily dependent on information gleaned from DGS. On that note…

Unreliable data sets, broken cladograms. Dave is proud of the fact that he’s created a tetrapod super-tree incorporating more species-level taxa than ever before, and where similar-looking animals group together in what he says is a thoroughly sensible, evolutionarily ‘logical’ fashion. Indeed, both ReptileEvolution.com and The Pterosaur Heresies are built around discussion of this tree.

A miniature screen-shot of the ReptileEvolution.com tree. Hi-res versions where all details are visible (unlike here) are available at ReptileEvolution.com. I do not think that the heretical positions depicted here for many taxa are reliably reported or correct.

The aim to be appropriately comprehensive in terms of coding species-level taxa is a noble one, and Dave is right to criticise previous analyses for not including enough of these, and for making assumptions about the monophyly and/or homogeneity of many groups. So, well done Dave: credit where it’s due. But Dave’s tree – the one discussed at length at both ReptileEvolution.com and The Pterosaur Heresies – is fraught with problems, and it cannot be considered a superior alternative to what’s already in the literature.

Dave challenges those who disbelieve his results to point to the problem areas – to say which taxa don’t sit right in his phylogeny. Actually, as should be clear by now, I don’t think that any of the heretical, novel positions he recovers for tetrapod taxa are reliable. I don’t think pterosaurs are close to Huehuecuetzpalli* or to other squamates as Dave contends, I don’t think that caseasaurs are close to any of the taxa that Dave nests them with (he places them well away from other synapsids), I don’t think that silesaurids and Lotosaurus are close to ornithischian dinosaurs, and so on and on. I’m not disputing Dave’s heretical proposals because I’m biased, blinkered by mainstream authority, or automatically unwilling to consider his ideas. Rather, I dispute them because (1) I find the ‘conventional’ positions to be far more convincingly supported by character data, and (2) because Dave’s alternative positions are based on erroneous or incomplete analysis of the data available.

* It’s pronounced something like ‘whey-whey-ketz-paa-lee’. I know some people who hate the name and some who love it.

The ReptileEvolution.com/Dave Peters reconstruction of Huehuecuetzpalli, a Cretaceous lizard from Mexico originally described as a stem-squamate but regarded by Dave as close to pterosaur ancestry. The characters that Dave regards as pterosaur-like are best interpreted as convergences (and very vague ones at that). Dave’s proposed phylogenetic position for this taxon would require a ghost lineage more than 100 million years long, but that’s hardly the only problem.

One of the two Huehuecuetzpalli specimens originally described by Reynoso (1998). Dave thinks that there are characters linking this Cretaceous squamate with his Triassic 'fenestrasaurs', like Cosesaurus. One of them is 'attenuate tail'. Err, tails of this sort are not exactly phylogenetically restricted.

As mentioned already, one huge problem with Dave’s analyses is that many of his character codings are derived from his application of the DGS technique. I’m sure that DGS is giving wholly erroneous results; all of the codings thus derived from this method are inaccurate reflections of real anatomy.

But, not all of Dave’s character codings are derived from DGS. He only uses DGS on flattened specimens that are preserved on slabs. What about the characters he uses for three-dimensional specimens? The problem is that Dave uses a DGS-like technique on these as well, re-identifying skeletal elements, re-identifying sutures and re-imagining proportions and shapes according to what he thinks is most likely. While there are cases where his reconstructions are not problematic, there are plenty of others where they are, and where his reconstructions are unreliable and almost certainly erroneous.

Furthermore, his character sets are not comprehensive enough. The tree at ReptileEvolution.com and The Pterosaur Heresies incorporates data from something like 230 characters, coded for over 300 taxa. I don’t know if that sounds like a lot to you, but I assure you that it isn’t, especially in an analysis that’s meant to incorporate data from tens of distinct clades that haven’t previously been included in the same analysis together. In recent months, I and colleagues have been working with a dataset designed for one specific archosaur clade, and it contains over 800 characters. I consider it a joke that someone can claim to comprehensively sample all synapsids, lepidosaurs, archosaurs, marine reptiles and other tetrapods and do so with c. 230 characters. Tetrapods are complicated objects, even when you’re dealing with skeletal anatomy alone, and c. 230 characters for over 300 taxa cannot be considered adequate in term of providing enough data for the recovery of a reliable tree.

Dave's cladograms look pretty - here's a segment (from ReptileEvolution.com) showing the relationships he recovers for croc-group archosaurs and dinosaurs (the topology is totally weird compared to what everyone else recovers, however). But how robust are these relationships in statistic, and character-support, terms? The answer: not at all robust.

When challenged to change things and add more characters and revise the old ones, Dave’s response (as of June 17th 2012) was “As long as I can recover a single tree from all these reptiles, I’m not going to add another character. Sorry. I only take things this far. No further”. I’m deeply perplexed by this statement. I honestly thought (as indicated by other statements about Dave in this article) that Dave was playing this game in order to find conclusions that best fit the data, not to give up and refuse to go further as soon as appropriate tweaking of his analysis is suggested. What the hell happened to “Test. Test. And test again”?

A great many of Dave’s characters are derived from the existing literature. That’s fine; we all look at characters that others have used beforehand, and use those that we think are useful in term of grouping taxa together. One issue: there is substantial overlap between the characters Dave uses, with many describing the same character states! (see Mickey Mortimer’s comment here at The Pterosaur Heresies). Another issue: Dave’s characters are often problematic in terms of carving up different character states, and seem cherry-picked and extremely selective. He champions heretical ideas like (to choose one example) the non-monophyly of Saurischia, yet his dataset doesn’t include half the characters that exist to support the monophyly of Saurischia in the first place. Mickey has recently been going through Dave’s characters and character codings, and he discusses some of these character-use problems in his two articles Why David Peters’ analysis sucks and Why doesn’t Peters find Dinosauria or Saurischia?.

An assortment of reptiles, by Naish.

Finally, those of us who correspond with Dave and respond to his comments on blogs and so on have learnt that he doesn’t really seem to understand how to ‘read’ cladograms, or how the results of phylogenetic analyses are supposed to be interpreted. Dave regards it as a key ‘plus point’ of his new big analysis that he only recovers one or two most parsimonious trees (MPTs), as if this is a good thing. It isn’t – the number of MPTs you recover is merely a result of how the program explains your data, and there might, or might not be, innumerable equally ‘good’ trees. Support statistics are the important part when it comes to working out the robustness of a tree; the number of MPTs itself is not an important part of tree goodness-of-fit.

Dave also consistently misunderstands the structure of cladograms, using ‘sister-taxa’ and ‘sisters’ in incorrect fashion. You might not think that this matters, but it does. Look at the cladogram below (if your memory is good, you’ll remember it from last time. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the idea that crown-archosaurs are just better than other tetrapods). Dave has said several times that cladograms like this reveal pterosaurs to be the sisters to phytosaurs. But, as I hope you can clearly see, that isn’t accurate at all. In this cladogram, phytosaurs are merely one branch among several in a clade that is sister to ANOTHER clade, of which pterosaurs are also merely one branch among several. Pterosaurs and phytosaurs are, in this cladogram, nothing like sisters. Theropods (they include birds: the cladogram shown here is misleading on that point) and sauropodomorphs are sisters.

Mehmet Kosemen's tongue-in-cheek suggestion that crown-Archosauria should be renamed Awesomes, as encapsulated on a (pre-Nesbitt) simplified cladogram. Designed to offend those who don't work on crown-archosaurs.

The reason this matters is that Dave – by wrongly thinking that pterosaurs and phytosaurs are ‘sisters’ – imagines that pterosaurs, according to this tree, must have evolved from a phytosaur-like ancestor. But that isn’t what a sister-group relationship means. It means that two lineages have diverged from a single ancestor. Maybe this ancestor looked more like the members of one of those lineages than the other, but maybe it looked like a combination of both, and maybe it looked like neither. In the cladogram shown here, pterosaurs have a sister-group relationship with the silesaurid + dinosaur clade (properly named Dinosauriformes). The hypothetical common ancestor would therefore have shared the characters common to pterosaurs and dinosauriforms, but lacked the special features of either of those lineages. Understanding cladograms is important if you’re thinking about ancestral character states or indeed the general appearances of concestors.

Two last things

We’re now approaching the end of this overly-long article. Well done if you made it this far. There are two more things I want to say.

I said way, way back at the start of this article that I have honestly tried very hard to not make this article a personal attack on Dave Peters. But I’ve also noted above that Dave is sometimes insulting to other researchers. The by-line to The Pterosaur Heresies is ‘There’s something very wrong with our pterosaurs’. The not-so-concealed implication here is that everyone else who works on the interpretation of pterosaurs and their kin is wrong. And Dave sometimes says stuff like the following (in this case [from this article at The Pterosaur Heresies blog], with reference to an in-press paper recently released online about the evolution of the pterosaurian pelvis)…

Why there’s something very wrong with our pterosaurs.
Giving credit where credit is due, the following pterosaur experts all had a hand in the report by Hyder et al. (2012) according to the acknowledgements: Darren Naish, Steve Vidovic, Dave Unwin, Dino Frey, Ross Elgin, Lorna Steel, Mike Habib, David Hone and Michael Benton.

In other words, Dave’s complaints about the paper concerned are directly linked to the fact that a bunch of academic researchers who work on pterosaurs – myself included – are the root cause of the problem. While no-one will deny that we all make mistakes, that there are often weaknesses in our own published conclusions and hypotheses, and that we all fail, on occasion, to understand the stuff that we claim expertise in, stunts like this are rude and unnecessary. On a similar note, Dave’s writings are consistently worded as if he’s discovered ‘the truth’, and that all that’s left is for the rest of us to investigate his data and hypotheses before we become turned around and see things his way. Please see the above section of text, titled ‘How not to change the world’.

More of Dave’s very attractive detailed reconstructions, showing (top to borrow) a selection of dinosauriforms and archosaurs that Dave regards (erroneously) as close to dinosaurs, a selection of animals that he groups together in the ‘diadectomorphs’, and a selection of gliders (all of which Dave argues to be close relatives) and their alleged relatives. The sheer volume of material on ReptileEvolution.com (and at The Pterosaur Heresies blog) is >>overwhelming<< – Dave’s level of productivity is unbelievable. Given that I regard his work as mis-educational, herein lies a large part of the problem.

On to my final point. Dave Peters is brilliant. He is smart, he has a phenomenal eye for detail, he is passionate, enthusiastic and hard-working, he is almost unparalleled in his ability to depict his ideas in graphical form, and his quest to reconstruct both the tree of life and the biology and behaviour of the animals he’s interested in is noble and worthy of respect. But, for all the reasons discussed above, he has gone off at a tangent and his work as it stands at the moment will never be accepted, or indeed be of substantive interest, to anyone else who has a strong technical interest in the evolution of pterosaurs, squamates, synapsids or other tetrapods. The Digital Graphic Segregation technique, the finding of innumerable things that no-one thinks are real, the radically weird, discordant-with-all-other-data tetrapod phylogeny, the problems of using too few characters, of selective character choice and other methodological problems, and the insistence that only he has seen the light and that we are all too blinkered and too biased to realise the veracity of his results effectively ensure that he works on an ‘academic island’, separated and essentially ignored by the rest of the community.

As I have – I hope – made clear throughout this article, responsible researchers elsewhere in the tetrapod research community need to stand up and help spread the word: ReptileEvolution.com cannot be used as a reliable source on any matters of tetrapod evolution, biology or behaviour. In his published criticism of Dave’s DGS-based ideas about pterosaur appearance, Bennett (2005) said that “Peters has ignored the framework of palaeontological research, has made no attempt to convince academic palaeontologists of his findings, and has taken his ideas directly to the general public and presented them as true and correct” (p. 21). Now, with ReptileEvolution.com on the scene, matters are worse.

In a recent email where I criticised his conclusions and methods, Dave said to me that I need to “get back on the right track”. I find this ironic, in that this bit of advice needs to be turned around and directed at him. I wanted to end this article by advising Dave Peters that he needs to change direction, but I can’t see that this will be received well.

In the end, Dave can continue as he pleases. The important thing – the whole reason I chose to write this article in the first place – is that the mis-education of others needs to be kept to an absolute minimum.

Refs – -

Bennett, S. C. 2005. Pterosaur science or pterosaur fantasy? Prehistoric Times 70, 21-23, 40.

Brusatte, S. L., Benton, M. J., Desojo J. B., & Langer, M. C. 2010. The higher-level phylogeny of Archosauria. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 8, 3-47.

Butler, R. J., Brusatte, S. L., Reich, M., Nesbitt, S. J., Schoch, R. R. & Hornung, J. J. 2011. The sail-backed reptile Ctenosauriscus from the Latest Early Triassic of Germany and the timing and biogeography of the early archosaur radiation. PLoS ONE 6(10): e25693. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025693

Chiappe, L., Codorniú, L., Grellet-Tinner, G. & Rivarola, D. 2004. Argentinian unhatched pterosaur fossil. Nature 432, 571-572.

Hedges, S. B. & Poling, L. L. 1999. A molecular phylogeny of reptiles. Science 283, 998-1001.

Hill, R. V. 2005. Integration of morphological data sets for phylogenetic analysis of Amniota: the importance of integumentary characters and increased taxonomic sampling. Systematic Biology 54, 530-547.

Janke, A., Erpenbeck, D., Nilsson, M. & Arnason, U. 2001. The mitochondrial genomes of the iguana (Iguana iguana) and the caiman (Caiman crocodylus): implications for amniote phylogeny. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268, 623-631.

Ji, Q., Ji, S.-A., Cheng, Y.-N., You, H.-L., Lü, J.-C., Liu, Y.-Q. & Yuan, C.-X. 2004. Pterosaur egg with a leathery shell. Nature 432, 572.

Laurin, M. & Reisz, R. R. 1995. A reevaluation of early amniote phylogeny. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 113, 165-223.

Lü, J., Unwin, D. M., Deeming, D. C., Jin, X., Liu, Y., & Ji, Q. 2011. An egg-adult association, gender, and reproduction in pterosaurs. Science 331, 321-324.

Lee, M. S. Y., Reeder, T. W., Slowinski, J. B. & Lawson, R. 2004. Resolving reptile relationships. In Cracraft, J. and Donoghue, M. (eds), Assembling the Tree of Life. Oxford University Press (Oxford), pp. 451-467.

Müller, J. 2003. Early loss and multiple return of the lower temporal arcade in diapsid reptiles. Naturwissenschaften 90, 473-476.

Nesbitt, S. J. 2011. The early evolution of archosaurs: relationships and the origin of major clades. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 352, 1-292.

Peters, D. 1995. Wing shape in pterosaurs. Nature 374, 315-316.

- . 2000. A reexamination of four prolacertiforms with implications for pterosaur phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106, 293-336.

- . 2002. A new model for the evolution of the pterosaur wing – with a twist. Historical Biology 15, 277-301.

- . 2004. Pterosaurs from another angle. Prehistoric Times 64, 34-46.

- . 2006. The reptile test. Prehistoric Times 80, 27-29.

Rest, J. S., Ast, J. C., Austin, C. C., Waddell, P. J., Tibbetts, E. A., Hay, J. M. & Mindell, D. P. 2003. Molecular systematics of primary reptilian lineages and the tuatara mitochondrial genome. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29, 289-297.

Reynoso, V.-H. 1998. Huehuecuetzpalli mixtecus gen. et sp. nov: a basal squamate (Reptilia) from the Early Cretaceous of Tepexi de Rodríguez, Central México. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 353, 477-500.

Shedlock, A. M., Botka, C. W., Zhao, S., Shetty, J., Zhang, T., Liu, J. S., Deschavanne, P. J. & Edwards, S. V. 2007. Phylogenetics of nonavian reptiles and the structure of the ancestral amniote genome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 104, 2767-2772.

Unwin, D. M. & Bakhurina, N. N. (1994). Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus Nature, 371, 62-64 DOI: 10.1038/371062a0

- . & Bakhurina, N. N. 1995. Wing shape in pterosaurs. Nature 374, 316.

Wang, X. & Zhou, Z. 2004. Pterosaur embryo from the Early Cretaceous. Nature 429, 621.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. JAHeadden 10:25 pm 07/3/2012

    I do not wish to pile on Dave in this manner. I’d like to note here that Nima also did a take down on the historical aspects of Dave’s work here, while your colleague Mike Taylor lampooned it here. At one point, David Marjanović deliberately engaged on the concept of direct tracing a la Bennett’s test, but I no longer have the url for David’s result. It was not supportive. Nima has numerous links to the DML archive on specific and general rebuttals.

    I think so far Bennett’s response has been the best: dry, technical, and scientific. He left the person to person interaction out, the “I thinks” and the “he dids,” instead focusing on what was written. However, when engaging on the topic of exclusion or ignorance of the idea, one will only tend to enforce the ignored or excluded individual’s feelings of rightness. I can’t help but think that this type of response will be counterproductive to resolving Dave’s methodology scientifically.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Halbred 10:39 pm 07/3/2012

    Thank you for writing this, Darren. A wonderful article, and I can see why it would difficult to write. Dave’s artistic work is amazing, and I miss his children’s books (I had the raptor one a long time ago, and it influenced my own art quite a lot).

    Link to this
  3. 3. naishd 10:47 pm 07/3/2012

    Jaime – thanks; note that I already mentioned (and linked to) Nima’s article.

    Darren

    Link to this
  4. 4. JAHeadden 11:07 pm 07/3/2012

    Ah, my mistake. I tried to comb the article for a like to Nima’s, but failed to find it.

    Link to this
  5. 5. TikiCosmonaut 11:20 pm 07/3/2012

    Thank you for writing this. Peters’ work is definitely persistent in search results, and tools like Google (and Goodle images) don’t discern (at this time anyway) between valid and bad science. This can be frustrating when people like me are looking for good information.

    And it’s not just Google, either, his work is in wikipedia, too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huehuecuetzpalli).

    (And just for the record, I love the name Huehuecuetzpalli.)

    Link to this
  6. 6. Therizinosaurus 11:27 pm 07/3/2012

    [from Darren: sorry, retained by spam filter]

    Excellent job. Thanks for the links, my blog posts and comments on Peters’ blog have the same purpose this post does. I do have a few critiques though (don’t I always?).

    First, none of the three papers you cite for placing pterosaurs by dinosaurs can refute Peters’ fenestrasaur hypothesis because none of them include Longisquama, Cosesaurus or Sharovipteryx, let alone any of his ‘tritosaur’ squamates. Sure you can add them, like I did for Nesbitt’s archosauriform matrix ( theropoddatabase.blogspot.com/2011/05/simiosaurs-in-nesbitts-matrix.html ), but since that doesn’t include characters meant to support groups like Archosauromorpha or Fenestrasauria, it’s not a valid way to disprove his ideas. Indeed, there hasn’t been a good analysis showing pterosaurs to be archosaurs ( http://theropoddatabase.blogspot.com/2010/02/pterosaur-relationships.html ).

    That’s actually true for many of Peters’ heretical topologies. Sure some like his arrangement within Archosauriformes have been well refuted, and like you say molecular analyses seem to indicate his arrangement of living taxa is wrong. Yet since the few published large scale amniote analyses all use relatively few and often suprageneric taxa, most of his ideas haven’t been tested by the mainstream. Take caseasaurs as non-synapsids. Peters has them close to Milleretta, bolosaurids, Australothyris, Eunotosaurus and Acleistorhinus (all parareptiles). Mueller (2004) just uses Synapsida and Parareptilia as OTUs, so is no test. Synapsid analyses and Parareptile analyses are of no use. The best test has been deBraga and Rieppel’s (1997) analysis and that has characters formed almost as badly as Peters’ ( http://theropoddatabase.blogspot.com/2011/06/rieppels-reptile-matrix-and-turtle.html ), and includes only Caseidae (not more basal caseasaurs), Milleretidae, Acleistorhinus and since Lyson et al. (2010), Eunotosaurus. Even so, caseids are the most basal synapsids in their tree, and milleretids are the most basal parareptiles, so they’re really not far away. This doesn’t mean Peters is right, but he often hasn’t been shown to be wrong in regard to his novel topologies.

    Of course, with his tiny amount of terribly structured and often miscoded (due to DGS and other over-interpretations) characters, Peters has hardly shown his topology to be right. But it’s not much worse than deBraga and Rieppel’s tiny amount of poorly structured and (I assume) less often miscoded characters used on suprageneric taxa with assumed monophyly.

    Also, as bad as Peters’ characters are, I’m nearly certain they were not “cherry-picked”. His Consistency Index is .10, which is quite low, suggesting he didn’t choose his characters to arrive at a particular tree. Which is better than some professionals (*cough* Sereno *cough*).

    But besides those issues, I agree on all fronts.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Brad McFeeters 11:31 pm 07/3/2012

    Good article, Darren.

    “Based on his examination of these four Triassic animals…”

    This sentence is kind of ambiguous. You mean “his examination of photos of these four Triassic animals,” right?

    “So far as I know, Dave hasn’t succeeded in getting this new hypothesis of tetrapod phylogeny into print, despite efforts (I know for a fact that he’s submitted manuscripts on this new model to certain top-tier publications).”

    It has been mentioned in a print publication (just not in a technical, peer-reviewed one):

    Peters, D. 2006. The reptile test. Prehistoric Times 80: 27-29.

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  8. 8. Dave@reptileevolution.com 11:50 pm 07/3/2012

    Dave Peters here. The start of my reply can be read at the pterosaurheresies blog now.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Therizinosaurus 12:30 am 07/4/2012

    Hmm. Neither Nick or Jaime reports being able to see my comment. Maybe the URLs are holding it back?

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  10. 10. Andreas Johansson 2:37 am 07/4/2012

    Darren wrote:

    It [viz. Huehuecuetzpalli]’s pronounced something like ‘whey-whey-ketz-ul-paa-lee’.

    Does that -ul- really belong there? It seems completely without counterpart in the written form.

    Jamie Headden wrote:

    I think so far Bennett’s response has been the best: dry, technical, and scientific.

    Which means its not likely to be seen or read by the naïve readers Darren worries will be mislead by Peters.

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  11. 11. Richard Butler 2:58 am 07/4/2012

    Absolutely excellent article Darren – one with which I agree entirely. This is very useful as a resource to which I can direct undergraduate and Master’s students – the massive internet presence of ReptileEvolution.com and Pterosaur Heresies is a real problem, and I have found it can mislead even early stage postgraduate students of palaeontology.

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  12. 12. JAHeadden 3:33 am 07/4/2012

    Andreas: Bennett’s response was posted in Prehistoric Times, the venue Dave Peters was publishing some of his imagery and the DGS technique before Dave started the website in question. It was aimed deliberately at the audience Dave was striking for. Bennett (as I recall) chose the venue to counter the impact Dave would have. It may have worked.

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  13. 13. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:10 am 07/4/2012

    Good response. Dave Peters makes a lot of different hypotheses. Kudos for examining them.

    But you are also arguing that because some of his hypotheses are incorrect, other, unrelated hypotheses are also incorrect. A bit of logical fallacy here, and sometimes it is difficult to sort what is what.

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  14. 14. RJansma 5:19 am 07/4/2012

    Excellent post Darren! I think you have done a great job of presenting why the interpretations and conclusions of David Peters should be critically viewed in a clear and concise (as possible) manner. At the same time, I also support your proposal to develop a similar internet-presence for the well-supported “mainstream”-view of stem and crown archosaur relationships.

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  15. 15. Pristichampsus 5:20 am 07/4/2012

    I can’t help but actually worry about this guy. I have been accused of this being a cop-out, but I at least worry that these strange theories and overall sense of being onto the real deal could genuinely be linked to some mental illness. I have personally experienced, in my own emotional illnesses, some pretty strong and scary delusions, thankfully, they were not very elaborate and did not make much sense. The fact that they were easy to refute made my recovery from them alot more easy, as I got better. But I can’t help thinking that David feels he is right very strongly, because he is deluded or paranoid. Schizophrenics can believe themselves to have a special calling or mission that they must adhere to, perhaps David thinks that revolutionising paleoherpetology is his. All in all, I feel sorry for him, because unless he is in fact mentally ill, he has embarked on an enornously futile and elaborate wild goose chase. At this point, I would like to say that I have sympathy for him, great sympathy, because his career had great promise when he was cranking out really amazing paleoart, if only he could try and regain his adherence to this sort of stuff, and leave his pseudoscience behind, he could save his reputation. There’s a part of me that worries that he is a sensitive, easily hurt person, like I am, and that all this heavy criticism may drive him into depths of despair, as it would if it were directed at me. But I guess that’s projecting, because he seems to react with equal ferocity and enthusiasm to any claim piled against him, that the mainstream piles upon him, or that he piles into his work.

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  16. 16. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:30 am 07/4/2012

    BTW, Dave’s general idea of examining mineral matrix around the fossil with image magnificantion methods is interesting, and potentially could be developed into something more useful. If not his idea of fiddling with contast on scans, maybe examining displacement of grains of mineral sediment will reveal something?

    I appreciate that it is not interesting for taxonomists who look mostly for shared skeletal characteristics to construct phylogenies. But for those interesting in apperance and ecology of extinct animals, this is very interesting.

    Some so-called heresies are not unexpected for evolutionary biologist. Pterosaur ornaments just look like ornaments of birds. Is it really heretical? Look at a chicken skeleton. Any signs that a chicken has comb, wattles, ruff and curved, non-aerodynamic tail?

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  17. 17. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:55 am 07/4/2012

    One thing comes out – paleontology desperately needs better techniques to deduce soft parts in fossils.

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  18. 18. Defectivebrayne 6:23 am 07/4/2012

    This Digital Graphic segregation technique is really quite interesting. What would happen if say you had a random collection of photos of rocks, some with fossils in them and some without, and then applied the technique blindly ? If I were to attempt to apply this sort of technique, then I would someone to mock up skeletal reconstructions, smoosh them into rock (to make convincing fossils), and examine them blindly with other fossils to determine the levels of false positives.

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  19. 19. naishd 6:28 am 07/4/2012

    Hi everyone – thanks for comments, have only just checked in. I think Mickey’s comment has been put into spam-file, hold on.

    Brad: thanks for pointing to the PT article, I didn’t know about that. Will add a reference to it.

    Pronunciation of Huehuecuetzpalli: yes, maybe that extra syllable I’ve heard people use isn’t needed.

    Jerzy: you suggest that, by rejecting Dave’s ideas, I’m potentially throwing babies out with bathwater, so to speak. Give me some specific examples. I have thought about Dave’s hypotheses as if they might have been proposed independently – they are all problematic.

    And, Jerzy, yes, it’s >possible< that pterosaurs, Longisquama etc. were decorated like birds-of-paradise, or standard-winged nightjars, or like argus pheasants, or like lionfish etc etc. – - – the point is: does the evidence support this view?

    Finally (for now), it is inevitable that Dave will write A LOT in response to this article. I'll respond to anything in the comments here, but I've spent enough time on this already (a lot of very late nights!!) and don’t think I’ll be wading through his counter-arguments.

    Darren

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  20. 20. naishd 6:34 am 07/4/2012

    Dammit, I couldn’t help myself, just added one brief comment to Dave’s new article at The Pterosaur Heresies.

    Darren

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  21. 21. JAHeadden 6:59 am 07/4/2012

    Darren, there was a lot of exploration on the possibilities of using the technique on the DML, but it all just filtered out when Dave was reluctant to describe the process in detail. The entire thing hinged on repeatability, and it wasn’t even possible to determine HOW Dave found what he did. Once we knew, Dave wasn’t at the DML, and he kinda was quiet … then came the website.

    In Dave’s defense, there have been examples where lighting angles and brighter/dimmer lighting have been useful to perceive features in slabs. One great example of this would be the Eichstätt Archareopteryx lithographica (aka, Jurapteryx recurva), in which the wing/tail impressions are so slight as to be nearly invisible under normal ambient lighting, or even direct glare. But dim, low-angle lighting reveals them. It was thought that Dave’s technique was able to tweak the photocopy somehow to find actual artifacts, but we realized it was largely an issue of contrast and resolution manipulation, and this is what causes the rest of us to walk away, befuddled and bemused.

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  22. 22. naishd 7:16 am 07/4/2012

    Jaime: yeah, there’s a long history of people looking really, really hard at fossils, often with oblique lighting (Scleromochlus is one of the ultimate examples). Note in those cases that people often failed to produce results that are convincing to others… one of the sad facts of palaeontological research is that the fossils we study often simply do not preserve as much information as we’d like.

    Darren

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  23. 23. ilja@me.com 7:35 am 07/4/2012

    Allow me to return to the original problem that Darren signals, i.e. the dominant position of Peters’ site on the web. While the paleontological blogosphere is incredibly rich, it is also quite fragmented. The best way to offer a counterweight to Peters’ website would be a similar web initiative, accessibly written and *properly SEO’d*. A good comparison (although not so much in tone of voice, perhaps) would be talkorigins.org before it was put on ice.

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  24. 24. ilja@me.com 7:43 am 07/4/2012

    Oh, and if anyone is interested in discussing precisely such a website, I’m game. It wouldn’t require much apart from the commitment of a few key figures to present a reasonable alternative for Peters’ work.

    Ilja

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  25. 25. HSUES 7:47 am 07/4/2012

    Thank you for this excellent critique of the “Peters phenomenon.” I remember seeing Peters’s take on the holotype of Longisquama insignias when I had the actual fossil in front of me. I realized right away that his reality differed significantly from mine. Based on correspondence I have received from students and laypersons, Peters’s beautifully rendered drawings and extensive Web presence mislead many a layperson about the structure of many extinct reptiles. This is not the fault of the Peters Web sites but reflects the sad fact that many people can no longer critically evaluate sources of information.

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  26. 26. jimmywat 8:38 am 07/4/2012

    Duplictous is the best summary of the beginning of this article. It states flatly in its title that no one should even visit reptileevolution. It goes on to imply that people should not waste their time to even read this article. It then goes one step further to imply that Peters is among the deranged. It then tries to backstep and say it is not a personal attack; “I have come to bury Ceasar, not to praise him”. If it were not a persoanl attack, why all this rhetoric attacking him and his site? Why not just state the author’s “facts” opposing Peter’s “facts”? I am not qualified to judge the correctness of this article, but all this posturing and innuendo has prejudiced me against this author. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”

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  27. 27. naishd 8:44 am 07/4/2012

    Well, ok. You can’t please everyone. But this is a weird comment (# 26). The title of the article you’re reading now is “Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com”, not “Why the world shouldn’t visit ReptileEvolution.com”. The summary at the top was intended for people who will not read all c. 9000 words – an aim to get across the main message as succinctly as possible. As for the personal attack angle, I’m toeing a fine line. I’d like to know how I was supposed to word this, given that I clearly disagree with 99% of what Dave says.

    Darren

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  28. 28. naishd 8:53 am 07/4/2012

    Mickey’s comment was held in quarantine and I’ve only just ‘released’ it and read it (it’s # 6). Mickey notes that “none of the three papers you cite for placing pterosaurs by dinosaurs can refute Peters’ fenestrasaur hypothesis because none of them include Longisquama, Cosesaurus or Sharovipteryx, let alone any of his ‘tritosaur’ squamates. Sure you can add them, like I did for Nesbitt’s archosauriform matrix, but since that doesn’t include characters meant to support groups like Archosauromorpha or Fenestrasauria, it’s not a valid way to disprove his ideas. Indeed, there hasn’t been a good analysis showing pterosaurs to be archosaurs.”

    These are good points – that is, Dave has aimed to do a very good thing by including numerous species-level OTUs not normally combined in the same analysis, he hasn’t relied on ‘generic’, ‘whole-group’ entities for big clades etc. I say all of this in the article.

    However, we’re missing something here. It’s true that phylogeneticists maybe haven’t been as holistic as they should have been (partly, that’s because coding hundreds of OTUs is damn hard work and takes years to do, at least – if you want to do it right). But throwing taxa together in the same big analysis isn’t everything; we can make some assessments based on comparisons even before running the data through PAUP or TNT, and I think that criticising studies that don’t include squamates with, say, synapsids perhaps fails to note the confusion and redundancy that can result from these kinds of moves. Squamates and other lepidosaurs possess a number of characters that are ‘alien’ to what’s seen in pterosaurs and other archosaurs (examples: the ball-like segment of the ulna used in wrist articulation, articulation between the fibula and special recess on the side of the femur, cranial characters associated with metakinesis); an appreciation of this fact means that most experienced workers have already reached the conclusion that lepidosaurs and archosaurs have very distinct histories, not that some archosaurs might nest within lepidosaurs or vice versa. If you then code the characters present in archosaurs and lepidosaurs, and yet don’t code those ‘key’ ones, you’re going to get a mess… likewise if you put stem-synapsids in a data set that includes lepidosaurs and archosaurs. What I’m getting at is that the experience and expertise of many people who work on tetrapod phylogenetics means that they have already considered the major structure of the tree before they choose what to include in a coding study.

    Having said all this, it wouldn’t hurt to have a properly comprehensive data set, without the problems of inadequate sampling present in Dave’s work.

    Darren

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  29. 29. Jerzy v. 3.0. 10:38 am 07/4/2012

    @Darren
    Example of Dave’s things worth closer look is this outline appearing around fossils. Some outlines on some fossils could be valid.

    Of course, some many be error (for example, traces of organic fluid seeping out of decomposing carcass) of misinterpretation (I don’t think newborn higher amniote could live without ossified bones).

    I was actually more interesting of it as an idea starting development of new methods of detecting soft tissue in fossils.

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  30. 30. Jerzy v. 3.0. 11:07 am 07/4/2012

    @
    “it’s >possible< that pterosaurs, Longisquama etc. were decorated like birds-of-paradise, or standard-winged nightjars, or like argus pheasants"

    I accept that his evidence is at present inconclusive.

    But overall, smaller birds and mammals NORMALLY have feathers/fur very long in proportion to skeletal outline. So-called heretical pterosaurs look much like many common birds when feathers are ruffled. Lapwing, pheasant, crested jay, cockerel – no need to invoke extremes like birds of paradise.

    Tiny pterosaurs are bigger than many adult hummingbirds, and about the size of the Goldcrest (90 mm including bill and tail, eggs 14 x10 mm, 0.8 g). They might be hatchlings of big species, but size alone is not a convincing argument for it.

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  31. 31. Dani Boy 12:12 pm 07/4/2012

    ‘Actually that’s not true. According to the large reptile tree, the most recent common ancestor of pterosaurs and dinosaurs is the basalmost reptile, Cephalerpeton.’ – Peters, in response to Naish.

    Would that be your large reptile tree at ReptileEvolution.com by any chance?

    I fear that Mr. Peters is attempting to instigate a pseudo-religious-ptero-cult that propagandises his theories. The more of his ‘wacky’ theories I read, the more convinced I am of his similarity to a new-age indoctrinated creationist, discovering hidden truths that require minimal to zero evidence – and denouncing anyone who doesn’t share his point of view (which seems skewed at best). ReptileEvolution.com IS the bible.

    Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster? I can use Mr. Peters’ DGS technique to bloody well make sure it exists! If you discredit me, I’ll run home to my mother and tell her tales of ‘the big boys not playing by my rules’.

    If Mr. Peters indicates that a square is a circle then it MUST be a circle. Has anyone seen 1984? It’s happening people! He’s snared Google, and the more impressionable among us are at risk.

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  32. 32. mihondo 1:01 pm 07/4/2012

    Perhaps the title should be “why we need way cooler web sites to educate”. People are interested in this stuff… but you need to convey the information in interesting (lots of pictures!) and understandable (to non-practitioners). My guess is that students who need information are attracted to sites that present the information in easily re-usable nuggets. It looks like he does that… and he gets high hit rates on Google as a result.

    Now about image analysis (something I have a professional connection to). A well thought-out, validated image enhancement process can indeed pull out information that your eye may not, but this area is fraught with errors. It is easy to apply lots of different image enhancements with a click or two, but with enough knobs, little understanding of the techniques, and/or bad images to start with, you can crank out almost any conclusion you want.

    Understanding and validating the “DRT” method is critical for people to even consider believing. If you intend to apply digital analyses to the images, you better go back and acquire the images with that in mind. The right lighting is critical, as is the handling of the image files – save an image as JPG which compresses the image, and you loose information and introduce artifacts into the data. The “rays” may only be JPG compression artifacts.

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  33. 33. BrettBooth 3:17 pm 07/4/2012

    Great read. I do have to say in 2000-2001 David did send me a file so I could replicate his ‘findings’ as I had the same program. It simply couldn’t be done, the file was not nearly good enough and it was extremely pixelated as soon as you zoomed in. Any artifacts were from that pixelation.

    It’s a shame because he does some great work.

    I think the only way to counteract this would to have a very comprehensive site that has some sort of book or books associated with it. Google Images are just done through popularity so if there aren’t any other images for something Davids will pop up first.

    Maybe other artist doing some of the more obscure animals might ‘overwhelm’ his work? If you have 7 images, 6 of which match and one that’s completely different you can home people might question the different one.

    Complex issue… thanks for bringing it to light! I had no idea he had gone this far!

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  34. 34. JoseD 3:28 pm 07/4/2012

    @Nasihd

    “These wonderful individuals span the range from the deranged, dangerous, unhinged ones who threaten you with physical harm,”

    I’d like to hear more about those individuals. Would you name some examples please?

    “Cleverly-done graphic that Dave uses in the banner of his The Pterosaur Heresies blog, created in the style of Bakker’s 1986 book The Dinosaur Heresies. Image David Peters.”

    I have to admit that’s a pretty sweet cover & it’d be pretty cool if such a book existed. It’s too bad that, unlike Bakker, Peters can’t be taken seriously as a good (I.e. Reliable/accurate) scientific source.

    “How to make real, unambiguous discoveries in pterosaur anatomy: employ CT-scanning or (as here) UV light. This image of a tiny Anurognathus skeleton (wingspan c. 40 cm) was produced by “master of UV”, Helmut Tischlinger.”

    I’m glad you mentioned CT-scanning & UV light b/c, while reading this post, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why doesn’t Peters just study the actual fossils; More specifically, why doesn’t he just test his soft tissue hypotheses by CT-scanning or UV lighting the fossils in question? Maybe it’s true what others here have said & Peters (like creationists or, better yet, certain posters I know of) is more interested in misleading the inexperienced than in substantiating his claims.

    “Mehmet Kosemen’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that crown-Archosauria should be renamed Awesomes, as encapsulated on a (pre-Nesbitt) simplified cladogram. Designed to offend those who don’t work on crown-archosaurs.”

    Hear hear! Any chance of making the renaming official? ;)

    “Bennett, S. C. 2005. Pterosaur science or pterosaur fantasy? Prehistoric Times 70, 21-23, 40.”

    Is it that Bennett couldn’t repeat Peters’ results using the same technique?

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  35. 35. Brian Genda 4:46 pm 07/4/2012

    @Pristichampsus

    “I can’t help thinking that David feels he is right very strongly, because he is deluded or paranoid. Schizophrenics can believe themselves to have a special calling or mission that they must adhere to, perhaps David thinks that revolutionising paleoherpetology is his.”

    I also suspect some psychological issues. I also am reluctant to throw that in there as a cop-out; the issue at hand is paleontology, not psychology. But there does come a point where someone’s ideas are nonsensical enough that you have to ask where they come from in the first place.

    There was a point at which I genuinely started to wonder if Dave Peter’s was trolling. This would have been an easy explanation, but I’ve realized this is not the case.

    What I observe mainly is an unrestrained sense of pareidolia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

    Why this has occurred in Dave Peters I don’t know, though Schizo-affective Disorder is one way to look at it. Clearly the man has some touch with reality, and is very intelligent and talented, but for some reason has lost touch in other areas, perceiving patterns in fossils that correspond to his own models regardless of how much they contradict the large scale understanding of how the world works according to science.

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  36. 36. SteveinOG 4:55 pm 07/4/2012

    I was hoping that somewhere in this article would be an exact description of the software and sequence of steps involved in Peters’ “DGS” technique. Is this some kind of “trade secret” of his, or does he describe it in his writings?

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  37. 37. Heinrich Mallison 6:36 pm 07/4/2012

    Scary scary: I did a search on reptileevolution.com on wikipedia.
    see the horror for yourself.

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  38. 38. naishd 7:02 pm 07/4/2012

    Thanks for latest comments, all thought appreciated. One thing becoming clear from the discussion (facebook, twitter, other blogs, emails) is that palaeontologists perhaps need to have better web-presence in order that real information trumps the influence of ReptileEvolution.com. But that’s easier said than done – those of us playing the outreach game are already doing as much as we can, and there are all sorts of limiting factors that affect the internet presence of technical information and images. Anyway…

    JoseD (comment 34) says: “I’d like to hear more about those individuals. Would you name some examples please?”

    Ha ha. I try and ignore my haters: mentioning them or arguing with them only increases their delusional senses of self-importance. Yes, writing publicly about the evolution of birds and other dinosaurs attracts some really nasty individuals.

    Also with reference to comment 34, Bennett describes how he looked at the exact same fossils interpreted by Dave Peters. The structures reported by Peters were all shown to be artifacts. Read Bennett’s article yourself!.

    One more thing. Dave Peters has now published four responses to this article at The Pterosaur Heresies blog, with many more to come. As predicted, he is sticking to his guns, defending his interpretations and his phylogeny. He is unhappy with the fact that – despite supposedly critiquing ReptileEvolution.com – I have gone through what he regards as ‘old laundry’ and have used and discussed pre-ReptileEvolution.com reconstructions and hypotheses. He’s unhappy because he thinks these were naive, “sophomoric” early mistakes. I don’t understand the logic. To make things clear… while this article uses ReptileEvolution.com in the title, it’s crucial (in my view) to see the background to Dave’s work, and – obviously! – my problems with Dave aren’t limited to what he says on ReptileEvolution.com. In other words, the entire canon of his palaeontological work is in the same boat, and it’s this “entire canon” that is being critiqued here.

    Darren

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  39. 39. naishd 7:15 pm 07/4/2012

    Other blogs today have covered the Dave Peters issue. Please be sure to check out Pterosaurs Done Wrong at Laelaps, Darren Naish takes on ReptileEvolution.com at Matt’s Sci/Tech Blog, Debunking ReptileEvolution.com at Saurian, and Pterosaur.Net wades in against ReptileEvolution.com. Any others I’ve missed?

    Darren

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  40. 40. vdinets 8:03 pm 07/4/2012

    SteveinOG: I second the question. What exactly is DGS, and can it be subjected to something like interobserver reliability test?

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  41. 41. naishd 8:29 pm 07/4/2012

    If anyone is wondering… I don’t know anything about how DGS is supposed to work, and I don’t know that Dave has ever explained it in detail.

    Darren

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  42. 42. The Paleo King 9:32 pm 07/4/2012

    Wow nice stuff! Thanks Darren for the plug! (and Jaime too) :D

    Funny thing is, when David Peters illustrates books, he actually goes mainstream with his pterosaurs because he wants to sell books (the same with his rather plain and un-heretical pterosaurs sculptures: http://www.davidpetersstudio.com/sculpture.htm). When Peters is online, he becomes a different person. At that point, he is trying to rewrite all of pterosaur science and “re-educate” everyone he can so that someday his newer/odder views will be sellable in print (hence the obvious attempt to rip off Bakker’s advertising on the website “pterosaur heresies” – the difference is that Bakker could actually handle criticism and defend his views with solid evidence instead of lashing out with personal attacks). But Peters is not another Bakker, nor even another Greg Paul. The caliber of his research isn’t even close, he just puts out unfathomably huge quantities of skeletals, many of which are of questionable accuracy and no less distorted or “Boschian” than the innocent tributes from all the “character assassins” out there.

    The methods of this otherwise accomplished man seem totally out of place in the scientific world. Peters seems to consider Peters the only one qualified to interpret the work of Peters. Anyone else tries to do it, and they automatically become evil and out to get him. It’s no wonder most scientists don’t bother citing his few published papers – aside from their dubious scientific value, who wants the ensuing hassle? They will become “character assassins” in his mind yet despite scientists slamming each other’s research methods and theories all the time, he’s the only person taking every criticism personally and trying to flood academics’ professional blogs with rants or ruin their careers by goading and quote-mining if they so much as raise a peep of dissent.

    The moral of the story is this: if you want to get special treatment and always a “yes” answer, paleontology isn’t the right profession for you. Politics or the priesthood might be. If you want to be taken seriously as a paleontologist (or ANY sort of scientist for that matter) you better be prepared for your theories to take a beating in peer review and from the wider scientific community. It’s no place for the vain or thin-skinned. Real paleontologists and academics realize that, and most take it in stride. I never saw people insulting each other or getting testy at SVP, even guys like Horner and Currie who practically agree on nothing. Even Greg Paul kept things more or less civil despite his rants on the DML. The point of good science is to challenge theories, not to harass or hate their authors.

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  43. 43. JoseD 9:45 pm 07/4/2012

    Comment 42 FTW!

    It had to be said. ;)

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  44. 44. JAHeadden 10:03 pm 07/4/2012

    Is David Marjanović still hanging around? If I recall correctly, he was able to decipher the process a few years ago when Dave and David worked to verify the former’s findings. The process amounts to taking a photograph (pixelated or otherwise) and increase the contrast up while desaturating the color. I think the attempt was meant to simulate ammonium chloride coating to increase the profile of actual impressions, etc.. It doesn’t work, of course: none of the scientists who’d actually examined the material have been able to “find” the things Dave sees, even peering closer.

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  45. 45. Hydrarchos 10:26 pm 07/4/2012

    All through reading this, I was trying to think of who this reminded me of. Then I remembered: the late, “great” Jon-Erik Beckjord. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon-Erik_Beckjord

    Dave Peters’s claims to see incredible detail in fossils are remarkably similar to Beckjord’s claims about “Sasquatch” photos, even down to the multiple “babies” that no one else can see even hints of. I’ll try and dig up some links to old Cryptomundo discussions of Beckjord’s claims when it’s not 3am…

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  46. 46. SteveinOG 10:38 pm 07/4/2012

    There’s good reason to be skeptical of Mr. Peters’ image-processing. 2-D images, photographs or prints suffer serious infomation loss, or distortion. Odd illusions result from projecting a 3-D object onto a 2-D space. Color processing and balance is a tricky, frequently judgmental, issue. How do you know “who did what” to the image you are analysing?

    I have to add that with the technology available today it should be entirely possible to provide a fully stereographic hi-res interactive image directly from any fossil, which could be viewed in full rotation and extreme magnification at multiple wave-lengths.

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  47. 47. THoltz 10:47 pm 07/4/2012

    Another comparable line of research to the DGS is that of carbonate petrologist Chonosuke Okamura, discussed here.

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  48. 48. Biology in Motion 12:30 am 07/5/2012

    It is worth noting that the biomechanics and functional morphology arguments presented at ReptileEvolution are typically no stronger than the phylogenetic ones, so it is not just a matter of problems arising from the photo interpretations. A shame, really, because with his visual and spatial skills, Dave could actually be really good at functional work with some training and more confidence about approaching the necessary mathematics.

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  49. 49. naishd 4:16 am 07/5/2012

    Great comments, thanks everyone (smiley).

    Hydrarchos (comment 45) – I’ve long been making a comparison between (the late) Beckjord (he died in 2008) and Peters as well. Beckjord would look at photos of forest scenes (sometimes photos that he’d taken himself, and sometimes those taken by others) and then claim that he could see sasquatches hiding among the trees. He said he could even see their eye colour and pimples on their skin. I thought I’d put a Beckjord-Peters comparison online somewhere, but I can’t find it.

    Darren

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  50. 50. naishd 5:05 am 07/5/2012

    Dave has now posted part 5 of his response to this article, with a lot more still to come. I like the fact that he suggests how my problem with his tiny pterosaurs (juveniles that he interprets as adults of new taxa) might be due to my unfamiliarity with hummingbirds and sphaerodactyline geckos.

    Darren

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  51. 51. MartinB 6:53 am 07/5/2012

    At some point in 2005 or so, I used one of the pictures David Peters was seeing his structures in. The problem was not that I could not reproduce his findings – that was very easy. You just set your image analysis program to very high magnification so that you can see each pixel clearly and then you try to draw lines through those pixels that are a bit lighter or darker than the rest.
    Back then, I wrote to him in a private mail (after looking at his pterodaustro): “But, I have to say, I’m not convinced. After magnifying the photo so that I could follow your tracings in detail, it is not that I could not see the structures you point out – quite the opposite. I could see very similar structures in regions where you did not show anything (for instance, about 50 pixels to the left and 50 pixels below the point where you find the tip of the mandible, there is also a continuous lighter region which does not look any different from the mandible you show. So why is one of them a fossil trace and the other not?)”

    I did not get any satisfactory answer, except that he pointed out the danger of noise leading to errors. It seemed to me (although he did not say explicitly) that he would accept lines found with this technique when they showed what he wanted to see, not otherwise. David Marjanovic posted a tracing of a coke bottle found in a similar way to the DML.

    I parodied the Peters approach in this April’s fool day joke (in German, though):
    http://www.scienceblogs.de/hier-wohnen-drachen/2011/04/stammt-der-mensch-vom-flugsaurier-ab.php
    where I argue that humans and bats are actually not mammals, but derived pterosaurs…

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  52. 52. vdinets 8:27 am 07/5/2012

    JAHeadden (#44): Thank you! No further questions :-)
    Of course, if such a technique allowing to obtain invisible information from regular color photos was invented, it would be of immense value to astronomy, archeology, geology, CSI, medicine, and so on. Unfortunately, it’s physically impossible. Regular cameras don’t record any information that an eye doesn’t, so playing with images can restore some lost info, but will never bring out something that an eye can’t see when looking at the original.

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  53. 53. SWestfall 11:42 am 07/5/2012

    I don’t think Peters is actually engaging in a scientific inquiry.

    Scientific inquiry requires 1. a methodology that can be replicated by other researchers and 2. a methodology that actually measures the phenomena studied.

    DGS fails both of those criteria.

    This isn’t bad science fiction, though.

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  54. 54. SWestfall 12:13 pm 07/5/2012

    His “Giants” book was one of my favorites when I was a child.

    I do remember first learning about Gigantopithecus from him, which he had as a biped. I thought it was a biped for most of my childhood until I began to look at the evidence.

    I later learned that we can’t possibly know that the apes in this genus were bipedal. We have only teeth and one part of a lower jaw, but the chances that they were bipedal is really a dubious assertion. Even if one accepts that an ape of that size could walk around in that fashion, one can’t make the determination that it was bipedal from the evidence we have.

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  55. 55. Heteromeles 1:55 pm 07/5/2012

    Presumably this is old-hat to paleontologists, but one of my friends works on space probes. One basic trick they use for image manipulation is to take pictures using different filters, to image objects under different parts of the spectrum. Since different elements interact with light different (absorb, reflect, or fluoresce), this gives them a fair amount of data about the composition of the objects, and it sometimes reveals hidden details. That’s before the false-color image processing, I might add.

    Since I’m not a paleontologist, I assume that most paleontologists looking for soft parts use different lights (red to UV, in case something fluoresces) and/or with different color or polarization filters over their lenses, to see if any details pop up under different lighting scenarios? I assume researchers do that with fossils, don’t they?

    Otherwise, playing line-up-the-pixels-on-max-resolution is a wonderful exercise of the human facility to make patterns out of dots (see also: constellations), but not necessarily a repeatable way to do science.

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  56. 56. ohnosir 2:34 pm 07/5/2012

    Great article, says a lot of things that needed to be said. The main issue I take with Mr. Peters’ work is this DGS technique and his reliance on photos rather than the actual fossils. Has he said anything so far about the errors of his DGS scans? Where is he acquiring the photos he scans? How is their resolution? What is the file type? Have they been resized or compressed or otherwise altered at any point before he scans them? Does he compare the results of different photos under different lighting conditions? Obviously, picking out these different forms from the slabs in the most accurate manner would require one to examine the topology of the actual fossil, but I can understand that as an amateur, Mr. Peters may not have access to these actual specimens he is studying, so if he is to work from photos he would need to work from the most pristine photos possible and compare results from several different photos to ensure it is not just a trick of the light or of pixels that he is claiming to be some novel, heretofore undetected feature. Given his demonstrated willingness for transparency, I think that the best rebuttal Mr. Peters could give to this article would be to discuss his methods of finding these radical new features in detail.

    Also, I agree that the best approach to countering ReptileEvolution.com’s reach would be a single, user-friendly site with lots of easily readable information and lots of pictures. This wouldn’t necessarily require an effort on the level of Peters’ for ReptileEvolution, rather just a compilation of existing information. I know a lot of skeletal reconstructions in particular for the not-so-popular species are out there, they are just extremely hard to find and you have to look for a while. Perhaps taking what is already out there and putting it all in one, well-designed site would be a slightly more accomplishable goal?

    I also want to say that this speculation on Mr. Peters’ mental state is neither helpful nor necessary. Let’s try not to make any character assumptions and just stick to the scientific discussion?

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  57. 57. HowardRichards 5:28 pm 07/5/2012

    I’m a physicist, so my interest in paleontology is entirely a layman’s curiosity. In itself, it really doesn’t matter whether a layman has a wildly mistaken understanding of the relationships of various animal groups. The real problem, it seems to me, is that high school science teachers may seize onto ReptileEducation.com as a source of material for their classes *because* of all the pretty pictures and proceed to teach what is found on the website. The students will then either absorb directly the idea that science is not really a search for the truth but some sort of political game of power, or they will reach that conclusion when they go to college and are taught something very different.

    Even if they don’t see the *motivations* of science in such a distorted way, they may find the *credibility* of science greatly undermined. My own dad is an example. He frequently and correctly points out that in the late 1970′s many scientists were concerned that we might be on the verge of entering a new ice age, but now practically all scientists believe global warming is an imminent threat. He doesn’t bother asking why scientists thought a new ice age was likely or what evidence made them change their minds so completely; instead he says, “Scientists said this as a FACT and now they say the opposite as a FACT, so obviously they don’t know what they are talking about and can be completely ignored.” The idea of a tentative, probable conclusion that is somewhere between complete uncertainty and Gospel Truth is completely lost. I think he represents a large part of the public in this attitude.

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  58. 58. llewelly 5:46 pm 07/5/2012

    “He frequently and correctly points out that in the late 1970′s many
    scientists were concerned that we might be on the verge of entering a
    new ice age …”

    That is a myth:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/ice-age-predictions-in-1970s.htm

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  59. 59. ohnosir 6:24 pm 07/5/2012

    Just read the Bennet article and answered all my own questions. Nevermind!

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  60. 60. ChasCPeterson 7:09 pm 07/5/2012

    Turtles may be on the squamate branch or archosaur branch of Reptilia.

    Or, they may not be.

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  61. 61. mkirkaldy 8:15 pm 07/5/2012

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the source code at the reptileevolution site. No wonder it is getting so many hits–look at the key words and description that are on every paragraph:
    META NAME=”keywords” CONTENT=”Reptile, Amniote, Dinosaur, Pterosaur, Synapsid, Diapsid, Plesiosaur, Ichthyosaur, Turtle, Bird, Lizard, Crocodylian, Tetrapod, Mammal, Human, Homo sapiens”>

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  62. 62. mkirkaldy 8:24 pm 07/5/2012

    The description of the site got cut off:

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  63. 63. THoltz 8:26 pm 07/5/2012

    Mary (I’m guessing that’s you): great catch! It has been a LOOOONGG time since I’ve even thought about meta keyword codes.

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  64. 64. mkirkaldy 8:30 pm 07/5/2012

    Yes, that’s me. S.A. seems to think I’m writing code, but the description of the reptileevolution site contains: Reptile evolution including the evolution of humans, mammals, birds, dinosaurs, lizards, turtles, crocodilians and other reptiles

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  65. 65. HowardRichards 8:35 pm 07/5/2012

    @llewelly

    Thanks for the note, but it really makes *no difference whatsoever* to my argument. I never bothered to check the numbers because I was born in 1969 and remember that the *impression* was certainly given to the public that this was a mainstream scientific idea. Maybe (to make up a number) 65% of geophysicists did not believe it, but they did not have the ear of the media.

    Similar things happen in my own field, of course. I don’t know what percentage of physicists think superstring theory is on the right track, but I’m certainly not alone in being skeptical. If you get your science from the Discovery Channel or PBS’s Nova, though, you won’t be aware that there is any doubt at all. In the world of edutainment, superstrings are a fact.

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  66. 66. JAHeadden 10:29 pm 07/5/2012

    Re: mkirkaldy #61 and tholtz #63:

    My own blog manages to avoid this by only keywording generally relative to the specific subjects of the article. So far, search terms arriving at my blog are relatively on-topic with what I find. Despite this, I still get good hits! I simply don’t like artificially padding my possible exposure unless I want to bring specific attention to something (Twitter, fb, so forth).

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  67. 67. Ranjit Suresh 1:32 am 07/6/2012

    This comes across as a nasty and unnecessarily personal attack upon a marginal figure (at best) in paleontological circles.

    Moreover, it seems to express a paternalistic attitude that the unsuspecting public needs to be protected by heavy-weight credentialed academic gatekeepers.

    No. The problem isn’t that reptileevolution.com is so prominent on the web. Rather, the issue is that there aren’t enough scientifically thorough websites on pterosaur and archosaur evolution.

    It’s just a bit odd that this is one of the longest original pieces on all three versions of Tetrapod Zoology. Might it be that gaining status by vanquishing Mr. Peters is more worthy of your time and attention than any number of investigations of cryptozoological giant cats, amphisbaenians, or vesper bats.

    [from Darren: well, I'm sorry you interpreted it that way - I did this because I consider it important in countering miseducation, not because it's about "gaining status".]

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  68. 68. Percival 1:56 am 07/6/2012

    OK, I gave the article a pretty deep skim, and one point stood out for me. The main complaint seems to be that Peters doesn’t examine actual fossils, just photos of them (with resolution beyond his control), and then sees things that aren’t there.
    Does he _choose_ not to examine actual fossils, or is it just not possible for him to do so? I’m not a professional in the field, and I’m fairly certain that if I just walked in to any institution and asked to do the sort of detailed, extensive microscopic examinations of their collections of ancient trophies you seem to believe he should have done, I’d be politely turned away.
    If I were a well-known heretic in the field, regardless of any other qualifications I might possess, would I have any easier access? I think not.

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  69. 69. naishd 5:21 am 07/6/2012

    Another response to # 67: ordinarily, an amount of text this long would get split into three or four separate parts. Note that my stuff on anurans, temnospondyls, borhyaenoids, gekkotans, vesper bats, petrels and crocodiles – involving several or many separate articles – ALL started out intended as single articles. It took a hell of a lot more effort to write _those_ articles that this Dave Peters one, and indeed I haven’t finished with anurans, temnospondyls, gekkotans, petrels or crocodiles yet… Anyway, I thought it most useful to have the Dave Peters stuff together in one place, hence this single, extremely long article.

    Dave and I are still corresponding in private. His full set of responses are on his The Pterosaur Heresies blog.

    Darren

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  70. 70. BilBy 7:14 am 07/6/2012

    “Moreover, it seems to express a paternalistic attitude that the unsuspecting public needs to be protected by heavy-weight credentialed academic gatekeepers.” Apart from the words ‘paternalistic’ and ‘heavy-weight’ – yes, yes probably; Darren’s doing a good job at it too.

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  71. 71. Mike from Ottawa 9:45 am 07/6/2012

    Just a quick note that I prefer a single long post to a series of shorter ones where there is a single thesis to the piece. It makes it easier to read and refer to and keeps the comments in one place/sequence. Things like the croc survey series are a different sort of beast, though.

    And this has been a very interesting post along with its comments.

    Mike from Ottawa

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  72. 72. Mike from Ottawa 10:24 am 07/6/2012

    MartinB (#51): I loved your spoof. Pterosaurs, bats and humans, there’s a clade to be proud of!

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  73. 73. ohnosir 11:03 am 07/6/2012

    @Percival: I would imagine he does not have easy access to actual fossils themselves, which is why it is all the more important that, if this “digital tracing” technique is to have any credence at all, he demonstrate that all of these new items he is finding can be repeated across different photographs of the same fossil under different conditions. You would think that, without access to the actual thing, he would want to be as thorough as possible to make all these new “discoveries”.

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  74. 74. Bill Wilson 11:22 am 07/6/2012

    An important aspect of Peters’ fundamental misunderstanding of phylogeny that is touched on here in the discussion of pterosaur/phytosaur relationships is that he’s not really doing cladistics. That is, he has characters, he produces a tree, but he’s thinking purely in terms of old-school family trees, in terms of direct ancestor-descendent relationships. I know people called him out on this in the past, so he’s shifted to saying the exact same thing only using the phrase “evolved from a sister to [taxon he thinks it evolved from]“. But direct ancestor-descendent diagrams still frequently show up in his work (regardless of stratigraphic position), check out his “therapsid family tree” here.

    That post also demonstrates that he has no idea how outgroups work. He criticizes a study of anomodonts for putting Biseridens at the base, but Biseridens was used as the outgroup in that study. As such it doesn’t matter if it’s really at the base of anomodonts or in Peters’ “heretical” position, so long as a taxon is outside the ingroup then it can function as an outgroup.

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  75. 75. Gwen! 12:48 pm 07/6/2012

    The frustrating part is that he’s the only artist who seems to illustrate some of these animals at all. Yes, he may be horribly untrustworthy, but where else can someone go if they want a reference for, say, Eunotosaurus? Or basically any protorosaur/prolacertiform/et cetera? Folks deride his artwork left and right, but nobody provides alternatives. Many times I’ve looked up some obscure genus because I want or need a reference… but wouldn’t you know it, the ONLY reference I can find is something of his. At least the guy is thorough… most of my favorite artists only seem to illustrate dinosaurs, or else limit themselves to very popular/common/Mesozoic critters. If you want to illustrate something that doesn’t fall into those categories, you either have to do your own guesswork… or you’re basically limited to his.

    One thing I find somewhat non-kosher about the whole Pterosaur Heresies thing, is that it seems to be ripping of of Bakker’s book, the Dinosaur Heresies. A lot of people interested in paleontology will probably have heard of that one. Lots of sites (and even other books) have glowing recommendations about how great it is. And then you have this book with the same font styling and very similar artwork and an obviously similar name… that isn’t a coincidence, and how many people do you think will be confused by that? Given the wonderful cover art on his past books, it wasn’t like he couldn’t have done something different.

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  76. 76. Cromulence 11:36 pm 07/6/2012

    Darren Naish has admirably negotiated a very fine line in this treatment of the issue. My field of archaeology has similarities, in that amateur effort has and can produce significant advances in knowledge [and is often scorned]. My PhD looks at the maverick end of the amateur spectrum and how archaeology manages alternate voices shouting from the internet. Peters-type sites are common and all professions that value a diversity of views, participation of amateurs and public outreach will increasingly have to deal with them.

    Naish’s concerns is ReptileEvolution.com’s material being taken as orthodox. Some posters have argued it smacks of professional bullying, over-attending the problem or shifting focus from professionals failing to create anything as compelling and accessible. Surprisingly no-one has mentioned the ethical responsibilities of scientists to ensure that the understanding of the past is represented correctly, which includes clearly delineating where there is certainty and where there isn’t. This is particularly apt where the audience is not in a position to make their own judgement on the quality of evidence.

    A current example of general public right to understand is the climate change debate – scientists needing to ensure that they put forward arguments based on quality of evidence rather than just quantity of believers, so that public policy is well-founded.

    In studying the past we similarly have ethical obligations to not misrepresent the implications of evolution. Archaeology still suffers the consequences of human evolutionary schemes that used indigenous people as not just exemplars of hunter-gatherer subsistence, but as ‘living fossils’, ‘less than properly human’ or ‘cave men’.

    Unfortunately, the internet no longer allows us to ignore it and hope it goes away, as we could with limited run self-published brochures and talks in community halls. Different strategies are called for, and ultimately through readable sites that get the Google hits.

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  77. 77. WillemvanderMerwe 4:02 am 07/7/2012

    I agree with Cromulence. The issue at stake is the reliability of science. It has to include scientists themselves admitting to some uncertainty. In fact admitting this uncertainty can enhance the reliability, because then ‘believing Science’ is not an all-encompassing attitude people might be hesitant to commit themselves to. We still get many people with a ‘what do scientists know?’ attitude. The message must be science does know lots of things, maybe not with 100% certainty, but with, say 90%-99% (in some cases very close to 100% in fact) certainty which is enough for many purposes.

    There are areas of knowledge where science knows much more, with much greater certainty, than others. When we get to paleontology, it’s definitely an area where not much is known and certainty is not very high. There are certain important things that we do know with reliability and that the public should know as well. The reality of evolution is one such thing. We can disagree about how it happens or about what roads it took. In this disagreement also some of us have better evidence than others. But at least David Peters’ site argues *for* evolution. Does that lessen the impact of his other ‘errors’?

    I still wonder about the layman’s need for knowledge about prehistory. Personally I find it vital: we cannot really understand our world if we don’t understand the other living things in it and their entire history, because we’re a part of that history. If we don’t see and feel ourselves being part of the living history of the planet, there’s a serious disconnect in our minds. So ideally everyone should know about paleontology … in my view. The average layman knows so little about this, though, that I wonder if, even having read ‘inaccurate’ views on ReptileEvolution or the Pterosaur Heresies, s/he wouldn’t know more than s/he did before?

    But ideally, again, the scientific evidence available to people should be as reliable as possible. I think people could still come away gaining something from David Peters’ site if they know just what about it is unreliable, and how unreliable it is. If he could for instance alongside his personal reconstructions include the mainstream reconstructions and say exactly where he found differences, and how he found them … then people would have *all* the evidence and also an idea how that evidence was acquired, and make up their minds based on that.

    The thing is David Peters is the following: artistic, creative, original, passionate, persistent, massively productive, and genuinely convinced that he is right … or at least on to something. The very fact that he alone gets so much attention that the entire rest of the paleontological world is somehow put in the shade by his activity must count for something. I wish there was a way to resolve this issue, because the paleontological world could make wonderful use of someone with talents like his. The issue at stake still being the massive ignorance of the public about all matters concerning evolution and the history of life on Earth.

    But *maybe* a bit of controversy about the issues might also bring them to the attention of more people?

    At any rate Darren I think you gave the issue a very evenhanded treatment.

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  78. 78. John Harshman 12:21 pm 07/7/2012

    Hot news from the Evolution meeting in Ottawa: turtles are archosaurs (and by the way, archosaurs are the sister group of squamates, not mammals), based on a huge protein-coding data set. It’s currently ambiguous whether they’re the sister of all other living archosaurs or just of crocodylians.

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  79. 79. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 8:51 pm 07/7/2012

    In my humble opinion (I am an aspiring paleontologist, but have no professional credentials), Mr. Peters should, in the following order:

    1. Be congratulated for a good idea and effort. We need a comprehensive evolutionary diagram of reptiles, birds, and mammals.

    2. Realize that his conclusions are a result of flawed methods and incomplete research. Not even talking about the DGS; as others have said before me, his analysis contains repeated characters and too few characters at that (although I’d like to see a minimum number of characters…).

    3. Realize that sticking by said conclusions in the face of mounting criticism is on the way to BANDit tactics, and learn to let go of even the coolest ideas. Sorry, man. It happens to the best of us.

    4. Redo his reptile evolution tree, possibly with help from an experienced paleontologist (like Darren Naish, for example) to clarify the terms “outgroup”, “basal taxon”, and “sister taxon”, and to detail why the ancestor-descendant relationships look pretty but are extremely hard to prove/unrealistic.

    5. Convince a paleontologist friend to do a dig or series of digs with him to try to find some more convincing evidence to support his “mini-pterosaur” hypothesis (hint…like hummingbirds, they’ll have short, robust wings…). It’s a decent idea–after all, pterosaurs had how much time on birds?

    6. Feel happy and self-satisfied when Dr. Naish writes a post entitled: “Why everyone should visit ReptileEvolution.com”.

    Of course, there’s probably something I missed in there, but I hope that the general outline is good.

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  80. 80. ChasCPeterson 1:03 pm 07/8/2012

    turtles are archosaurs (and by the way, archosaurs are the sister group of squamates, not mammals), based on a huge protein-coding data set. It’s currently ambiguous whether they’re the sister of all other living archosaurs or just of crocodylians.

    gah! *grumble*
    Did you mean “squamates”? Or lepidosaurs?

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  81. 81. John Harshman 1:34 pm 07/8/2012

    Squamates vs. lepidosaurs

    Oops, sorry. I don’t remember if there was a tuatara in the data set. Logically, there would have been. But OK, lepidosaurs.

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  82. 82. Dave@reptileevolution.com 6:02 pm 07/8/2012

    This is all quite interesting, more for the psychology of it all than the bashing. A summary of my 7 posts to PterosaurHeresies.com notes that very little of what Darren said about “ignore ReptileEvolution.com” actually concerns specific faults found in ReptileEvolution.com. To handle that shortcoming, I’d sure like to see anyone’s phylogenetic analysis that includes at least some of the novel sister taxa I recovered (most without DGS). Finding a traditional topology after doing so would go along way toward shutting me up. I only reported the findings I recovered. That no one else has attempted to repeat the taxon list (or any pertinent part of it) strikes me as odd. It would only take one Huehuecuetzpalli or Cosesaurus in a Nesbitt or Brusatte matrix to make your dreams come true. Let me know directly when that happens. I will be happy to air the report and makes due changes.

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  83. 83. JAHeadden 3:47 am 07/9/2012

    Carl Zimmer writes, from a live blog about the arsenic-life debate:

    “You always fall in love with your own ideas. “It’s the ultimate high in science.” But you need self-discipline to test your hypothesis and see if it’s wrong.”
    This is in part from Rosemary Redfield, who ran an open, public attempt to replicate the Wolff-Simon arsenic experiment, and failed.

    The experiment is significant, and relevant, for many reasons: It shows that Redfield, who actually had little experience with the subject at hand, reach out to other scientists for aid. This is common in scientific circles, in which groups collaborate rather than pretend any one person is an expert. Similarly, she did this all publically, blogging the experience, questions, concerns, and ultimately results. In many ways, the peer-review was public before the paper went to a journal (and arXiv, where it was completely public), thus removing the screen from her own critics. It also questions the radical idea of Wolff-Simon, and reiterates Carl Sagan’s

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

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  84. 84. Mythusmage 10:43 pm 07/9/2012

    Aren’t there attachment scars where feathers meet bone in birds? Be that the case, what about attachment scars in the skeletons of fossils?

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  85. 85. Therizinosaurus 1:34 am 07/10/2012

    “That no one else has attempted to repeat the taxon list (or any pertinent part of it) strikes me as odd. It would only take one Huehuecuetzpalli or Cosesaurus in a Nesbitt or Brusatte matrix to make your dreams come true. Let me know directly when that happens. I will be happy to air the report and makes due changes.”

    It’s not odd because it takes a LOT of time to code a lot of taxa for a sufficiently large character list, which is one reason you wrote that you refused to add more characters.

    As for adding Cosesaurus to a Nesbitt matrix, I did exactly that here. The next several posts have results of me adding Longisquama, Sharovipteryx, Langobardisaurus and simiosaurs. As you add these, it gets easier to move pterosaurs out of Archosauria, down to only 13 more steps with all of them. This may be an indication pterosaurs aren’t archosaurs, although it should be noted it takes even less steps to place most of these taxa within Archosauria and next to Pterosauria, which no one thinks is right. In any case, as I’ve said multiple times (even in my comment #6 above) just adding non-archosaurs to Nesbitt’s matrix isn’t a good test, as the matrix doesn’t include characters meant to support clades like Archosauromorpha, Lepidosauromorpha, Squamata, Fenestrasauria, etc.. You may be right about pterosaurs being related to Sharovipteryx and Longisquama, but there’s no matrix which can test the idea yet.

    Link to this
  86. 86. ChasCPeterson 12:51 pm 07/11/2012

    (btw my ‘gah!’ @#80 was about turtles being archosaurs, not the minor squamate/lepidosaur thing)

    Link to this
  87. 87. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 2:18 pm 07/11/2012

    @ Mythusmage (comment 84). Off the top of my head, feather attachment sites or other signs of feathers (e.g. actual feather imprints) are known for *Velociraptor*, *Yutyrannus*, *Tianyulong* (Never forget *Tianyulong*!!! Never!), *Sinornithosaurus*, and many, many others. *Velociraptor* is the only one I can currently remember that has attachment scars, although the regular commentators will probably educate me about that now that I have said this.

    @ Dr. Naish:
    At the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I really, really enjoy your blog. Your paleontology posts are, in my opinion, the best easily-available Mesozoic paleontology resource in the world. Your occasional cryptozoology posts have always been a lot better than the usual dismissive pompousness and credulous belief that is normally found with respect to unidentified animal sightings. Could you examine/debunk the various large monitors reported from northern India/Himalayas region (Buru, Jhoor, etc.) at some point?
    I learned more than I ever wanted to know about crocodiles in your recent series on them. I personally think that you should do a series on the only animals ever to outdo crocodilians for coolness: the gorgonopsians. I know that most people would probably say that theropods are the most awesome creatures to learn way too much about, but there’s nothing cooler than a ten-foot predator with a 3-foot head and jaws that could open more than 90 degrees. And of course there are the fangs.

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  88. 88. BrianL 4:25 pm 07/11/2012

    @Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek:
    That’s fine and all, but I don’t think Darren ever does requests. Besides, moa, behavioural flexibility of lions, toads, crocodiles, petrels, temnospondyls, parrots from the Mascarenes and countless other things have priority!

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  89. 89. John Harshman 4:47 pm 07/11/2012

    ChasCPeterson: So what’s wrong with turtles being archosaurs?

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  90. 90. David Marjanović 6:30 pm 07/11/2012

    Huehuecuetzpalli: weh-weh-kwetts-pah-lee, with a long l (literally long, as in taking longer to say than other sounds) and the emphasis on the second-to-last syllable. No idea which vowels are long in the original. Weh rhymes with meh – English doesn’t otherwise allow that sound at the ends of words.

    Mehmet Kosemen’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that crown-Archosauria should be renamed Awesomes, as encapsulated on a (pre-Nesbitt) simplified cladogram. Designed to offend those who don’t work on crown-archosaurs.

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Now that (post-Nesbitt) Archosauria and Phytosauria are sister-groups, can Awesomes be the smallest clade that contains them both??? Because that would be (…wait for it…) awesome.

    At one point, David Marjanović deliberately engaged on the concept of direct tracing a la Bennett’s test, but I no longer have the url for David’s result. It was not supportive.

    The URL no longer exists, because I’m not a student anymore. But I still have the files and will upload them as soon as I start a blog, which might happen any week now.

    And no, the results are not supportive. They demonstrate that it’s all just pareidolia in coarse-grained and then descreened photos. This includes in particular the plainly manifest coke bottle mentioned in comment 51.

    In sadder news, I planned to see Cosesaurus in person because I had to pass through Barcelona recently. But the plane to Barcelona had such a long delay that I had to go straight from the airport to the train station and was lucky I still caught the train to Zaragoza. On the way back, I had to pass through Barcelona again, but the museum is closed on Sundays, and I didn’t have time anyway. :-(

    *properly SEO’d*

    What does that mean?

    ‘Actually that’s not true. According to the large reptile tree, the most recent common ancestor of pterosaurs and dinosaurs is the basalmost reptile, Cephalerpeton.’ – Peters, in response to Naish.

    Of course, if Cephalerpeton has any autapomorphies according to that tree, it is not an ancestor of anything according to that very same tree.

    Instead, the tree shows it as the sister-group of the smallest clade to which both ptero- and dinosaurs belong. Scroll up, it’s legible enough.

    I never saw people insulting each other or getting testy at SVP, even guys like Horner and Currie who practically agree on nothing. Even Greg Paul kept things more or less civil despite his rants on the DML.

    While it wasn’t at SVP, I have seen people get very aggressive on each other (red in the face and all) about the origin of the modern amphibians. I thought they were going to become violent any minute now and was ready to jump between them. Didn’t happen – because one of them suddenly pulled out some evidence, defusing the situation.

    Is David Marjanović still hanging around?

    I very recently came home from two weeks of digging in the marl pit where Silesaurus comes from. Metoposaurus ruulz.

    If I recall correctly, he was able to decipher the process a few years ago

    Process? There’s only “apply pareidolia, optionally after playing with the contrast in Photoshop”.

    I’m afraid the only difference to Okamura (see comment 47) is the computer.

    I also want to say that this speculation on Mr. Peters’ mental state is neither helpful nor necessary. Let’s try not to make any character assumptions and just stick to the scientific discussion?

    Do not confuse mental illnesses with character.

    However, medical conditions can rarely be diagnosed through the Internet. This makes the speculations about David Peters’s brain useless.

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the source code at the reptileevolution site. No wonder it is getting so many hits–look at the key words and description that are on every paragraph:

    What…

    …the fuck. Every paragraph has Homo sapiens as a keyword?

    Dude, Namesake, that’s dishonest of you. My opinion of you has just gotten two levels lower.

    gaining status by vanquishing Mr. Peters

    It’s late at night, I might as well be drunk (in fact, someone drunk is sitting at the same table), so I’ll simply say it out loud: How can you be so stupid? Are you projecting or something? Have you never noticed that some people actually care about reality and knowledge? Have you never noticed that some people actually care about other things than fucking status? Do you care about status more than about not being wrong?

    You have no idea what an incredible insult you just let loose. That’s why I imply you’re breathtakingly stupid.

    I may not write like this at other times; but I won’t regret that I did this time.

    I’m not a professional in the field, and I’m fairly certain that if I just walked in to any institution and asked to do the sort of detailed, extensive microscopic examinations of their collections of ancient trophies you seem to believe he should have done, I’d be politely turned away.

    Why? I was left alone with Triadobatrachus and a microscope for hours, twice, when I had published only one or two papers and had (otherwise) barely started my PhD thesis. The microscope belonged to the museum where T. is housed, and I wasn’t only given casts but also the real thing, of which there is just one in the whole world.

    The limiting factor for seeing specimens is travel money. And, well, some things you can only test by looking at the specimens; if you can’t look at the specimens, you can’t test those things – pareidolia isn’t capable of helping.

    Hot news from the Evolution meeting in Ottawa: turtles are archosaurs (and by the way, archosaurs are the sister group of squamates, not mammals), based on a huge protein-coding data set. It’s currently ambiguous whether they’re the sister of all other living archosaurs or just of crocodylians.

    Meh. Same conclusions from molecular data as always. And no, the idea of turtles as crurotarsans hasn’t become any less outright crazy in the last 20 years.

    BTW, nomenclature: Archosauria = the MRCA of birds and crocodiles, plus all its descendants. So, if turtles aren’t crurotarsans, they aren’t archosaurs at all. The word you’re looking for is Archosauromorpha ( = sister-group of Lepidosauromorpha).

    A summary of my 7 posts to PterosaurHeresies.com notes that very little of what Darren said about “ignore ReptileEvolution.com” actually concerns specific faults found in ReptileEvolution.com.

    Forest, trees.

    It would only take one Huehuecuetzpalli or Cosesaurus in a Nesbitt or Brusatte matrix to make your dreams come true.

    As I’ve explained to you maybe 10 times now, this is flatly untrue. You’d need to expand those matrices to a full-blown amniote analysis.

    Why do you never react when I say this!?!

    Link to this
  91. 91. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 7:36 pm 07/11/2012

    @ BrianL:
    Good point. Still, based on old comments threads, gorgonopsians have a long and glorious history on Tet Zoo. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    @David M. (my computer doesn’t allow me to use accents)
    Awesomes=awesome. Totally.
    You got museum access without credentials and/or funding, and they let you handle a holotype????? Much nicer than the AMNH. I had to scrounge their library for pronghorn postcranial data, and only got a Morris Skinner anecdote from 1940. Sure, it fit my hypothesis, but anecdotes don’t count for squat in good science.

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  92. 92. John Harshman 7:53 pm 07/11/2012

    David M: Picky, picky, picky. OK, turtles are the living sister group of Archosauria. Happy now? Is that crazy too, or are you willing to entertain the notion?

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  93. 93. Mythusmage 9:44 pm 07/11/2012

    The fact Peters ignores the fundamental relationship between gorgonopsians and pelycosaurs means I must doubt his research and his findings.

    How’s that for being particular? :)

    Link to this
  94. 94. Mythusmage 9:44 pm 07/11/2012

    #92,

    Still beat the rabbit.

    Link to this
  95. 95. David Marjanović 6:02 am 07/12/2012

    my computer doesn’t allow me to use accents

    Of course it does. You can always copy & paste, and then there’s the character map. (Windows: Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Programs > Character Map.)

    You got museum access without credentials and/or funding, and they let you handle a holotype?????

    To be fair, I was a PhD student at a… French collaboration thingy that involved the museum, so I was in some way affiliated with it. Funding doesn’t apply because I already was in Paris.

    OK, turtles are the living sister group of Archosauria. Happy now? Is that crazy too, or are you willing to entertain the notion?

    That’s a lot less crazy. :-)

    Link to this
  96. 96. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 1:50 pm 07/12/2012

    @ David M (comment 95)
    My computer sucks. I can’t even copy accents, because it always loses formatting, punctuation, and in fact everything except nonaccented Latin letters when copying and pasting. Also, thanks to my Windows mysteriously losing Internet Explorer, I am stuck using the “Quick-web” built-in feature, which is very simple and doesn’t let me upload or download files. As an added plus, the browser often mysteriously crashes for unknown reasons.
    Also, your “collaboration thingy” was much nicer than the AMNH (the closest museum to me). They relegated me to the library. I had to sift through old museum bulletins for anecdotes, and ended up finding a series of at least six papers on oreodonts that had blatantly falsified geological data. Of course, I have forgotten the specifics and the authors, but they ended in 1968, if memory serves.
    Anyway, I’m going to go try to change my keyboard settings again. *wishes self luck*

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  97. 97. JAHeadden 11:23 pm 07/12/2012

    To David Marjanović @ #90:

    The reason I referred to you talking about Dave Peters’ “process” was because, when you actually performed the analysis, you described this on the DML by what you had to do to get your image to look like his. This is the “process.” I did not mean to refer to the identification of objects in said picture, only the image manipulation in question.

    Pareidolia is a problem for anyone working solely from photographs. Depending on what you are doing with said photograph, this can be highly problematic, or at the least less than ideal. This always means work from actual examination, but this didn’t stop Okamura, and it doesn’t stop others who over or under interpret on the basis of belief. This is a problem for all scientists in general/

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  98. 98. MMartyniuk 9:25 am 07/13/2012

    As usual, enjoying reading the comments almost as much as the article itself ;)

    @David Marjanović
    Unfortunately, the Phytosauria+Archosauria group already has a name–Crurotarsi. Unfortunate because everybody uses this for the pan-crocodylia group even though it’s node-based and anchored on crocs and phytosaurs, rather than sensibly using a branch-based name including everything closer to crocs than birds (which is–also unfortunately–already named Pseudosuchia).

    See also Ornithodira vs. Avemetatarsalia vs. Ornithosuchia.

    Link to this
  99. 99. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 9:38 am 07/13/2012

    Given that all of my diapsid evolution knowledge seems to be out of date now, does anyone know where I can find a generally accepted post-Nesbitt cladogram?

    Link to this
  100. 100. Michał 11:43 am 07/13/2012

    “Given that all of my diapsid evolution knowledge seems to be out of date now, does anyone know where I can find a generally accepted post-Nesbitt cladogram?”

    If you mean a cladogram of Archosauriformes then the best source would be Nesbitt’s paper itself:

    http://hdl.handle.net/2246/6112

    Link to this
  101. 101. David Marjanović 1:00 pm 07/13/2012

    My computer sucks. I can’t even copy accents, because it always loses formatting, punctuation, and in fact everything except nonaccented Latin letters when copying and pasting. Also, thanks to my Windows mysteriously losing Internet Explorer, I am stuck using the “Quick-web” built-in feature, which is very simple and doesn’t let me upload or download files. As an added plus, the browser often mysteriously crashes for unknown reasons.

    …Oh. Sorry. Can you install other browsers (like Firefox or Opera or Chrome), or do they disappear, too? Or can you reinstall Internet Explorer (you can download it from microsoft.com)?

    The reason I referred to you talking about Dave Peters’ “process” was because, when you actually performed the analysis, you described this on the DML by what you had to do to get your image to look like his.

    I didn’t do anything but trace my pareidolia on photos that I took as-is from whatever website he had at the time.

    Unfortunately, the Phytosauria+Archosauria group already has a name–Crurotarsi.

    Oh, yeah, true. That name should be treated as having an unrestricted emendation which takes the phytosaurian specifier out, or even as having a restricted one that makes it branch-based. The original intent probably was to make it branch-based, but I have it on good authority that some reviewers in the mid-90s were opposed to branch-based definitions on principle, believing they were inherently less stable somehow.

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  102. 102. Michał 2:15 pm 07/13/2012

    I don’t have access to Sereno & Arcucci’s 1990 paper at the moment, and if I remember correctly they didn’t outright state what their intent was anyway, but I was under the impression that they created a definition of Crurotarsi with an intent to include all archosaurs that had a hemicylindrical condyle on their calcaneum to articulate against fibula. It was, after all, one of the main conclusions of their paper that these archosaurs form a clade and that such articulation evolved once in archosaur history. (And doesn’t the very name “Crurotarsi” allude to this particular character?)

    So perhaps it would be better to include avemetatarsalians/ornithodirans in Crurotarsi than to exclude phytosaurs from it, at least if the aforementioned articulation was indeed present in the skeleton of the last common ancestor of phytosaurs and suchians.

    Link to this
  103. 103. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 4:11 pm 07/13/2012

    @ Michal (#100): Thanks a lot!

    @ David David Marjanović (#101): No, Ι can’t download other browsers, although I seem to have fixed this thing so that I can copy stuff now. Trust me, if I could get Firefox, I would’ve had it a week ago.

    Link to this
  104. 104. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 4:14 pm 07/13/2012

    Ah, crud. I meant to copy only the “Marjanović” part. Sorry.

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  105. 105. ChasCPeterson 8:46 am 07/15/2012

    The only thing wrong with diapsid turtles is that it seems so wrong. I’ve known a lot of turtles and a lot of diapsids and I just don’t buy it gut-wise. I make no claim that this attitude is scientific.

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  106. 106. David Marjanović 7:58 am 07/16/2012

    For me, it’s that turtles don’t have a good place in the diapsid (let alone archosaur!!!) tree to go, while they have a few (especially of course Eunotosaurus now) in the parareptile/anapsid/proganosaur tree.

    Link to this
  107. 107. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 6:04 pm 07/16/2012

    I’m with you, David Marjanović; turtles as archosaurs just doesn’t make sense.

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  108. 108. Bad Kittunz 4:22 am 08/4/2012

    The main problem really is that modern papers by actual scientists publish in journals that are never seen by the public because they’re hidden by paywalls. Actual photos of fossils, actual reconstructions which never grace Google searches. As a result people are left to scramble over tiny photos (if there even are any), most of them either misidentified or copyrighted to the teeth and thus only found in one tiny webpage or two which soon disappear in less than a couple of years.

    Wikipedia, for example, is one of the best places for such an outreach. But academics instead turn up their noses at it, perhaps swayed by the hysterical reports of vandalism by the media. Or perhaps offended at errors they see in articles which they don’t even bother to fix despite knowing that it will be read by millions of others in the next few weeks. It’s seen as an annoying error-ridden rival of their own invisible papers, not stopping to think that despite this, it’s also the first place ordinary people go to when looking for more information on something.

    Very few of them probably even realize that underneath it is a vast international community of volunteers working to disseminate knowledge in the most understandable format. Good-intentioned but flawed because a lot of them are laymen doing the work scientists never want to.

    Science used to capture the public’s imagination quite often. Now it’s banished to some pdf’s you can’t read without paying $50 and dusty books in the corner of the library that nobody visits. Isn’t it telling that most scientific images in Wikipedia are gleaned off 19th century papers?

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  109. 109. naishd 6:09 am 08/4/2012

    Hi Bad Kittunz (if that is your real name). You certainly have a point, and it’s true that _some_ scientists have little interest in public dissemination and sharing of data. But, otherwise, I think what you say is rather unfair.

    Firstly, many scientists do in fact actively contribute to wikipedia and other philanthropic web-based sources of data. To give one example, the prestigious ornithological journal Ibis recently published a technical article bestowing the benefits of wikipedia, and urging more working ornithologists to contribute.

    Secondly, the paywall issue is not controlled by working scientists, but by publishers, and you surely know that a large number of scientists across all fields are fighting this – trying to make things open-access as much as possible, not only by increasing the availability of web-based journal contents, but also by publishing in open access journals (where the high-quality diagrams are available to all via creative commons licences).

    Thirdly, any implication that working scientists are unaware of or uninterested in public dissemination of technical information unfairly denigrates and downplays the substantial role that many of us have in the world of ‘outreach’. We (I class myself as part of the movement) are doing all we can to engage with interested parties, and to share and disseminate information.

    Darren

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  110. 110. David Marjanović 4:46 pm 08/4/2012

    A few more things:

    1) It’s still true that many scientists don’t understand Wikipedia and therefore grossly underestimate its importance.
    2) I personally haven’t contributed in years because I know that next time I’ll log in I’ll go on a SIWOTI syndrome spree… and I already have such a long list of other things to do… :.-(
    3) Scientists are not usually paid for outreach. We’re instead (indirectly) paid for publishing with the highest impact factor possible. That usually means proprietary journals, and that usually means that we must sign over the entire copyright, images of course included, to the publisher when the manuscript is accepted for publication.

    if that is your real name

    Come on, who cares.

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  111. 111. Bad Kittunz 8:09 pm 08/4/2012

    Darren, no, my real name is Good Puppehz. :) But yeah, I was a bit unfair I guess.

    I know several scientists active in Wikipedia. Not big names but usually those working primarily as teachers. Not enough, but I understand that that’s mostly because learning the ropes is quite daunting and editing itself eats up a lot of time needed for their actual work.

    I also know about the open-access efforts (ZooKeys being the one I’m most familiar with), I know paywalls are the fault of the publishers, and I know several museums have responded favorably to Wikipedia outreach programs, agreeing to provide research material or photos for articles if needed (The Smithsonian I think was the latest), etc.

    I guess, I’m just frustrated. I’m just another layman who still finds science fascinating. And it’s sad to see it slipping more and more from public consciousness these days. When fringe theorists dominate Google results, it’s a sign that there’s something horribly wrong with the PR side. :P

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  112. 112. Bad Kittunz 8:22 pm 08/4/2012

    And David too, in the previous reply, of course.

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  113. 113. naishd 7:53 am 08/5/2012

    For the record, I personally cannot justify spending time on wikipedia (especially when the changes I’ve made – to the Eotyrannus article, to take one notable example – were repeatedly reversed by other editors), but I like to think that – through Tet Zoo – I’m doing my bit to make otherwise ‘secret’ information more widely available. I make my stuff CC via SA where possible, but am actually not sure how easy this is here at SciAm (I can’t add a CC logo to a sidebar, for example). Some scientists are elitist, with no interest in making data available to the lay public. But the majority are not – and time, effort and an insanely demanding existing workload mean that many simply cannot afford to get involved in projects that do not earn academic reward.

    Darren

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  114. 114. naishd 7:59 am 08/5/2012

    In case anyone hasn’t seen it yet, io9 has just (August 3rd 2012) covered the Dave Peters/ReptileEvolution.com issue here.

    Darren

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  115. 115. albertonykus 4:06 am 08/6/2012

    I don’t know which edits on the article correspond to yours Darren, but if you check the history of an article most editors who undo otherwise reasonable edits will type a reason for their doing so. And if no explanation is given it’s worth taking the discussion to the article’s talk page or to talk directly to whoever undid your changes.

    Link to this
  116. 116. Conners 4:26 am 08/7/2012

    Very interesting piece. Sounds as though David would have been much better off pouring his ability and enthusiasm into a degree in the subject twenty years ago, rather than marginalising himself and becoming increasingly alienated and detached from the mainstream consensus.

    We’ve seen this in snake taxonomy with the work of Ray Hoser, an enthusiastic and knowledgable amateur who seems to have developed a persecution complex and continues to make wild and unsupported claims about the relationships between different taxa.

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  117. 117. evilsloth 5:59 pm 01/6/2014

    You could perhaps try some strategies like the one we use to get rid of W3Schools:. Take a look at http://www.w3fools.com/ . There is even a tool to keep them out of your searches: https://addons.mozilla.org/pt-BR/firefox/addon/w3schools-hider/ . Someone could develop a reptile-evolution-hider :)

    Link to this
  118. 118. evilsloth 6:04 pm 01/6/2014

    If you add -pterosaurheresies -reptileevolution to the web or image search, you won’t see any results from the sites.

    Link to this

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