Saturday, 1 January 2011

Right then - 2011........

What with family commitments and the holiday season, it has obviously been hard to find the time to blog as per normal but that should sort itself out over the next week. I've been away for only a few days and already there have been more new titanosaurs and ceratopsians announced, although Titanoceratops is causing a bit of a stink over on the DML.

As I've been alluding to for some time, lumping and splitting is now becoming something of a millstone around the neck of dinosaur palaeontologists' - so much so now that there is the first rumblings of a a severe split within the community although it should never come to that. That would be ridiculous and completely nonsensical. However. this debate will rumble on throughout 2011 and I hope that it will be a debate and not a shouting match since that will serve nobody.

But, just because I can, let me just say that there is yet another centrosaurine taxon to be announced which is another very cool animal and it will be a very satisfying day for a friend of mine when it is published. Will 2011 be yet another year for the ceratopsians? Maybe but then it depends whether you are a lumper or a splitter - and yes I am joking!

The picture above shows a ray tooth collected from Bracklesham Bay on New Year's Eve. Now I know that a few of our better known fossil hunting websites rate this bay very highly for shark and ray teeth. What they don't tell you about is the amount of collectors there! I called in for a brief visit at low tide since I thought it would nice to find a shark tooth at the end of the year - in with the old, if you like. I liked the dichotomy.

When I arrived I surveyed the scene and saw at least twenty collectors, some of them armed with sieves and loads of other paraphernalia. I still had a look but apart from mollusc's, of which there are plenty, all I found was this little ray tooth. The beaches had been heavily scoured and nothing remained. So I'm not saying don't go to Bracklesham but be prepared to struggle and work hard for your finds - it just isn't as easy as it once probably was.

Enough for now but I thank those of you who visit these pages from time to time and a big thank you to my nine followers (it really makes a difference knowing you're there). Special mentions in dispatches for Dave Orr over at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs. Dave has been very generous in featuring this blog in a few of his posts and my traffic has increased because of it. Thanks Dave! And thanks to the rest of my colleagues in the paleo-blogosphere - its been fun!

Happy new year everybody and I hope you all visit in 2011.


Ian said...

I know how you feel about lumpers and splitters. On a forum I frequent, some of the users are very predisposed to lumping, dismissing any new species as cases of oversplitting, without having actually read the papers.

saurian said...

To be fair, I can see arguments from both sides of the fence. Megalosaurs, by way of example, are way way oversplit although Benson and colleagues have been wading through that problem over the last few years and doing good work in cleaning the taxa up.

Ceratopsians, however, are as tough a group to understand and differentiate as is possible within the dinosauria. Ontogeny, morphology, dimorphism and stratigraphic considerations alone are enough to keep lumpers and splitters busy for ever.

My only concern is that they both have substantial contributions to make to each others research without the need for some of the comments which are doing the rounds just now.

I cannot pass comment about Titanoceratops since I have not read the paper yet. I have read Scannella and Horner's paper a couple of times on Triceratops and Torosaurus and found it compelling. But that does not mean I accept it blindly without taking other research into consideration.

And that is what I meant in the post and how I believe it should be for all of us.

David Orr said...

Thanks for the mention. I'm happy to link to you at LITC - you consistently write great stuff, and I'm happy that it's helping more readers find you!

D. Fowler said...

On the contrary, ceratopsids are probably the best understood dinosaurs.

This debate is not he same tired issue of lumping and splitting: that is an old addage based on 19th century taxonomic practices. in that sense, lumping and splitting are flip sides of the same coin: the same paradigm. What is changing is our way of being able to interpret variation in morphology. Some people are clinging to the old paradigm: mostly ignoring ontogenetic and stratigraphic methods, and instead relying on judgement calls based on morphology alone. The new paradigm is not lumping only. Indeed, it involves much splitting, but splitting based on testable hypotheses and data, not judgement calls or opinion. New paradigms are, by definition, controversial, and incompatible with what came before. Plate tectonics and sequence stratigraphy are both examples of recent paradigm shifts in geology. The genetic revolution and cladistics are recent biological paradigm shifts that affect palaeontology. Our way of understanding the world changes with these paradigm shifts. What's happening in dinosaurs is not as major as these examples, but it is a big change to the status quo, and that's why it is meeting with resistance.

saurian said...

Hi Denver and thanks for the comment. And, of course you are quite correct – lumping and splitting is a very simplistic way of looking at these issues but the term does provoke both interest and response. From a sampling point alone, ceratopsians are, indeed, very well understood animals. What I was alluding to, and you have put so succinctly better, is that any new theory or proposal should be tested against current hypotheses and used positively for the advancement of our understanding and knowledge of these animals. I agree and simply believe that any new research can be embraced and utilised to further that knowledge. It’s strange that we can still find opposition to progressive palaeontology, even in the 21st century.

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