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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why I do not rely exclusively on Google Image searches for Paleo-related research.

Darren Naish ( @TetZoo ) has a new post up on Tetropod Zoology concerning artist Dave Peters' website, reptileevolution.com and his blog at Pterosaur Heresies. David Peters is known for paintings and detailed reconstructions of extinct animals and an unorthodox way at looking at fossils.

Peters has used photos of many pterosaur taxa, traced a bunch of stuff in Photoshop and then based his ideas and reconstructions on these tracings.

Pareidolia may be best explanation for what Peters sees in these photos; other researchers seem unable to replicate his observations. And these tracings are just about the only evidence Peters has for the novel structures and reconstructions he now offers; he has not examined the specimens in person. While I don't think this is a necessary step to creating a reconstruction, it is certainly something which needs to be done if you're going to posit the existence of anatomy that people who have seen the original fossils don't see or publish anything about.

The problem is, anyone looking to do research on pterosaurs is going to find Peters' sites really easily—they are among the first images that pop up in any Google image search for "pterosaur," (and not just pterosaurs either) and most of what you find on Peters' sites is misleading, unsupported by any independent standards of evidence, or just wrong. I like the idea of being able to search a worldwide network of information from the convenience of a location which is rural and far far removed from libraries which carry subscriptions to periodicals like PNAS, Nature, or JVP, but not when I have to plow through a ton of rubbish to find useful information.

Peters' views are actually fairly interesting if considered from the standpoint of animals rooted exclusively in fantasy (or perhaps alt-evolution), but these ideas aren't worthy of consideration or of interest when I need to know what the current scientific consensus is when it comes to reconstructing animals like pterosaurs. As it is, his presence is pervasive on the web; Wikipedia includes frequent mentions and links to his work for even the more obscure animals.

Naish has presented some much-needed criticism of Peters' work, while bending over backwards to avoid damaging Peters' reputation or attacking him personally.