Thursday, August 16, 2012

When new data appears in creationism papers

Well that title ought to get the views.  You may recall a while back when I complained about Senter not stating his Tsaagan OTU included Linheraptor or his Parvicursor OTU included the Tugrik parvicursorine.  Well, I have to apologize for that because it turns out, Senter did state these things explicitly, but in a paper I didn't know about until this week.  While I'm ultimately responsible for my mistake, since Senter did reference his earlier paper in his Yurgovuchia one, let's look at the form of that reference-

"For this analysis we used the phylogenetic data matrix of a recent study [36], with the following improvements."

I had assumed reference 36 was his 2010 creation paper or maybe the Geminiraptor update, but no, it's a 2011 creation paper.  You know what would have made it obvious?  If PLoS ONE used normal author+date citations instead of numbers.  This part is not a criticism of Senter at all, but instead of PLoS ONE.  While I strongly support that journal and will no doubt submit there myself in the future, the citation system has got to go.

Another aspect of this situation is somewhat Senter's fault, which is that a paper designed to combat a creationist claim is the source of a major overhaul of an important dinosaur matrix.  In fact, it's worse than that.  Senter already included new information in his original 2010 anti-creation paper, yet this one is a response to Young Earth Creationist Todd Wood's critiques of the earlier paper, and completely overhauls the matrix.  I'm all for scientists engaging with creationists, but it's an odd venue to debut important scientific information.  The DML had never even noticed the paper, so I had to learn of it through a Tetrapod Zoology comment.  Again, I would have learned about the paper if I would have looked up reference 36 in the Yurgovuchia paper, so it is ultimately my fault.  But don't you think "Using creation science to demonstrate evolution 2: morphological continuity within Dinosauria" is an odd paper to propose the synonymy of two dromaeosaurids, or to add 38 new characters to your analysis and renumber every character?

Readers' thoughts?


  1. Initial reaction: different priorities. You (and, I guess, the majority of people academically interested in theropod phylogeny) think that the most important task is analysing theropod phylogeny; maybe Senter thinks that combating creationism is a far more important endeavour. This is probably true - I think that most of his recent papers (the last 5 or 6 that I've seen) are responses to creationist claims.


  2. FYI: I did include the Senter paper in my list!:

    (Although I'm surprised the DML didn't pick up on it.)

  3. Wouldn't the DML actually prohibit mentioning this paper?

  4. Darren- I actually think combating creationism is much more important for society than resolving theropod phylogeny (note the New/Gnu Atheism blog links on this site). So as I said, I'm all for scientists participating in this battle. I had no idea Senter had yet more papers on the topic, though Googling now I see ones on dinosaur petroglyphs and flood geology. My main objection is presenting new scientific data unrelated to creationism in them.

    Mike- That's a very good point I hadn't considered. Wonder how Kirkaldy and Rowe would respond to knowing their rule prevents real useful dinosaur information from being cited on the DML.

  5. So does Senter actually defend the synonymy of Tsaagan and Linheraptor in the paper or just state that he considers them synonymous?

  6. The full text of that topic is-

    "Here, I also combine data from the holotypes of the dromaeosaurids Tsaagan mangas and Linheraptor exquisitus into a single OTU. Recent personal observation of the former and a cast of the latter revealed no reason to separate them taxonomically. Here, therefore, the latter is considered a junior synonym of the former. Even if they turn out to be separate species, anatomical details strongly suggest that they are sister species (Xu et al., 2010), so combining their data will not compromise the results of phylogenetic analysis."

    I haven't studied Linheraptor, so I have no opinion on the synonymy except that it looks possible on the surface. What I object to is assuming the synonymy without a rebuttal of Xu et al.'s diagnosis. While Xu et al. did suggest a few features to unite the species, this has not been tested in a published analysis. It would have been just as easy to code Linheraptor separately, then this analysis could have supported the synonymy as opposed to assuming it. Ditto for Parvicursor and the Tugrik taxon.

  7. Based on Mike's comment, I went straight to the source and asked DML owner Mary Kirkaldy if Senter's (2010, 2011) papers could be discussed on the DML, even the scientific parts. Her reply, posted with permission-

    "Thanks for running this by us before posting. No, I don't see a reason for an exception. Posting about a paper about Creationism is just that. It could have really nice illustrations in it too, but that wouldn't make any difference. Similarly, if he mentions new dinosaurs, etc., it is still in a Creationism paper. We don't want to go down that road."

    "We have the Creationism rule for a good reason. See Mickey Rowe's
    explanation of the rules at: (Item

    The name of the paper says it all: "Using creation science to demonstrate
    evolution: application of a creationist method for visualizing gaps in the
    fossil record to a phylogenetic study of coelurosaurian dinosaurs."
    Playing parlor essay games doesn't make it any less an argument about
    Creationism. The juxtaposition of Creationism and taxonomy has no place on the DML,
    and there is no such thing as Creation science anyway. There is nothing to
    keep you from discussing the paper on other sites, such as Vrtpaleo. It's
    too bad that Senter didn't publish his dinosaur information on its own."

  8. I agree that publishing taxonomic data in a paper about an unrelated topic is kind of odd...