Dogma is defined by Merriam-Webster
as “something held as an established opinion; especially: a definite authoritative tenet.” Science prides itself on being removed from dogma through use of critical thinking and continuous questioning. As scientists, paleontologists work hard to ensure that dogmatic thinking is avoided. Everything is up for question. Nothing is sacred.
Or is it?
This week, a paper was published
that showed that the oft cited and well established ‘fact’ that dinosaurs could be divided into two major groups, the bird-hipped dinosaurs (ornithischians) and the lizard-hipped dinosaurs (saurischians) may be in error.
Baron and his co-authors showed, through the use of cladistic analysis, that theropods (which include Tyrannosaurus
, and all modern birds), traditionally called saurischians, are more closely related to ornithischians than with other saurischian dinosaur groups.
How could we possibly have missed this?
Baron et al., (2017)
provide an explanation. A few studies have looked at the distinction between saurischians and ornithischians, but may not have included sufficient species and operate under that the assumption that the split between the two groups was fact. Other studies of the evolutionary relationships of species that are either all saurischian or all ornithischian don’t concern themselves with the split, and again accept it as fact.
For over 100 years, paleontologists have dogmatically accepted the split between ornithischian and saurischian dinosaurs without realizing that it hadn’t been thoroughly tested.
But here’s the good news. While the report of this new paper has been all over the popular press (articles for non-scientists) as a huge shake-up and a very big deal, the scientific community is carefully reading the paper and saying to themselves, ‘Hmm. They got a point there.’
Baron et al.’s (2017)
results will be scrutinized and tested and retested over the next several years. No fist fights. No name calling. Just research proposals and papers. Lots and lots of papers. Get ready. This is gonna be good.