Palaeos: FAQs

What's all this?

ATW (Toby White): My former site, the Vertebrate Notes, began as a set of notes on vertebrate paleontology and biology kept for personal use, but the project got completely out of hand. At some point, I ran into Alan Kazlev, who has never been in hand. After a year of discussion, two weeks of serious thought, and no actual planning, we started Palaeos. I'm not sure what it is, but we spend a lot of time on it. I handle the vertebrates mostly. Alan was handling the rest of time and space.

MAK (M Alan Kazlev): I've added a few more comments in the About Palaeos page.

What's in Palaeos?

ATW: I have no idea. Ask Alan.

MAK: I suppose all I can say is that it's a work in progress, summed up by the motto: life through deep time.

OK. What's in the Vertebrate Part?

ATW: All kinds of things: an alphabetical index of clades, cladograms showing the relationship of each group to the others, synapomorphies of the groups, other anatomical information, some images; often some quick information on ecological position, references and web links for further information, literature references; the names of typical or notable members of the taxon. Now and again, other material of interest in the form of notes or essays has been included in the entry. Another section takes a few vicious stabs at being an osteology of the vertebrates. There's a very home-grown glossary of vertebrate biology. I've got some other sections in mind for later. In forming Palaeos, I've integrated most of Alan's vertebrate materials. Sometimes they complement the old material quite nicely. Then again, sometimes they don't. Some of the entries are, obviously, much more comprehensive than others. There is no real method to the selection. I've been trying to give a little coverage to all groups. So far the only group I find truly boring are the teleosts, and even they have their points.


ATW: Why not? Also because Fred Bervoets (DinoData) was kind enough to suggest and encourage it.

Are you one them cladists?

ATW: Yup – but I cheat sometimes.


ATW: The bane of cladograms are meaningless nodes and stem species. If you've ever tried to draw a cladogram, you'll know what I mean. When an important group starts to radiate, it often throws out a bunch of taxa early on that don't last long and leave no daughter clades. Their relationships are often poorly understood because only a few, isolated specimens are known. They tend to obscure the main lines of a cladogram. Worse, they require a lot of work for me because they often have some weird mix of characters that requires a great deal of explanation for not much learned—all of it for a group erected on 1 molar, half a vertebra and a burning to desire to finish the thesis before turning 30 (yes, I've been there). Sometimes the only solution is to erect a garbage taxon and throw the oddballs into it. Another approach is to allow nodes to include basal species. This would be wrong. The practice has no theoretical justification. It undermines the whole theoretical foundation of cladistics. It is sheer sloppiness. But I'm going to do it anyway.

What are your sources?

ATW: The basic entries used to be drawn from RL Carroll (1988) Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, Freeman & Co.; PJ Currie & K Padian (eds.) (1997) Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, Academic Press; JO Farlow & MK Brett-Surman (eds.) (1997), The Complete Dinosaur, Indiana; P Janvier (1996), Early Vertebrates Oxford; FH Pough, CM Janis, & JB Heiser (1999) Vertebrate Life, Prentice Hall (5th ed.); the Encyclopedia Britannica; as well as some marginally relevant professional experience long ago. As often as time permits, entries are revised from the primary literature, full citations to which are found on the References pages.

Why haven't you incorporated the findings of molecular phylogeny in your coverage of birds or mammals?

MAK: Originally Palaeos vertebrates mostly emphasised a cladistic morphology-based methodology. The current revision will use a "Total Evidence" approach, which incorporates and synthesises phylogenetic evidence from all possible sources: fossil record, gross morphology-based cladistics, molecular phylogeny, evo-devo, etc. However it will take time to revise all the pages (and many most likely won't be revised at all, generally because they are pretty good as they are!). Also some of the original pages from 10 or so years ago will be retained, but these will be supplemented with new pages and material.

Are you looking for additional authors, editors, artists, etc?

MAK: Yes, we would love to have your input and contributions! Especially a project as vast as Palaeos could not possibly be undertaken by only a couple of people.

Do you accept paid advertising?

MAK: At the moment, no.

I totally disagree with what you have said regarding [insert taxon, topic, or methodology].

MAK: In that case, please contact me and submit your counterargument. Palaeos is not intended to represent a single pov, least of all mine! As long as what you say is reasonably argued and backed up with a few references (or not, as the case may be), I would be happy to include it (though I do draw the line at creationism, sorry).

How do I know the information is accurate?

ATW, MAK: You don't.

And just who the heck are you?

ATW: I have many years of experience as a vertebrate.

I used to leave it at that, but someone (correctly) thought I was being evasive. A resume is included for the hopelessly nosy.

MAK: Whereas I don't even have a resume, which should be enough to warn the unwary about the reliability or lack thereof of anything I've written. Other than that, there's a very brief bio here

Any restrictions on using this material?

ATW: I'm not sure. I used to have a "no copyright" policy except for attributed images. But Alan doesn't have this quirk, and he's trying out a Creative Commons licensing scheme. Myself, I tend to think that (a) no one could possibly make any commercial use out of my stuff and (b) they're welcome to try. Also: remember that the material found at any links contained in Palaeos is usually protected by copyrights belonging to the owners of those sites. All links in Palaeos are included purely by way of reference or citation. No claim is made to any material at those sites, nor does their citation in Palaeos constitute any form of license or permission, express or implied, to access, use or copy that material.

That's a pretty nifty disclaimer, can I use it?

ATW: For professional advice, my fee is $240 an hour.

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