The Best Scientific Smackdown About Evolution You’ll Read This Week
Over at fantastic blog Tetrapod Zoology, paleontologist Darren Naish tells one of the most bizarre, fascinating stories about the debate over evolution you’re likely to read. It’s the tale of David Peters, a web designer and amateur paleontologist who made a name for himself in the 1980s and 90s by illustrating a set of books about dinosaurs. Since that time, he has become a bane of the paleontology community by insisting that he’s invented a new kind of technological analysis for fossils. And using this analysis — which he calls Digital Graphic Segregation — he believes he’s proven that pterosaurs are far more distant from dinosaurs in the reptile family tree than previously believed.
The problem? Nobody in the paleontology community uses Digital Graphic Segregation (DGS), which Naish describes like this:
[Peters] claims that it allows him to, variously, separate bones from underlying ones, to piece together previously unnoticed, shattered bits of elements in jigsaw-fashion, and to recognise truly novel, soft-tissue structures like elaborate dermal frills and those unossified pterosaur babies.
You can see an example of it here. Citing evidence gleaned from DGS, Peters wants to completely revise how we view the evolution of reptiles. He’s also used DGS to come up with some pretty outlandish ideas about pterosaur anatomy.
None of this would have percolated beyond a few disgruntled exchanges between paleontologists if it weren’t for the fact that Peters’ day job is as a web designer and SEO expert. Unhappy with his chilly reception in the scientific community, Peters decided to take his ideas to the internet. He created a very legitimate-looking site called ReptileEvolution.com, where he advances his widely-discredited ideas as facts. And now anybody searching for “reptile evolution” sees Peters’ incorrect ideas as the top hit in most cases. The problem is that most legitimate paleontologists don’t have the time or inclination to use SEO techniques to legitimize their ideas. So nobody has been able to unseat Peters’ hegemony. Every time a school kid or confused science journalist searches for information on reptile evolution, they’ll be led astray.
The scientific consensus view of reptile evolution.
Peters’ view of reptile evolution.