Sometimes, science breeds hate relationships

Bob Bakker says to be “kind to colleagues, ruthless with theories”.

No, I won’t stick my neck into some of the catfights currently going on, or just recently over. It’s enough that I can’t resist sending flippant or sarcastic answers to the Dinosaur Mailing List posts by a certain artist. Rather, I’ll pull out one part of a verbal pissing contest in which both parts are already dead, so nobody’s going to be pissed off by this post.

This fight is documented in a way that today is practically impossible, and has been replaced by less official way such as mailing lists and blog posts: the scientists involved actually spoke directly to each other (and to others present), and what they said was recorded for posterity in a journal! That used to be common practice (the publication of presentations, not of catfights), scientific societies would meet once a month or so, members of the usually pretty elitist clubs would present their latest research, and there would be a proceedings journal published – yearly, quarterly, monthly, depending on how big the society was. That’s the reason so many journals are named “Proceeding of the such-and-such Society” or (in Germany) “Such-and-such Zeitschrift – Monatshefte” (monthly volumes). Longer articles were often printed in separate volumes of the same journals, with separate numbering, which can be a pain in the ass when trying to track down an old article.

The verbal fight I want to post on today took place in 1912, at a meeting of the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft (German Geological Society). Yes, “Geological”, as there was no palaeontological society yet – in fact, one of the combatants, Otto Jaekel, suggested that one should be founded at the very same meeting.

Anyways, Jaekel gave a presentation on the plateosaurs he had excavated at Halberstadt (or, more correctly, that had been excavated for him), and in it said things that a certain Gustav Tornier didn’t like. Tornier’s acidic reply was printed in the Monatshefte, and below the fold you can find my translation. It is an excellent reminder how easily people can piss off each other.

And, it is a fun read :) I added a few figures relevant to the discussion, to spice up the post.

Many thanks to Ilja Nieuwland for the PDF of the original paper!

Translation of Zeitschrift der Deutschen Geologischen Gesellschaft – Monatshefte, 1912, Vol. 1. Proceedings of the meeting on Jan. 3, 1912, remakrs of G. Tornier on the presentation of O. Jaekel.

the article begins with remarks that do not touch on the matter of this post, these have been omitted.

     Then the charmain gives the floor to Mr. Jaekel for his report on his dinosaur finds near Halberstadt.

     In the discussion speak the gentleman Keilhack, Tornier, Naumann and the presenter.

     Mr. G. TORNIER remarks on the explanations of Mr. Jaekel:

     Mr. Jaekel has deemed it correct to repeat what has previously been said here before, viz., that I erred in a very secondary matter, this being the assumption that the astragali of Diplodocus in its skeletal reconstruction by Hatcher were exchanged. If now, contrary to his view that the presence of diplodocus-similar astragali and of astragalus + calcaneum in other dinosaur species than Diplodocus is in no way a proof against my suspicion – and I was recently ensures by a capacity on this subject that Dipldocus „completely lacked“ a calacneum – thus I am however quite convinced that I erred in said assumption. It was, however, as Mr. Jäkel licentiously assumed at that time (this journal 1910, p. 274), made „with much certainty“, but only based on very thorough anatomical deliberation, which made it [the assumption] seem imperative, and after very long heavy thought, as a fixedly mounted skeleton does not allow unhindered scientific work on the joints, but rather allows only statements of probability.

Hatcher’s 1901 reconstruction J&T got so worked up about (plate VIII of Hatcher 1901).

     As now these anatomical reasons, which at this time also justly stand, are also given if the animal has astragalus + calcanuem, and in Diplodocus the so far only one of these bones found fits the tibia without flaw I abandon the previous view. – For the judgment of the construction and the characteristic posture of the animals this means, however, to iterate again, absolutely nothing – which I will soon address in a separate work in much detail.

     If now, however, Mr. Jäkel at the same time dwells rebukingly on the fact that I have not noted down this change of opinion in writing, so was this quite with him to say so in my stead with justice, back when he gave his first presentation on the Halberstadt finds (this journal, monthly reports 1920, p. 270); as he discussed before his talk various  things covered in it, and I explained to him already back then that I had certainly erred in the interpretation of the astragalus;  he was thus well capable and would have been fully justified to mention this in his talk, and I would have done this is such circumstances.

     Furthermore it will soon be revealed, I am sure, at what time Mr. Jäkel erred anatomically far worse than I did: if back when he generalized based on his Halberstadt finds, including these and my previous details on the Diplodocus (this journal 1010, p.276): “The result of my presentation would thus be: 1. That the sauropod dinosaurs moved on their legs in the way of lizards; that their legs, especially the hind limbs, were also used for digging activities. 2. That the toes have large motion ranges on the metapodia, but in no way were able to support or carry the body in a digitigrade position.” – and when on the basis of a joke drawing (p. 271) he even seemed to want to claim priority. Or now, where in his book: Die Wirbeltiere, 1911, p. 158, and just now right here – equally on the basis of his Halberstadt finds and including them – presents the Saurischia of the Triassic and Jurassic Formation, “which with a number of strong claws on the 3-4 inner toes had adapted to an omnivorous, if not frugivorous lifestyle”, as hopping; whereas the Halberstadt animals in 1910 were a carnivorous precursor of small-animal predators and supposedly “in their dentition never suited to a herbivorous lifestyle”.

     And this is to be added:

     When this fall I arrived in Stuttgart with the totally firm conviction, derived from the study of von Huene’s figures, that the dinosaurs treated in this Triassic Study had typical reptilian habitus, as they did not exceed typical reptilian build especially in the should and hip joints, and that thus as far as can be determined they were quadrupedal, Prof. Fraas – with no knowledge of my opinion – immediately explained to me that he had come to the conviction, based on his most excellent and completely preserved latest Triassic dinosaur finds, that these finds in typical reptilian habitus walked on all fours, and relied in this mainly on animals, which were preserved in miraculous natural position. Also, he especially made me aware of the contrast between his and von Huene’s view. And equally it was possible in Stuttgart and Tübingen for all the Triassic dinosaurs present there belonging to the same group to certainly prove the presence of the typical reptilian build, e.g. the horizontal motion of the limbs in shoulder and hip joints.

The old Sellosaurus gracilis mount in Stuttgart – although this specimen was found in 1912 and thus not known to the squabblers, specimens in similar posture formed the basis for Fraas’ opinion. Pity, though, that animals don’t die standing up (and remain that way).

     And if Mr. Jäkel, like just now, places such high value on the speediest active retraction of wrong results by the author himself: why did he not mention in the talk given just now that he had previously erred in his judgment of the Halberstadt finds, according to his present opinion? And why does he figure in his article: Rekonstruktion fossiler Tiere, in Meyer’s Großes Konversationslexikon, 6. Ed. Vol. 22, Annual Supplement  1909-1910, Triceratop and Stegosaurus in quadrupedal post, whereas in his book : “Die Wirbeltiere” he used the erect-limbed skeletal figures of these animals by Marsh, without mentioning his own encyclopaedia-reconstructions? As normally, the latest opinion by an author counts, here a change of opinion has occurred; because one cannot really assume that this proceeding is meant to say that in these animals the skeleton was mammalian, whereas skin and soft tissues where used in the reptilian habitus.

Well, wasn’t that a nice and proper rant? ;)

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
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11 Responses to Sometimes, science breeds hate relationships

  1. I’ve seen Jaekel be described as the ‘phantasievollen Dr. Jaekel’ (unfortunately, can’t remember by whom). From a Prussian perspective, a more damning assessment is hardly possible.

  2. SanSaurio says:

    Cool!!! I have always imagined the scientific meetings in the XIX century as a big room where the doctor-botanic-geologist-priest-rischman (all in one) spoke about science and others suggested that God is the origin of all.
    A very interesting post!!! ;)

    • Quite some primadonnas among them, though – and a certain Mr. Huxley did not get the nickname “bulldog” for nothing.
      Oh, and think of Doyle’s Prof. Challenger! That wasn’t a total phantasy’s, just an exaggeration of the personalities of prominent scientists at that time.

  3. Craig Dylke says:

    We took on that certain palaeo-artist. It was fun… Not that he had the nerve to actually reply

    http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/search/label/Article-%20Philosofossilising%20Gregory%20Paul

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

    • yeah, all that was and is a fun read!
      Now, there’s more than one post in a similar vein, so I guess you want to claim a copyright on it? ;)

      • Craig Dylke says:

        Oh please, just copyright your specific thoughts. No how about I claim everything you’ve ever written, as it all uses the same words I use to speak and write too. :P

        Behind the scenes I’ve heard details about the incident that triggered the melt down. So while I feel for him on that one specific front (which involved TV people), it really doesn’t justify his attempt at claiming all palaeo-art as his own. Nor attacking and alienating the community that he should have been befriending and allying. To me those emails were the death blows to his career.

        We haven’t heard anything from him or about him since last year. Has he been up to more stuff? I assumed he just went to hide in the bowels of the Opera house for a while, waiting to come back and haunt us at a more annoying time.

        • He just told the DMLers to shut up and stop speculating about early birds’ arboreality, as he would speak on this if and when next year he might get things published.
          LOL

          I wrote another DML message, obviously ;)

          • Craig Dylke says:

            Ah okay. I feel I should be starting a book or something to document his annual crazy fits. Next year it’ll be about people drinking water in the field. Only he can drink water while digging for fossils…

            Didn’t you science people get the message? We art people sure did last year. Dinosaurs belong to ONLY him. He was there first (apparently), knows more than everyone else (apparently), and above all else has the right to determine who can like them and how….

            So I guess I was wrong on his career’s vitals. There is just enough life in there for him to kill it with yet MORE emails… Face palm

            Love your reply. Short, sweet, and to the point. I’ve really lost all patience for the man. Speculation and discussion is what science is all about. He might as well just try to start the church of GSP (which considering his atheism stance is ironic he’d be so draconian)

  4. Pingback: Palaeontology of SW Germany 2.2: Keuper | dinosaurpalaeo

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