Timeline of publications and letters

Sun Jun 1 16:12:44 BST 2008


The following timeline is unavoidably complex because it interleaves two stories: Parker's recognition of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis as a new genus, and Martz's reinterpretation of the osteoderms of Redondasuchus.

To clarify the sequence of events, color-coding is used. Scientific publication are highlighted in yellow, and constitute the key evidence. Our correspondence with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and its overseeing offices (those of the Attorney General and State Governor) are highlighted in blue. Our correspondence with the University of New Mexico is highlighted in orange. All of other correspondence is highlighted in green. All other events (e.g. submission of manuscripts, publishing of blog articles) are left unhighlighted.

Where we have electronic copies of the relevant publications and letters, they are linked. Some are not yet available, but may be added as they are scanned. All of the publications made available here are copyright their respective owners, and are here made available only for the purposes of documenting events surrounding the reinterpretation of Redondasuchus osteoderms and the renaming of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis. They should not be used for any other purpose.






Hunt and Lucas (1991) of the NMMNHS describe and name a new aetosaur, Redondasuchus reseri. The novelty of this genus is based primarily on an incorrect interpretation of its osteoderms (bony plates).

The NMMNHS is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, the institution of Lucas and most of his co-authors. During most of the events outlined here, Adrian Hunt (one of the co-authors on both of the papers in which intellectual theft has occurred) was the Director of the museum.


Heckert et al. (1996:623) reassert the distinctiveness of Redondasuchus, rejecting the idea that it is synonymous with Typothorax.


Heckert and Lucas (2000:1563) once more reaffirm their interpretation of the Redondasuchus osteoderms.


Martz's (2002) thesis, pp. 34-36, corrects Hunt and Lucas's back-to-front interpretation of the osteoderms of Redondasuchus reseri and demonstrates that this animal belongs to the genus Typothorax.

The corrected interpretation is illustrated in fig.3.1c, which is on p. 33 (p. 50 of the PDF).


Zeigler et al. (2003) name another new aetosaur, Desmatosuchus chamaensis.

Parker's (2003) thesis shows that the species "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis does not belong to the genus Desmatosuchus, and warrants its own genus.

Chapter 8 of the thesis, on p. 28 of the PDF, raised the name Heliocanthus for this new genus. However, under the rules of the ICZN the name is not established, as the thesis was not published.

Generic separation of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis asserted in Parker's (2003) published SVP abstract.



Parker sends a copy of his thesis to Andy Heckert at NMMNHS.


Generic separation of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis reasserted in Stocker et al.'s (2004) published SVP abstract, on which Parker was a co-author.


May 13

Parker's detailed manuscript on "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis, renaming the species as the new genus Heliocanthus, submitted to the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Parker personally told Lucas's colleague Andy Heckert about this submission.

Parker and Irmis (2005:49-50) reassert the generic separation of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis.

Parker (2005:47) reasserts the generic separation of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis.

The NMMNHS team still regard "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis as belonging to Desmatosuchus (e.g. Heckert et al. 2005a:314, Lucas et al. 2005:177, Heckert et al. 2005b:37).

The last of these papers confirms that the NMMNHS team knew that Parker regarded this species as not belonging to Desmatosuchus, explicitly mentioning ``Desmatosuchus chamaensis ("D." chamaensis of Parker and Irmis, 2005)''.

December 2

Parker's manuscript accepted by Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, and is from this point is "in press"


Parker (2006:54) reasserts the generic separation of "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis.

Parker (2006:54) explicitly cites the in-press JSP paper. Lucas requested a copy of the 2006 volume which was sent to him.



Lucas et al. (2006), in a two-page paper in the NMMNHS in-house journal, rename "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis as Rioarribasuchus.

Note that Lucas et al. (2006) refer to Parker and Irmis (2005) as the authority for "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis representing a new genus. Failure of Lucas and colleagues to contact Parker and Irmis to inquire about their intentions to provide a new name violates the code of ethics set forth in Appendix A of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Last week of December

Spielmann et al. (2006:583), in the NMMNHS in-house journal, publish Martz's reinterpretation of the Redondasuchus osteoderm without attribution, as their own discovery.

Part of fig. 1 in this paper is effectively identical to fig. 3.1c of Martz's thesis (found on p. 33). Spielmann et al.'s paper discusses Martz's thesis in detail on matters other than the osteoderm reorientation, so it is clear that the authors were familiar with Martz's work.



Parker's (2007) paper, fully redescribing "Desmatosuchus" chamaensis and naming it Heliocanthus. is published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Since Lucas et al.'s paper was published just before Parker's, their name Rioarribasuchus has priority over Parker's Heliocanthus, despite the far more comprehensive nature of the latter paper.


We became aware of the intellectual theft in Lucas et al. (2006) and Spielmann et al. (2006).

April 10

The article "The armadillodile diaries, a story of science ethics" is published on the widely read science blog Tetrapod Zoology, outlining these events.

The blog garnered many supportive and appreciative comments, and -- significantly -- no attempt at a rebuttal, despite invitations in the comments to the NMMNHS authors to explain their perspective on these events. The blog entry and comments can be read at http://tinyurl.com/37gfyp

May 16 approx.

Martz writes to Spielmann requesting an explanation for the unattributed use of his Redondasuchus reinterpretation. No reply was ever received.

May 23

Hunt leaves NMMNHS to take up a post at the Flying Heritage Collection in Washington state. Lucas appointed as interim director.

Lucas's appointment to the permanent post is anticipated. In addition to his role as editor of the NMMNHS bulletin, this appointment would confer on him yet further freedom from outside accountability.

June 8

Our initial letter to Stuart Ashman at the New Mexico DCA.

The DCA is the Department of Cultural Affairs, and is the body responsible for the museum.

June 19

Response from Ashman.

Since Ashman's letter included a threat of legal action and stated that he had instructed Hunt and Lucas to write a letter of complaint to the Attorney General, we felt it necessary to contact the AG ourselves.

June 26

Parker writes independently to the DCA, including many supporting documents

In versions of this timeline prior to March 5, 2008, this letter was omitted due to its overlap with the group letter to the DCA. We have now added it, however, since it is to this letter that Lucas's response, published March 4, 2008, was addressed.

July 5

Our first letter to Drs. Les McFadden and John Geissman at UNM.

McFadden was the outgoing chair, and Geissman the incoming chair, of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences as UNM (the University of New Mexico), where Lucas is an adjunct professor.

July 6

We write to the SVP ethics committee requesting an investigation.

The SVP is the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the professional body to which the great majority of vertebrate paleontologists belong.

July 10

Second letter to Ashman; no response.

July 22

Our first letter to the Attorney General of New Mexico.

We never received any reply to this letter or to its follow-up. Bill Parker's similar letter, though, did receive a response as described below.

July 24

Our initial letter to the state Governor.

The Governor is Ashman's immediate superior, and therefore the next court of appeal given Ashman's wholly unsatisfactory response.

August 1

Parker writes to the Governor along similar lines to the group letter.

August 2

Parker writes to the Attorney General along similar lines to the group letter.

August 9

Geissman's initial, encouraging, response.

August 10

Response from the Governor's Chief of Staff, James Jimenez, saying Ashman has been requested to respond.

September 12

Response from Attorney General's office to Bill Parker.

This response did not at all address our concerns or answer our questions.

October 1

Martz emailed a follow-up to Geissman.

Geissman's dismissive response to email.

October 2

Email from Blaire Van Valkenburgh, suggesting that an investigation of the kind we requested might be outside the ethics committee mandate.

Blaire Van Valkenburgh is chair of the SVP ethics committee. The committee mostly deals with issues such as unauthorized collection of vertebrae fossils and improper curation, as outlined on its web page http://www.vertpaleo.org/society/ethicscommittee.cfm

October 3

Martz's response to Geissman's email.

Geissman's third response, also evasive and unsatisfactory.

October 4

Ashman's second letter to us, sent in response to Jimenez's request.

October 11

Parker's second letter to the Attorney General. No reply

Parker writes to Jimenez

See below under "Our second letter to the Governor's office"

October 25

Our second letter to the Attorney General; no reply.

Our second letter to the Governor's office.

Our mistake: we thought that Ashman had still not replied to us, his letter of October 10 having been misplaced. We asked the Governor's office to intervene and request a response from Ashman, not knowing that he had already sent a response after the first time we contacted the Governor's office.

October 26

Second email from Blaire Van Valkenburgh, saying that the committee has decided to investigate after all, and is working on a statement concerning plagiarism for the SVP web-site.

As of this writing (March 6, 2008) this investigation has not reached a conclusion.

November 12

Letter to Gary Smith at UNM.

Since we felt that Geissman's initially encouraging response had faded away, we hoped another UNM faculty member would take the initiative.

November 15

Third letter to Ashman, copied to Jimenez.

November 16

Ashman's third and final letter to us.

This very short letter stated that Jimenez, the NMMNHS executive committee and he had reviewed our allegations and "found them to be without merit" but as before gave no detail.

November 19

Letters sent to three members of NMMNHS committee (Friedman, Gerity, McMillan); no responses.

December 10

Our final letter to Ashman, copied to Jimenez; no response.

December 21

Gary Smith's emailed reply to our letter stated only that he had asked Geissman to explore our allegations, which of course we had long ago asked him to do.

We have not subsequently heard from Geissman, nor anyone else at NMU.


January 30

Dalton's (2008) article describing "Aetogate" is published at Nature.

The article is at http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080130/full/451510a.html

January 30-present

Dalton's article, and the issues that it raises, are discussed in many blogs and other online venues, including the VRTPALEO mailing list (the official mailing list of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology).

We are keeping track of the online coverage at http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/nm/coverage.html

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an online archive of postings to the VRTPALEO list.

February 3

Fleck's (2008a) article about the Parker case is the front-page story in the Albuquerque Journal.

The article is available at http://www.abqjournal.com/news/metro/282358metro02-03-08.htm

February 8

Fleck's (2008b) follow-up article about the Parker case appears, also on the front page, in the Albuquerque Journal.

The article is available at http://www.abqjournal.com/news/state/283786nm02-08-08.htm The Journal has continued to cover the story well, with futher editorials, (and another), cartoons and articles (and another.)

February 18

Norman Silberling, a long-time Lucas collaborator chosen by the DCA to act as one of its "outside guest experts" in its new review of the case, sends Stuart Ashman a letter, three days before the review takes place, explaining in detail how he intends to find in Lucas's favour.

Lucas and Silberling have together co-authored three papers and two abstracts. In dedicating a 2007 volume to Silberling, Lucas described him as "a fine gentleman and a gentle soul [...] one the most valuable field collaborators of my career". Interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal, Silberling argued that "This was in no way a jury trial, so there's no way friends of Spencer and people who have been with him shouldn't comment".

February 21

The DCA hold a behind-closed-doors review of the allegations. None of those whose complaints were being evaluated were invited to attend, nor to contribute documentation, nor indeed even informed that the inquiry was taking place. Apart from Silberling, the other outside guest expert Orin Anderson. The report on this inquiry is to be published by March 3.

Lucas and Anderson have together co-authored 39 papers and 26 abstracts. Lucas dedicated a 2003 volume to Anderson. The new inquiry is described in more detail.

March 3

We email Geissman to ask why he recommended Norman Silberling, a known Lucas collaborator, to act as an independent reviewer in the DCA's new inquiry. Geissman replies that, although he knew of Lucas's having dedicated a volume to Silberling, he had no other information about Silberling, and had "absolutely no reason to expect anything less than professional objectivity from him, in ALL matters."

March 4

The findings of the inquiry are made public; we find out by reading the Albuquerque Journal. To no-one's surprise, given the composition of the review panel, the NMMNHS is pronounced innocent.

The document containing the findings of the inquiry consists of two parts: the first 23 pages are Lucas's defense against the allegations; the remaining 16 pages are a record of the review, the panel of which agreed to include Lucas's report as part of its record. Many statements made in Lucas's defense are false.

March 7

Bill Parker responds with a public rebuttal to Lucas's defense demonstrating that this report was incorrect in several important respects.

March 10

Jeff Martz responds with a public rebuttal to those parts of Lucas's defense pertaining to Rioarribasuchus.

March 17

Mike Taylor writes to the NMMNHS requesting a copy of its Institutional Code of Ethics.

Since the NMMNHS is an accredited museum it must abide by the rules of the American Association of Museums, which requires all accredited museums to have "a formally approved, separate and distinct institutional code of ethics".

March 25

We send a formal letter rejecting the findings of the DCA's inquiry. This is accompanied by a detailed rebuttal.

May 23

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's ethics committee releases its findings regarding the plagiarism and claim-jumping allegations, in the form of two PDFs: SVP Executive Committee Response [local copy] and Professional Conduct: Best Practices [local copy]

June 1

We make a final statement in response to the SVP findings.


Dalton, Rex. 30 January 2008. Fossil reptiles mired in controversy. Nature 451: 510. doi:10.1038/451510a

Fleck, John. 2008a. Museum boss faces ethics charge. Albuquerque Journal, Sunday, February 3, 2008.

Fleck, John. 2008b. Museum Ethics Spat May Get New Review. Albuquerque Journal, Friday, February 8, 2008.

Heckert, A. B. and S. G. Lucas. 2000. Taxonomy, phylogeny, biostratigraphy, biochronology, paleobiogeography, and evolution of the Late Triassic Aetosauria (Archosauria: Crurotarsi). Zentralblatt fur Geologie und Paläontologie, Teil I, Heft 11-12:1539-1587.

Heckert, A. B., Hunt, A. P. and Lucas, S. G. 1996. Redescription of Redondasuchus reseri, a late Triassic aetosaur (Reptilia: Archosauria) from New Mexico (U.S.A.) and the biochronology and phylogeny of aetosaurs. Geobios 29: 619-632.

Heckert, A. B., Lucas, S. G. Sullivan, R. M., Hunt, A. P. & Spielmann, J. A. 2005a. The vertebrate fauna of the Upper Triassic (Revueltian: early-mid Norian) Painted Desert Member (Petrified Forest Formation: Chinle Group) in the Chama Basin, northern New Mexico. New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, 302-318.

Heckert, A B., Lucas, S. G. and Hunt, A. P. 2005b. Triassic vertebrate fossils in Arizona. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 29, 16-44.

Hunt, A. P. & Lucas, S. G. 1991. A new aetosaur from the Redonda Formation (Late Triassic: Middle Norian of east-central New Mexico, USA). Neues Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Paläontologie, Monatshefte 1991, 728-736.

Lucas, S. G., Hunt, A. P. & Spielmann, J. A. 2006. Rioarribasuchus, a new name for an aetosaur from the Upper Triassic of north-central New Mexico. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 37, 581-582.

Lucas, S. G., Zeigler, K. E., Heckert, A. B. & Hunt, A. P. 2005. Review of Upper Triassic stratigraphy and biostratigraphy in the Chama Basin, northern New Mexico. New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, 170-181.

Martz, J. W. 2002. The morphology and ontogeny of Typothorax coccinarum (Archosauria Stagonolepididae) from the Upper Triassic of the American Southwest. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX).

Parker, W. G. 2003a. Description of a new specimen of Desmatosuchus haplocerus from the Late Triassic of Northern Arizona. Unpublished MS thesis. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. 315 pp.

Parker, W. G. 2003b. Revised taxonomy of the Late Triassic aetosaur Desmatosuchus (Archosauria: Crurotarsi) from the southwestern United States. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23(3 suppl.):85A.

Parker, W. G. 2005. Faunal review of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of Arizona. Mesa Southwest Museum Bulletin 11:34-54.

Parker, W. G. 2006. The stratigraphic distribution of major fossil localities in Petrified Forest National Park. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 62:46-61.

Parker, W. G. 2007. Reassessment of the aetosaur 'Desmatosuchus' chamaensis with a reanalysis of the phylogeny of the Aetosauria (Archosauria: Pseudosuchia). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. DOI:10.1017/S1477201906001994. Published early on line, January 2, 2007.

Parker, W. G., and R. B. Irmis. 2005. Advances in Late Triassic vertebrate paleontology based on new material from Petrified Forest National Park. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 2:45-58.

Spielmann, J. A., Hunt, A. P., Lucas, S. G. & Heckert, A. B. 2006. Revision of Redondasuchus (Archosauria: Aetosauria) from the Upper Triassic Redonda Formation, New Mexico, with description of a new species. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 37, 583-587.

Stocker, M., Parker, W. G., Irmis, R. and Shuman, J. 2004. New discoveries from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation as the result of the ongoing paleontological inventory of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology 24(3 suppl.):118A.

Zeigler, K. E., Heckert, A. B. & Lucas, S. G. 2003. A new species of Desmatosuchus (Archosauria: Aetosauria) from the Upper Triassic of the Chama Basin, north-central New Mexico. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 21, 215-219.