Aetogate: Parker's response to Spencer Lucas

Fri Mar 7 01:17:06 GMT 2008


Accusations made by Dr. Lucas

I would like to address several accusations against me by Dr. Lucas. First, I am accused of not clearly informing museum staff of the intent of my research collections visit (a visit which I supposedly never made). Second, he claims I inappropriately acquired photographs of this material for my publication. Finally, I apparently published on material that was being actively studied and without permission. Lucas's report provides a point by point commentary of a letter that I sent to the Department of Cultural Affairs on June 26, 2007, expressing concerns that Dr. Lucas and colleagues had inappropriately pre-empted my work. Although I feel that much of the commentary provided by Dr. Lucas is deliberately misleading, I will only focus here on the points which represent clear falsehoods given by Dr. Lucas in support of his defense and counter-accusations. It should also be pointed out that although I asked the Department of Cultural Affairs (who oversees the museum) for a finding of wrongdoing, the final report was issued by the museum (the ex-director, acting director, and collections manager of which were the subject of my concerns) rather than the DCA.

  1. Dr. Lucas claims that I never accessed the NMMNHS collections on April 9, 2003, stating that there is no record of my visit in 2003.

In fact I visited the museum collections on April 9, 2003 along with a colleague, Mr. Randall Irmis. Prior to this visit I had sent an e-mail (dated March 14, 2003) [screenshot] to Dr. Andrew Heckert (collections manager) and Ms. Kate Zeigler (museum associate) requesting permission to visit the collections and specifically asking Zeigler if I could examine the Desmatosuchus chamaensis material. I felt that this was appropriate as Zeigler was the lead researcher on the initial paper which described and illustrated the material (Zeigler et al. 2003). I was interested in the material because my ongoing graduate research included a revision of the genus Desmatosuchus; during my 2002 visit I had not been allowed to view these specimens as they were under study and had not yet been published. On April 9, 2003 I was allowed to access and study the material and took notes and photographed the specimens (I have the notes and photos with digital date stamps to confirm this). During this visit I discussed with Zeigler my hypothesis that the material did not belong to Desmatosuchus but instead was more closely related to an aetosaur named Paratypothorax. I am not sure why the museum has no record of this visit.

  1. Dr. Lucas claims that I was not allowed to photograph the material and that I acquired the photographs inappropriately. He also suggests that Kate Zeigler may have provided me with these images after I asked her for photographs of some of the specimens and Dr. Lucas denied this request claiming that the specimens were under study.

In fact Randall Irmis and I were allowed to photograph the material during our 2003 visit with the complete knowledge and consent of museum staff. Both Irmis and I have photos of the material date stamped April 9, 2003, from our respective cameras. Irmis was also allowed to photograph the material during a subsequent visit in June of the same year.

A second paper on the material, by Heckert, Zeigler, and Lucas, was published in the fall of 2003, in which they asserted the referral of the original and some new material to Desmatosuchus, with a discussion on why it was not assignable to Paratypothorax. It was after this second paper that I decided to publish my hypothesis regarding the material, namely that it was closer to Paratypothorax and represented a new genus. I also included a discussion of this in my Masters Thesis which was completed in December, 2003. Finding that my photos were not all of publication quality I contacted Kate Zeigler (who I had told of my in-progress manuscript) in March of 2005 (not late 2004 as Lucas states) asking if she could provide me with additional photographs of some of the material. The e-mail that I received in reply on April 1, 2005 [screenshot] differs significantly in content from what is stated by Dr. Lucas in his report. On page 12 Dr. Lucas states that he "refused his permission on the grounds that the material was still under study". In fact in her e-mail Zeigler informed me that Dr. Lucas "nixed my photo-ing D. chamaensis for you. Though you are apparently still welcome to come and photo them yourself (I don't understand the distinction between you and me taking the photos, but whatever)." Subsequently I was unable to travel to New Mexico and instead requested copies of existing photographs from colleagues (including Irmis) who had photographed the material with permission in 2003 and 2004. At no time was I under the impression (nor was I told) that I could not obtain or use photos of the material, especially as I was "welcome to come and photograph them" myself.

Dr. Lucas is also incorrect when he suggests that I was provided photos of the material by Jeff Martz. Martz graciously supplied me with photos of Texas Tech University and European material that was under study by him for my manuscript. Martz had only visited the NMMNHS collections once and was denied access to all specimens except for a Paratypothorax specimen that was on loan to the museum from Petrified Forest National Park.

  1. Dr. Lucas repeatedly states that these fossils were being actively studied and that I published on the material without permission.

Almost all of the NMMNHS material included in my 2007 paper had been described and figured in papers by Zeigler et al. (2003 [imprint 2002]) and Heckert et al. (2003). In his commentary Dr. Lucas includes a table listing 11 specimens that I included in my paper that he claims were not previously published. One of these specimens (33101) was figured by Heckert et al. (2003:fig. 8G). Three of these specimens (32794, 37300, 37348) were not figured in either NMMNHS paper but were described in the text by Heckert et al. (2003). Two of these unpublished "specimens" (36502, 39250) that I supposedly included are simply catalog numbers that were erroneously transposed by Heckert et al. (2003) (correctly 36052 and 39520), thus listed twice by Dr. Lucas, and according to his list 36052 and 39520 were figured by Heckert et al. (2003). I admit that five specimens included in my paper were not described in either NMMNS paper, however these specimens have no bearing on the taxonomic question of the material and were included for the sake of completeness. I noted that they had not been included in the NMMNHS papers in a summary table in my 2007 paper. Dr. Lucas's claim that three of these specimens were catalogued after my last visit is untrue as according to his own report (pp. 16-17) they were catalogued on 7/31/2002 and 1/31/2003, whereas my last visit was on 4/9/2003.

Regarding Dr. Lucas's claim that the fossils were actively being studied, these specimens had been discussed in detail in two papers published by NMMNHS staff in 2003. There is no evidence, in the form of subsequent publications, that the material has been studied by the NMMNHS team since then: the subsequent paper on this material by Lucas et al. (2006) simply provided a new genus name and did not provide any further description of the previously described material or of any new material. The figure was recycled from Zeigler et al. (2003 [imprint 2002]) and Heckert et al. (2003). When is it appropriate for other scientists to test hypotheses established for this material by the original researchers? Apparently never, according to Dr. Lucas. In fact, standard practice in vertebrate palaeontology is that once a specimen has been described and figured in a published work, others are free to publish on it. The recent inquiry's panel would have known this had it included a vertebrate paleontologist.

Finally Dr. Lucas implies that I did not have permission to publish on the material. In fact during my 2003 visit Dr. Lucas told me that "we don't care if you provide a new name, but you should name it after Andy (Heckert), Andysuchus, no wait Andy-suckus." Although I did not use his suggestion for a name I considered this explicit permission to proceed with the publication of my hypothesis. Randall Irmis was present and can confirm this conversation.

Dr. Lucas's defense

I would also like to address the two main points on which it appears Dr. Lucas relies for his defense. First, that he and his colleagues (Dr. Adrian Hunt and Mr. Justin Speilmann) claim they were unaware that I was planning on providing a new name for an aetosaur species assigned by Zeigler, Heckert, and Lucas in 2002 to the genus Desmatosuchus. Second, that the establishment of their new genus, Rioarribasuchus, was based on their own independent determination of the uniqueness of the material.

  1. Dr. Lucas claims that he, NMMNS staff, his co-authors, the manuscript reviewers and a bulletin editor were unaware of my intent to publish a new genus name for the material and that I did not properly indicate my intentions leading up to the publication of my 2007 paper.

In fact I indicated my intention six times in the scientific literature including my Masters Thesis (2003 -- where I first provided the name Heliocanthus for the material), two published abstracts (2003, 2004), and three regular articles (2005, 2005, 2006). One of the 2005 papers was an invited paper (co-authored with Randall Irmis) requested by Drs. Heckert and Lucas for a NMMNHS volume that they were editing. In addition both of these gentlemen also served as the peer-reviewers for this article. The submitted version of this paper included discussion of my hypothesis regarding the taxonomy of "D." chamaensis and stated that Parker (2003) had demonstrated that this species was not referable to Desmatosuchus and instead "represents a distinct genus (Parker, in prep)." In Dr. Lucas's review he commented that "Parker 20003 [sic] only 'demonstrates' that he is a taxonomic splitter." Note that Lucas's comment in the review explicitly cites my (2003) thesis, indicating that he had read this and therefore knew not only of my intention to publish a new name for the species but also the particular name (Heliocanthus) that I had chosen. Furthermore in the final printed version, the (in prep) citation was removed without our consent (we never received pre-press proofs) presumably by or at the request of the editors. Ironically, according to Dr. Lucas's commentary on my allegations (page 9, comment #20), this is one of the preferred methods to inform colleagues that one intends to provide a new name.

Dr. Lucas claims (p. 4) that because of "the lack of any of the authors of Lucas et al. (2006) having a copy of Parker's thesis [...] there was no way for any of the NMMNH staff involved to have known Parker's intention to publish his name". This is not a valid excuse. Researchers should have a command of the relevant literature surrounding the specimens they are writing on. Lucas reviewed Parker and Irmis (2005) where my hypothesis was stated and my thesis was clearly cited as reference for this. Therefore it was up to him to obtain a copy (easy through interlibrary loan) to research what I had written (i.e, that I was naming the material Heliocanthus). His citation and criticism of that thesis in his review indicates that in fact he had read and understood the relevant part of the thesis.

My 2006 paper was published in a symposium volume in May of that year. In this manuscript I explicitly cited my in-press manuscript. At the request of Dr. Lucas, I sent copies of this volume back from the symposium with one of his students for both him and Dr. Adrian Hunt. Note that Dr. Lucas (p. 9) states that the Rioarribasuchus paper was written in July of that same year, i.e. two months after they received the requested copies of the symposium volume containing my paper.

Dr. Lucas also claims that the reviewers of the Lucas et al. (2006) paper and the main editor of the volume were not aware of my intent to provide a new name. However, none of these workers (Mr. Larry Rinehart, Dr. Robert Sullivan, Dr. Jerry Harris) are aetosaur specialists and do not appear to have a command of the relevant literature on these specimens and thus probably were not the best choice to provide peer-review. Dr. Lucas questioned why he, Dr. Hunt, or Dr. Heckert were not reviewers of my 2007 paper as they have published extensively on aetosaurs, suggesting that if they had performed this role they would have been aware of the paper. It was not up to me which reviewers were employed by the Journal of Systematic Paleontology: I did not ask for any potential reviewers to be omitted, and JSP editor Andrew Smith has confirmed in email to Mickey Rowe (March 5, 2008) that he selected the two reviewers on the basis of their geographical location and publication record. Conversely, I would ask why the 2006 paper by Dr. Lucas and colleagues was not sent for review to an aetosaur worker such as Dr. Jeff Martz or Dr. Julia Desojo, both of whom were aware of my in-press paper and could have averted this issue. Contrary to my situation, as editor of the volume to which his paper was submitted Dr. Lucas had total control over who reviewed his manuscript.

Despite his claims to the contrary Dr. Heckert was aware of my paper in preparation and its content, as we discussed it on a 2005 SVP field trip. During this trip, Dr. Heckert also viewed some material I referred to the taxon and upon noting the specimen card which read Heliocanthus asked "so that is what you are going to name it?" to which I replied yes. I also informed him when the paper was in press during a 2006 symposium. By this time he was no longer at the NMMNH but was still collaborating with Dr. Lucas and colleagues. I also shared this information with Kate Zeigler when she was still a museum associate. In conclusion, it is clear that at least three members of the NMMNHS team (Lucas, Heckert and Zeigler) were aware of my intention to publish a new genus name for this species.

  1. In a January 2007 phone conversation with me, Dr. Lucas claimed that the naming on Rioarribasuchus was based on his own independent research. He has also claimed this twice in articles in the Albuquerque Journal and in his commentary stated that Dr. Hunt and Mr. Speilmann convinced him of the uniqueness of this taxon.

The truth lies in the literature history of the specimens, including a review of a 2005 manuscript by Randall Irmis and myself in which Lucas refers to me as a "taxonomic splitter" and a comment made in his own report (p. 7). It states that "as for disagreement with Parker's assessment that Desmatosuchus belonged to a new genus, at the time Lucas et al. continued to believe the material to represent Desmatosuchus." This comment is in regard to two papers published in 2005 by Lucas and colleagues (Heckert et al., 2005a, b), the former of which appeared in the same volume as my paper with Randall Irmis. This demonstrates that although they were aware of my hypothesis they explicitly disagreed with me that the material was referable to a new genus. They can not claim their findings to be independent.

Based on Dr. Lucas's "Andy-suckus" comment to me on April 9, 2003, my publication record, his publication record, and his review (and subsequent citation) of Parker and Irmis (2005) and his citation of Parker (2003) in his review of that paper, I find it impossible to believe that he came to this conclusion independently. This is what I asked to Department of Cultural Affairs to determine and instead they concluded that there was no wrongdoing because I purportedly did not make my research goals clear, did not have explicit permission to publish on the material, and inappropriately acquired photographs of the material. I have presented evidence which demonstrates that all of these claims are unfounded; but even if they were true, these charges still would not constitute evidence that Dr. Lucas and colleagues independently came to the same conclusion.

Finally, Dr. Lucas has asked why I did not explicitly inform him of my in-press manuscript. As I wrote to the DCA, in 2004, I made a discovery of skeletons of an animal named Revueltosaurus callenderi. This animal had previously been described as an early dinosaur by Dr. Hunt in 1989 and in subsequent publications, many authored with Dr. Lucas and other NMMNHS staff. My 2004 discovery showed that Revueltosaurus was not a dinosaur but rather a form of early crocodile relative. I prepared a paper with colleagues and in March 2005, shortly before it was published in May 2005, gave a presentation on my findings at a paleontology meeting in Utah that was attended by Drs. Lucas and Hunt. When I spoke with them after my talk they stated that they agreed with me and subsequently in April of 2005 Drs. Hunt and Lucas published an abstract for a New Mexico Geological Society meeting claiming independent discovery that Revueltosaurus was a crocodilian rather than a dinosaur. This coincidence seemed suspicious to me and therefore affected my willingness to provide such information in the future.

These crucial inaccuracies in Dr. Lucas's account have misled the Department of Cultural Affairs, his supporters including Drs. Silberling and Anderson, and the vertebrate paleontology community. It is now up to Dr. Lucas as well as Dr. Hunt, and Mr. Speilmann (I am assuming that they are part of the "us", and "we" referred to repeatedly in Lucas's written response) to explain why, if they are innocent of any wrongdoing, they provided this erroneous information. Furthermore Mr. Ashman and the Department of Cultural Affairs need to explain why they did not allow testimony by Dr. Martz and myself at the inquiry to properly defend ourselves from such false information and personal attacks (including the letter by Norman Silberling).