This is intended as something like a capstone to the whole Greg Paul topic. But beyond the recent words of Greg Paul, there is the greater issue of artist branding and what exactly is intellectual property or what is artistic license.

The "No GSP" logo. Free for public use.

I see an issue here which has barely been talked about on ArtEvolved (where many aspects and current issues in Paleo-art, including Greg Paul's explosive comments) have been extensively debated and discussed. While chatting with fellow artist and ArtEvolved member Raven Amos on DeviantArt, I remembered an idea that had been on my mind ever since the Greg Paul copyright debate started on the Dinosaur Mailing List. Create a logo! It's so simple yet so seemingly elusive of a concept to paleoartists. If Greg Paul had put a recognizable logo on all his art, plagiarism of his work would not be as common a problem as he claims it is (though none of us really know how prevalent plagiarism of GSP is, since we have yet to actually see it). You see, artists with a logo get taken more seriously, and don't have to fall back on weak excuses like "my pose is a brand in itself" the way Greg Paul has had to do.

Notably, something that has stuck out like a sore thumb is the relative backwardness of most of the artists in paleoart. I'm not saying this as an insult to anyone - it's simply a disturbing fact. In this age when everyone is branding their work and inventing a logo or a trademark symbol to make it unique, most paleoartists are not doing this. Not only do they not put a logo on their art, they often also don't have one simply for promoting their site. And as a result, we are simply dependent on looking at the poses and arrangement of elements in paintings to identify fraud or ripoffs.


Poses breed Posers

Greg Paul's most incendiary demand is that people not even use a similar pose to the ones he uses when making skeletal drawings. The situation is literally so dismal that Greg Paul, a 30-year veteran of the profession, has resorted to claiming that his poses alone are a brand - this is at best an attempt at branding born out of sheer desperation, far too little and far too late. Poses can be used by others if they're simply based on natural animal movements. The thing is, Greg Paul would probably not be resorting to claiming ownership over a mere pose (and thereby antagonozing most of his colleagues) if he had JUST invented a logo and used it for the past 30 years - though that's assuming that people actually have ripped off his skeletals outright. As I've pointed out before, none of us really know how much of Greg Paul's work has actually been plagiarized for profit by others, as he hasn't actually gone into details. Though I can imagine it might be more pervasive that most of us know, since he has never used a logo on his art.

All the posers that could be out there copying Greg's work probably would not have gone as far as they did if he had a recognizable and publicly visible brand, or for that matter, a website, since the early days of the internet. Instead, from 1995 to 2009 he didn't even have a website, and most lay dinosaur fans and amateur artists only knew him as an obscure and reclusive artist whose dynamic illustrations made some waves back in the 1980s and rarely appear in some dinosaur books by other authors every now and then. Even his own internet-age books, like Dinosaurs of the Air and the Princeton Field Guide, were very poorly promoted online and his website says barely anything about them. No matter how well you know the industry, it's mostly people outside the industry that you have to worry about underbidding you and ripping you off - it's them you need to reach and get to respect you and take you seriously so that plagiarism does not happen. They are the ones who don't know you or respect your brand - because lets face it, these days unless you have a consistent logo for any length of time, you really don't have a brand.

And no, a running pose, a signature, or a silhouette of a nude woman skipping on her tiptoes does not count as a logo (though it could be one if it were modified with some word art instead of being just a scientific scale figure). The logo could even be a tiny thing in white, on top of the blacked-out portions of his more incomplete skeletals. Greg Paul actually does have a logo of sorts, a blacklined version of his charging Triceratops horridus pair from Paul (1991), which appears on his website's header and also on his letterheads. But this never appears on his drawings or paintings, either as an actual stamp or as a digitally added logo.

Greg Paul's site header. Posted here for informational purposes only. Note the Triceratops pair logo at left. This unique logo shockingly does not appear on a single Greg Paul drawing or painting.

This is truly a bad situation for anyone who wants to sell his or her art. A single, fixed logo or mark is far more recognizable than an artistic style. While Greg Paul is lambasting his critics for supposedly not properly respecting the Occult Alchemy of Paleo-Illustration, he might as well put some arcane Master's Mark on his work that will at least brand it and make it recognizable to the uninitiated on the basis of more than just the aesthetic style.

Even a third-rate imitator like Josef Moravec, who is hardly an original artist (and frankly a person I have very little regard for, as he simply rips off the exact scenes of Knight and Burian from 50 years ago, including all their outdated inaccuracies) nevertheless has a logo which he puts on every image of a painting on his website. The entire site oozes with branding and copyright warnings! So you'll have a pretty hard time getting away with stealing or plagiarizing his images, even though he practically makes his living stealing from Knight and Burian, who painted for a pittance in a time when scientific artists' intellectual property rights (and suing over them) were a non-existent issue. Hey, at least Moravec has business acumen, unlike most real paleoartists today, who sadly are stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to online branding and self-promotion. Some artists actually seem to expect that their very style should be sufficient as a trademark in and of itself! This is beyond naive in today's world. And yet shockingly, this lot complains of fraud.

Woolly mammoths by Josef Moravec (posted for informational purposes only). Notice Moravec's trilobite logo, trademarked corporate brand, and copyright. While this may be total overkill for an image that was copied almost verbatim from a much older Zdnek Burian painting, it's still a prime example of a painter who actually has a logo and a brand.

Zdnek Burian's original woolly mammoths, circa 1950s. Note the matriarch's identical tusk shape, the nearby baby, and the large male off to the left rearground - the poses and locations are almost identical! No logos or recognizable branding for paleoartists in those days - intellectual property wasn't even a relevant issue for them in the early 20th century. As a result they have been the victims of numerous widely reproduced knock-offs and art frauds for decades, of which Moravec is only the recent tip of the iceberg.


Now while earth-tinged agile dinosaurs with large flat lateral surfaces, horizontal stripes, highly angular skin folds, or dappled-scale pencil drawings on coquille board may be "signature" identifiers of a Greg Paul, the reality is that NO artist should be without a logo. We have stayed backward in the sense that we have not moved beyond the Renaissance-era thinking that your paintings and your style are your only calling card. Back then, a master would have several students learn under him, to complete his paintings in his style as per his directions. Their styles would imitate the master though once on their own they would inevitably sign with their own name. But there was no copyright, no logo, no trademarks. Now the world has changed, and you need to brand with a logo. Relying only on poses or styles as a brand is an open invitation to posers who won't think twice about not asking your permission to copy an entire life scene outright from the exact same angles, never mind just using a similar pose for a simple skeletal profile drawing. A unique human scale figure is not enough, there are a million of them and barely anyone remembers the difference, since in most cases it's just another generic human. YOU NEED A LOGO.


But your majesty, a logo can still be copied, plagiarized, or cut out altogether - how does it solve anything?

It solves the problem of having nothing but a signature to identify your work - branding isn't a guarantee against fraud, but it DOES make your name and work more recognizable in non-scientific or artistic circles. After all, do you really want only paleoartists and art collectors to know what name goes with the painting? Or would you rather put a recognizable mark on it that at least can get associated symbolically with your style and work in the minds of the public? The human mind remembers images better than fonts, it's symbols that rule the world of marketing, and some say, even rule the world.

Now I'm not saying that a brand or a logo will prevent every attempt to reproduce or imitate an artist's work without permission. It's inevitable that someone, in some foreign country somewhere, will post your work on some website or blog without your permission. But what a logo (and an accompanying copyright notice) can do is make it public knowledge that you DO have exclusive ownership of your art and are willing to admit ti to the world - and even if someone reposts it on the internet without your permission, the next circle of poeple who see it on that person's site may be inclined to ask your permission if they see the logo and the copyright, and be less likely to simply copy it all over the web. People instinctively respect or attribute and aura of authority to any official-looking seal or logo more than just a cheaply photoshopped copyright notice in Times font. It's practically hard-wired in our brains. Now the downside it you don't want to completely obscure or deface your own art with a big centrally placed watermark or logo - it may deter outright copying, but it also makes your work less attractive publicly to paying customers or even those interested in using it for non-commercial purposes with permission.

Putting the logo in a corner or somewhere that it does not obviously mar the main image is more visually attractive to the viewer - much like how ancient Chinese painters stamped their red signature seal in the corner (I never figured out why some of those paintings feature multiple seals though... unless multiple artists produced them). However this is more prone to cropping fraud - the thief will simply digitally crop the image to remove the logo. But if someone removes the logo and the copyright by airbrushing them out or by simply cropping the image, you can potentially pursue legal action since they deliberately removed your proof of ownership (this only is feasible if you can document that you have put the logo on ALL your work since you started using it). If your work appears somewhere without your logo, without your permission, this can be additional proof in your favor. Even better is sticking logos in unique places away from the edges where they are not very big but can't be easily removed or cropped without noticeably altering the appearance of your drawing or painting - for example, on a rock or a tree, or even in an empty dinosaur nest or a footprint. Of course for this your logo must be simple, bold, and easily recognizable from a distance - something that Greg Paul's fine-lined charging Triceratops pair isn't really so good at.

Expecting to brand a style alone is a bit of a pipe dream unless it is so unique and so successful that nobody can reproduce it without actually attributing their forgery to you instead of themselves. However, a style combined with a recognizable logo, now that's something more solid. M.C. Escher even converted his initials into a logo, which went on every print he ever made. He was far ahead of his time when it came to branding his work.

M.C. Escher, Man with Cuboid. Wood engraving, 1958. Notice the distinctive "MCE" logo. A lot more recognizable and brandable than a human silhouette or a cursive signature, and what's more, it appears in identical form on practically all of Escher's work.

So I've got a logo now. Do you?
 My new, simple, and oddly enough, non-paleo Paleo King logo (I don't plan to limit myself just to paleo-art - and besides, we can't all use images of fossil hammers, recycled JP T. rex skull motifs or raptor claws). Posted for informational purposes only.

My advice to all fellow artists is currently (and it may change in the future) this: Regardless of what part of the world you live in, or what the copyright laws are in your country, invent a logo for yourself (it doesn't even have to be very fancy or even paleo-related) and put it somewhere on all your subsequent work. It's not that hard, acts as a deterrent (at least in countries with strong copyright laws) and can save you a lot of hassle if someone actually doesn't take the hint and rips off your work in any capacity. I don't claim to be a legal expert, but I do see value in branding your work, and by that I mean really branding it, with a unique, repeatably identical, and preferably simple logo no other artist is using, not merely a natural animal pose that is a common scientific convention repeated in the literature for many different animals. We may blast Greg Paul now for his emotional reactions to his situation, but a lot of us are just as unprepared, lacking any logo or real branding, and thus potentially in danger of falling into the same trap.
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The new look - what are your thoughts?

Posted by Nima On Thursday, May 19, 2011 1 comments

This is pretty off-topic but short. As most of you probably noticed, I have changed the look of this blog pretty recently. I was getting tired of the old basic look and some people were claiming that the contrast of the colors hurt their eyes, so I went for something a bit more interesting and less intense on the eyes. It's not really paleo-related, but to get that you pretty much have to make a custom template which I unfortunately don't have time for now.

So, paleo-fans, what do you think? Do you like the new look of this blog better, prefer the old look, or think there's an even better template I should use?

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Also, for those of you doing paleo-art, feel free to copy and paste this logo proudly on your site or your art if you're not using GSP as a reference:


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The Strange Journey of David Peters

Posted by Nima On Saturday, May 14, 2011 29 comments


Well some of you might already know this, but David Peters is back!

That's right, the paleoartist whose pterosaur faux-pas and downright bizarre illustrations backfired on him and made him a paleo-pariah had returned. Now he has a new and much more detailed website, and it seems he's at it again.You may remember a few years ago that Peters got a huge pile of flak from researchers in the field for his downright bizarre pterosaur illustrations and his theories on their evolution. Just looking at the things makes your eyes hurt.

 Drawing of Pterodactylus (yes, I said Pterodactylus, NOT Pteranodon) based on David Peters' theories. Actual drawing by Cevdet Koseman and John Conway, not Peters.

Actual David Peters skeletal drawing of Pterodactylus. Yes, he actually believes it had a crest, all those crazy neck wattles, and a much longer tail than usually depicted. 
I've NEVER seen evidence of such a tail in Pterodactylus fossils.

Peters became the target of much criticism and mockery from the field (not all of it undeserved, I might add) for his downright weird pterosaur illustrations and equally weird theories on their origins and anatomy. The field sees him as more or less of a crank. And after years of almost no internet activity and a dead web site, he's BACK! And he's causing a bit of a stir in the paleo-community. But first, who is David Peters?


Some brief background

Those who already are familiar with his history can skip this paragraph. David Peters is a commercial/advertising artist who got involved in paleo-art back in the 90s, doing paintings for a few dinosaur books and even authoring his own book on evolution, From The Beginning. It's a very interesting and beautifully illustrated book, Peters certainly has tons of talent and knowledge of reptile and mammal evolution.

 Two T. rex attack Quetzalcoatlus by David Peters. 
Great stuff, though a tree-climbing Quetz looks a bit weird.

His dinosaur paintings are also pretty impressive and accurate, a lot like Greg Paul's work. In fact, Peters may well have become the next Greg Paul if he hadn't biffed it on the pterosaurs.


So what happened with those pterosaurs anyway?

David Peters, around 2000 or so, began theorizing about Pterosaurs in detail. His first contention (shown on this web page) was that the traditional bat-winged model of pterosaur wings was incorrect and that they were actually free-legged and some could even run bipedally on the ground. This is actually something I tend to agree with, as the notion of bat-like wings extending all the way to the knees or ankles looks to me to be based entirely on squished fossils with displaced and torn wing membranes. However, things quickly went downhill from there...

Peters then postulated that pterosaurs were not archosaurs, but prolacertiformes - in other words, that they were not cousins of dinosaurs, as most palontologists accept, but actually more closely related to lizards. While this is the less popular of the two theories, Peters emphatically contends that pterosaurs were lizards, and that anyone who disagrees just isn't ready to open up to the facts (keep in mind Peters doesn't have a degree in any paleo-related field - not that this discredits him, but he's up against some pretty well-established PhDs). However, the majority of pterosaur researchers, including Dr. David Unwin, Dr. Mark Witton, Dr. David Hone, and Mike Habib, agree on an archosaurian origin for pterosaurs, not a lizard-like one. My verdict on the lizard theory: FAIL! Peters even draws pterosaur skulls in such a way as to make them LOOK more lizard-like than they actually are, and also distorts the proportions of several bones and joints, not to mention adding all the wacky crests, wattles, artificially long pterodactyloid tails and imaginary skin appendages which may just be displaced soft tissue, impressions of intestines and the like. He also never adequately addresses the clearly archosaurian (and on top of that, ornithodiran) ankle joints of pterosaurs.


So why the heck this guy so unpopular?

There are several reasons. First, he's generally had an abrasive way of answering his critics. Second, he hounded and trolled researchers of the opposing archosaur-origin view, like Dr. David Hone (more on that later). And third, he acted like his methods are more reliable than the firsthand analyses of PhD professors. And what were his methods? Basically Photoshop. That's right, he just traced features in pictures of the fossils in Photoshop, without ever having seen them in person. And this is supposedly an 'accurate' way to restore crushed pterosaur fossils, according to him. I can see this approach working with sauropods or other big animals whose bodies are rarely preserved with any sort of soft-tissue impression anyway, and are not easily squashed. But for delicate creatures like pterosaurs, especially one found in slab fossils with mashed-up soft tissue stains, it's woefully problematic.

Look for example at Peters' strangely palm-tree-like skeletal of Longisiquama, the weird "proto-lizard" which he claims was an ancestor of pterosaurs (and ironically is also claimed by some BANDits as the ancestor of birds!)


Now look at how he traced so many hypothetical "structures" on the fossil slab which aren't even visible in the image (and conceivably not even with increased contrast) to get his skeletal concept.



Look at all those little weird filament outlines! Is that stuff real? I don't see most of it in the fossil photograph!

Dr. Michael P. Taylor of SV-POW was willing to keep an open mind and test David Peters' Photoshop fossil tracing technique, with results of a uniquely British manner of hilariosity.

Eventually, Peters put up his own garish-looking website, www.pterosaurinfo.com, which was full of his off restorations of pterosaurs and proto-lizards. The site soon after closed down. Apparently he closed down the site because it wasn't getting a lot of attention from paleontologists, and he didn't consider it worth the money to keep it up (again, more on that later). Peters has also implied in many instances that his photoshop method is equally or more accurate than diagrams and drawings by people who have actually seen the real fossils. Ridiculous, since photos can contain false data, and the human brain can potentially create more false data by how it interprets the photos. David Marjanovic responded to Peters' claims as follows:  

In each and every one of these examples, you simply assume that your interpretations of photos were correct and other people's interpretations of the specimens themselves were wrong.

That can only be tested by going back to the specimens and looking at them, which you didn't. Your self-confidence is getting in the way of testing your hypotheses. 

Peters has historically reacted badly to this kind of criticism. He has repeatedly hounded experts in the field like Dr. David Hone, who has many times made clear that trolling and internet harassment is no substitute for publishing a rebuttal paper, and that tracing photos is no substitute for seeing a real fossil specimen in person.

In addition, on the DML, Peters has made some rather inane and insulting arguments about how a photograph is no worse than the original specimen and that scientists drawing from the real specimen can't get any better results than an amateur tracing from a photograph - only to get shot down by pretty much EVERY scientist who responded. In response Peters heckled the experts some more, "challenging" them to test if they could do better drawings of the fossils with their methods than he could with Photoshop tracing - as if this subjective contest somehow circuitously proved his argument about pterosaurs being lizards. It really wouldn't prove anything of the sort. Cries of "crackpot" ensued.

Then things REALLY got ugly. Here's one of Peters' diatribes against Dr. Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor:  
David Hone is right. Photos are no substitute for seeing a specimen. Sorry.
That's how it is.


David Peters:

References? Experiments?

Mike, with your "That's how it is" paradigm we would have no relativity, no integrated baseball and the earth would be the center of a tiny universe only a few thousand years old.

Mike Taylor:  

All Right, Dave. Unlike some other list members, I've always made the effort to treat your work with respect. That's over now. With this message, you've crossed a line. You equate the preferential use of fossils over photographs with institutionalised racism? That doesn't quite invoke Godwin's law, but it's close enough that I'm not going to bother playing this game any more.

Just in case anyone else was too dim to understand this perfectly simple thing: "That's how it is" is not a REASON to adhere to the status quo, but a DESCRIPTION of what has been established, by scientific inquiry as orthodox. So if Dave Peters comes to me and says "My tracings of aeriel photographs show that the Earth is flat", I will reply "No, the earth is round; that's how it is". Because something that has been so emphatically and repeatedly demonstrated is not worth the energy of arguing about. We're done with that. Move on. 

(And this, of course, is why David Hone isn't pissing away his time playing your stupid games. As you'll have noticed from his impressive recent record, he's spending that time on writing papers instead -- doing science. Proper, reproducible science based on actual fossils rather than JPEG artifacts and the phase of the moon. I might suggest that you go and do likewise but the last few years have clearly demonstrated that you won't. So I'll leave it there.) 
*headdesk*

A paleontologist who studied a fossil firsthand could try to reason with Peters a million times that such-and-such blot really is just a random natural feature of the rock rather than a soft-tissue structure of the pterosaur, and it wouldn't matter how good his drawing was, Peters still could refuse to believe him. But think about it - which one has actually SEEN the real fossil? Of course it should be pretty clear to everyone that looking at photographs is no substitute for studying the real fossil in person. I'd say Heinrich Mallison summed it up best:


I'd like to point out to Mr. Peters that he has, I have heard from
reputable sources, in the past interpreted a specimen as preserving
soft tissues when in fact the layer that the fossil was in was
prepared away all around the bones, so that what he was seeing on the
photograph was in fact a pedestal.
No further comment on that needed. Nor do his attacks on Dr. Hone merit comment.

Also, I'd like to direct him and all other interested parties to my
assessment of a 'I have not seen it so I use published drawings
instead' based drawing of Plateosaurus by Greg Paul (who has done
awesome work on many other occasions):
http://www.app.pan.pl/article/item/app20090075.html

Not seeing a specimen = higher risk of errros than seeing it
Seeing a specimen once or twice = higher risk of errors than being
able to see it repeatedly, and play with the bones
Preconceived notion = error guaranteed.

So, Mr. David Peters, please stop whining. Dave Hone was spot on with
his post, as any reputable scientist knows. 
 
Best,
Heinrich



I couldn't have said it better myself - even the best photos are no substitute for the real thing. Even casts are no substitute, since you can't do histological studies on them.

If photos captured every detail perfectly and could differentiate between preserved organic structures and simple stains/paint smudges/impurities in the rock, then what would we even need fossils for? Why didn't the Field Museum simply let some private collector buy 'Sue' at auction, when a photo would be just as scientifically informative?!?!?! Why did they spend millions of dollars putting every one of Sue's bones through a gazillion CAT Scans and X-ray slices when they could just take a simple photo and learn everything from that? Why don't they just sell their Apatosaurus fossils, the Brachiosaurus type specimen, and those massive Argyrosaurus femurs they've been keeping for well over a century? After all there are plenty of detailed photos of those, plus they're old non-digital pictures and don't have the pixel distortion of digital photos! Think of all the money they would have to fund more research! Who needs fossils anyway?

Who indeed...

Fact is, without having the actual fossils, more than half of the paleo-research that gets done today would be impossible. Practically ALL of Larry Witmer's work, Mary Schweitzer's work, and any papers on internal structures of bone histology could never have happened if the fossils didn't exist.

That's why the loss of Amphicoelias fragillimus is so lamented among sauropod workers. 

It's why so many sauropod workers don't take Yadagiri and Ayyasami seriously - because they only produced a few incredibly crappy drawings for Bruhathkayosaurus and never excavated any of the alleged fossils despite hyping up the thing as the biggest dinosaur ever - now they conveniently claim the whole thing is lost forever, got washed away in a monsoon no doubt! (Yeah right, and I have a bridge on the Indus to sell these guys!)

It's why the destruction of the original Spinosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and Aegyptosaurus type material in World War II was such a big loss for science. Even from a strictly superficial visual standpoint, the existing drawings and photos of that material, while very detailed and beautiful, still leave out a lot of details that can only be observed in person.

If photos and tracings really told it all, nobody would care what happens to fossils. Fossil poaching and commercial collecting wouldn't be a major concern in the field, in fact it wouldn't be a concern at all. The SVP wouldn't have a conflict of interest clause in its membership policy, nor would it have so many explicit bylaws and disciplinary policies against digging up fossils for profit. Take it from me, I've been a member since last year and I've read their entire bylaws section at least 10 times. The whole thing is one huge anti-fossil poaching ethics code. The real fossils DO MATTER.

Perhaps the biggest problem with David Peters is that nobody in paleontology seems to have the time to bother testing the efficiency of David Peters' indirect observation tracing methods more than David Peters. Everyone with a PhD is too busy analyzing the real fossils IN PERSON and publishing research to bother with testing a Photoshop method that's prone to much human error and misperception.

Jaime Headden had this to say on Peters:

He really is a nice guy and is fully willing to discuss and talk with you and your theories (even about his theories) at leisure. I met Dave before the photointerpretive technique began to be employed, and we discussed the identity of elements of the Batrachognathus skull in some depth, but I've not had the opportunity to sit down and retrace his observations, though I have used some similar techniques in piecing out elements of the Protarchaeopteryx robusta skull, counting "dentition", etc. Dave is also aware that people don't believe in his position, and that some people have not bitten his technique. He chalks this up as because there are too many people who are not willing to try his technique as he does it.

So far, no one I know of has tried to do a double-blind test of the technique, allowing third parties to take pieces of specimens at high resolution, use the technique, and compare with strict visual observation. This would actually take a lot of money or a reasonably-sized collection of specimens from different sedimentologic and depositional regimes.

One of the biggest problems here is that Dave is not a geologist, and while some of us have not held this against him, his strategy requires some knowledge of the method by which these fossils arrive in their current condition, including the process of slab-splitting and irregular preparation.


So then whatever happened to David Peters?

After fighting for his initial research which involved the Photoshop method and all his speculative sails, wattles and filaments which were mostly just artifacts of preparation, random splotches in the rock, or indecipherable blurred areas in grainy photographs, Peters seemed to have taken a hiatus. He had a website for a while, www.pterosaurinfo.com. This site apparently had citations of his (apparently meager) published work and some very odd pictures and figures. He shut it down allegedly due to lack of interest from the paleo-community. This old exchange on a message board is pretty telling of David Peters and how the paleontological profession views him:

> In a discussion about whether Noach & sons may have used pterosaurs as
> flying mounts (don't ask), a participitant invoked a certain David
> Peters, the possessor of a website on pterosaurs at
> www.pterosaurinfo.com with a ghastly colour scheme, as an authority for
> what seems to be pretty extreme sizes and abilities for larger
> Azhdarchids, particularly Quetzalcoatlus. Numbers like 18m wingspan and
> 400-500 kg weight were mentioned, which is alot bigger than any other
> estimate i can find on the net. It was also implied this monster was
> capable of power flight!
>
> Looking around at the net, many popular pages refer enthusiastically to
> Mr Peters and his webpage, but it seems professional pterosaur workers
> consider him an unscientific phantast. I was wondering what people here
> think of him.

David Peters is well known among the Pterosaur & Dinosaur workers. He is
not in the academia and many people in academia take a rather dim view of
him. Go to Dinosaur Mailing List Archive (http://dml.cmnh.org/) and
search for David Peters to see his posts and replies by pterosaur workers
from academia, specially Chris Bennett & David Unwin.  

Well there you have it. Peters in a nutshell.

Thing is, pterosaurinfo.com has long been defunct. You can't even find the URL when you type it in a Google search!

For a while we all pretty much thought David Peters was gone and perhaps only popped up every now and then to bug Dave Hone on his blog. He also voiced some comments at the administrators of ArtEvolved a while back, over an old post of mine on that blog - he accused me of character assassination, whereas I did no such thing - I merely criticized his theory and methods, not his character (which I know nothing about, to be sure, since I've never met the guy). I have no interest in "character assassinating" Peters, as I admire a lot of his art (mainly his dinosaurs and proto-mammals) and the huge amount of work he put into his book From the Beginning. Though he's mainly a commercial advertising artist, he had a very bright future in paleoart back in the 90s, and it saddens me more than anything else to see him get bogged down in petty disputes over photoshop pterosaurs or repeatedly pestering PhD researchers on their own blogs or the DML.


But wait - Peters is Back!

Now the sole and solitary grand master of pterosaur knowledge (technically indirect to the nth degree through the loss of data inherent in all photographs and 2d representations, but hey, who cares about all that) has made his return.

The return of David Peters has actually taken not one but two forms.

The first is his new (and extremely tricky to navigate) paleontology website, www.ReptileEvolution.com. It's chock full of his wacky skeletal diagrams of pterosaurs, ancient lizards, archosaurs, proto-mammals, and proto-reptiles, among many other obscure creatures.


Here, among some semi-credible skeletals of primitive reptiles, you can find all of his weird and laughable interpretations (and most of his Photoshop tracings) of pterosaurs, including his artificially long-tailed Pterodactylus, his mysteriously palm-tree-backed Longisiquama, and his sail-backed, vampire fanged Jeholopterus (which actually influenced an episode of the British sci-fi sitcom Primaeval):


That tail is way too long, but that's the least of this picture's problems. There were no vampire fangs on these little pterosaurs. The "fang" was simply a strut of skull bone that got displaced in the fossil. The field has roundly rejected this restoration as unscientific. He looked at displaced fur impressions which seemed to be well outside the rib cage and automatically assumed the creature had a fuzzy sail extending far above its back. This is the same basic mistake he makes with plenty of fossils, assuming that squished, displaced soft tissue stains represent how the soft tissues looked in life! In reality there was no such sail, the skin and fur just got displaced sideways when the animal was compressed during the sedimentation process.


A couple of warnings about ReptileEvolution.com: First off, the site is NOT a compendium of the sum total knowledge of the field - while Peters names thousands of specimens and cites some literature here and there, much of the actual content and opinions in the site come solely from the mind of David Peters. It's all his own interpretations of everything, some plausible, others outlandish, and the only citations on the site that actually back up his theories and rampant criticism of established PhDs are his own. There's even a large rant page specifically devoted to attacking and undermining the claims of those in the field. Some of the "rebuttals" on this page make some sense, others are just flat-out ludicrous, and yet others are so obscure and pedantic that I have no idea whether or not they have a grain of truth to them.

Second, there is NO curriculum vitae anywhere on the site, so people not familiar with Peters and the sort of research he has done will just end up confused as to how much experience he really has with paleontology - and it's VERY easy to sway layman's opinion with your art when you can grind out the kind of detailed drawings that Mr. Peters regularly does.

However, there is a CV of his published work on his other site - this is the second form of his reappearance on the web, basically a hub site that has links to all his projects, both paleo-related and otherwise. There are only 8 papers listed, and only half of these are related to his extreme theories of pterosaur origins and anatomy. While most are in peer-reviewed publications, they are largely not all that controversial or direct. The most important and incendiary entry in his CV is not peer-reviewed however - it was a talk given by Peters at a pterosaur convention in Germany, and it's his core cited "source" for claiming that Pterosaurs are lizards not archosaurs based on Photoshop manipulation. I'm not sure any of his Photoshop methods would actually stand up to peer review.


Epilogue?

What can we say... I suppose there are still many chapters in the story of Mr. Peters still to play out. The fact that he's made a comeback on the internet probably means that he's going to make some attempt to spark more pterosaur controversy. The guy's got an ENORMOUS amount of art talent, his websites look pretty good from a purely visual/aesthetic point of view, and he can probably grind out a million skeletals and trace nearly as many fossil photographs and drive to work all at once! So mad props to him for that. Though I really wish he would produce more of his gorgeous books about dinosaurs and fewer pseudo-pterosaur Photoshop oddities - it's making it exponentially harder to take him seriously. Yet his skills as a painter really are (or at least were) top-notch, and I admire the heck out of his dinosaur and proto-mammal art. And if he'd stuck to painting dinosaurs and left the fossil analysis of squashed pterosaurs to the people who actually have studied the real fossils, he'd be a major player in paleo-art today, possibly even bigger than Greg Paul or many others. His books on prehistoric animals are STILL some of the best-illustrated ones you can find, and despite some inaccuracies with things like unfeathered raptors with protoptagia (skin-flaps on the front of the arms) his dinosaur work is remarkably on point.

His current website Reptile Evolution is borderline pseudoscientific, but it's relatively easy to change; most of the cited literature and even a bit of of the analysis is fine, it's just his illustrations and inferences that need fixing. I hope some day he'll take a second look at this stuff and clean it up (though based on all his DML debates, heckling of Dr. Hone and others, and what Dr. Taylor said after finally being pushed too far, I sadly doubt Mr. Peters will ever do such a thing).

I'm also a really big enthusiast of seeing how phylogeny and evolution turn out with every new analysis, and the kind of work Peters did for his book From the Beginning is extremely impressive (though admittedly HOW he decided which animals to put in the mammalian evolutionary sequence perplexes me to no end).





His other books, like GIANTS and A Gallery of Dinosaurs and Other Early Reptiles were also fine works of art and scale. Nobody else has really been able to produce the same effect of relative size and scale in dinosaur or nature books, and get so many things right in proportions (Gallery of Dinosaurs has a few errors, but nothing all that bad for a dinosaur book of the 90s, and is arguably one of the best nonfiction children's books ever written) and a pretty decent job with colors. So I definitely have a lot of respect for David Peters as an artist and an author of popular books on the most amazing creatures that have ever lived.



His collaboration with Don Lessem for the books Raptors! and Supergiants! was pretty impressive too, lots of detail there that, though a bit rushed, nevertheless can compare with the work of Greg Paul and Wayne Barlowe. A great eye for color and shadow, 3D form, and functional skeletal anatomy. Supergiants! came later and is the better book, not just because I like sauropods, but because the art is generally more accurate and better quality (though the dismal scan quality from Amazon.com doesn't come close to doing it justice).

All in all, Peters had a lot going for him as a paleo-artist. Perhaps deep down inside he still might. Maybe he has a small chance of salvaging his reputation in the paleo-sphere. Most would say probably not, based on everything he's done since 2000. But I don't want to say for sure just yet.
And I'd really like to see him 'return to his roots' so to speak, and produce more of the type of solid, respectable work you see just above, work that got him so much positive acclaim back in the 90s.

It's just incredibly sad and disturbing to see where he went after all that.



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