Update: Darren has now posted a more detailed summary of this controversy. Other bloggers will likely weigh-in on the subject throughout the day, and I’ll soon have something up on why the issue has gotten to the point of appearing in Nature rather than being settled earlier.

Some time ago Darren posted two posts on aetosaurs (part 1 and part 2), cryptically hinting that Spencer Lucas and others at New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science might have been involved in the claim-jumping of research involving these ancient crurotarsians. Now the story has come out into the open and an article about the controversy has been published in the latest edition of the journal Nature. The report outlines how the NMMNHS team may have rushed a description of the animal they called Rioarribasuchus when colleague William Parker was in the process of naming the same animal Heliocanthus.

Likewise, aetosaur remains discovered in modern-day Poland (h-t to Kevin Z for the correction) were also described in the in-house NMMNHS journal shortly after Lucas visited the Palaeobiology Institute at the University of Warsaw, the pattern again having the hint of a claim-jump to it. A further issue involved the re-description of an animal named Redondasuchus by the New Mexico team that did not properly cite the master’s thesis work of Jeff Martz on the same animal. Given that Lucas is the editor of the NMMNHS Bulletin and some of the papers by the New Mexico team may have been pushed through for priority, the journal might not actually be peer-reviewed.

The reaction of Lucas and others to the accusations has been to call the allegations “groundless,” but a New-Mexico cultural affairs dept. investigation didn’t seem rigorous enough to put many researchers at ease. The case are now up before the Ethics Education Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, although the Nature article notes that the New Mexico museum team still has to issue a response to the charges.

While I have generally been out of the loop while this case has come together, other paleontologists active on the web have had more active roles in what’s been going on, and Mike Taylor has been kind enough to present a timeline of events to help further elucidate why some academic foul play might be suspected. For now, though, we simply have to wait and see what the ethics board at the SVP turns up.

Update: If you’d like to know more, you can find all the information you’re looking for (and then some!) at this page, and a detailed summary can be found here. [Hat-tip to Matt Wedel]


  1. #1 kevin z
    January 30, 2008

    Likewise, Polish aetosaur remains were also described

    I didn’t Poland was a country back then? Hmm.. How many aetosaur poles does it take to screw in a light bulb…

  2. #2 Matt Wedel
    January 30, 2008

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for covering this. We have a more stuff up at Mike’s site now, including a summary of all that’s happened. The central clearinghouse page is here.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    January 31, 2008

    I’m sitting this one out, man.