Special Papers in Palaeontology: 33
<br />Evolutionary case histories from the fossil record.
<br />J C W Cope and P W Skelton (Eds)
<br />202 pp., 4 pls.
<br />ABSTRACT. No science is based on complete knowledge, so the incompleteness of the fossil record is no different from any other scientific knowledge and should be judged by the usual criteria. Incompleteness does not necessarily imply inadequacy since the adequacy of any data depends on their proposed use. Irrespective of its incompleteness, the sequence of species in the fossil record inevitably reftects the order in which they evolved. Species can only be preserved in the wrong stratigraphic order if they coexisted, which happened in 1-5% of possible comparisons. Even if the sequence were completely random, it would still reftect the correct historical sequence 50% of the time.
<br />The sequence of fossils can be determined accurately using quantitative methods. Recent applications of two such methods achieved an order of magnitude improvement in stratigraphic precision. The sequence of fossils reveals patterns, but not mechanisms, of evolution. It is also a valid test of phylogenetic hypotheses. Failure to realize the value of stratigraphic sequence inhibits development of accurate correlation techniques. Worse, it encourages inadequate data collection and thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stratigraphic data cannot be useful if they are not available. Any inadequacies are largely our own, not those of the fossil record.