“We analyzed much more data with many more diplodocid specimens than ever before, and we took a statistical approach to do it in a reproducible way. It allowed us to quantify how different such species are from each other and to establish new, clearer boundaries between them,” Tschopp says.
As he reconstructed the branch of the diplodocid tree that included Apatosaurus and erstwhile Brontosaurus fossils, Tschopp saw numerous differences between the two emerge in features on the animals’ necks, shoulder blades, ankles and tailbones.
When all 298 pages of Tschopp’s analysis were published in April in the online journal PeerJ, the dormant Brontosaurus Nation came alive, flooding the Internet with celebration. Brontosaurus was back.
But the story is not over.
Tschopp is now checking the statistical method’s accuracy by applying it to living lizards, with the intent of comparing results with DNA analysis. His current research might detect flaws in his PeerJ study, throwing the legitimacy of Brontosaurus into question again.
“What we have for Brontosaurus now is a proposition based on good data. But I can’t promise anything — that’s how science works,” Tschopp says. “Because it is so well known, Brontosaurus is a good example to show people that science is always a discussion. We’ve started a discussion, and we will see what comes next.”
For now, Brontosaurus Nation, let the celebrations continue.
[This article originally appeared in print as "Bully for Brontosaurus."]