Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Philosofossilising- Scientific Accuracy in Art (Peter)

This is an individual opinion on this topic. To read a number of different peoples' answer to this question click this link here. If you have your own answer, read the last paragraph of this post for details on how to get yours posted.

There is no such thing as ‘scientific accuracy’ in paleoart.

“My raptors has larger feathers on it’s arms, so it is sooo much more accurate than your feathered raptor!”

We’ve heard this before.   

But consider this.  Dictionary.com defines ‘accuracy’ as “the condition or quality of being true, correct, or exact; freedom from error or defect.”   

The wonderful creatures that paleoartists reconstruct are unfortunately often extinct, leaving us unable to ever really know exactly what these critters looked like when alive.  We will never know exactly what colour scales dinosaurs had, what their mating behaviours were, or how fluffy a velociraptor’s coat was…   

It is really disappointing to realize that we will never know exactly how these creatures looked and behaved.  We will never know what is true, correct or exact.  Unless time travel becomes possible (I’m working on it), we will never know that truth.  As artists, our reconstructions will never be free from error or defect.  This is just the reality we must accept.  It's too bad, your paleoart will never be scientifically accurate.

What we as paleoartists can do is work towards a ‘temporal accuracy’ – the condition of being as true, as correct, or as exact as the current scientific research shows.  This is not striving for absolute correctness, because absolute correctness is impossible.  It is to strive to be as correct as current popular science dictates. 

This means that now in 2011, it is temporally accurate for all duckbilled hardosaurs to walk with its tail off the ground.  It also means that in 1905, Charles Knight’s tail-dragging Trachodon is also temporally accurate.  In Knight’s time, the upright pose (and even the name) was scientifically accepted as true.

 (from wikipedia)

And what of our young artists bickering over whose art is more scientifically accurate?  Well, neither is.  As we will sadly never know what is actually absolutely accurate, these artists have to accept that they are both temporally accurate. 

So stop bickering, do your homework, and make some art.  With the Internet connecting the billions, there is no better time to take part and join in the fun.

ART Evolved is very interested in other opinions on this topic, and would welcome your input.  If you would like to submit an article about Scientific Accuracy in Art, please read the brief introduction here, and send your essay to artevolved@gmail.com.


Neuro said...

I am sorry, but is there really someone who understands the term "scientific accuracy" different way than something is accurate to current knowledge?

If yes, then ok. If not, this essay is nonsense from my point of view as Charles Knight was scientifically accurate in his time and the term "scientific accuracy" already contains your construction "temporal accuracy" (it can/will change with more research or findings).

Traumador said...

Neuro- The reason some of us are having trouble with understanding this, is NO such thing as scientific accuracy within any field at any time!

Whether this is what Peter is saying or not, I am stating this outright.

My ability to state this definatively is in working with palaeontologists on reconstructions. The number of times I've approached a subject for an expert (Shark-toothed Dolphins, Mosasaurs, and Ornithomimids if you're wondering) only to find every single specialist on that particular subject has conflicting opinions on what an "accurate" reconstruction would look like.

I've hit this problem with everything from conjectural soft tissues (all three), to musculature systems (all three), and even how the bones aligned with one another when the animal was alive (Dolphins and Mosasaurs... Ornithomimids we didn't get into this level of detail sadly)...

You please explain to me on how there is a definative "scientific accuracy" when, for any one prehistoric animal, there are multiple different scientifically proposed variants?

The only thing for which I can see scientific accuracy claimed made for on most animals is what the accurate measurements of the bones or body parts are.

You can be scientifically informed, but this will be derived from single scientific opinion. Not accuracy or truth or whatever you want to call it. You're gambling that the educated guess you're choosing will hold up.

This is not an attack against science. It is an attack against people demanding palaeo-art be based on "accuracy". It is not helpful to us as an artist. Telling us to have sourced a specific scientific opinion would be a far better request.

Glendon Mellow said...

I'm gonna break ranks with my fellow admins here and agree with Neuro.

Scientific accuracy, much like the term 'theory', has a different meaning to scientists than it does to the lay public. A theory is much more robust than a mere notion to a scientist. And scientists also know 'scientific accuracy' means as accurate as it can be with current knowledge.

The other thing I'd like to address is that some scientific theories (perhaps not many in paleo) *are* scientifically accurate. Not every model in science is going to be thrown out some time in the future. 2+2=4 and that isn't going to change in 100 or 1000 years. It's highly uinlikely the simplest atmoic element, hydrogen, will turn out to be less than the most plentiful element in the universe. Dinosaurs were dna-based, mainly carbon+water tetrapods. That won't change with new understanding.

Scientific accuracy is possible. Sometimes precision isn't, that's true, but to the best of our knowledge, trilobites did not have wings, dinosaurs were unlikely to be bright pink, and the Earth isn't the centre of the solar system/galaxy/universe.

If anyone brings up Descartes now, I'm going to throw a box of donuts at them.

Traumador said...

Glendon- I don't disagree with you on theories essentially being scientific facts. I do know what theory means in science (just for the record, not in a hostile retort kind of way :P). However scientific accuracy as you acknowledge is tied directly to theory in science. Things are only theory when there is a mass consensus within a field. When there are conflicting scientific ideas we call them hypotheses.

I could see how my understanding all this was lost in my first comment, but I do stand by my statement. I'll just clarify using these proper terms.

So I ask you, Neuro, and everyone else if there are conflicting current and valid hypothesis about a prehistoric animal's appearance how does an artist create an "accurate" reconstruction? Keeping in mind the difference between theory and hypothesis. There are very few solid theories in palaeontology so far (I wish it were otherwise, and I'm sure one day it'll be a different story. Sadly I live in the present :( )

We can not be accurate. The defination Peter grabs for accuracy applies to comparing multiple hypothesis.

An artist can have a "sourced" or "referenced" piece of art, but this is drastically different.

The only accurate illustrations we can do are of the fossils of themselves! They are basically the theory form of the animal. The instant we try to add anything else to these we are engaging in hypothesising (whether educated or not), and in science (as you know) this is not the same as theorising!