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Re: No brontosaurus?



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Subject: Re: No brontosaurus?
Author:  SKEPTIC Discussion Group <SKEPTIC@JHUVM.HCF.JHU.EDU> at smtp
Date:    25/6/1995 2:45 PM


        The best way to get the lowdown on brontosauruses is to read
Stephen Jay Gould's essay ``Bully for Brontosaurus,'' most readily 
available as chapter five of his book of the same name (New York: W. W. 
Norton and Company, 1991), pages 79-93.  Here's a quick summary:

        The word `brontosaurus' is the popular English name for a genus of
dinosaurs for which the correct scientific name is `Apatosaurus'. 
`Brontosaurus' derives from a scientific name proposed by O. C. Marsh on 
the occasion of his discovery of some fossilized dinosaur remains; he 
believed that they were different from Apatosaurus bones, but he was 
mistaken.  That the ``wrong'' name was popularized is an accident of 
linguistic history.  Everyone who understands the issue has agreed both on 
the facts and on the nomenclature since 1903.

        Marsh made a second mistake when he prepared a reconstruction of
Apatosaurus's skeleton from the remains he found.  These remains did not 
include a skull.  Marsh guessed that Apatosaurus's skull probably looked like 
that of another genus, Camarosaurus, which in those days was better known 
than Apatosaurus was.  So he mounted a Camarosaurus-type head on the pelvis 
and vertebrae that he had actually found.  Subsequent discoveries showed that 
this guess was incorrect.  Again, all this has been known for a long time.

        Obviously, neither of these errors tends to show that
brontosauruses never existed or that there was ever any element of hoaxing 
by paleontologists.  On the contrary, it shows that science gradually 
corrects its errors as new evidence is discovered.

------  John David Stone - Lecturer in Computer Science and Philosophy  ----- 
--------------  Manager of the Mathematics Local-Area Network  -------------- 
--------------  Grinnell College - Grinnell, Iowa 50112 - USA  -------------- 
----------  stone@math.grin.edu - http://www.math.grin.edu/~stone/  ---------