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Re: missing a point

On Wed, 7 Feb 1996, King, Norm wrote:

> We all know that the American public is turned off and tuned out about 
> science.  I can tell you that mentioning every detail, using just the 
> right word, quibbling over taxonomic boundaries, accusing people of 
> purposeful misrepresentation--and making a big deal out of all of 
> that--is not going to endear a paleontologist, or the science of 
> paleontology, to the public.  It'll downright turn them off.  They wonder 
> what could be more trivial.  Not only that, but the vocabulary is almost 
> unpenetrable.  They won't even try.  

That's not our fault.  If people are genuinely interested in the science, 
then they will have to learn the vocab at some point in order that 
scientists all over the world will understand them.  No problem with 
starting them out with simpler terms for some of the concepts, though.

> But I think that this stuff ought to be accessible for everyone.  Yes, 
> EVERYONE!  It's interesting.  It's even kind of fun.  

It's a lot of fun.  I wouldn't be here if it weren't.

> Let's bring some 
> more people out there along with us.  I'm not sure what you guys are 
> wanting me to do, but I'm not going to become someone who will make 
> people say:  "What kind of a science is paleontology?," or "What happened 
> to this guy on the way to becoming a scientist?" that made him this way?  
> And then "I'm not like that, so guess I'll do something else!"  They 
> don't think much of people who can get so uptight about all this.  The 
> reaction goes something like, "GET A LIFE!"

The terrible and embarassing fact is that paleontologists are people, 
just like anyone else.  In fact, many paleontologists tend to be fairly 
egotistical people who want other people to see things their way.  There 
are a wide range of paleontologists and other scientists, though, both on 
and off this list.

> We don't need to start teaching cladistics of ICZN rules in middle 
> school.  

Cladistics is really pretty simple when you get down to it.  I don't know 
how useful it really is in its simplest form (let's count up the features 
these groups have in common and make a tree based on the results), but 
that's certainly an adequate introduction.

As for ICZN rules, I think some sort of introduction is valuable as early 
as practical.  It helps remove some of the mystery associated with 
scientific terms, and it's not really all that hard:

A genus is a group of related species.  The person who names a genus can 
name it whatever he/she pleases.

A family is a group of genera.  Its name is taken from one of the genera 
included in it and consists of the root of the name plus -idae.

And so on for subfamily, tribe, superfamily.  I used to think Sereno's 
multiplicity of hyperfamilies, gigafamilies, microorders, parvorders, 
nanorders, etc., was pretty neat, but now I just think it's unwieldy.  In 
most cases, I think species, genus, (sub-, super-)family, and "taxon" will 

This is useful for studying any sort of life, not just dinosaurs.

> If 
> you think this is important to the world at large, you're simply out of 
> touch.

I think this is important to anyone who wants to learn anything about 
life on this planet.

> If you all are bothered by my 
> inquiries, and would rather clutter the list with jokes about sauropod 
> gasbags, I'll go away.  I thought that what I'm trying to use this list 
> for would be an idealistically good use for it.

Bravo!  As a recent graduate of a scientific-wasteland school system, I 
am very keen on getting people (not only future scientists but also 
future teachers, principals, and school board members) interested in science.
I think, however, that it is healthy for us as a community to have our 
own little in-jokes and such.

> Can't wait to read the responses to this.  I really hope that only a few 
> of you out there have been troubled(!) by my postings.

I can't speak for everyone here, but I think it is a capital idea to get 
out on the Net and base your instruction on the latest scientific 
opinion.  I only wish more of us (myself, often, included) could set our 
own phylogenetic agendas aside and give you more concrete information.

> Does someone have a reference on just what muscles were attached to the 
> theropod pubic boot, and what function they had?

Good info on that in _Predatory Dinosaurs of the World_, my own copy of 
which I, unfortunately, lent out and have not gotten back.

> Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
> Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960

Nick Pharris
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447

"If you can't convince them, confuse them." -- Harry S. Truman