[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: Serendipity (was Re: Papers,Reports,etc)

In a message dated 11/16/98 9:31:47 AM EST, th81@umail.umd.edu writes:

<< I went to the shelves of the library, started
 looking through past issues of Paleobiology, and came across Jeff Thomason's
 paper on biomechanics of tridactyl horse feet... >>

The thing about seredipity is that you are quite specifically looking for
something else or doing something else when you run across the discovery. You
can't send a kid who's researching a school project to the library at random
in the hope that she'll turn up something interesting.

But speaking of serendipity, my personal best such experience occurred back in
1977, when I was still at the University of Toronto. At the Royal Ontario
Museum I found an indexed reference in one of the geological abstracts volumes
to an article about a stegosaur that I had never heard of before,
_Tuojiangosaurus multispinus_. The reference was to an article in a magazine
called _China Reconstructs_ (I think that was the title, if memory serves me).
It took some doing, but after an hour or two of searching through lists of
serials I learned that a library out in the suburbs carried this magazine. So
I hopped on my bike and drove out there. Sure enough, they had the issue and I
photocopied the article--the first published reference on _Tuojiangosaurus
multispinus_, months before its formal description. But that's not the
serendipitous part.

For years I had been walking by and totally ignoring a small book and magazine
store located on the street between the university and the science-fiction
book store where I used to hang out. Once I knew that _China Reconstructs_
existed--it's a picture mag like _Life_, only about China--I happened to spot
it in the window of this book store on one of my walks. The name of the store
was Great Wall Book Store, and it was the city's only outlet for publications
imported from China. There were several back issues of _China Reconstructs_ on
sale, including the one that featured _Tuojiangosaurus_, and the cover price
was _real cheap_ (like fifty cents). But far more interestingly, I spotted
some _science_ magazines on the newsstand. A thorough look disclosed multiple
copies and back issues of _Vertebrata PalAsiatica_ and a couple of magazines
with only Chinese titles >that had original dinosaur descriptions in them<.
These cost something like 25 cents and 50 cents each. I bought everything I
could find, and frequented the store on a weekly basis thereafter, until I
moved to California. One of my big regrets about leaving Canada was losing
this connection to China, whose publications were embargoed from the USA at
the time.

So I acquired, and some of my dinosaur correspondents of those times acquired
in trade for offprints, original copies of the descriptions of numerous 1970s
Chinese dinosaurs and archosaurs. For example, as back issues the store had
the 1972 Chinese description of _Mamanechisaurus hochuanensis_ just piled up
at a quarter apiece (not one word of English in the whole book: the Chinese
were on one of their Damn Yankees crusades); and I recall picking up the
original description of _Yangchuanosaurus shangyouensis_ right off its
newsstand. There were also issues of _Hua Shi_, the Chinese popular paleo
magazine. Scientific journals were displayed the same way as popular
publications; the Chinese distributor didn't care what he sent to the store,
and the store owner dutifully put the stuff out until it sold (no returns).
Imagine walking into a local newsstand where they sell _Time_, _Life_, and
_People_ on one shelf, and _Nature_, _Science_, _Journal of Vertebrate
Paleontology_, and _Journal of Paleontology_ on another, back issues as well
as current issues. This was a true gold mine, and I haven't seen the like of
it since.