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Re: "Dinosaurs don't count"

In a message dated 4/21/99 5:58:12 PM EST, gobi2010@hotmail.com writes:

<< So, I'm asking list members your opinions:
 Why would dinosaurs be or not be scientificly "important" or 
 noteworthy? and do dinosaur fossils have "little scientific value"?, 
 if so, what is their value? >>

In human societies, the term "important" is tightly intertwined with "wealth 
increase," because the >most important thing< to the >vast majority< of 
humans is how wealthy they are, that is, how powerful they are relative to 
other humans that they might encounter and how free their wealth may make 
them from the "daily grind." Unfortunately, dinosaurs, dinosaur fossils, and 
knowledge about dinosaurs--interesting though these things may be--generate 
little if any wealth; they are, in fact, a >money sink<: you have to spend 
money to dig dinosaur fossils out of the ground and prepare them, and you 
have to spend time and money to learn about them. (This is why most adults 
are terribly ignorant about dinosaurs.) Since dinosaurs bring so little 
wealth with them, they are considered an unimportant trifle, and it is 
therefore correspondingly difficult to find people willing to support 
dinosaur research, publications, and so forth (I speak from experience here). 
The most important dinosaurs in the world are the stars of the Jurassic Park 
movies, because they made so much money for the producers and distributors of 
those films and their spinoff products. (Notice how little of that money ever 
got back into dinosaur research.)

Since children are fascinated by dinosaurs (and, when still young, are not 
yet concerned with things like power and status), their parents may see 
dinosaurs as a way to interest them in schoolwork and science in general. 
Since these things may in turn lead to desirable careers and corresponding 
wealth increase, parents may purchase dinosaur books for their children and 
encourage an interest in dinosaurs, and even pay to see dinosaur movies, 
despite the relative unimportance of the dinosaurs themselves. A few children 
become inspired by dinosaurs to want to learn more about them, even though 
there is virtually no money in it, but the vast majority leave dinosaurs 
behind them when they become adolescents and turn to "more important" 
pursuits, such as learning to drive, dating, and purchasing of consumer goods.

Sometimes wealthy people become, like children, fascinated with dinosaurs. 
Then some small portion of their money flows into dinosaur research, and 
dinosaurs for a while become "important" as a kind of status symbol. This is 
the source of the market in expensive dinosaur fossils, for example.

In science, the "most important" research is, as you might guess, that which 
leads to an increase in wealth. For example, certain kinds of paleontology 
are relevant to the discovery of oil deposits, so there is considerable 
support for this. Dinosaurs are virtually useless in oil prospecting, so that 
money is not usually diverted to dinosaur research; oil companies are more 
interested in using dinosaurs as advertising logos than in learning anything 
about them. In this country, most science money goes toward research that 
might have an impact on medical health ("health makes wealth," you know). So 
if you can figure out how knowing something about dinosaurs will help make 
humans healthier, this would perhaps increase the importance of dinosaur 
research and might make more scientists interested in them.

Otherwise, dinosaurs, dinosaur research, and dinosaur aficionados and fans 
will remain largely marginalized; love of dinosaurs is always less important 
than the pursuit of money and power.