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Re: "Dinosaurs don't count"



Some years ago I took a couple of introductory paleo classes at U.C. Berkeley: 
The
Age of Dinosaurs, and The Age of Mammals.  My teacher, Bonnie Rauscher, put it
something like this: If you're interested in mammals and you only know about the
mammals that live today, then this is a narrow focus, because mammals have been
around for a long time, and many kinds of mammals have lived and died, leaving 
no
living descendants.

I could add: If you are interested in birds, you should consider the other
dinosaurs, too, which gave rise to them.  And if you are interested in reptiles,
consider the many extinct varieties, and how the evolution of theropod dinosaurs
led to their flourishing as birds today (for birds are also living reptiles).  
Were
it not for the fossils of dinosaurs (in the colloquial sense of the term), we 
would
not see the explicit link between the crocodilians and birds of today.

In the book, _Dinosaur!_, Dr. David Norman gives a number of reasons for 
studying
dinosaurs: they are incredibly interesting; they help us understand the present
world; they are an important part of the grand history of life on earth, 
lasting on
earth as a group for over 150 million years (not counting Cenozoic birds); they
help us to learn about the process of evolution, and the complex interactions
between these creatures and the world they inhabited; we may be able to learn 
from
their example how to take better care of our world.  He also states that the 
fossil
and geological record indicate the vast age of the earth and life upon it; the
ephemeral nature of a given species (ours included); and the relatively very 
brief
time that we as a species have existed (perhaps only 100,000 years).  "We
undoubtedly have an important part to play in the story of life on earth, but it
has a future as well as a past.  We must therefore understand what has happened 
in
the past, and what we are doing to the planet today, because we are only 
temporary
custodians of the earth and what we do today may well affect future 
generations."

In _The Mistaken Extinction_, the authors, Dingus and Rowe, point out that we 
are
now seeing another great extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms, 
for
human activity is leading to the decline of birds all over the world, just as it
led to the extinction of the dodo, the moa, and countless other creatures.

Is it not true that humans are unique among all earthly creatures in asking the
deepest questions: "Who am I?  Where did I come from?  How did the earth around 
me,
with all its plants and animals, come to be as it is today?  What is my part in 
all
of this?" ?  Like no other creature that has lived before, we are endowed with 
the
ability to address these questions.  What people do has a profound impact on the
other beings with whom we share our planet.  I agree with Dr. Norman that we 
ought
to be doing our homework, so that we, as stewards of this amazing world, have 
some
understanding of and appreciation for the past and present, and make informed
decisions that will preserve some of this great legacy for future generations.

The history of life on earth can be seen as inspirational and terrifying, 
awesome
and sobering.  If an author sees no point in a rich understanding of life on 
earth,
I pity him.  Perhaps he could direct us to another planet whose life forms are 
more
important!    >8^(

-- Ralph W. Miller III       gbabcock@best.com

"I reject your reality and substitute my own."