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RE: The Last Dinosaur Book



Dear Dinogeorge:  THanks for your comments, and for your contribution to my
royalties (not very royal, I can assure you...)

Re: La Brea Tarpit dinosaurs.  There was a large display of dinosaur robots
in the museum the last time I visited (1994), and the thing that was
striking about their public presentation was the frank acknowledgment that
California had no real dinosaurs, and these were being provided in response
to popular demand.  I never said there were actual dinosaur fossils at La
Brea tarpits.

Re: Seismosaurus.  When I visited the Natural History museum in Albuquerque
a few years ago, the most conspicuous feature of the public display was the
disparity between the schematic diagram (showing only a few tail bones as
the actual recovered fossil remains) and the enormous scale of the
reconstruction (including the leg bones reaching up to the ceiling).  I take
it that much more of Seismosaurus has now been uncovered.  That doesn't
contradict my point about the public display, and about the long-standing
practice of extrapolating whole figures from very tiny bits of evidence.
Richard Owen's original reconstructions of the dinosaur were based on a few
fragments, and Cuvier prided himself on being able to conjure up a whole
creature from a tooth or claw.  I'm not questioning the scientific efficacy
of this practice, just pointing out how much paleontology depends upon
visualization and speculative reconstruction.  This is what leads it
inevitably into my field--the study of images and media.

Try to bear this in mind when you find "little nitpickey factual errors."
I'm sure there are some, but you need to ask yourself whether they bear on
the main arguments about the meaning of the dinosaur as a cultural icon.
I'm glad you're finding "The Last Dinosaur Book" fun to read!

Tom Mitchell

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
Dinogeorge@aol.com
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 1999 1:48 AM
To: wjtm@midway.uchicago.edu; dinosaur@usc.edu
Cc: jhecht@world.std.com; Dinogeorge@aol.com
Subject: Re: The Last Dinosaur Book


In a message dated 4/28/99 11:47:00 PM EST, wjtm@midway.uchicago.edu writes:

<< I'm delighted, first of all, that
 dinophiles and dinoscientists are reading "The Last Dinosaur Book."  I can
 understand very well why some people are irritated by it.  I have come into
 the field of dinosaur research as an outsider, and I freely admit that I
 have no credentials as a dinosaur scientist. >>

I've read some of the book but haven't had the time to finish it. It is
surely fun to read, but I haven't yet been able to determine whether what I
am reading is worthwhile or nonsense. Perhaps I'll have a clearer picture
once I finish the book, whenever that may be. (At least, I actually bought
the book(!) and thereby contributed a bit to the author's royalty, instead
of
borrowing it from the public library.)

Meanwhile, I'm just a bit dismayed that little, nitpicky factual errors are
fairly abundant. E.g., on p. 19: "..._Seismosaurus_, the biggest dinosaur in
the world, of which only a few tail bones have been found..." and
"...California...displays [dinosaurs] 'in response to public demand' at the
La Brea tar pits...". Actually, quite a bit of the skeleton of
_Seismosaurus_
has been found and was described both in the formal description and in the
Gillettes' popular books on the dinosaur; the tail bones are just the first
few bones of the animal that were put on public display in Albuquerque, when
paleontologists first determined that this was one big dinosaur. And as far
as I know, there are no dinosaurs on display at the La Brea tar
pits--certainly nothing dinosaurian of significance (not counting birds, of
course). Rather, the Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits is a storehouse of
Pleistocene mammal fossils, representing the kinds of animals that the tar
pits trapped.